A WARM AND BRIGHT FUTURE 1981
In the light of Reagan’s and Haig’s smug resolution that the Soviets “not know what we’re going to do from one minute to the next” (that we’re dangerously crazy and may strike first), the specter of nuclear annihilation is rematerializing in people’s minds after being banished by the overt horror of Vietnam in the 60’s and the illusionary warmth of detente in the 70’s. Even without a president who thinks that all the world’s problems are due to the Soviets, it’s become a much more dangerous world for several reasons.
Firstly, it’s due to the insane notion that a limited nuclear war against only military targets can be fought and survived. The incredible new accuracy of missiles (100-1000 ft.) started this train of thought by suddenly threatening hardened missile silos with destruction from a first strike; and evolved from sterile hypothetical think-tank war games that wondered “what if they only attacked military targets?”, to an established U.S. policy option via Carter’s Presidential Directive 59. In these counterforce war scenarios, the attacking country tries to wipe out the military capabilities of its enemy in a first strike, after which the mauled country, with “only” 10-20 million dead, is supposed to calmly and cautiously launch its remaining weapons only against the enemies’ military targets.
This is twisted faulty reasoning; no country would launch a limited attack because: 1. it’s impossible to destroy even a majority of the enemies’ bombs--they have 10-30 minutes warning in which they can launch most of their forces,
2. the submarines are largely invulnerable and possess thousands of warheads,
3. even if only 10% of their enemies’ bombs (u.s. has 9600, the Soviets about 8000) got through, all the attackers cities and 1/3 of his population would perish,
4. all cities are centers of industry, transportation, and communication and so are military targets,
5. the objective of nuclear war is maximum destruction, not invasion, so all cities would be hit, especially since the attacked country would subsequently do the same.
Even assuming the absurd idea of a limited attack, there would never be a limited response because the victim country would launch all its missiles before they could be destroyed. In a surprise by submarine missiles attack Washington or Moscow would be incinerated within 5 minutes,1 so the counterattack would probably be ordered by lower level civilian or military leaders intent on vengeance. The whole fantasy of leaders coolly trading millions of lives with a series of chess-like moves is idiotic. Any nuclear war between the superpowers will be a total war, completely decimating all cities, industries, culture, and most of the people of both sides (500 million, including Europe). So it doesn’t pay to chuckle about how frightened we can make them, because they have good reason to be frightened, and because a nuclear conflagration will be started by desperately frightened men convinced the other side has or is about to attack.
The danger in this limited war strategy is that it makes nuclear war more acceptable and so far more likely, because it involves a fundamental change in ~ attitudes towards the purpose of nuclear weapons. For 25 years the belief in the doctrine of mutually assured destruction insured that they wouldn’t be used; now that’s being challenged although it’s even more valid today. In the desire for “flexible response” options, we’re creating more possible triggers for a full scale nuclear war under the grievously false assumption
1- 5 minutes allows a 500 mile range, the distance from Moscow to the Baltic; Washington is only 130 miles from the open sea.
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that it could be limited.
To support the prosecution of a limited local war we’ve built some 22,000 (the Soviets perhaps 11,000) “little” battlefield bombs (1 to 100 kilotons: Hiroshima was 13), packed them into artillery shells, rockets, and planes, and distributed about half of them over-sea, mostly in Europe, where NATO relies on them to offset the Russian’s 4:1 superiority in artillery and planes. In the event of a Soviet invasion of Germany, NATO plans to use several as a show of resolve if the Soviets roll over our position. In Nuclear Nightmares, Nigel Calder thinks the Soviet response would be to immediately strike all European military targets, because they consider nuclear weapons a legitimate part of their military, whereas the West considers them psychological horror weapons that will frighten the Russians into withdrawing.
Our obsessive fears of a Soviet first strike have strangely led us to adopt just such tactics, targeting many of our missiles on their missile silos, even though they would be empty if they attacked us. That means they’re only useful for starting a nuclear war, which can only convince the Russians of the advantage of striking first. In point of fact, the Soviets have more to fear from a first strike than we do because of our advantage in cruise missiles, which are probably undetectable by radar; because of our large submarine force(22 always on duty with 160 missile warheads each, compared to only 6 Russian subs on station with fewer warheads each), which can approach closely and give very little warning; because about 2/3 of their missiles are land-based compared to only 1/3 of ours; and because of our big lead in anti-submarine warfare (completely silent attack submarines and advanced detection devices). Yet the American military is lately obsessed with the paranoid notion that the Soviets can or
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soon could destroy our attack capability with a first strike, a complete impossibility. Even ignoring the fact that we can launch on warning, enough of our forces would always survive to utterly waste the Soviet Union. Only one American submarine (of 36) carries about as many warheads as our entire land ICBM force during the Cuban missile crisis.
Another reason for the current danger is the shifting of the balance of terror by new and different weapons: the cruise missile, laser and neutron beam killer satellites, Soviet SS-20 and American Pershing missiles, MX missiles, Navstar (GPS) navigation satellite (allowing theoretical 20 ft. accuracy), MIRV’s, neutron bombs, anti-submarine attack submarines, and submarine detection networks; all of which convince one side that the other side is ahead and could “win” a war, ignoring the incredible redundancy and overkill that already exists. According to Henry Kendall, chairman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, “New York City is targeted to receive 65 bombs, and Los Angeles 36. Even cities such as Providence, R.I., and Fresno, Ca. are targeted with 3 and 2 bombs respectively.” If the Soviets dropped one bomb on each American city, by the time they used half of their inventory they’d be hitting towns of 5500 people . The force of the nuclear armory is over 16 billion tons of TNT, enough for 4 tons--8000 lbs-for every human on earth (about 100 lbs. would blow apart your house).
The spread of nuclear bombs to irrational other countries constitutes another huge threat. As of now India, Israel, Pakistan, and South Africa have the bomb (experts agree), with countries like Syria Brazil, Taiwan, Egypt, S. Korea, Argentina, and Iraq easily able to make them, as the recent Israeli raid on Iraq underlined. In fact, any government or small group of technicians, given the uranium or plutonium, could make the bomb. And there’s plenty of that around. The worldwide production of plutonium now exceeds 100,000 lbs. a year
and a Hiroshima type bomb would require only 10-20 lbs., a piece no bigger than a baseball. Every nuclear power plant (which we’ve
distributed around the globe) produces enough plutonium to make several bombs a year (India, Israel, and Pakistan employed the plutonium or technical expertise gleaned from their foreign supplied plant). The Pakistani bomb was funded by the Libyans and the Saudis, so it may be a community Arab bomb, for use by any country that needs it (presumably against Israel, but possibly Iran, Egypt, India, or Sudan; virtually every country in that region despises its neighbors). Sooner or later one of these countries embroiled in a local war or dispute will use their weapons, succumbing to the terror that they must destroy their neighbor’s bombs before they use them (which with such limited numbers would be possible). The superpowers could be sucked into the conflict for several reasons: to assist a pulverized ally, to use the destruction as an excuse to land “security” forces (as the Soviets tried in ‘73), or to be irresistibly attracted to the lure of free oil. A war of this type is probable by the end of the decade, virtually certain by the end of the century, as more and more countries play the atomic sweepstakes with their citizens’ lives.
Sooner or later some terrorist group will steal, make, or be given a bomb and the nightmare of nuclear blackmail will be a cold reality. While the uranium cycle reactors used diluted fuel in 2 ton assemblies, which were difficult to steal and worthless if they were, the spread of plutonium reprocessing plants means purified plutonium (which is created in and extracted from the spent fuel and is an even better fuel) will be created in enormous quantities and shipped by rail and truck, where it could easily be hijacked. West Germany is supplying reprocessing technology to Brazil and Argentina, Italy built a plant for Iraq, (France had already supplied them with a reactor and 93% pure weapons grade uranium), and the United States, due to Reagan’s decision to reprocess power plant waste, will have to build several more. While one shouldn’t deal with terrorists, what else could one do if a bomb were planted in New York, Tel Aviv, Hamburg, or Rome?
Yeah, but what does this mean to me--the little guy, the man on the street, the average American. Well I’ll tell you. If a 25 megaton bomb were detonated over the Empire State Building, everything within 4.5 miles (up to the Triborough Bridge, La Guardia Airport, Prospect Park-Bkln, Secaucus and Fort Lee, N.J.) would be simultaneously incinerated and blown flat--would simply cease to exist. Even at 12.5 miles (up to New Rochelle, Great Neck, JFK Airport, Rockaway Beach-L.I., and Linden, W. Orange, and Fairlawn N.J.) the only things left standing would be a few concrete buildings amidst a desolate sea of fried rubble. Up to 24 miles (Greenwich, Ct., Oyster Bay and Jones Beach-L.I., and South Amboy, Plainfield, and Morristown-N.J.) buildings would be seriously damaged by hurricane force winds; the 30 Second thermal pulse could burn exposed people to death and set paper, rags, fuel, and brush on fire; adding to the raging firestorm that would consume the inner circle. People outside could receive first degree burns out to 40 miles (Westport, Ct. and Asbury Park, N.J.), while at an incredible 80 miles (Middletown--Ct., Kingston and Southhampton--N.Y., Allentown and Philadelphia, Pa.) windows could be shattered and people looking at the blast could be blinded.
If the bomb went off on the ground a 4.5 mile fireball would literally vaporize everything in it, including the soil in a 3/4 mile
wide and 900 ft. deep crater. As the glowing fireball raced skyward at hundreds of miles an hour it would suck dirt and debris along with
it, fanning the raging flames and rubble that was once a city. The vaporized bomb, dirt, and buildings would quickly crystallize and rain back over the landscape as deadly fallout, killing unprotected people up to 200 miles downwind (out to Nantucket, Manchester-.-N.H., Syracuse, Washington D.C.) in a 30-100 mile swath. The mushroom cloud would reach a diameter of 80 miles and a height of 20 miles, where the fallout would circle the globe in the stratosphere for months and years before returning to earth. The fires would rage until there was nothing left to burn; all water and gas mains would be broken, all telephone and electrical cables cut. Horribly burned and maimed victims would wander aimlessly, locked in their own visions of hell, with no one willing or able to help them. Streams of refugees would flow out from the blast zones, invading homes in lightly damaged areas, while their owners cowered in the basements to escape the poisoned dust. For weeks and months people would be dying of radiation poisoning: a slow and hideous process causing nausea, vomiting , diarrhea, bleeding into organs and mouth, open sores, loss of hair, infection, delirium, coma, and death. Almost all hospitals and doctors would perish, so nobody could treat them. Most animals and much vegetation would die from radiation. Epidemics of plague, cholera, typhus, and diphtheria would be spread by radiation resistant rats feeding on the millions of corpses. There would soon be no fuel, food, water, transportation. Desperate marauding bands would roam the countryside, preying on homesteaders, while thousands, overwhelmed by hopelessness, would kill themselves.
Besides being the single heaviest target on Earth, the New York City area would be inundated by the fallout from the lower
Northeast Corridor: Washington-Baltimore-Philadelphia-Trenton, frying it over 30,000 roentgens of radiation(The study assumes an attack of only 800 weapons--all groundbursts to maximize fallout.) The lethal dose is 400-600 roentgens; even people in decent basement shelters would receive a fatal amount of penetrating gamma rays. Anyone lucky enough to survive the blasts would have to remain in a deep shelter under heavy masonry or steel buildings for 2-8 weeks to have a chance. Even a few minutes outside during the first few days could be fatal. If the Soviets used cobalt surrounded bombs (and there’s no reason to doubt they would: nuclear war isn’t a gentleman’s sport) that lethal period could last 10-20 years.
Strongtium-90, which is incorporated in bone instead of calcium, and Cesium-137, which concentrates in muscle, will rise to the top of the cloud (because they’re light elements) to be deposited thousands of miles away, where they’ll enter the food chain and plague ~an for the next century, causing widespread cancer. These two isotopes are created in large quantities, combined they constitute about 10% of the fission products. Because of the hundreds of atmospheric tests, everyone born since the mid 50’s supposedly has measurable amounts of radioactive Strongtium-90 in their bones, where damage to the blood producing marrow can cause leukemia. Miscarriages, stillbirths, and genetic defects will be rampant among women pregnant at the time of the attack and the general incidence of sterility and mutations in later births will be much higher.
It wouldn’t be possible to harvest or distribute the American grain that feeds half of the world, so millions would starve over the next few decades.
The most frightening and deadly effect would be the destruction of much of the ozone layer (by reaction with the huge amounts of nitrogen oxides created by thousands of atomic blasts), the high-level band of ionized oxygen that screens out the sun’s ultraviolet rays that would otherwise incinerate us. Experts estimate that about half the ozone would be destroyed in the northern hemisphere, increasing the ultraviolet rays by 7 times enough to blind every seeing land animal and kill them from starvation, to blister skin in ~ an hour, and to kill a great deal of vegetation. While the ozone depletion would only last about seven years, that would be enough to decimate the Earth’s ecology and might be enough to effectively sterilize the surface of higher forms of life. The interdependence of species is such that the extinctions of many may cause a cascading effect that brings the whole house of cards down. The blasts or fallout wouldn’t destroy man or surface life on this planet, but solar radiation from the lack of ozone very well might.
The combined effects of the high altitude worldwide dust blocking sunlight, the lack of ozone reducing stratospheric heating and increasing surface heating, the destruction of vegetation: reflecting heat back to space, and the altered composition of the atmosphere are bound to radically change worldwide climate patterns-- causing droughts, floods, violent storms; possibly melting the polar ice caps.
The National Security Council estimates a full-scale holocaust would kill 14M million in the U.S., 113 million in the USSR. That’s only the people who’re lucky enough to die quickly, not the millions upon millions who would die from radiation, injury, disease, thirst(with all the water systems destroyed), hunger (with no food harvesting, packaging or distribution and wildlife in many areas wiped out by radiation), cold (from the lack of shelter and fuel in the
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