898: Chain of Command
The President of the United States is at the top of the US Nuclear Chain of Command, but the engineer is de facto above him because the engineer is in charge of configuring how the button works, and thus could have installed an override so that he could block the President's use of the button and/or use it himself. The "Red Button" is usually a worst case scenario as it launches all nuclear capabilities.
This paradoxical situation applies in many other fields. In a major corporation commercially sensitive information is generally hidden from employees at lower levels but available to management, but the systems administrator (who usually sits low on the hierarchy and doesn't manage any other employees) can access not only the sensitive information but the raw data that it's calculated from. Not only that, but the systems administrator is usually responsible for controlling who has access to the information - making him/her the most powerful person in the company (as far as the IT infrastructure is concerned). Many managers think of themselves as being "above" engineers and have trouble coming to grips with this concept.
Themistocles, mentioned at the title text, was an Ancient Greek politician. In the title text is a similar joke placed at the top of the chain of command, this time in Ancient Greece. It refers to Plutarch's Life of Themistocles:
Of his son, who lorded it over his mother, and through her over himself, he said, jestingly, that the boy was the most powerful of all the Hellenes; for the Hellenes were commanded by the Athenians, the Athenians by himself, himself by the boy's mother, and the mother by her boy.
The part about television advertisements is a proposal that, by controlling the "infant son" of the aforementioned Red Button engineer, one could control the engineer, and thus the President, and so on and so forth.
- [A flowchart shows the President at the top, with an arrow to the Secretary of Defense, and then fourteen arrows leading to a series of boxes labeled Unified Combat Commanders. On the side, a box with a dotted outline has a dotted arrow leading to the president. It's labeled "Engineer Who Installed the Red Button."]
- US NUCLEAR CHAIN OF COMMAND