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February 21, 2011 11:31 PM   Subscribe

Only 60,000,000 citizens killed?! Success!!! A 1950s Air Force film on what might happen in the event of a U.S.-Soviet nuclear conflict has been declassified and is available in full, online, from the National Security Archive of George Washington University.
posted by markkraft (54 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was still horrified when I thought the number was just 60,000.

60,000,000?
posted by The Potate at 11:39 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks."
posted by victors at 11:42 PM on February 21, 2011 [22 favorites]


"60,000,000?"

You think I look bad? You should see the other guy.
posted by markkraft at 11:49 PM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


One thing I do find interesting about this... for a long time, the Soviets complained about US efforts to surround their country with bases to launch nuclear strikes from... and in this film, it talks about how we have them surrounded on all sides.

So, I guess that pretty much confirms that the obvious strategy was/is?! an obvious strategy.
posted by markkraft at 11:57 PM on February 21, 2011


One of the most interesting things about the Cold War for me is how successfully it got reconceptualized as a symmetrical conflict between two equally hostile and equally destruction-bent forces. In reality, it was never symmetrical--a country half-destroyed by war and missing millions of people through terror and wartime loss was never in a serious position to compete with a country that had both started out much richer and ended the war an overwhelming economic winner. It's pretty clear to me that the Soviets understood this, even if the leadership was often given to fits of hubris, dementia, and wishful thinking.

Matthew Evangelista's excellent book Unarmed Forces shows what this meant for the Cold War in nuclear terms. Basically, scientists and other activists seeking nuclear disarmament were invariably much more successful at getting the Soviet government to agree to various arms-restriction and test-ban treaties than they were at persuading the Americans. As soon as a proposal was made, the same pattern would repeat itself:

1. Soviet leaders agree or indicate approval of initial proposal.
2. American leaders strongly consider proposal.
3. American military-industrial complex and defense establishment go "OOOGA BOOGA! CAN'T TRUST THE REDS! NUKES NUKES NUKES!"
4. American leaders reject initial proposal and substitute a much weakened one that also happens to be a strategic victory for US interests (such as getting each side to cut a fixed number of weapons or tons of uranium, which would obviously affect the smaller Soviet stockpile more).
5. Soviet military-industrial complex and defense establishment go "SEE? VE TOLD YOU! CAN'T TRUST AMERICANS!"
6. Talks fall apart or end with a symbolic gesture.

Obviously, the Soviets weren't agreeing to these proposals out of the goodness of their hearts. They were almost always behind on the warhead count, and strategic nuclear forces were obviously a much greater investment for them than for the US. (The US had carefully secured almost all then-known uranium mines in the world during the runup to the Trinity test, so in the early period the Soviets were at an enormous disadvantage in terms of fissionable material). At the same time, I'm fairly convinced that no one in the Soviet leadership ever thought nuclear war was a desirable or seriously possible proposition on any level: Khrushchev clearly believed in economic and cultural rather than military competition, and in the Brezhnev years the USSR clung to détente like it was drowning (not to mention that by that point more or less every rational person in the ruling clique had given up the idea of winning).

By and large I would say that American presidents, Eisenhower especially, were in agreement with the Soviets that nuclear war was inconceivable on moral and practical grounds. The difference here was the weight of the military-industrial complex. It's difficult for me to imagine the concentrated cloud of evil people at the Pentagon must have been living in, since they were the only major actors in this entire scenario who thought there was such a thing as a winnable nuclear war that could be preferred to other alternatives. Unfortunately they were the ones who ended up at the wheel. I just wish we were more careful about apportioning the blame.
posted by nasreddin at 12:03 AM on February 22, 2011 [88 favorites]


Ok, I'm not mathematician. But, there are a zillions of galaxies compounded upon millions of stars with fuck all amount of planets and I'm happy yelping about my onion ring being "flat".

Fuck you string theory, the earthy will rise again tomorrow!
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 12:06 AM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]




Thank god for the future.
posted by clavdivs at 12:30 AM on February 22, 2011


There's a very good book by James Carroll called 'House of War' from a few years back that goes into great depth about the culture of the Pentagon, and how, as nasreddin points out, the hawks were able to define the the Soviet 'threat' in terms that benefited them.

I find the more I read about this time and conflict the more absolutely insane it is. You have the rise of things like the Rand Corporation, a think tank that operated under the aegis of the air force, theorizing about all out nuclear war. One supposed advantage for the US was the bomb shelter gap; the US had way more bomb shelters than the USSR thus giving them an 'advantage' should war happen. This little gem was the work of Herman Kahn, one of the premier thinkers of a group of theoreticians known as the Megadeath Intellectuals. Craziness.

Anyways, here's a link to the NY Times review of the book.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/02/books/review/02tomasky.html
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 12:39 AM on February 22, 2011 [4 favorites]




For the ice cream centre in a 50-year-old Cold War® sandwich, Canada sure kept its cool, eh?

Your countries would have been ours! All ours! Muahahahahahaha!

What stray missiles?
posted by Sys Rq at 12:53 AM on February 22, 2011


You know how whenever you read a history book you felt like "how the hell did people do that?"? We're next.
posted by flaterik at 12:54 AM on February 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


From a civilian point-of-view, watching the Air Force leaders in this film talk about how they are, in the midst of a fullscale nuclear war, able to put teams out into enemy territory to retrieve pilots, with their commanders scattered around in secure C&C locations, numerous bases around the US and other countries still available for them to use, and such relatively low casualty figures for their own people, while the POTUS -- and presumably the rest of the govt. -- is safe somewhere...

And meanwhile, over 1/3rd of US citizens for that time would've been killed, with a fifth of the survivors wounded -- and presumably more to die from fallout... data that they matter-of-factly put forward, in the midst of a surprisingly upbeat, victorious analysis, without the least bit of significant consideration as to what that would mean to the country.

Well, you know how they say that terrorists hide behind civilians?! They're not the only ones, apparently.
posted by markkraft at 1:18 AM on February 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


So if we had launched a nuclear war, we would have killed even more civilians than the Soviets did in peacetime. And of course since the Soviets were completely peaceful- the Prague Spring and Berlin blockade never happened (and the Finns are just soreheads)- we can conclude that the U.S. was once again the ultimate evil in the world.

A more cynical person might consider films like the above part of a propaganda war designed to deter both nuclear war and aggression, but would detract from making the U.S. the villain of the piece. And it's not like war casualties have declined in the last half century or so. So yeah. It's all about the Evils.
posted by happyroach at 1:30 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


...and what was with the Air Force commander, chomping at the bit to get out of the briefing on the nuclear war, so that he could check out the latest weather? Buh?!

Partly cloudy with rapid-onset nuclear winter. 99% chance of fallout from the north, south, east, and/or west. 50% chance of death from above.
posted by markkraft at 1:37 AM on February 22, 2011


So if we had launched a nuclear war, we would have killed even more civilians than the Soviets did in peacetime. And of course since the Soviets were completely peaceful- the Prague Spring and Berlin blockade never happened (and the Finns are just soreheads)- we can conclude that the U.S. was once again the ultimate evil in the world.

You appear to be severely beating that strawman. Nobody said the US was uniquely evil, just that cold war planners were somewhat miopic. I'm sure NATO and the USSR both suffered from that also.
posted by jaduncan at 1:38 AM on February 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Mr. Krushchev said we will bury you
I don't subscribe to this point of view
posted by bwg at 1:47 AM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


We'll meet again,
Don't know where,
Don't know when
But I know we'll meet again some sunny day


Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh...depending on the breaks.
posted by timshel at 1:47 AM on February 22, 2011


Well, forty million is still pretty low but do we really have to bomb them twice?
posted by Dr Dracator at 2:09 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Charlie Brooker's latest take on television's attempt to scare us to death with impending nuclear war. Steve Gutenberg saves the world!
posted by markkraft at 2:11 AM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


By and large I would say that American presidents, Eisenhower especially, were in agreement with the Soviets that nuclear war was inconceivable on moral and practical grounds. The difference here was the weight of the military-industrial complex.

The always-interesting Andrew Bacevich had a column about this in last month's Atlantic.
posted by Rangeboy at 2:29 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


WHOA FUCK
posted by nj_subgenius at 2:35 AM on February 22, 2011


OK, so anyone know if I can download the files from the linked page to create a DVD of this? I'm new to this whole VIDEO_TS thing. I grabbed the small BUP and IFO files, and I'm now going for the large mpeg2 ones.

Can I just plop all of that into a VIDEO_TS dir, burn a DVD and watch it?

Any help appreciated!
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 2:54 AM on February 22, 2011


Sounds like a question for Ask MeFi... If you do manage to save this, you might want to post it to someplace like archive.org and Youtube, as it's in the public domain now.
posted by markkraft at 3:36 AM on February 22, 2011


(Oh, it's already on archive.org. NVM!)
posted by markkraft at 3:42 AM on February 22, 2011


What might save us, me, and you
Is if the Russians love their children too
posted by Sailormom at 5:53 AM on February 22, 2011


60 mil is probably a lowball. Nuclear fallout over the major agricultural states in flyover country would poison crops/reduce yields for years (assuming there was anyone left to plant and harvest crops). Even if you've survived the initial exchange and first few months, what are you going to eat next year?

(One of the more memorable scenes in The Day After addresses this: a group of shellshocked farmers are meeting with a FEMA rep who tells them that they have to scrape the top 6 inches of topsoil off their land before they can plant.)
posted by longdaysjourney at 5:54 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is why I have a hard time mustering up the least bit of worry about Al Quaeda blowing up a building or an airplane or even a so-called "suitcase nuke". You would need 200,000 9/11-scale attacks to begin to approach the level of holocaust this scenario implies.
posted by briank at 6:07 AM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is why I have a hard time mustering up the least bit of worry about Al Quaeda blowing up a building or an airplane or even a so-called "suitcase nuke". You would need 200,000 9/11-scale attacks to begin to approach the level of holocaust this scenario implies.

Yet we spend more on the Department of Defense than we have since the end of WWII.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:15 AM on February 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


nasreddin, you make valid points, but the the Cold War didn't begin with the Soviet leaders you metioned. It started under Stalin; who did not have the reserve and caution of later leaders. Given that the US was slow to update their views of the enemy, (we didn't even realize there was a Sino-Soviet split until years after it happened), US leaders typically thought they were dealing with a revolutionary power, rather than a status quo one. The Soviets didn't help; taking a page out of the Byzantine playbook, they were desperate to project an impression of strength far beyond their actual capacity. This was to prevent American aggression, but also to maintain an iron grip on the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe and the people themselves.

Some American leaders were tricked by this display; others saw through it but cynically used it to push through their desired policies. But the establishment had started joking about the USSR being "Upper Volta with missiles". This common sense was smashed by Reagan's brand of idiocy; but again, the Soviets made it easy for him when they invaded Afghanistan.

markkraft: So, I guess that pretty much confirms that the obvious strategy was/is?! an obvious strategy.

Containment wasn't exactly a top-secret strategy.
posted by spaltavian at 6:17 AM on February 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


the hawks were able to define the the Soviet terrorist 'threat' in terms that benefited them

See what I did there?

But this model is new and improved. The number of Soviet dictators was limited. But we're busily creating more terrorists.

In any case, nuclear fear won't be confined to nostalgia forever. I've noticed that NPR's coverage of Libya keeps mentioning their significance as an oil producer...
posted by Joe Beese at 6:52 AM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


the Cold War didn't begin with the Soviet leaders you metioned. It started under Stalin; who did not have the reserve and caution of later leaders.

By the time Stalin died the Soviet nuclear arsenal amounted to a handful of bombs (50 vs. over 1000 on the American side) and ICBMs hadn't yet been invented. Also, Stalin was apparently unaware of the true significance of nuclear weapons--he knew they were important for deterring the Americans, but he would never have relied on them as a primary weapon. He had a lot more trust in a good old-fashioned tank war, which would not have involved the US directly at all. There's no way Stalin would have ever started a new war in Europe: he was way too busy recuperating and digesting what he'd already acquired. In the East, as Korea showed, he was only willing to fight for minor gains and was certainly unwilling to commit any serious numbers of troops. Despite the Berlin blockade (a serious tactical error on the part of the Soviets but in no way a prelude to war) the world was safer in 1945-1953 than it had been for the previous fifty years.

And of course since the Soviets were completely peaceful- the Prague Spring and Berlin blockade never happened (and the Finns are just soreheads)- we can conclude that the U.S. was once again the ultimate evil in the world.


First of all, the Finns have no more to with this than the Spanish-American War. Neither the Prague Spring (a police action in a client state, just like Afghanistan was originally supposed to be) nor the Berlin blockade (an attempt to exert diplomatic pressure on Western powers) were indicative of a willingness to fight an actual war involving nuclear weapons.

Again, the villains here are not the US but the Americans that had the biggest stakes in the continuation and escalation of the arms race--the military/industrial complex and the defense establishment.
posted by nasreddin at 6:53 AM on February 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Sounds better as 60 Megadeaths. Hmm, wiki says that not only was (of course) Megadeth referencing this term, but there was a Pink Floyd precursor called "The Megadeaths"
posted by 445supermag at 7:06 AM on February 22, 2011


General Douglas Macarthur
On 9 December MacArthur said that he wanted commander's discretion to use atomic weapons in the Korean theatre. On 24 December he submitted "a list of retardation targets" for which he required 26 atomic bombs. He also wanted four to drop on the "invasion forces" and four more for "critical concentrations of enemy air power."

In interviews published posthumously, MacArthur said he had a plan that would have won the war in 10 days: "I would have dropped 30 or so atomic bombs . . . strung across the neck of Manchuria." Then he would have introduced half a million Chinese Nationalist troops at the Yalu and then "spread behind us -- from the Sea of Japan to the Yellow Sea -- a belt of radioactive cobalt . . . it has an active life of between 60 and 120 years. For at least 60 years there could have been no land invasion of Korea from the North." He was certain that the Russians would have done nothing about this extreme strategy: "My plan was a cinch." (12)

General George Patton
"I would have you tell the Red Army where their border is, and give them a limited time to get back across. Warn them that if they fail to do so, we will push them back across it."
The difficulty in understanding the Russian is that we do not take cognizance of the fact that he is not a European, but an Asiatic, and therefore thinks deviously. We can no more understand a Russian than a Chinese or a Japanese, and from what I have seen of them, I have no particular desire to understand them except to ascertain how much lead or iron it takes to kill them. In addition to his other amiable characteristics, the Russian has no regard for human life and they are all out sons-of-bitches, barbarians, and chronic drunks.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:30 AM on February 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks."

Exactly what I was coming to this thread to post. Drat.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:44 AM on February 22, 2011


Exactly what I was coming to this thread to post. Drat.

These, I understand, are the breaks.
posted by jaduncan at 7:52 AM on February 22, 2011


"In 1972, the General Staff presented to the leadership results of a study of a possible nuclear war after a first strike by the United States. They reported: the military had been reduced to one-thousandth of its strength; 80 million citizens were dead; 85 percent of Soviet industry was in ruins. Brezhnev and Prime minister Kosygin were visibly terrified by what they heard, according to Adrian Danilevich, a general who took part. Next, three launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles with dummy warheads were planned. Brezhnev was provided a button in the exercise and he was to push it at the proper moment. Defense Minister Andrei Grechko was standing next to Brezhnev, and Danilevich next to Grechko. 'When the time came to push the button,' Danielvich recalled, 'Brezhnev was visibly shaken and pale and his hand trembled and he asked Grechko several times for assurances that the action would not have any real world consequences.' Brezhnev turned to Grechko and asked, ' "Are you sure this is just an exercise?" ' " -- David Hoffman, The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms race and Its Dangerous Legacy
posted by blucevalo at 7:56 AM on February 22, 2011 [11 favorites]


blucevalo's comment is chilling. In fact, this is all chilling. In every possible way. ::Shudder::

That this has never happened has my head spinning. Especially given "Plan War Dance". I think it's going to.
posted by IvoShandor at 8:08 AM on February 22, 2011


I want you ALL TO KNOW THIS. Groups exist currently within the US that claim, nuclear war is viable, and much better than ground war. They are working today to make nuclear war seem survivable, palatable, on a local level. One group calls themselves Physicians for Civil Defense, who were trying to get first strike information out to first responders all over the US. I asked about a different group of Physicians called Physicians for Nuclear Responsibility, and this person exclaimed, "Oh, THEY ARE THE ENEMY!" I asked how could that group of docs be an enemy, that is when I heard about how ground war would be a guaranteed slaughter, and nuclear war would be much better.

There is so much guaranteed profit in Nuclear anything, it is an irresistible lure for the easy money big guys, who will mollify, confuse, distort the truth, politicize, steal water, and ultimately kill humans for a long time to come, to profit now.
posted by Oyéah at 8:13 AM on February 22, 2011


There is so much guaranteed profit in Nuclear anything

Even in utter nuclear annihilation? Thinking about this stuff . . . whew. I don't like it. I hope cooler heads continue to prevail. After all, you can't spend your money when it's melting in your hand.
posted by IvoShandor at 8:25 AM on February 22, 2011


Groups exist currently within the US that claim, nuclear war is viable, and much better than ground war.

Nuclear war is viable, if you are a monster that is. Current technology allows for the "salting" of nuclear weapons to mitigate fallout to a few days.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:30 AM on February 22, 2011


What a strange film. It's so assured, so controlled: nice example of "thinking the unthinkable".

And it's so early, 1958. Would be interesting to watch alongside contemporary nuclear war fiction, like On the Beach (1957), Alas, Babylon (1959)... then compare with a later generation's imaginations: Threads, The Day After.

(Then sit quietly for a while with some kittens, in the sun.)
posted by doctornemo at 8:58 AM on February 22, 2011


So if we had launched a nuclear war, we would have killed even more civilians than the Soviets did in peacetime. And of course since the Soviets were completely peaceful- the Prague Spring and Berlin blockade never happened (and the Finns are just soreheads)- we can conclude that the U.S. was once again the ultimate evil in the world.

Well, at least the roaches would be happy.
posted by dhartung at 9:02 AM on February 22, 2011


I was still horrified when I thought the number was just 60,000.

60,000,000?


You know what else has one more zero than that?

The locks on US Minuteman Launch panels.

Until 1977, they were 00000000. The Strategic Air Command complied with Secretary of Defense McNamara's push for security locks, but just never set them, as SAC saw it as an unnecessary complication.
posted by chambers at 11:10 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Judging by the film, whilst the USAF had bombers, tankers, missiles and airbases galore it only had one stick for pointing at things.
posted by fallingbadgers at 11:27 AM on February 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Judging by the film, whilst the USAF had bombers, tankers, missiles and airbases galore it only had one stick for pointing at things.


Pointed stick? Oh, oh, oh. We want to learn how to defend ourselves against pointed sticks, do we? Getting all high and mighty, eh? Tactical Nuclear Weapons not good enough for you eh? Well I'll tell you something my lad. When you're walking home tonight and some great homicidal maniac comes after you with a Davy Crockett, don't come crying to me!

Now, the passion fruit. When your assailant lunges at you with a passion fruit...
posted by chambers at 11:36 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now, having watched this film, I am trying to understand who was the intended audience? I guess seeing Peter Watkins's film The War Game really traumatized me, as this film made me ill. Are we still this insane?
posted by njohnson23 at 12:23 PM on February 22, 2011


It's easy to laugh, now, at the assumptions that seem to be part and parcel of US DOD thinking displayed in that film, in the era it was made, but it is harder to laugh in retrospect, if you understand even a few of what later came to be called the "unknown unknowns" of that time. For instance, in those days, the accuracy of ballistic and guided missiles was so low (due to navigation system errors and cumulative flight performance problems), in terms of what came to be known as Circular Error Probable, that the majority of U.S. missiles of pre-60s vintage, such as we had, would likely not have been effective against their targets, simply because of their own inaccuracy. All three of the U.S. manned bombers depicted in that film (B-47, B-52, B-58) were first deployed with what today would seem primitive, vacuum tube based flight navigation systems, ultimately falling back to human navigator officers trained to take star sights, or sun sights via sextants out of glass windows and "star ports," and to work out positions using time from mechanical time pieces carried along. Bombing would have been done primarily from optical bomb sights not much different from WWII designs, which were ineffective in cloudy weather.

Another big "unknown unknown" of that time was yield for atomic weapons. Bomb designers could calculate, pretty closely how much "bang" they were getting from their fission designs, but as the majority of weapons moved to more complex thermonuclear or "hydrogen" designs, yield became a much more theoretical question, than an accurate predictor of damage likely to occur if such a weapon were detonated. Blast and overpressure for early thermonuclear designs were often, it turns out, overestimated, and heat damage, fallout effects, and ENG disruptions were often completely dependent on factors that were target-dependent (height of planned detonation above or below ground, soil types at target, wind and weather conditions, etc.).

Most of the bombs of that era, in retrospect, simply wouldn't have been delivered close enough to target, with enough effective yield, either by Soviet or US forces, to have destroyed conventionally hardened military targets. All that would have been damaged were civilian targets, in kind of a haphazard and unpredictable way, and as this realization dawned on military planners in the 1960s, there was a huge push on both sides for navigational improvements for both missiles and airplanes, and for targeting improvement technologies like radar bombing sights, and various other technical improvements like MIRV, that would ensure military targets were really "first strike" targets. But in the time this film was made, the only deterrence really possible for nuclear armed nations, was some sense that a nuclear war, which would primarily kill mostly civilian populations as "collateral damage," would kill enough of them, on both sides, to effectively end civilization. Because neither side could be certain of reliably damaging the other's military in the first salvos of a nuclear exchange, each side, in the 50s and early 60s had to see nuclear weapons only within the MAD context.

If you're interested in these sorts of historical re-examinations of the evolution of the U.S. SIOP, see some studies of various iterations of the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) for U.S. nuclear war, namely SIOP-62 and SIOP-63, made only a few years after, and still in the middle of the technically turbulent times in MAD history covered by, and immediately after, this film was made.

Today, we know a lot more about how to use nuclear weapons militarily. Both the weapons themselves, and to a much greater extent, the military delivery vehicles that put them on target, would enable vastly more devastating "first strikes" against military targets, with much lower civilian collateral damage, than was ever possible in the 1950s. All that keeps them in check now, however, remains MAD. Only the sense by those who possess them that there can never be an acceptable use for nuclear weapons, keeps them from being used.

What is troubling to many, however, is that, try as we might, there is no good way back from MAD. At some point, even in a world where US and former Soviet nuclear stockpiles are continuing to be drawn down, you reach a point where the military destruction of an opponent, of all opponents, is no longer "assured." At that point, "nuclear" war does become "survivable," and therefore, to some, thinkable, as at least one phase in a larger, longer conflict. In a world where it is possible for a determined opponent to take out, by nuclear weapons, the 5 largest American cities, in exchange for losing his 5 largest population centers to remaining American nukes, what is the proper SIOP for either side, where nuclear weapons are just part of a longer, broader scope of conflict?
posted by paulsc at 12:33 PM on February 22, 2011 [14 favorites]


MetaFilter: all out sons-of-bitches, barbarians, and chronic drunks.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:44 PM on February 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


for a long time, the Soviets complained about US efforts to surround their country with bases to launch nuclear strikes from... and in this film, it talks about how we have them surrounded on all sides

The Cuban Missile Crisis started after the Soviet Union put medium- and intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles (MRBMs and IRBMs) in Cuba. This was after the US put IRBMs in England and MRBMs in Turkey and Italy, and had backed an invasion of Cuba and was still trying to overthrow the Cuban government. The crisis was diffused when Kennedy agreed to remove the missiles in Italy and Turkey in exchange for Khrushchev removing their missiles from Cuba. The US part of the exchange was secret, which allowed the US to claim victory.

Another reason the Soviets put missiles into Cuba was because the "missile gap" was dramatically tilted towards the US, despite American claims of the opposite. In October 1962 the Soviet Union had around 75 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs); the US had 170 ICBMs.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:05 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Now, having watched this film, I am trying to understand who was the intended audience?"

The obvious guess?! All those members of the Air Force, who could be assured that nuclear war can be successful, with much of our military intact afterwards. Hell, if they're shot down, they might even be able to look forward to rescue teams coming to get them in the middle of a nuclear war.

Something tells me that many of the commanders knew that it would be a little worse on their pilots. Fortunately, the pilots could be reassured that their commanders would take a break from the secret nuclear war strategy meetings, to check in on the weather.

Can't have pilots troubled with unexpected turbulence, fog, and low visibility on their way back to one of the few bases out there which haven't been nuked yet.
posted by markkraft at 3:10 PM on February 22, 2011


"Now, having watched this film, I am trying to understand who was the intended audience?"

The obvious guess?! All those members of the Air Force,


I think you are right, given the thing about moving the dependents. As you fly off to murder millions, your family is safe in some bunker in Wyoming or someplace...
posted by njohnson23 at 3:56 PM on February 22, 2011


"I want to talk to you all today about the nuclear war we might soon have to order you to fight against the Red Menace.

Now, I know you probably think 'Nuclear war?! That's suicide! It's crazy talk!', but I don't want you to worry... the higher-ups have thought about nuclear war quite a bit, and we just want you to know that its winnable, both for you and for your families. Don't worry, 'cause we've got your back.

And now that you can trust us and you believe what we're saying, I have a half-dozen other crazy, illogical, contradictory things for you to believe, all at the same time..."
posted by markkraft at 5:24 PM on February 22, 2011


Are we still this insane?

Yes.

Except, you know, while your average terrorist might not have access to a nuclear bomb, the know-how and capability of making, say, chemical or biological weapons is already out there. The Aum Shinrikyo guys already did it in Japan 16 years ago. Scale it up, give it to a more organised, larger group, poof. Thousands dead.

A few centuries ago the only thing we had were swords and crossbows. Then we had guns, then tanks, then planes, then nukes. The only thing we're waiting for now is someone to unleash a smallpox epidemic or blow up a couple of nerve gas bombs.

Or maybe genocide, we still do that pretty often and quite regularly. A couple of famines and the knives will appear. Find a group of 'Others' to blame, chop chop.

So, yeah, we're still this insane. Nothing has changed. People are people.
posted by WalterMitty at 1:55 AM on February 25, 2011


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