Is this still a thing?

By Deane Barker

Yes, this is still a thing.

DEFCON is short for “defense condition,” and it refers to the general state of readiness and alert for the American military.

It’s actually in reverse order: DEFCON 5 is the most relaxed, and DEFCON 1 is almost at war. The levels were established in 1959:

  • DEFCON 1: Nuclear war is imminent or has already started
  • DEFCON 2: Next step to nuclear war
  • DEFCON 3: Increase in force readiness above that required for normal readiness
  • DEFCON 4: Increased intelligence watch and strengthened security measures
  • DEFCON 5: Lowest state of readiness

Most people of my generation know the concept from the 1980s movie Wargames in which the main character causes an incident that moves the DEFCON level up a notch.

We have only reached DEFCON 2 on two occasions: the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and the Persian Gulf War in 1991. The 9/11 terrorist attacks moved us to DEFCON 3.

As of this writing, we are at DEFCON 4 (see this website for the current level).

Why I Looked It Up

I was reading something about Wargames and it rang a bell about DEFCON. I wasn’t sure it that was still in effect.

At any rate, I had the levels reversed – I thought an increased number was bad.

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