BIG RED by Douglas C. Waller


Three Months Onboard a Trident Nuclear Submarine
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A correspondent for Time magazine depicts a US nuclear sub and the demands made on its crew in such detail that the enemy (whoever that might be) could use it for a blueprint.

Waller (Air Warriors, 1998, etc.) patrolled the Atlantic for three months aboard the Trident submarine Nebraska (hence the nickname Big Red) with a crew ready on command to launch nuclear missiles against an unknown enemy. (China? North Korea? Iran?) Although critical details have presumably been omitted, Waller pinpoints even such strategic particulars as the location of the hot keys for a missile launch. Along with specifics of command and control centers are vignettes of the crew, from the captain to the lowliest maintenance man. (There are no women on submarines.) Crew members are locked in this mammoth tube underwater for as long as three months at a time, but life aboard is anything but a waiting game. Constant drills keep the crew on alert; they range from locating a leaking pipe or subduing a (pretend) psychopath to revving up for an actual missile launch, and some require that personnel go for days with little or no sleep. Tensions are relieved with movies, games, practical jokes, food, and a halfway party on the 39th day that features videos from wives and children. Waller also examines the motives and the morale of the men aboard, some driven by patriotism, others by the opportunity to have the Navy pay for a college education or to extend their experience with state-of-the-art technology. Some scenes are delicately moving, as when sonar operators capture the sounds of dolphins playing nearby; others, like the launch drill, capture the pressure and anxiety as the crew prepares—on orders from the commander-in-chief—to push the button.

Military buffs and would-be submariners will thrill with patriotic pride; others may wonder—as do some of the crew—is this trip necessary?

Pub Date: March 10th, 2001
ISBN: 0-06-019484-7
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2001


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