Foxtrot-01 is one of several Minuteman Missile Launch Sites, a series of facilities dedicated to launching inter-continental nukes in the event that the U.S. comes under attack. It’s also filled with Mario murals.
The bunker’s fascination with Mario first surfaced (as far as I can tell) back in 2014 after it was pointed out in an NPR story. Nuclear bunkers are obviously extremely secretive and hard to get access to, so there isn’t exactly a whole lot of info about them. But after a bunch of bad press, including stories about the people in charge of nukes cheating to pass tests and falling asleep on the job, the Air Force has been keen to shift the narrative surrounding the country’s missile sites.
As a result, NPR was in a position a few years ago to reveal that most bunkers have themes. Some are decked out in Star Wars iconography, while others, like Foxtrot-01, prefer Nintendo’s mascots. A mural of Mario and Bowser standing across from one another with a skull and crossbones mushroom cloud in-between was a sort of WTF moment undercutting the Airforce’s attempt at gravitas, but at least it was about nuclear war. Also Mario is scowling. The NPR story tried to offer context for the scene,
“We pass through a final checkpoint and open the door to the elevator. At the entrance they’ve added a decorative touch: a giant mural of Mario, the cartoon plumber from the video game. At the bottom, Mario stands next to a mushroom cloud. Missile crews are known for their dark humor.”
Three years later, Foxtrot-01 is back at it, this time giving Britain’s Sky News a special tour of the facility and some insight into what capability the site provides for our Commander-in-Chief, President Trump. “If we have a rapidly emerging crisis that requires the use of ICBMs we can respond to the President’s direction in minutes,” says Colonel Matthew Dillow, the Vice Commander of the 90th Missile Wing.
Moments later, the report cuts to its correspondent, Cordelia Lynch, in front of a Super Mario Bros. 3 box art.
By some estimates, there are currently more than 15,000 nuclear missiles on earth. Possible over 20,000. That’s more than enough to make the entire planet uninhabitable. Should a large scale nuclear war ever occur, it’s likely that more than a few of those will be fired out of a whole in the ground where the walls are covered with Marios.
Is there a better metaphor for the absurdity of nuclear strategy? I’m struggling to think of one.
In one of his essays from the collection The War Against Cliche, the English writer Martin Amis waxes poetic on the futility of nuclear counter-strikes,
“The best time to deal with a nuclear missile is when it is on the ground and subject to negotiation — or, more generally, to diplomacy. The worse time to deal with a nuclear missile is when it is heading towards you at four miles a second. In the latter case, there is likely to be only one winner: the nuclear missile.”
He echoes a similar sentiment in the introduction to a short story collection on the subject of nuclear war titled Einstein’s Monsters,
“What is the only provocation that could bring about the use of nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons. What is the priority target for nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons. What is the only established defense against nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons. How do we prevent the use of nuclear weapons? By threatening the use of nuclear weapons. And we can’t get rid of nuclear weapons, because of nuclear weapons. The intransigence, it seems, is a function of the weapons themselves.”
There’s a sinister inevitability to the things that runs counter to a lot of human experience, and especially something like Super Mario Bros. You don’t get do-overs with nukes. And the very stakes involved with mutually-assured destruction has a way of closing down possibilities and alternate paths, an epiphany the movie War Games made almost noxiously explicit.
Add to that the unpredictability of an erratic President, the prospect of thousands of nuclear weapons ready to fire at a moment’s notice becomes even more terrifying. It’s certainly a far cry from the whimsical feeling you get the first time you make Mario hop into the air only to unexpectedly reveal a secret block that yields a 1-up mushroom.