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Imagine it is 3 a.m., and the president of the United States is asleep in the White House master bedroom. A military officer stationed in an office nearby retrieves an aluminum suitcase — the “football” containing the launch codes for the U.S. nuclear arsenal — and rushes to wake the commander in chief.

Early warning systems show that Russia has just launched 100 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) at the United States, the officer informs the president. The nuclear weapons will reach U.S. targets in 30 minutes or less.

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