Thursday, September 6, 2012

E C Tubb's "Quis Custodiet" (short story, nuclear war, free): Musings on the idea of a "traitor"

An illustration accompanying the original publication of short story Quis Custodiet by E C Tubb in Nebula Science Fiction magazine. The picture does not really depict any scene from the story.
On the surface, this is like any of a whole lot of similar stories - a few military men manning the facility that can trigger the ultimate annihilation of the "enemy", which everyone knows means annihilation of their own side too. And the men breaking down due to stress of so much responsibility. But there was something here that made me like the story - may be optimistic ending, but I actually liked it even before the ending became apparent.

The facility is a space station that's actually a nuclear missile site that can target any place on earth.


  1. In real world, we don't hear much about the men with their hands on triggers of nuclear missiles because of secrecy. So I wonder if the set up of this kind of stories is in any way realistic? The story makes an interesting point about the "glorified buck passing" that seems to apply to many more contexts than potential military guilt.


  1. "The Romans had summed it up very nicely in a phrase both synical & apt. Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? Who will watch the watchers? Or, literally, who will protect the people from their own protectors? ... Those who had power invariably abused it & were eventually replaced by others who inevitably followed the same path."
  2. "He feels no guilt at whatever he proposes doing. It's a case of glorified buck passing. He takes orders & blames the man who issues them. The man who issues them probably salves his conscience by telling himself that he won't really be the one to fire the missiles. It's easy to kill if you don't have to pull the trigger."
  3. "Traitor is a bad word--bad that is to those who give it. To others a 'traitor' could well be a savior because a traitor is merely a person who does not do as others decide. No man could ever really be a traitor to himself, not if he did what he believed to be right. And no man could possibly be a traitor if by so being he was instrumental in saving his race."
  4. "Could there be a racial instinct which took control whenever the race was in real danger of total extinction?"

Fact sheet.

First published: Nebula Science Fiction, #14 (November 1955).
Download full text as part of the scans of the magazine it originally appeared in.
Rating: A. 


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