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The Fisher Protocol: A Harvard Academic's Barbaric Plan For Storing The Nuclear Codes

"My god that's terrible," the Pentagon responded. "He might never push the button."

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

clockSep 15 2022, 12:39 UTC
A black metal secure briefcase, against a red background.
Currently the codes are kept in a briefcase. In the proposal, you kill them out. Image credit: alexfan32/shutterstock.com

It's pretty much impossible to truly imagine the consequences of launching a nuclear strike and killing millions of innocent people. This might not be a problem for you, as you will (almost certainly) never have to make a call about whether to use nuclear weapons. But, if you do have the nuclear codes on account of you being President of the United States, for example, it is somewhat of a problem and someone has to make sure you don't get a little trigger-happy. 

If it came to it, could you really make an informed decision and truly know what horrors you are about to unleash upon millions of civilians? Well in the 1980s, a Harvard academic and specialist in negotiation and conflict management came up with a solution to this dissonance and proposed it to the Pentagon: The nuclear codes should simply be embedded into the chest of a colleague of the president. Then, in the event of choosing to launch a nuclear missile, the president would have to stab the codes out.

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In a piece published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in March 1981, Roger Fisher described the concept.

"There is a young man, probably a Navy officer, who accompanies the President. This young man has a black attaché case which contains the codes that are needed to fire nuclear weapons. I could see the President at a staff meeting considering nuclear war as an abstract question. He might conclude: 'On SIOP Plan One, the decision is affirmative, Communicate the Alpha line XYZ.' Such jargon holds what is involved at a distance," Fisher wrote.

"My suggestion was quite simple: Put that needed code number in a little capsule, and then implant that capsule right next to the heart of a volunteer. The volunteer would carry with him a big, heavy butcher knife as he accompanied the President. If ever the President wanted to fire nuclear weapons, the only way he could do so would be for him first, with his own hands, to kill one human being. The President says, 'George, I'm sorry but tens of millions must die.' He has to look at someone and realize what death is—what an innocent death is. Blood on the White House carpet. It's reality brought home."

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The concept might be a good one (assuming it doesn't just make the president hungrier for blood) but fear not, there is little chance of it being used. When Fisher, who described nuclear weapons as a solution to no problem "except the population problem," put it to the Pentagon, he got an answer that isn't very reassuring for humanity.

"When I suggested this to friends in the Pentagon they said, 'My God, that's terrible. Having to kill someone would distort the President's judgment. He might never push the button."


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