We have all at sometime misplaced or lost our car keys. The memory of the event lives on. We never forget the frantic search–looking under cushions, turning out pockets, thrashing around in junk drawers, blaming one’s spouse, children, or even the family pet that cannot defend himself. Oh, and don’t forget that all of this was done while under pressure to keep an appointment.
Losing one’s car keys is an inconvenience, or even an unexpected expense, but what if one lost something really important?
I was prompted to ponder that question just the other day while listening to the evening news. It seems that during the Clinton administration one of the president’s aides lost, or should we say “misplaced,” a note card on which was written a code necessary for the launching of nuclear weapons. The card, known as the “biscuit,” was needed to open the “football.” The “football” is the little black suitcase that contains the codes.
Wherever the president goes, he is accompanied by an aide carrying the “football.” He is never far from the President. As some have pointed out, he sticks to the President like glue. Think of those pictures of Elvis on tour accompanied by his stepbrother carrying a little black suitcase filled with pills?
The revelation regarding the lost nuclear codes is found in a new memoir by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Hugh Shelton. The General alleges that an unidentified aide to President Clinton, one who carried the “football,” misplaced the “biscuit” for several months. The aide was able to keep his little secret until it came time to issue a new “biscuit” with new codes. Only then did he confess, no doubt with head down and eyes sheepishly staring at the floor:
“I’m sorry Mr. President, but it seems that I have temporarily lost the codes. If we have to fight a war, we will have to do it the old-fashioned way.”
There is no reason to suspect that President Clinton was ever aware of the missing codes. It seems that the aide was more successful than he should have been at carrying out his “little” deception. However, in this age of international terrorism, one cannot help but ask the question: “What if. . .”? What if the “biscuit” had fallen into the wrong hands?
Those in the know about nuclear warfare assure us that there was never any danger of some “unauthorized” person having been able to launch any nuclear weapons. The protocol for launching a nuclear attack is, as they say, “a multi-layered system” in which the “biscuit” is but one part. Put simply, it could not have happened.
Such assurances remind me of the message that precedes the satirical cult-classic movie from the Cold War era, “Dr. Strangelove.” In a rolling script that precedes the movie, viewers are told that what they are about to see could not happen. I’m not sure that I can always trust what the government tells me, but a friend who flew one of those nuclear-armed bombers that circled the Soviet Union 24/7 during the height of the Cold War assures me that in the “real world,” the Dr. Strangelove scenario could not happen.
Still, as one newsman commented when General Shelton’s account of “the mystery of the missing codes” appeared, “It’s not quite the same thing as losing your car keys.” What if President Clinton were called upon to respond to a nuclear attack on the United States?
The whole affair got me thinking about a one-act play, The Case of the Missing Biscuit, by the unknown playwright, P.R. Waibel:
A melody of soft romantic music is heard as the curtain rises.
Before us is the Oval Office. Only two figures can be seen. One is the President. The other is a young, female intern named, Miss Flora Williams.
INTERN, speaking in a soft voice with romantic overtones: Mr. President. Slight pause. It’s such an honor to be here with the President of the United Sates.
PRESIDENT: Yes, it’s the Oval Office. It makes a visitor feel humble, even grateful, if you know what I mean.
INTERN, looking to one side as if a little embarrassed: I do.
The President takes a few steps to the side of the room and opens a liquor cabinet. He holds up a bottle and a glass. Care for something to drink, Miss Williams?
INTERN: Do you think I should? I mean . . . well . . . what I mean is . . . it kind of goes to my head. I lose control. She stares at the President with her head cocked to one side and a blank look on her face.
PRESIDENT: Where is it that you go to school, Miss Williams?
INTERN: Ole Miss. It’s in Mississippi.
PRESIDENT: Yes. I know. A party school, or so I’ve heard?
Intern is acting very ditzy; eyes open wide, giggling a lot, increasingly animated.
INTERN: Ooh yes. Lots of athletes. They’re very muscular—She puts emphasis on “muscular”—especially the football players. Brief pause. Intern moves in close to the President. I’ll bet you’re athletic, Mr. President. She smiles while looking up at his face.
PRESIDENT, smiling with a twinkle in his eye: I have been known to, as they say, play around a bit. Slight pause. May I call you Flora? It’s a lovely name—means “flower”.
INTERN, moving in closer so that their bodies almost touch: You can call me “Flower,” if you like. Smiling, she moves in closer and begins to run her hand down the lapel of his sport coat. Or, you can call me what the boys at the frat house call me.
PRESIDENT: And what is that?
INTERN, leaning forward, their bodies touching, she whispers in his ear: Willing!
As they begin to embrace, there is a loud banging on the door. The door burst open. In rushes a soldier in a full-dress general’s uniform. Lots of medal s on his chest and tough looking. Behind him is a young man is a suit, rather nerdy looking. He has a small black suitcase in his hand.
PRESIDENT, surprised at the intrusion, he pushes the young lady aside: General Lockjaw! I must object!
GENERAL: I’m sorry, Mr. President, but it’s a national emergency!
PRESIDENT: Do you mean?
GENERAL: Yes, Mr. President.
GENERAL: Yes, Mr. President.
PRESIDENT: Right now?
GENERAL: Yes, Mr. President.
PRESIDENT: Moving about, obviously thinking. Stops and looks at the general. The Klingons?
GENERAL: No, Mr. President. Slight pause. Then with anger and irritation in his voice. The Communists!
PRESIDENT: Communists? Didn’t we win that one?
GENERAL, moving about, agitated and, ranting: You never win with the Commies, Mr. President. They’re sneaky! They’re like a flu virus. You think you have licked them, but they keep coming back. They’re everywhere. Why . . . Why—pointing at the intern who is standing off to the side, trying to be inconspicuous—she might be one!
INTERN, shocked at what the General has said: Really General! Daddy is a Republican!
PRESIDENT: Yes, General Lockjaw, Miss Williams’ reputation—pause—is beyond reproach.
GENERAL, anxiously looking at his watch: Mr. President. We have less than an hour, perhaps only minutes. We must launch a counterattack.
PRRESIDENT, both irritated and anxious: Very well then. He addresses the nerdy looking man in the suit, carrying the little black suitcase. Mr. Kent, hand me the “biscuit.”
KENT, hesitant and stuttering: Mr. President . . . ah . . . there’s . . . ah . . . there is something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about.
GENERAL: Not now, you idiot. This is a national emergency. Civilization itself hangs in the balance.
PRESIDENT: Well spoken, General.
GENERAL: Thank you Mr. President. He turns to face Kent, fists closed tightly at his sides, anger in his face. Hand the President the “biscuit.”
KENT, steps back, fear in his face and voice: I don’t have it.
PRESIDENT, GENERAL, INTERN, in unison: What?!
KENT, addressing the President: I lost it. Months ago. I . . . I . . . been meaning to talk to you about it.
All present stand staring at one another silently. As the lights dim and the curtain begins to come down, Vira Lynn can be heard singing,
We’ll meet again,
Don’t know when, don’t know where.
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.*
The muffled sound of distant explosions can be heard as Ms. Lynn continues,
Keep smiling through,
Just like you always do,
Till the blue skies chase those dark clouds, far away.*
Of course, such a scenario could never happen in the real world, or could it?
*Words and music to “We’ll Meet Again” by Ross Parker and Hughie Charles.