Bad Bad Futures Which Didn’t Happen – I Expected An Earth-Shattering Kaboom!

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All of you kids under forty — who definitely should get off my lawn, btw — have no idea what it was like to grow up — to quote Queen — waiting for the hammer to fall.

Seriously, the sane assumption, the assumption anyone with any knowledge of the world made was that we, born in the sixties, would never get to grow up.  Or if we grew up, it would be in a bombed out wasteland.

Even in tiny and relatively unimportant Portugal, though we expected we wouldn’t catch a bomb, (unless it went way off course) we thought the coasts would be so thoroughly poisoned we’d all die.  (There is reason to think this was bullshit, but I’m glad we never got to test it.)

Then there was nuclear winter (also likely complete bullshit.)

Even our entertainment, hard in the pockets of the disarmament mafia (unilateral disarmament is also known as surrender, kids, remember that.) talked about how it was unconscionable to build up arsenals to fight a war that would kill the species and the world.

Even sane authors like Heinlein thought that after we had nukes there was no way we didn’t use them.

Well… we didn’t use them.  Now knowing “Russian Technology” there was a good chance they couldn’t use them with any effectiveness.

Also judging from cities that were nuked, even if it had happened it was probably never going to be the end of the world.

But we grew up in fear of it, and many of the people who are now hard left first surrendered because they were hard core cowards, no matter how they pretty that up in their minds.  They wanted to be the last eaten, when the Soviets came.

I want them to contemplate my middle fingers.

To paraphrase Heinlein: It’s always better to be a live lion.  It’s often easier too. (Than being a live lamb.)

And it turns out that peace really came through superior firepower.

Don’t let the kids forget it.  And if they have, remind them.

Live free or die is not a cry of defiance. Looking at the death toll of communism, it is simply a law of nature.

Stay free.

 

291 responses to “Bad Bad Futures Which Didn’t Happen – I Expected An Earth-Shattering Kaboom!

  1. I remember growing up with all that. I also remember being trained to attack Soviet defensive positions. I was happy when the Soviet Union fell.

  2. I never expected to survive to retire from the US Military. The only questions were whether it was going to be the Soviets or the NORKS, and conventional or nuclear.

    I found the post apocalyptic stories rather optimistic on a personal level since I spent a majority of the 80’s stationed at SAC bases or other major first strike targets, which took some of the stress off of thinking of the aftereffects as there was no expectation of survival in those locations if the (99 Luft?) balloon went up.

    • the Berlin Wall went down my third week in the Army. I bought a newspaper, went to the DI on CQ, dropped it on her desk and asked “What now, drill sergeant?”

      • The Berlin Wall was the point of convincing me. Not because it fell, but because something like 99% who came out, went back to sleep. They were so sure it was over that they went back to a Communist country because there was a bed.

      • I was at A&M in the Corps of Cadets. After my career goal of dying in battle at 22 was thwarted, I went on to have a generally happy life.

  3. Likely would have been the end of my world. An Air Force Base 30 or so miles away, and a major iron ore port 8 miles away, and the Soviet went for multiple miles per target due to that high quality guidance and possiblity of duds.
    Really didn’t bother worrying about it

    • Check; Strategic Air Command base less than 30 miles upwind, plus other military bases in the area.

    • SAC HQ five miles away and upwind. Bomb assembly facility 15 miles away (downwind. Didn’t sweat it.) I never really worried about it, although I did think the fantasy novels where Merlin survived WWIII and prevented WWIV were kinda interesting. (The Brits were soooooooo downer about nuclear war and winter. Blargh.)

      • *perks up* The ones by Pamela Service, or is this a different series?

        • Isn’t that the Weathermonger series by Peter Dickinson?

          • Well, not the ones I read. But I suppose the Pamela Service one isn’t necessarily WWIV per se being averted. I haven’t reread in a while.

          • I’ve looked up both of those and neither of them are the series I remember reading as a kid (wasn’t interested enough to know if he averts WWIV)– was there a bleepin’ run on “Merlin comes back after WWIII” stories or something?!?!

      • The Brits I could understand. Place is densely packed enough that they probably would lose most of their folk to the bombs and the fallout.

        • I well recall Neil Kinnock, UK Labour leader (and Joe Biden amanuensis) at the time, decrying Reagan & Thatcher’s efforts to deploy nuclear armed cruise missiles to England and Western Europe, fretting that doing so would make Britain “Ground Zero” in the event the balloon went up. My thought at the time was, should a full nuclear exchange occur Ground Zero would be the best place to be: you’d die so quickly you’d never see it coming, unlike all those poor doomed suckers outside the blast radius condemned to civilizational collapse..

    • I was about 10 miles downwind of the satellite tracking center in Sunnyvale. I don’t know what strategic importance it had, but between that and the Moffett NAS anti-submarine base, I figured it was a fairly high priority.

      The Murky News had a cheery piece, saying we probably wouldn’t be first strike targets. IMHO, they were smoking something; Moffett was pretty important in the cold war. SJMurk thought we’d be fourth tier. Eh. OTOH, take out the infrastructure and the place would have been uncomfortable at best.

      Where I live now, it would have been pretty much missed. We’re sometimes downwind of an F15C training facility 25 air miles away; I assume the Chinese would have bigger fish to fry.

    • HAS Miramar (now MCAS Miramar) was close enough that we rode our bicycles across the mesa to watch the Blue Angels practice from behind the chain link fence that paralleled the maim runway. My elementary school had a monument to honor a Navy pilot who rode his plane down into the canyon behind the school (which was NOT filled with houses as it is now) because if he punched out there was a real chance his plane would hit the playground full of kids on lunch hour. Air raid sirens were tested every Monday at noon. (We told each other that if the Russians were smart they’d attack at test time because everyone would ignore the siren.)

      There were so many Navy, Mafine, Coast Guard, and even a couple of Army resrve facilities in San Diego that we pretty much figured that if the bomb meant for Miramar missed one of the bombs meant for another base would probably get us.

      • I’m reminded of Robert Klein’s “Civil Defense” routine. “We bomb them at twelve o’clock, Ivan. They won’t know, they think it’s lunch!”

  4. “Seriously, the sane assumption, the assumption anyone with any knowledge of the world made was that we, born in the sixties, would never get to grow up. Or if we grew up, it would be in a bombed out wasteland.”

    I’m still not convinced that we escaped this fate. I think we just delayed the collapse for a little while, and changed its form a little. The collapse now will come from within, thanks to the seeds that the Soviets planted, but it will still come.

    “Yet the lies of Melkor, the mighty and accursed, Morgoth Bauglir, the Power of Terror and Hate, sowed in the hearts of Elves and Men are a seed that does not die and cannot be destroyed; and ever and anon it sprouts anew, and will bear dark fruit even unto the latest days.”

  5. Hiroshima restored electric streetcar service three days after the bomb exploded. One of the streetcars that survived the blast even remains operation today, having been completely restored and repainted into its original livery for the 70th anniversary commemoration of the bombing. (Although it looks like some modern electronic signage, and a big roof-mounted air conditioner, were added.)

    • Yes, there was the remaining systems in Japan to help restoration.

      Now, I’m more aware than most of how little that was. HIroshima, Nagasaki, and the other targets were actually spared US bombing when the USAAF bombing campaign moved through that population size to leave potential targets for nuclear weapons. So it isn’t like Japan had a lot of organized resources to engage in that restoration.

      In fact, Japan in 1945 might be one of the best available examples of what would remain after a general nuclear exchange (maybe, weapon yields do matter). After all, what was horrific about those two strikes was not the destruction and death toll. Neither was the deadliest bombing raid of the war, that honor going to the Operation Meetinghouse raid on Tokyo five months earlier. The nation was still functional, but without extensive US aid after the war would not have recovered anytime soon beyond an early industrial level.

      There is one key difference, however. The rolling nature of the destruction allowed surviving resources to be used as new crisis occurred. While after each raid those resources shrank they didn’t disappear all at once.

      In a general exchange they would disappear all at once. That would make a huge difference in terms of recovery. Instead of people outside setting up relief within hours (as happened after Hiroshima) there would be no one to do it.

      Also, there would be no external aid afterwards. A general US/Soviet exchange that had no spillover even on NATO/Warsaw Pact would have been destructive. The loss of the US economy would, even today, pretty much throw the rest of the world out of kilter. It would have been no different then.

      Do I think we’d have Mad Max or some lesser 80s post-apoc movie? No, but I do think the Western Empire circa 450, with general economic and governmental collapse beyond the local level, would have occurred without the new boss, Goths, Huns, Lombards, etc, ready to become the new coordinating government. Probably closer to Brittania, minus conflict with the migrating Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, than Gaul and certainly not like Hispaniola.

    • Also worth noting is that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were both, effectively, tactical nuclear weapons. Little Boy was 15 kT, Fat Man 21.
      The W56 warhead had a yield of 1200 kT.

  6. Also judging from cities that were nuked…

    Look at Hiroshima and Nagasaki today.
    Compare with Detroit.

    And I occasionally jar some youngster at work by singing a bit of some Cold War era tune (often by Tom Lehrer, but I’m still looking for a clean copy of Final Hymn of the Republic by S.O.I.D.) “You couldn’t really do anything about it, it seemed, but laugh or cry. Laughter was more fun.”

    • Not ignoring the utter horror of it, of course.

      • Aye. One ‘kid’ who goes on about some horrific things in video games (which he plays and likes) was taken aback. “I’ve seen film of Hiroshima survivors in hospital – film that was not intended to be released.” It’s one of those times I am very glad I do NOT have an eidetic memory. What I recall, these decades (now) later… is more than enough, thanks.

      • I have a bunch of books about WW2, including the bomber campaigns against Japan and Germany. A couple of years ago I was reading one of those and let myself think about what it must have been like for the people on the ground.

        I never again questioned the “antiwar” movement that grew up in Europe after WW2, nor the pacifism that took over Japan. I don’t agree with them, mind you, but I understand completely. The destruction wrought by the Eighth Air Force and the RAF over Germany, and the B-29s over Japan — great googly-moogly, what other reaction could a survivor of that horror have?

        • what other reaction could a survivor of that horror have?

          “We must convince them to give up their arms, so that they may never do this to us again! Then everything will be good in the world.”

          That’s my cynical take on it, unfortunately.

        • Well, to present the cynical side:

          It wasn’t us, it was the war, so rather than take responsibility for a military and civil society that intrinsically will never do those bad things ever again even with the means to do so in hand, we’ll just oppose war on general principles and not face the issues.

          More of this in Japan than Germany, but definitely some.

          • True, there was a lot of that. And looking back from today, we can see they made a bad choice by embracing the peace movement. I like to think I would have chosen a different course… but I wasn’t there. I’m not German, and I haven’t watched my country suffer the way Germany did between 1914 and 1945 — all of it at the hands of the so-called “good guys”. By the end of the War, Germany and Japan were broken. The two World Wars between them annihilated two entire generations of German men, and reduced most of Germany to rubble and ruin — and both times, they brought it on themselves. Meanwhile, Western racism and demand for vengeance led the Allies to rip apart the Japanese culture and society, and rebuild it in a Western image that it was ill-suited for. It can be argued that Japan never recovered from that, and that’s why it’s in a demographic and cultural death spiral right now.

            As I said: I don’t agree with the peace movement, and I like to think that in their place I’d have chosen differently — but I can see why they made the choices they did. Between the ruin wrought by the war and the Soviets’ antiwar propaganda, the good people of Germany and Japan never had a chance.

            • Western racism and demand for vengeance led the Allies to rip apart the Japanese culture and society, and rebuild it in a Western image that it was ill-suited for.

              The Japanese culture at the time, centered upon military imperialism and xenophobic racism could hardly have remained in place intact. Those of us who recall the Eighties are hardly inclined to agree that the Japanese were ill-suited for the rebuild that was employed. If anything the fear was they had taken to it too well.

              I strongly suggest eschewing facile simplistic arguments when addressing something so complex as culture.

            • It can be argued that Japan never recovered from [the Wet’s imposed culture], and that’s why it’s in a demographic and cultural death spiral right now.

              One problem with that: the West is a suffering similar demographic and cultural death spiral:

              America’s fertility headed to all-time low
              In 1957, 4.3 million babies were born in the United States — 4,316,233, to be exact. In 2017, 60 years later, the number was 3,853,472. That’s an 11 percent decline, in a nation whose population has nearly doubled over those six decades. And although there are a few days left in 2018, the number for this year is sure to be lower still.

              That’s the dominant finding from a thorough and alarming American Enterprise Institute report on “ Declining Fertility in America” by Lyman Stone of the Institute for Family Studies.

              In recent years, demographics journalists have focused on slivers of the population — the increasing percentages of Hispanics and Asians, the decline in births to teenage mothers, low birth rates in high-cost coastal metropolitan areas. Stone looks at the larger picture, that of total population, and finds that “the specter of low fertility, and ultimately of declining populations, has come to America.”

              That’s a different picture from that of a decade ago, when American birth rates hovered around, and sometimes just above, replacement level. That was a vivid contrast with substantially below-replacement-level birth rates in most of Europe and Japan.

              Those birth rates were buoyed upward by immigrant mothers, after a quarter-century of mass migration from Latin America, especially Mexico. But Mexican migration fell toward zero in the 2007-09 recession, and births to immigrants in the U.S. sharply declined, too.

              Some Americans, including many President Trump fans, find that good news. It suggests that a lower percentage of babies are born to mothers in disadvantaged households. …

              • I think it was on Catholic News Agency, but they did a breakdown of the numbers for population growth– we’ve got just over a million “extra” births after each death for ’17, and just under a million immigrants for ’17 as well.

            • To be a bit more on-the-nose than RES–

              do you really think the only reason to stop a culture that thinks tossing babies in the air and bayonetting them is OK, or in teaching their own little boys to roll under tanks holding a bomb is an admirable thing, is an action that requires appeal to racism?

              How does one justify the opposition to the Nazis, then? Germany has been “white” for a very long time.

              ********

              You got sold a bill of goods– don’t buy it again!

    • Kind of like the story of Kubrick trying to adapt “Red Alert” as a serious drama, but it was so serious a subject that black comedy just kept on creeping in.

      • I had to look it up to be sure, but I suspected that “Red Alert” became “Dr. Strangelove” (which, in full disclosure, I still have yet to see….). My suspicions were confirmed.

      • Fail-Safe was a contemporary film released shortly after Strangelove. I’ve see bits of the latter and all of FS.Apparently, it was close enough to Red Alert to get a copyright lawsuit and settlement.

        I can’t say I care to see the movie again. The premise was almost plausible for the era, but as played it was a guaranteed cure for a good mood.

    • They’re rioting in Africa, they’re starving in Spain
      There’s hurricanes in Florida & Texas needs rain.
      The whole world is festering with unhappy souls
      The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles
      Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch
      (And I don’t like anybody very much.

      But we can be tranquil & thankful & proud
      For mankind’s endowed with a mushroom-shaped cloud
      And we can be certain that some lovely day
      Someone will set the spark off, and we will all be blown away
      ~Kingston Trio

      • The Kingston Trio??!?

        • Yes. Not as good as the Limeliters but still pretty awesome.

        • Yeah, some of those groups had way more subversive stuff than they’re given credit for. The Chad Mitchell Trio (roughly contemporary; something about trios at that point) had a set of humorous songs “about Alice, told without any malice” that basically ended with the implication that she was left unmarried with a baby. In 1963, which is basically still the 50s.

          • Even more subversive than many realized, as this song skewering liberal hypocrisy demonstrates:

            Which Hat Shall I Wear? – Chad Mitchell Trio

            Chorus:
            Which hat shall I wear, the red one or blue one?
            Which hat shall I wear to the PTA?
            The red hat’s becoming; the blue one’s a new one
            Mary, come here. Tell me which do you say?

            This afternoon’s meeting of our PTA
            Is certain to be well attended
            For we are protesting the ruling today
            Of the way separate schools will be ended
            Now Mary, you’ve worked for me over a year
            By now you must certainly know
            That I’m very fond of your people, my dear
            And I don’t mind telling you so

            Chorus

            I think it’s a pity my Jimmy can’t be
            In school with his darker skinned brothers
            With school integration I fully agree
            And so do the rest of the mothers
            But my little Jimmy is really too small
            To ride to your school on a bus
            And frankly, your people aren’t helping at all
            Oh, why must there be such a fuss!

            Chorus

            Oh dear, I must hurry and be on my way
            There’s never a time for relaxing
            Mary, the windows need washing today
            And the hall and the foyer need waxing
            I’ve left some dresses piled up on a chair
            The cleaner is coming at two
            Don’t let him take the green silk with a tear
            That one, my dear, is for you

            Chorus
            https://genius.com/The-chad-mitchell-trio-which-hat-shall-i-wear-lyrics

            • For whatever reason the Youtube version of this song has been blocked, but one can sample the approach taken in this musical tale:

        • They were heavily peacenik (and left).

      • That was worth listening to… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCTdfo6T-u8

      • +1

        I’ve always liked that verse. XD

  7. I remember the one day we actually had a drill for a nuclear event in my high school, which was set off by the announcement over the P.A. (I s**t you not), “Would Enola Gay please come to the office?”

    The expectation presumably being that none of the students, or at least nowhere near enough of them, would recognize the name for what it meant and freak out. Unfortunately I, and at least one other classmate, did: we turned to each other and simultaneously repeated, incredulously, “Enola Gay?” just as the teacher stood up and started giving directions on evacuating the school.

    Even at the time I was pretty sure it was a drill. However much horror the media made out of impending nuclear conflict, some part of me just never really bought into it at the ground level. I’d like to call that a deep Christian faith in Providence, but honesty suggests it was more likely basic teenage inability to comprehend the possibility of one’s own death. I’m still not entirely over that reflex, in truth.

    (Though strangely, doomcrying that doesn’t foretell me personally dying I often find a lot more convincing. I spend a few years ’round the turn of the millennium being very disturbed by everything I’d read about peak oil, and was a little worried about global warming too before reading enough to convince me the disaster scenarios were basically bunk.)

    • It would (now?) be called “inciting a panic” or shut, but I wanted to ‘hijack’ the school PA system during High School with:

      *EBS TONES*
      “This is NOT. A. TEST. REPEAT. THIS IS. NOT. A. TEST. For further informa-kxczczczczc…

      • The actual script doesn’t actually say “Not a test”. The actual scripts are part way down this page: http://www.ae5d.com/ebs.html

        • I am somehow not surprised, but Back When, I did not know that… and what ‘net there was at the time was not something the general public had any access to, assuming such information would have even been there then. Nor had I any ready access to internals of broadcasting. Thus it was a guess, based on the EBS tests then heard regularly.

    • Ah, “peak oil”. I was looking at the blurb of a book that was convinced it was inevitable. At the time, I didn’t believe in “peak oil”, but then, as I looked at that blurb, it occurred to me: “with bumbling bureaucrats getting in the way, *anything* bad can happen!”

      So now I’m a believer in Peak Oil, but for reasons far different from Malthusian types. Indeed, I *expect* Peak Oil to happen, *because* of bumbling Malthusian bureaucrats!

      To add to my cynicism, I have noticed that we have already reached Peak Thorium (and Peak Rare Earths that are always mixed with with thorium — hence we can only get them from China), *despite* it being far more plentiful than Uranium 235, and we haven’t even started using it!

    • Peak oil is a serious possibility. Just look at Venezuela: largest oil reserves in the world and having to import gasoline even as consumption shrinks!

  8. Well, I was a crewman on a Pershing tactical nuclear missile system in Germany in the early 70’s. We figured our life expectancy in case the flag went up would be measured in minutes if we were on the well-known active duty launch sites. Now if we had been among the “lucky” crews that weren’t on active duty at the time and had deployed to the seriously-top-secret survey points deep in the Black Forest, we might have had hours to days to live…

    • I was on a boomer in the 80s. I figured we could get three of sixteen birds off if we were lucky. Those things leaving the tubes are loud and you have to remain relatively stationary and stable. Without hovering we were supposed to get 1 per minute off. With hovering that would be 4.

      Assuming a Soviet first strike, I figured someone would be waiting in our broad box to hear the first one leave the tube. They would have the solution and take the shot within the first minute.

      Maybe if we got really lucky we could have gotten 8 out now that I think about it.

      • in the 80’s I was on a boomer / fast attack. yeah 3 and die, maybe. (maybe 3). and if I remember past threads we were on the same boat (john c. Calhoun) different crews. (me gold—you blue)

      • Funny, I spent my first years in Trident. We worried less about some other sub finding us than either a shot back in our general box, or worse the shock of a full missile ripple causing our own hull to break apart.

      • One of my grandfathers worked at Hercules Powder building second stages for the Polaris SLBM. I’m rather glad you guys never had to fire them, or their successors, in anger.

  9. IIRC, nuclear winter was predicated on the simultaneous incineration of vast swathes of forest and a volcanic-like effect from the soot and ash.

    • IIRC, nearly everybody involved in the study that hypothesized “nuclear winter” considered it to be a very low-order probability even in the event of a full-scale nuclear exchange.

      • On the other hand, in fiction involving nuclear weapons, it sometimes seemed that it was considered inevitable just by a single bomb going off….

      • Yes, but the face of “SCIENCE!” Carl Sagan, told America that nuclear winter was real and everybody believed him.

    • People set off how many bombs in the atmosphere between 1945-1963?

      • It was more “if we burn all our cities all at once it’ll be like Krakatoa” more than the bomb count.

      • 2064. Well, technically that includes underground and underwater tests.

      • From memory, just the USA popped off over a thousand of them… and a lot of them were in Nevada or Utah. The US has been nuked a BUNCH of times, and almost nobody ever knew…

        • My father was a research biologist for a couple of years in the late 1950s, involved in what they called Operation Plumb-Bob, going around poking into animal burrows in and adjacent to the test areas and researching how the local small animal population were affected by the atomic tests and the radioactive fallout. He always said later, didn’t find much long-lasting residual radiation with regard to the animals. I know that it’s been claimed that the rates of various cancers in humans increased locally … but Dad was always pretty firm in his insistence that the critters weren’t affected all that much.

          • If you’re getting checked 50 times more often, and folks are really worried about it, aren’t they more likely to identify cancers?

            I know most of the adults who’ve died of cancer that I knew (who weren’t quite old) were getting regular check-ups and it just slipped through.

  10. I grew up in Minot (only remaining dual nuclear base in the US), we figured we would have had just enough time to bend over and kiss what we could reach goodbye once we saw the missiles launch. Survival? That seemed extremely unlikely. I never put much worry into a nuclear exchange. I was more worried about a conventional war involving the middle east or far east.

    I still worry more about a conventional war than a nuclear one.

    • Grew up in the shadow of Malmstrom AFB, at the time NORAD’s primary backup. We always figured we were target #2, so just enough time to yell, “Hey, Minot! Incom–“

  11. *carefully stands on the sidewalk and yells*

    I remember when one of the teachers pulled down the world map for something or other– and it looked really freaking weird, because there was just this one huge BLOB up over Europe, with an acronym on it. I think I’d only heard of the USSR in 60s songs, for all that I was 8 or 9 so when it went away.

    • Are you staying off the lawn? 😉

      But yeah… what’s the USSR? Or CCCP?

      Mutually assured destruction?

      Not that the last is actually a bad strategy for keeping everyone involved very careful.

      • I was so aware of the Soviet Union that I didn’t know what Central Europe was. Born in ’61. Lived in NYC until I was 40. Never worried about the bomb. Did worry about crime and neighborhoods becoming bad.

      • MAD I did know, from scifi! Never understood why it gets a bad rap, it’s about the only thing to go with when you don’t have a shared moral framework. “Attack me and I’ll kill myself to take you down.”

        But any time my folks mentioned the USSR, they just said the Russians, and they didn’t talk about it much because we were learning this at school, obviously, right?

        • Most people assumed that, which is why they allowed schools to tell your generation that communism is a good thing.

          • *grumbles* What part of in the world, but not of it, can these folks not grasp?

          • You know, there’s a large community of former Ukrainians near here. I’ve never gotten any of them going on the USSR—the closest I’ve gotten is hearing the irritation when people assume they’re Russian. I… have a sneaking suspicion that the older folk, at least, would be educational for the younger Americans to talk with.

        • No, that’s AD–Assured Destruction. The policy in the Eisenhower years. MAD was McNamara’s “improvement” on it–dismantling our defenses to make sure we died too. To assure the Soviets we weren’t going to go first.

          Oddly enough, they didn’t seem to eager to do the same…

          • Oy. Now that’s a dumb.

            • McNamara was the worst kind of arrogant fool – the kind who thinks because he’s good at one thing, is good at all the others. He stuffed up conduct of the Vietnam war, knew it, and yet kept it going, rather than admit he was wrong.
              I started service in 1976, and served with a lot of veterans who remembered him as Sec Def – and the things they had to say about him would have peeled the varnish off furniture. He’s buried at Arlington – and I wonder how many Vietnam-era veterans surreptitiously pee on his grave.
              Arthur Hadley wrote a great book in the mid-80s about the state of the American military: The Straw Giant. I read it when it came out, and yes – that’s what it was like then, and I suspect still is now. Many of the then-senior officers he included in his book had nothing good to say about McNamara, either.
              https://www.amazon.com/Straw-Giant-Arthur-Hadley/dp/0394551818

  12. I’m of the opinion it would have been both better and worse than expected. From what I gleaned of Soviet targeting theory and practice that came out when researchers got access to Soviet files pre-Putin, the actual undefended US target areas, like the SF Bay Area , Seattle, LA, New York and DC, would have been massively overtargeted simply because the Soviet targeting folks knew their missiles were crap, so they had to send a whole bunch to make sure that some made it. They also were pretty certain the US was counterforce targeting, so they would only really get one shot.

    On the other hand, there’s been so much misinformation and disinformation and research suppression on actual device effects that the simple fact that any single warhead that could fit in a missile would not be big enough to do the damage that the Hollywood representations showed.

    It would have been horrible, but not instant Mad Max or giant ants and zombies (or zombie giant ants ridden by Mad Max).

    Now Europe is much more closely packed, and if the Soviets had rolled through the Fulda gap in 1980 or so, especially using chemical warfare as per their doctrine, a lot of Continental Europe would have been toast – I recall reading a study that said widespread use of persistent chemical agents would have been a larger ecodisaster than an exchange of theater nukes in Europe.

    • Yeah. Apparently the SOBs had signs printed in Russian to direct the troops all the way to Portugal. I had NO idea at the time.

    • Like I said above, imagine post WW2 Japan with no one coming with aid and the shock of it happening all at once instead of over 6 months. Yes, we’d been bombing longer, but Meethinghouse is when we figured out how to burn down Japan and began in earnest.

      • This is what I was trying for with “better and worse” – bad due to conventional impact of that much energy release (mostly fire), better because the radiological stuff would be not nearly as bad as portrayed.

        Thus orbital-velocity kinetic strikes from space would be very comparably as destructive overall compared to nukes.

    • there’s been so much misinformation and disinformation

      More than we can imagine, and we can imagine a lot!

      The Long History of Russian Intelligence Stirring Up American Social Divisions
      By Jim Geraghty
      It is indeed awful that Russian intelligence services have used social media to exacerbate American political-social divisions and spread lies during the 2016 election season and continue to today.

      It is also not new. Oleg Kalugin, a retired major general in the KGB, described the underhanded tactics of his agency in his memoir Spymaster: My Thirty-Two Years in Intelligence and Espionage Against the West.

      We in the KGB station in New York did everything we could to stir up trouble for the American side.

      One of our dirty tricks involved a nasty letter-writing campaign against African diplomats at the United Nations – an idea cooked up by KGB headquarters in Moscow and approved by the Communist Party Central Committee. Our KGB staff, using new typewriters and wearing gloves so as not to leave fingerprints, typed up hundreds of anonymous hate letters and sent them to dozens of African missions. The letters, purportedly from white supremacists as well as average Americans, were filled with virulent racist diatribes. The African diplomats publicized some of the letters as examples of the racism still rampant in America, and members of the American and foreign press corps quoted from them. I and other KGB officers working as correspondents in the United States reported extensively on this rabidly anti-black letter writing campaign. I lost no sleep over these dirty tricks, figuring they were just another weapon in the Cold War.

      Our active measures campaign did not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, or color: we went after everybody. Attempting to show that America was inhospitable to Jews, we wrote anti-Semitic letters to American Jewish leaders. My fellow officers paid American agents to paint swastikas on synagogues in New York and Washington. Our New York station even hired people to desecrate Jewish cemeteries. I, of course, beamed back reports of these misdeeds to my listeners in Moscow, who – tuning in to my broadcasts – no doubt thanked the Lord or Comrade Lenin that they had been born in a social paradise, and not in a hotbed of racial tension like the United States.

      Makes you wonder about which hate crimes of the Cold War era were genuine and which ones were perpetuated by the KGB to tear at America’s social fabric.
      [SNIP]

      Reality? What is this “Reality” of which you speak? How do you know this?

  13. A buddy of mine had never seen “Wargames”, so we watched it a couple of weeks ago. The message there was “the only winning move is not to play”- which is pretty much the basis of Mutual Assured Destruction.

    • No. It was the basis of unilateral disarmament. (SPIT)

      • I’m still getting my morning coffee stream up to operating specs…
        The movie is not too bad for a Hollywood film- the cigar smoking southern general isn’t a paranoid warmonger wanting to nuke the other side on the flimsiest of excuses, for instance.
        But, the point the filmmakers thought was so profound really wasn’t that profound, or even especially novel in strategic circles. MAD is basically telling the other side that to play the game is to automatically lose.
        And yeah, they probably though they were making a case for unilateral disarmament.

    • They left out one of the best scenes. The one where they tell CINCSAC he has to turn over control of his missiles and bombers to that NORAD puke. THAT would have been comedy cold! 😉

  14. Raise your hand if you got stinking drunk on August 29, 1997.

    … no one else?

    • in leiu of a detailed explanation:

      • Ah. Never paid much attention to Hollywood’s (mis)conception(s) of history. Future or historical.

        • The first two were really excellent films for the time. The second’s main theme of ‘machines can work for you or against you’ still works for me.

          • Still are really excellent films, IMO. And not just “for the time.” Kinda like the first two Alien films in that respect: #1 was action horror, #2 more straight up action. #1 was good, but #2 was great. And the director’s cut is even better.

            • #1 depended on subverting genre to build suspense. It kept me on the edge of my seat *once*. Which, given the theater-based market of the day, was just fine. I’ve watched it more than once, but it’s pretty flat once you’ve seen it already. Not bad, just without the first-time punch.

              #2 had a more normal event progression. Even once you’d seen it many times, you could just kick back and enjoy going with the flow.

              Much different movies, even if they could almost have been spliced together out of the same batch of film.

      • I figured you’d explain eventually. 😀

    • I seem to have missed something Very Significant.
      Care to elaborate?

    • I was, for different reasons of course. That date totally slipped my mind that era.

    • Well, I had been married for 13 days already, so….

  15. BobtheRegisterredFool

    a) I barely, if that, remember the Cold War. I might possibly have been aware of the fall of the Berlin wall at the time, but it may have been a couple of years before I learned about it. Coverage was everywhere for years afterward. I remember not understanding what the big deal was. I understood by the time I reached my twenties.
    b) I am now convinced we will be fighting nuclear, chemical and perhaps biological wars in the future.
    c) Because I was so young, and learning about things in hindsight, I did not adsorb the fear and the fatalism so deeply. I think we can win our future nuclear wars, and probably also the chemical. Biological I’m not so sure of. Currently working on an elevator pitch pointing out that I’m old enough to know about the importance, and young enough to bring a lot of optimism to certain problems. We are either moving back into an active phase of Cold War, or we need to develop now the technologies we will be using in the next world war.
    d) We set ourselves up for future conflict when we forget what men like Sherman, Harris, and LeMay knew.

    • Sherman: Make war in someone else’s backyard.
      Harris: Bomb them until they learn not mess with us.
      LeMay: Bounce the rubble.

    • Nukes and even Chem requires sufficient industrial footprint that any potential user is known to those who look for those things.

      Bio is the ultimate asymmetric warfare tool – develop in any building, use espionage to deliver, make sure you have a bulletproof vaccine for your own side, and any David country or group can hurt the biggest Goliath. That’s the one I’m afraid of.

      • What scares me more than a nation-state bioattack is the potential for a nihilist bio. And given the way that progressives worldwide have been destroying the old norms, leading to anomie, which increases the risk of nihilism, it is a truly scary prospect.

        • Aye. If someone doesn’t care about their own survival… they can do Something Very Nasty.. with a whole lot of not much. And be devastating. Or comically incompetent. But you cannot count on comical incompetence doing you favors. The other issue is some well-meaning idiot(s)* getting it just so slightly wrong and… “Did I do that?

          * “I know! I’ll genengineer a virus that will add the correct DNA sequence to counter affliction and…” (Testing? Level-whatever protocols? ‘Trust me, I know what I’m doing’ — Sledge Hammer)

        • Or a naturally-arising new pathogen being mistaken for biowarfare.

        • Currently reading (this is a book blog, after all) “A Place Outside The Wild” by Daniel Humphreys. (Might have even been tagged here is why I got it. That and it was cheap.)

          I won’t give any spoilers, but the zombie thing isn’t as “oops!” or natural as most zombie stories.

          (I’m enjoying it, btw. I also have the other two, as well as the short-story book that goes in-between two of the novels. But going to read some Christopher Nutall before I go back to that zombie series.)

        • Iran: the nihilist nation-state!

          I believe that only the fact that Israelis and Persians are genetically closely related has prevented their release of a targeted virus.

          Release the Twelfth Imam!

      • And Bio is the scary one in any event. Nuclear and chem are both more or less limited to the area of the actual attack. Sure, winds can mess with this a bit. But launching a mustard gas attack against Berlin isn’t going to do much to Los Angeles.

        Bio, on the other hand, can very quickly slip all attempts to control it.

        • Which is one of the reasons why we need to get serious about getting at least some saving remnant of humanity off this planet, and far enough away that a worldwide disaster couldn’t sweep them into it.

      • If the other side is fanatical enough, and doesn’t care about dying, vaccine isn’t necessary. E.g. Ringo’s Black Tide Rising.

        This may be unduly optimistic, but I think that the human race will keep going

    • I swear I watched the Berlin Wall fall while in Uniform in the Philippines but the timing is a bit too close for me to be sure… One of those things that we swear are real memories but can’t be? Or I’m confused about what year I enlisted which may be completely possible.

      What I recall is that we didn’t really do any work for at least a week, just watching that happen on the television set up in our shop. All of us had grown up with the absolute belief in the permanence of that Wall.

      But Poland had rebelled earlier and I remember writing an essay or giving a speech about Poland and the threat (to the USSR) of a cascade of lost control…

      • I recall one east bloc country becoming a sieve if not a highway for escape a while before. And the outpouring through that made the mesh ever-wider. And then, astonishingly suddenly to anyone who grew up with The Berlin Wall (which had ‘always been there’ and would likely ‘last forever’) the gates were opened, there was dancing atop the Wall, and soon it was being destroyed.

        Who did what can speculated, sure. Maybe Pope John-Paul II had influence. Maybe Lec Walensa. Maybe Reagan, and Thatcher. Or maybe one bewildered East German bureaucrat slipped up. Or some combination.

        BUT… Socialism/Communism vs. Free Market? Not only did the wall come down, they sold off the pieces (and likely any random bit of concrete that could pass). That, there, tells the story: The Free Market Wins – it might take a while, but it ain’t lost yet.

        • Donald Stephens

          It was Hungary. Since their border with ‘Western Europe’ was with Austria, it wasn’t as fortified as the other borders.

          • And they took down the fences. Really p1ssed the East Germans off. There was a fascinating documentary about it that is no longer available for public viewing.

            • IIRC, as the Cold War wound down, the Hungarian leaders allowed a small number of very brief visits to Austria, but initially kept their border security arrangement in place otherwise. Then a Hungarian got killed trying to cross the border outside one of them. And that’s when the Hungarian leadership more or less said “screw it” and opened up their borders.

              Now they’re having to re-militarize parts of their borders to prevent a Muslim invasion larger than any they’ve faced since the Ottoman Empire.

        • But then there weren’t war crime trials and collaborators like Frau Merkel and her husband weren’t hung or at least jails.

          So in one sense… Germany really lost that one, big time.

          • If they’d jailed everyone who informed for the Stasi they would have needed to reopen the old concentration camps. Estimates are that 1/3 of East Germany’s population was working for them.

      • Berlin Wall was my senior year in high school. And then later that school year the Soviet Block countries started slipping away. I was thinking the Soviet coup attempt and kidnapping of Gorbachev was also that school year, but it was apparently in August ’91.

        • Had a Berliner exchange student in my HS art class. He was both super duper thrilled that the wall was down, and super disappointed he wasn’t there for the party.

          • Some friends of ours had a German exchange student over when the wall came down. She got to watch her friends on TV dancing on the ruins.

        • Yeah, the attempted Soviet Coup was a few years later.

          But the Tienanmen Square demonstrations took place in June the same year that the Iron Curtain fell.

          • I had a hard time understanding why the Chicoms moved in as they did when it looked like the demonstration was winding down.

            • It took them a while to get units that were not from Beijing and did not know anybody in the Square.

              But there is a long Chinese tradition of allowing protest, and then killing everyone involved. It discourages protests.

  16. During the Cuban crisis I lived right between Lockbourne AFB and Port Columbus. The bombers taking off were a constant rumble rumble rumble all night long. About the time you’d get to sleep the rumble would suddenly get louder and change pitch. That was fighters scrambling. Then in about two minutes it would be >CRACKCRACKCRACKCRACK< as they went over us tran-sonic. NO noise abatement. When I flew out of Port Columbus there were bombers sitting on each end of the runway with pilots in them and start carts attached. They had nukes aboard so they had an armed perimeter around each one.
    If we saw them start up and climb out we knew we had maybe ten minutes to live and we just hoped they were high enough and far enough away to give it back with a little interest.
    I've never stopped feeling it would take one fool doing something to kick it all off still. If we ever have an exchange they will crater the runways at Selfridge about 16 miles ESE of me. I'd lose my south facing window but I have heavy plastic and gorilla tape under my desk if that happens. That's how real it is to me.

  17. I grew up with the Cold War and my memories are like Sarah’s (only somewhat older). I do recall the expectation that somebody would push the wrong button and we’d all be annihilated in the ultimate nuclear war. I certainly bought that in my early teens. It feels strange to look back on those fears, considering that in fact I’ve enjoyed more than 70 years in the most blessed, most peaceful environment any human beings can ever have known. I’ve lived in the most powerful and most technologically advanced country in the world. I’ve never experienced an invasion, a civil war, or even so much as a currency change. Antibiotics and vaccination took much of the fear out of contagious diseases (sadly, my grandchildren may not be so lucky.)

    I have this feeling that as my generation arrives at the Pearly Gates, we’ll be greeted by St. Peter enjoying a belly laugh and asking, “What were you afraid of?”

    • Same here. I remember air raid drills in elementary school, at the time of the Cuban Missile crisis.
      And then when I was stationed in Spain, the Berlin wall came down. It was rather like waking up from a bad dream.

      • Yep. Nuclear raid drill sirens were different than the fire drill ones. Good thing because the reaction was different. Fire drill we all walked out to the play ground & lined up. The latter we were taken into the grade school kitchen, lunch room, which was a fall out shelter. Doesn’t exist anymore, that grade school has sense been torn down. Not even sure where there is a public fallout shelter in town anymore.

    • I do recall the story of how, pre-antibiotics, pneumonia wards were full of patients and if the temperature chart went one way, the patient would live – if it went the other, the patient would die. And nothing could change that. And then penicillin cured everyone in the ward and it was shut down – in under a month. Yes, advanced technology and medicine has made some mistakes (some truly terrible, true) – I’ll risk them. As said before, I this mark on my arm… and now (unless some damn fool weaponizes it, or there’s some unknown cache) people don’t have that mark, as they don’t need it. Smallpox? History. Good place to leave it, too.

      • Some of us do.

        Military and high-value emergency responders.

        Looking for the mark would be a great way to remove threats to a totalitarian gov’t…..

        • My mother knew my older sister got it, and my younger didn’t. She could not remember about me. . . until one day I noticed and pulled up the sleeve next time I saw her to confirm it was.

    • I was born in the 60s, albeit late, and while I was aware the USSR was there, and was bad, I never felt any personal danger.

    • Born in ’53. All those duck and cover drills. My dad was an optimist. He didn’t believe the Soviet Union had effective enough technology to take us out. He said “Don’t let the pessimists get you down.”

      It was also exciting because we were living in a science fiction world. I remember sitting in the school cafeteria with the everybody watching the schools only two black and white TVs when Alan Shepard went up sub orbital. The McGoldrick’s Cadilac Eldorado was styled like a rocket ship.

  18. Well… we didn’t use them. Now knowing “Russian Technology” there was a good chance they couldn’t use them with any effectiveness.

    That assumption was one of many that led to the famous overkill people complained about…why do we need enough weapons to destroy the world x times over?

    Because general nuclear has a dark variant on the Drake equations.

    Let BOHICA be the number of nukes to “destroy the world”. Then let HWDWTMTW be the number of nukes we need. Then

    BOHICA = HWDWTMTW * TF * SO * DS * GF * DF * TS

    where 0 <= TF, SO, GF, DF, TF <= 1 and are

    TF = transmission failure, sites not getting the order to launch
    SO = sane operators, the number of people who refuse to pull the pickle/turn the keys when the order comes
    DS = defensive success, rate that subs are destroyed before they finish unloading (my guess was with luck we could get 3 of 16 birds out of the tubes), bombers shot down, and ABM successes (while the ABM treaty existed it allowed one site per nation the USSR kept one open…I suspect more than one, they just didn't have confidence they could built 100% ones and the US could…see Apollo and Glomar Explorer). Actually, this is 1 minus the success rate to keep it all multiplication
    GF = guidance failures, weapons that failed to get there
    DF = detonation failure, weapons that got there but didn't explode at anything near design yield
    TS = target survivability, how tough things turn out to be. This is another 1 minus one.

    Even if you are 95% successful on all the above, only 73% of weapons destroy their targets.

    • Dr. Pournelle once commented on his blog that in the mid-1960s, we were estimating a 50% dud rate on Soviet nukes. I infer that our own dud rate would have been around one in three…certainly the histories indicate there were serious problems.

  19. Disarmament/surrender…

    What would be worse: to live in a Commie hellhole or a nuclear wasteland?

  20. I read the message that Jimmy Carter sent to the stars with the voyager and was horrified because of the undercurrent of an *expectation* that our entire society might simply be *gone*. In retrospect, even sending that thing out there was a gesture rooted in fatalism, even if no one actually spoke those words.

    • By the time Voyager actually gets anywhere with sentient life, the Earth will probably be consumed by the Sun. They may be the fastest moving man made objects, but they are slow and the galaxy is huge

      • By the time it gets anywhere, the optimistic outlook is that we’ll have caught up to it or leap-frogged it.

        • Christopher M Chupik

          Interstellar travelers will pull up alongside it to take selfies.

        • Patrick Chester

          I’m remembering an early strip of the webcomic Vexxarr where humans, after reverse engineering Vexxarr’s ship go out and pull the plate off of the Pioneer probes since advertising their location seemed like a bad idea. Can’t find it and I’m about to go to sleep so… bummer. Here’s a link so you can get addicted to it:

          http://www.vexxarr.com

          *cackles evilly*

      • The real concern is it is picked up by an interstellar AI, and it merges, ending up with a slightly corrupted mission……..

    • The risk of nuclear annihilation was a favorite Democrat campaign talking point back then, as baked into their philosophy as Republican = Racist now is. Their major campaign argument for reelection of Jimmuh was the paralyzing fear of Reagan’s finger on the button.

  21. There was some benefit to having the Soviets as an adversary: as formal atheists, they didn’t have any expectation of a wonderful afterlife, and as historical materialists, they believed the triumph of their worldview was inevitable. Hence, no great incentive to blow up the world; on the contrary, a strong incentive to keep it going.

    Not the case with, for example, the leadership of Iran.

    • Yes, their doctrine said their side had to win eventually (that inevitable arrow thingee), so the post Stalin CCCP leadership was biased to stay very conservative.

      Note Tsar Vladimir the Shirtless has no such constraint.

    • Perhaps, but I can’t help wonder how much of the Iranian leadership is talking a talk it’s not really interested in actually walking. Wealth and power imbue anybody with a certain worldly carefulness, however sincere one’s beliefs.

      • Martyrdom is admirable for their underlings, but pretty much none of the Iranian leadership are going to strap a bomb to their chest any time soon.

    • historical determinists, I think.

  22. Not truly related, but I am reminded from some comments of Second City TeleVision (SCTV) where one episode had the ridiculously huge ‘Russian’ (or Soviet) “Minicam” which was the size of a full-sized van or larger. And now… even the real minicams of that time seem ridiculously large.

    (And, somewhere I have an actual Plumbicon tube. No idea what condition it’s in.)

  23. Does anyone but me remember reading “Down to a Sunless Sea” that postulated a shift in the earth’s orbit due to successive nuclear strikes? I can’t remember crawling under our desks in grade school although my husband remembered that we did (we were in the same grade). What a waste of time, fear and energy…schools were not a/c so had lots and lots of open screened windows… Much more clear was the frightening Cuban missile crisis as we were near NORAD. No ammo available of any type in Denver after one day. I just hope my grandchildren will have as lucky a time to live as I have had.

    • I do not recall that, but I recall the movie The Day the Earth Caught Fire.

    • I do remember “Down to a Sunless Sea”, I bought it in London and read it on the flight back to the US, which was appropriate since almost all of the action in the book takes place in an airliner.. Very well-done, I thought.

      • I’d read it also – when I was stationed in Greenland, IIRC.
        The mental image of the older-age Russian woman leaping out the back of the Russian transport, so that it could be lightened…
        That sequence was pretty horrifying.

    • Yeah, I remember that one. Rather enjoyed it. I was working in the aerospace industry at the time and rather enjoyed working out the aircraft described. Yeah, I can remember duck and cover drills (born in 1951) along with Conelrad settings on the radio dial as well as the weekly tests of that system.

  24. Household where the hammer was supposed to fall, check.

    Also household where the worst of Malthus and Ehrlich were constantly trotted out as “of course this is going to happen” despite it… not happening.

    I’m still not sure how I came out of that with “Screw this, I’m going to live,” but I suspect massive doses of Conan the Cimmerian and Sherlock Holmes were involved.

  25. George Crichton

    “No more ashes, no more sack cloth, no more arm bands made of black cloth. When the bomb that drops on you gets your friends and neighbors too. There will be no one left alive to grieve.” Tom Lehrer song We will all go together when we go.

    • One of my favorite songs, but then, I’m Odd.

      “We will all fry together when we fry
      We’ll be french fried potatoes by and by
      There will be no more misery
      When the world is our rotisserie
      Yes, we will all fry together when we fry”

  26. Back in the Eighties I learned to stop worrying and love the Bomb.

    Two reasons. First, someone who actually understood the concept explained deterrence to me. Not the cartoon Leftist version but how it actually worked, and had worked for a generation at that point.

    Second, I tried to set up a postapocalyptic roleplaying game setting, using a map of the U.S. I drew big circles around all the likely primary targets to be the utterly destroyed zones . . .

    . . . and then was rather dismayed by how much was left. Even a worst-case strike against the U.S. left a hell of a lot of the U.S. to rebuild things, and left ALL of Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria, Indonesia, India, etc. intact. Try as I might, I couldn’t figure out how to end civilization.

    • Christopher M Chupik

      “Try as I might, I couldn’t figure out how to end civilization.”

      Two words: “Social Justice”.

      • The soviet money spent in schools was more destructive than all of it spent on military for both sides. Militarily the US may fracture in an exchange but remain similar. Today it’s barely recognizable as the country was even in the 90s in too many aspects.

    • Family trip with Grandma to Kansas, last night we couldn’t find a hotel until we found a…very run down place pretty close to the west border of Kansas. (I have no clearer idea, I was a kid.)

      Run by a guy who looked like Hulk Hogan dressed like himself from a post-apocalyptic future.

      Who gave mom an awesome rate on the hotel…after she politely listened, and asked intelligent questions, as he laid out a map with the various range of bombs and likely targets drawn on it. The few where she asked like “isn’t that base out of commission?” and similar, he had answers for.

      The guy had done exactly what you did, plus looked at supply lines, and set up a hotel basically to have supplies and housing in the safest possible place after Everything Ended.

    • “Second, I tried to set up a postapocalyptic roleplaying game setting, using a map of the U.S. I drew big circles around all the likely primary targets to be the utterly destroyed zones . . .

      . . . and then was rather dismayed by how much was left. Even a worst-case strike against the U.S. left a hell of a lot of the U.S. to rebuild things, and left ALL of Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria, Indonesia, India, etc. intact. Try as I might, I couldn’t figure out how to end civilization.”

      I did the same thing with an interactive sea-level map that went up to the “worst case scenario” of melting all the polar ice. I wanted to “game” a post apocalyptic water-world future. The amount of NOT-wet was dismaying. Florida was underwater… no more than half of Louisiana… Sacramento valley was a broad, peaceful, warm sea. Other than that? Tokyo got wet. Some of the coastal areas of Europe were a bit farther below sea level. But over all it was a big disappointment.

      • That’s my objection to the various “What if the Germans had built the atomic bomb first?!” alternate universe scenarios.

        Okay. It’s 1942, 1943, 1944, or 1945. Go ahead, I’ll let you pick the year. Now look at the Grand Alliance and point to the single target that a Hiroshima-sized bomb would be enough to cripple the Alliance. No, I’ll be generous, make that a Nagasaki-sized bomb. And I’ll give you free delivery, too; just tell me where you want to set it off. London? DC? Moscow? Los Alamos?

        Alas, there’s no single target that would do more than annoy the Allies.

        No real change? How about I give you ten bombs?

        No, no joy there, either.

        A HUNDRED atomic bombs with swastikas on the sides, delivered anywhere you want? Surely that would be enough?

        Probably not…

        The Grand Alliance comprised half of the whole freaking *world*, had a fault-tolerant command structure and multiple governments.

        And there’s still the problem that if you traveled back in time to 1939 or 1940 and handed Todt or Speer a complete set of plans and arranged that their A-bomb project didn’t get its funding gutted by multiple Next Great Ideas, Germany *might* have managed one or two bombs by 1945… but even with full knowledge of what to do, the Reich simply didn’t have the industrial capacity to build more. You need a whole lot of handwaving to make any kind of atomic-based German victory plausible.

        • Consider, however, that even Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren’t going to end the war, in terms of actual destruction and direct impact on the war effort. The key to their use was the question of “What if they have more? And how many?”

          A German bomb in, say, 1944, delivered to two locales (London and D.C*) might have hurt the political will to continue. Maybe the isolationists in America would have surged (yes, they still existed in 1944 and ’45) and convinced the stand-in gov’t to sue for peace with the world as-it-was then.
          (* Remember that a lot of the other gov’ts actively fighting the NAZIs and the Japanese were in exile because their countries were already conquered. And the 3 biggies were all reliant on our industry. Moscow might have collapsed without our materiel contributions.)

          But, I also think you have to posit a lot of little things being at least slightly different. Like a less successful air campaign against both the main Axis powers.

          (Note all the hedging with “might”s in there. 🙂 )

          • The Japanese were losing and knew they were losing. Those two bombings gave them a face-saving excuse opportunity to eschew cultural seppuku. An Allied invasion of the homeland they could face — yes, they’d all die but they’d take an honor guard of our troops with them. Against nuclear bombs? That’s just dying helplessly, in bulk. No honor there.

            • *nod*

              It let us beat them honorably.

              Which has a long tradition, which is flourishingly obvious in anime– I beat you, utterly, honorably, and then we can be friends.

      • Some secondary effects would come into play. In The Long Tomorrow, the cities were hollowed out by the inability to keep them supplied in want of infrastructure, followed by general panic and an actual Constitutional amendment to prohibit collections of buildings over a certain size.

  27. Christopher M Chupik

    To me, the most hilarious of historical ironies that the Cold War was ended peacefully by the man the anti-nuke crowd thought most likely to trigger nuclear Armageddon. Better yet, he did it by doing all the things he wasn’t supposed to do.

    • I didn’t have a preference between Bush and Gore (no really) but when 9-11 happened I was particularly glad that Bush was president because I was certain that Gore would have over-reacted up to the scale of nukes over reacted.

      • I’m not sure that obliterating Kabul and Khandahar would not have been the best option. Glass them and walk away.

        • Meh. Maybe. When everything is said and done.

          But put the usual Democrat and the military together and even over-reacting is going to be purposeless and half-assed. (Exhibit – Libya.)

          Maybe Bush *should have* lobbed a nuke or two over there, but had he done so it wouldn’t have been in anger. Which (emotionally) is how every Dem politician seems to function.

        • I still think “Anaconda” should have been a tight cordon several miles away, and drop nukes on the mountain until it inverted. The effect on the other countries of the world would have been tremendous. (I think Pakistan would have been much more helpful.)

      • Gore would have been compelled to prove his “manhood” — it’s an “Only Nixon can go to China” scenario.


        It pays for your foe to believe you crazy enough to “just might do it!”

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      The anti-nuke crowd was effectively a Soviet proxy, advocating against exactly the things likely to kill the USSR.

      • “Effectively”? Heck, they were an ACTUAL proxy. They were paid and given propaganda materials directly by the Kremlin.

    • Not quite. Reagan won the Cold War. HW Bush ended the thing.
      I would argue that said ending required both men–Bush would never have pushed the Soviets the way Reagan did, and Reagan would have been unable to resist making some kind of dramatic gesture that would have gotten the hardliners’ dander up when the Wall came down.

    • Reagan talked about “economic warfare” against the USSR, ratcheting up technological threats that strained ever more of the Soviet economy as they tried to deal with it.

      That was the whole reason for “Star Wars”, which nobody seriously intended to build… but we *could*, if the political winds blew that way, and the Soviets had to plan for that. And the always-fragile Soviet economy simply couldn’t come up with the resources to build their own version, and the military and the Politburo had the fact that they could never catch up rubbed in their faces. And then the spit-and-baling-wire structure of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics started to crack, and pieces started falling off…

      • Funny thing is, we did build Star Wars—-parts of it. The US Navy shot down a defective US satellite a few years ago, for example; then there’s the Patriot missile and THAAD (terminal high-altitude area
        defense—-it’s in South Korea now). Plus the Israel built Iron Dome, et al.

      • I forget what plane it was, but it was not considered a great idea even as it was being tested. I recall one quip that the best thing/only good thing about it was that the Soviets wasted a lot of time and effort attempting to copy. [Accuracy of storyteller: unknown]

        • Could be the B-1. It might have been a good aircraft, but budget cuts got to it, along with some engineering troubles (specifically engines and those swing-wings). The Soviets discovered the engineering problems all on their own… then made them worse, iirc. (Because they were working from stolen blueprints that didn’t show certain changes.)

  28. I have held in my hands 34 of the keys (one at a time) that would have opened the gates of Hell had we been ordered to launch our missiles. We were 90+% sure we’d never have to.

  29. Stuart Slade wrote a pretty good series of essays about the subject.
    Here’s one link: https://www.giantbomb.com/forums/off-topic-31/nuclear-warfare-101-wall-of-text-alert-6857/

  30. I’m not quite old enough to remember the Cuban Missile crisis, but I do remember all kinds of arrangements for civil defense, fallout shelters, and the like. There discussion of the possibilities and prospects for nuclear war. I decided that that God had other plans for the planet than global thermonuclear war, so I wasn’t going to worry about it much. As time went by and the war didn’t happen, (that’s not to say there weren’t all kinds of alarming incidents), the USSR, or at least its leadership and economy, began looking older, more decrepit, and less willing or able to carry out the Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist-Maoist program of world domination.

    I do not believe their intellectual heirs in this country will succeed, either, in spite of what the social justice warriors with the bullhorns would have us all believe. There are too many people who are outright contemptuous of the gross stupidity that has been coming from our so-called intellectual leaders. They do not have the power they think they do. Trouble, turmoil, and commotion I expect, The End? Nope.I’m pretty sure the Author has Other Things in mind.

  31. The Cold War was still a going concern for much of my childhood, and I remember well wondering if I was going to go to bed at night never to wake up, having been incinerated overnight by Soviet nukes. I have a lot of memories of the Reagan’s second term, and the tension with the Soviets, and Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika. Then suddenly, just before high school, the Cold War and Soviet Union were gone. Since my high school library had just moved into a new, larger space, all the new books about the Cold War based on the first rounds of declassified documents began hitting the shelf my sophomore year.

  32. I grew up in the SF Bay Area, and in a vague box between NAS Alameda, Oakland Naval Depot, the Presidio, Mare Island, and Ames. Between that and SF and Oakland and a few other parts, I pretty much assumed that there was at least three SS-18s aimed in my general direction for most of my childhood.

    And, trying to explain to people why I thought SDI was a wonderful idea-even if it prevented one stupid accidental launch from doing damage, it was money well spent. And, that the Soviet Uniion and the People’s Republic of China were just bullies writ large.

    Everyone saw the shell. The parades of tanks and soldiers and rockets, the propaganda, the stories, the very effective espionage service.

    Very few people saw how fragile the oyster was once you found the right point to poke it. How fragile the bookkeeping of the Soviet Union was and how quickly it could crash if you tried to make it go in a way it couldn’t. And that was a high technology, high-precision project that required people that could think. The moment they started to think about some things, they would start thinking about others and go from there.

    (And, I think you could crash the PRC by holding Google’s chestnuts to an open fire and break down the Great Firewall.)

    • My view is that Hitler actually did the USSR a favor by invading- he unified the nation under Stalin, and helped to keep it from collapsing for another 44 years.
      Had some policeman in 1923’s Munich been a better shot, and had Shicklegruber not been able to bring about WWII, it could very well be that the Soviet Union might have undone itself at the death of Stalin, if not before.

  33. For the record, you can thank Jerry Pournelle for a fair chunk of that victory. SF was a high-profit sideline. His real masterpiece was, “The Strategy of Technology.” Which was the manual that laid out how the West could capitalize on the new computer technology and develop a generation of weapons the Soviets could not copy, could not match.

    I vividly remember the fall of the Berlin Wall…but also the first night of Desert Storm. Tom Clancy put it best. It was “War of the Worlds”…and we were the Martians. And NOBODY expected the thrashing to be so terribly one-sided. Not us, not the Iranians, and not the Russians, who were sitting there thinking, “We were going to fight against THAT?”

    • Desert Storm wasn’t really all that surprising to those who read “Red Storm Rising” (or similar works). Not to me, anyway.

    • butbutbut Star Wars willl neverrrr worrrrrrrkkkkkkkk….

      (please ignore: Standard Missile III, Navy ship with a laser cannon, planned railguns on navy vessels very soon, and the fact that a software patch allowed a Phalanx to shoot down artillery and mortar fire…)

      • It probably wouldn’t have worked with the tech we had available then.
        Now? Now we could make it work.

        • I’ll put it bluntly… we have that specific technology due to the SDI program. We can do it because of 30 years of research that was kickstarted then.

    • but also the first night of Desert Storm. Tom Clancy put it best. It was “War of the Worlds”…and we were the Martians.

      It’s a pity that we didn’t do the same thing in every subsequent conflict.

      It probably would have saved us a lot of trouble.

      • One factor that applied was that we had better trained troops, with better skills all up and down the chain, and were able to handle things at a level that most Arab armies would have required senior officers to decide.

        Someone war-gamed a direct one-for-one swap of equipment between the US and Iraq during the Gulf War. We still won-a lot more casualties, but we still won.

        • Well….of course.

          Because the US is a nation of natural nobility; we don’t have any “peasants.” We’ve just got Lords who are currently leading, and those who aren’t currently leading.

          At the exact same time, we have no lords; we have only those who do the work, and those who currently don’t have to do the work but can, and would.

          Our culture is:
          Take the best of everything, and make it our own, even if that is a lot of work.

    • Jerry also made the case that the Soviet Union bankrupted itself trying to keep up with the US. I don’t know how much they spent on the Vietnam War, but to the extent they were shipping in equipment for the US to blow up, they were spending money they wouldn’t have for anything else.

    • The BUFFs took off from Barksdale AFB in Louisiana, dropped payloads of shock and awe onto Iraq from 50,000 feet, and flew back to Barksdale for beer and pizza.

      14,000 miles. Nonstop. Up to forty hours in the air depending on weather and specific mission, refueled from tankers while in flight. We don’t need no steenkeeng foreign bases…

      Those planes are half a century old now. But the guys with the desk calculators and slide rules did a pretty good job.

  34. I grew up just outside of Detroit in the 80s (born in 76). I read too much for a kid my age. I never took part in a Duck and Cover drill, but I had read about them somewhere. I figured (and I’m still not convinced that I was wrong) that the reason we never did them was not because the threat of nuclear war had lessened, but because the bombs were so much bigger that there was no longer any point to it.

    I was taught my whole life up to that point that Detroit would be one of the first places targeted. No, we weren’t a military target but there is still a lot of industry here. There was more in the 80s. It was scary for a kid with a big imagination and a habit of reading stuff he was too young for.

    I think what freaked me out the worst was when the local newspaper printed a story about a study that haf been conducted about the possible effects if a one megaton bomb went off over the I-696 and I-75 interchange. I lived on the I-696 service drive at the time and the end of my block started a curve to the south… where it met 75. If that doesn’t scare you, nothing will. It was kind of a relief though too. If it had happened at least I wouldn’t have been stuck behind while everyone else was dead.

    I remember when the wall fell. I was in seventh grade. We were doing a unit on Europe in my geography class and had just learned about the Berlin Wall. I remember my teacher telling us all about Checkpoint Charlie. Less than a week later we were dping pur weekly current events update and talking about the wall falling. Talk about weird.

    Thankfully it’s not a worry that my daughters have. Hopefully no one else’s kids ever will again.

  35. I’m sure that growing up with threats of Global Nuclear Annihilation, the coming Ice Age (ALGORE hadn’t invented Global Warmening yet), and the exhausted resources and starvation from over-population, probably had an odd effect on me.

    To this day, I secretly love Post-Apocalyptic Movies (Mad Max, The Postman, that one where the guy was searching for a Cherry 2000 sex-bot, etc.) Both the gritty, bloody, horrible ones where pretty much everybody dies, and the “happy” ones where people get together and re-build a society out of the ashes. I think it all started as a way to look into the dark future and see what it might be like. Now, of course, I think they’ve just soaked into my brain enough that it’s a thing.

    Dark Horrible Future? Na. Probably not. I’m “middle aged” now and have seen WAY too many times where people over-reacted and declared the end of the world (as we know it), only to have it be a big nothing. Stop freakin out Chicken Little! The sky is NOT falling! We survived 8 years of Obama (my neck still seems boot-print free). We have (so far) survived Trump. My LGHBEIEIO friends somehow AREN’T in jail, and Trump hasn’t opened any re-sex-education brainwashing camps (that I know of) to force them to stop being fairies. Frankly, I never figured out what made them think Trump was so anti-LGBT. But some of my friends were really scared.

    • The Postman
      I preferred the book. A little contrived, but deeper, imo. (I like David Brin’s out-of-the-box thinking.)

  36. There were also end-of-the-world SONGS, of varying quality. Here’s is one of the better ones: Chris de Burgh, Transmission Ends

  37. “Also judging from cities that were nuked, even if it had happened it was probably never going to be the end of the world.”

    Oh, but it *would* have been the end of the cities where the academics were located in their universities. As far as *academics* were concerned, even if they evacuated, that was the end of the world! Never underestimate the self-indulgence of academia. Academia being the core of progressive ideology you would expect progressives to hold it above the rest.

    Universities have been selling their opinions out for King’s gold since before the time of HenryVIII, in his quest for a male heir not descended from his sister. They have little true interest in the survival of those not graduated with at least a bachelor’s degree. Why should they bother with those below their notice??

  38. I and every other human being on the planet is a source of CO2. Eliminate?

    Bah.

  39. One of the things about being a kid in the 80s was being convinced that we were all going to die through nuclear annihilation (not on a rational but emotional basis). I used to have dreams about it, and most of my friends did too. Explaining this to friends 15 years my junior is interesting.

    On a side note, it means it’s very hard to convince me the world is going to pot. I lived through that and it didn’t happen. You going to freak me out with global warming? We used to have commercials on major networks about not being able to go outside without breathing masks. Also, as an adult, I can look up how Los Angeles has fewer bad air days than they did in the 1960s, even with a massive increase in population and traffic. Could it possibly be that advances in technology have made things better? Could it?

  40. “Live free or die is not a cry of defiance. Looking at the death toll of communism, it is simply a law of nature.”

    I think I’m gonna steal this one.

  41. One scenario I’ve seen more recently than nuclear winter is a “complete” nuclear exchange jiggling things enough that the crust actually slides over the mantle. While I don’t think it’s terribly well supported unless you believe some odd theories of geology, it makes for an interesting story.

    • Just curious about the scenario you mentioned. Do you have a link? Or one to the odd theories of geology. Looks to be interesting, even if it only some flight of fantasy.

      • Sadly, I do not. They were relayed as part of a RPG scenario (not published, just what the GM came up with), and I do not recall where they got their science.

        • Thanks.
          I tried several searches with various keywords and didn’t come up with anything that resembled what you had referenced. Perhaps in an alternate universe ;^)

  42. I was just coming home from a late day at work – I was a slightly tarnished Second Lieutenant, getting ready to go off to pilot training (finally), working at the AF Academy. I walked in the door to hear my phone ringing. I almost didn’t answer it. When I picked it up, my mom was on the other end, asking rather excitedly “Are you watching it?”
    I was befuddled, and asked “Watching what?” She almost screamed in my ear, “It’s coming down! Turn on the news, NOW!”
    I turned on the tv, and there it was, people dancing on top of the wall. We cried together.

    You see…
    My mom and dad met in Germany. She was visiting her younger brother (stationed then in Würzburg, with the 3rd Infantry Division) and my dad was an AF comm guy at Giebelstadt (just across the valley). I was born there.

    On top of that, my uncle was stationed for a while in Berlin as an intelligence officer. He was not allowed to take the tours to East Berlin. But I grew up with a story of my mom and him standing at one of the points you could look over the wall. An older man (definitely had lived through WW2) was sitting in a cemetery on the East side of the wall, and he told them that “As long as there is an America, we have hope.”

    So, I had that in my blood. Watching the wall come down that night was pretty incredible, and solidified my choice to go into the military.

  43. As to the Cold War….
    I was on nuclear alert the day GHW Bush stood us down. Yeah, I finished pilot training… and got tankers. It was actually a pretty great mission and a good bird to fly. (I flew real tankers, not the Gucci-bird*. 😉 )

    We were actually celebrating in the alert facility that morning, when someone on staff remembered that we had another mission that had been covered by our standing nuclear alert. And, when he checked, he realized THAT mission was still extant.

    Fortunately, we were only on our second glass of champagne. (Hey, it was after noon Zulu time.) After calling the wing commander, he came back in to tell us that one crew would have to stop drinking. We had one crew with the aircraft commander with a broken arm (Duty Not Including Flying was a much higher threshold than Duty Not Including Alert), and two crews (iirc) with members who had colds. Ours was the only one with a full-up crew medically cleared for flight.

    So, everyone else got to finish off a bottle of bubbly or so, each (they were willing to have some “for us”), and we got to start figuring out how we were going to do this new mission (couldn’t use the nuclear alert facility, since that would make it look like we hadn’t stood down).

    So, I was literally on the last crew on alert, and the first crew on alert.
    Fun times.

    (* The “Gucci-bird” was the McDonnel Douglas KC-10. We also called it the “little ‘k’, big ‘C’, ten”, and we were the “big ‘K’, little ‘c’, one-thirty-five”. They spent a lot of their time hauling cargo, while we got to bore holes in the sky passing gas to pointy-end-of-the-spear guys (and KC-10s). We took pride in that.)
    (Oh, and for those not in the know, “K” is the US/NATO aircraft prefix for aerial refueling, and “C” is for cargo.)

  44. And it turns out that peace really came through superior firepower.

    When did that happen?

    • Us arming to the teeth is what caused the USSR to fold. If you think it was otherwise, you don’t know history.

      • You may have been lied to. Dems never want anybody to believe in superior firepower. It is not good for them.

      • Arms race certainly contributed, but the big part of USA being able tor run that far was Petrodollar (aka Monopoly money). Golden dollar died of the Vietnam war in 1970-71, right? And even then, this didn’t give USSR pressing needs it couldn’t supplement with bluffing a lot.
        Then there was quiet support (per all those Anthony Sutton’s books) from USA…
        USSR folded on its own. In part, due to oil trade, in part because Gorbachev & Co wanted to be praised by “international community” (i.e. “converging” Fabians).
        Both boil down to nature of socialism: as cancerous bureaucracy replaced Stalin’s “promotee system”, it promoted the most mediocre (“safe”) referents of previous bosses or equally dull talkers. The bureaucracy was busy making up “great successes” to reports and fighting for troughs, while chairs that could control them filled with ex- office lackeys and ex-commissars. So they couldn’t get anything done and won’t let others — how could the whole thing not gradually fall apart on every level?

        • No, it really didn’t ‘fold on its own’ and anyone telling you that line is trying to discredit Reagan’s entire effort and likely the next line they will try to sell you on how we could have saved allll that money and have been better off investing it in $chosensocialprogram (the demprog alternate reality), or they are convinced that if we’d not spent it on defense and just minded our own business that the Soviets would not have just pulled the trigger (the capital-L – Libertarian version).

          • and anyone telling you that line

            And 80 years after the first reported use*, people still pick up and self-administer this litmus test. 😀
            *(every investigator on the case, to young Alexander Zinovyev arrested for being part of an entirely real, if naive conspiracy to try and assassinate Stalin)

            will try to sell you on how we could have saved allll that money and have been better off investing it in $chosensocialprogram (the demprog alternate reality), or they are convinced that if we’d not spent it on defense and just minded our own business that the Soviets would not have just pulled the trigger (the capital-L – Libertarian version).

            Ah, so that was what several people who studied Soviet Union in vivo and disagree on pretty much everything else were angling for…

  45. If anybody wants to play with “how big of a hole will it make,” I believe I first got this site from here:
    https://nuclearsecrecy.com/nukemap/

    Probably handy for figuring out how much damage a nuke makes in a story, too.