By Scott Ritter
Americans of a certain age remember things about their youth—Bert the Turtle and the ditty “Duck and Cover” (1951), Pat Frank’s apocalyptic novel Alas, Babylon (1959), and Sidney Lumet’s film Fail Safe, from Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler’s novel of the same name (1964 and 1962, respectively). “There was a Turtle by the name of Bert, and Bert the Turtle was very alert”; that song was whistled by kids like myself, ironically often at the same time we whistled the catchy tune from Peter and the Wolf, Sergei Prokofiev’s classic children’s story adapted by Walt Disney and very popular at the time.
My father, a career Air Force officer who spent the first part of his career with the fighter-interceptor squadrons of North American Air Defense Command, had borrowed Frank’s biblical reference in crafting his own nuclear war warning for my mother. It took me awhile to figure out what they were talking about, and when I finally did, it was terrifying. The delta-winged fighters that futilely chase down the errant nuclear-armed bombers in Fail Safe were identical to the F-106 Delta Darts my father’s squadrons flew to shield America from similarly armed Soviet bombers that probed our borders on a daily basis, and I was able to figure this out quickly the first time I saw the movie.
Nuclear Armageddon was a pervasive reality during the Cold War, and America had an arsenal and doctrine to make it a reality. Again, flashbacks from my childhood make it all-too real: F-100 fighter-bombers carried nuclear bombs on air-strip alert at an air base in Turkey. F-106 fighter-interceptors armed with nuclear “Genie” air-to-air missiles were on constant air patrol over the skies of Michigan. My father told my mother how he never wanted to be assigned to Strategic Air Command because the “Chrome Dome” mission was insane—packs of nuclear-armed B-52 bombers constantly in the air, flying towards the Soviet Union only to be called back on a routine basis.
Whether by accident or design—Cold War historians have differing accounts—over those years America perfected its nuclear Triad (the ground based missiles, manned bombers and missile-armed submarines that comprised its strategic nuclear force). Atlas missiles grew into Titans, which became the Minuteman and finally Peacekeeper. The first Atlas missiles carried a single W49 warhead possessing a yield of 1.44 megatons; the Peacekeeper carried ten 300-kiloton W87 warheads. (By way of comparison, the “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had yields of 15 and 21 kilotons, respectively.)
The generals and politicians who controlled this arsenal were schooled in the art of global apocalyptic warfare, having fought and prevailed against fascism in the Second World War. ddNuclear war wasn’t an abstraction to them, but reality—America was prepared to fight and win a nuclear exchange with the Soviet enemy, using doctrines with names such as “counterforce,” “first strike,” and “mutually assured destruction,” better known as MAD. Only when the absurdity of the MAD acronym sunk in did these leaders finally undertake to control the …read more
Via:: American Conservative
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