From 1949 until 1987, during the height of the so-called Cold War waged between the forces of communist socialism and capitalist democracy, world peace was a precarious proposition maintained by the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction, or (MAD).
The theory says if one side starts a nuclear war, the other side will retaliate in kind, ending life on Earth as humanity now knows it.
Then came President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, who on December 8, 1987 at 1:45 p.m., signed the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty meant to eliminate land-based cruise missiles and short and medium-range guided missiles from the two nuclear powers’ inventories forever. It was a start toward a saner world.
The sweeping treaty banned all of the two nations’ land-based missile launchers holding nuclear warheads with ranges between 310 miles and 3,420 miles. An entire class of missiles was eliminated and the world breathed easier.
At the direction of Captain Chaos, the U.S. formally withdrew from the treaty on Friday, August 2, 2019.
Currently left in U.S. hands are big ICBMs, intercontinental missiles with up to ten independently guided warheads stored in near-impregnable underground silos, similarly equipped submarine-launched ICBMs (SLBMs), and those weapons delivered from strategic bombers.
The U.S. stated in its April 2017 mandatory START treaty declaration that 1,411 weapons are deployed on 673 ICBMs, SLBMs, and strategic bombers. Another 3,000 or so are in storage, more than enough to wipe out every living thing on Earth several times. The Russians have a similar number, mostly based on land.
Before the INF Treaty was signed, the baby boomers and their parents who still dominated national conversation in the United States, lived in the shadow of nuclear annihilation. It was on the mind of every American all the time.
Our 1st grade class at Crockett Elementary School in 1956 was down the road from Biggs Air Force Base in El Paso, Texas. Most of our Dads worked on or flew in giant B-36 bombers nicknamed the “Aluminum Overcast” based there. My Dad said the 10-engined combination pure jet and rotary-engined hybrids had “six engines turnin’ and four more burnin’’ on wings longer than the Wright Brothers first flights.
A lot of kids at school had Dads who worked on them. Their moms and brothers and sisters all lived around us. Their bombers, “the Peacemaker,” could “fly halfway around the world.” Their job was making the evil people called Communists, on the other side of the world, behave or they will make them go away.
My Dad used to say they will go away all right. My Mom always got a worried look on her face when he joked about war. She didn’t think we knew it, but she was scared. She used to say all the time: “The next war won’t be like World War II. Nobody will win.”
On one special day I remember, all of the first graders at Crockett Elementary saw Bert the Turtle for the first time. He was a cartoon turtle who taught us how to live in an atomic bomb attack. He called it “Duck and Cover” and sang a fun song about it.
That day Bert brought us a kind of scary movie about A-bombs and mushroom clouds and little houses built way underground. He says we won’t have to go to school for a long time if we have to duck and cover. If we are lucky we would get to eat extra good-for-us crackers and water until we could come up from underground when we got older.
Bert says he was going to all the schools in America to show the kids what to do if the Communists drop atomic bombs on El Paso and other places.
The people on the airplanes sometimes go on exercises – that’s what my Dad called it when he flies away for a long time. He says if he doesn’t go the Communists will try and hurt us for what we believe in.
Our teacher told Bert’s human friends we will start finding out about Communists in third grade. Bert says until then, we should just believe that President Eisenhower knows exactly what to do. He was my dad’s boss. His picture was in the gym where we saw Bert and some of his grown-up friends.
In Bert’s movie the president says the Communists are the meanest people in the world. That is why he needs help from Bert the Turtle. Bert is the smartest turtle on earth and knows how to hide better than anyone.
Our lesson that day was a show and tell about how to quietly walk into the hall, face the walls and get all hunched over on the floor like scared little bunnies with our heads tucked between our legs when the principal tells us. Bert said that if we saw a bright flash it was time to duck and cover. He said we would have plenty of warning, so there was no reason to be afraid. We even sang a song about it.
We got to do it three times for practice instead of having reading class. Our teacher said it made us safe so we can go home after being bombed. One of the second grade boys named Tommy said butt twice when we were taking cover and we all started giggling. He told our teacher his Daddy told him if he sees a bright flash, he should kiss his butt goodbye.
Our teacher sent Tommy to the principal’s office. His dad had to come to school and apologize. The principal came to our classroom and told us nuclear warfare is no laughing matter.
Our principal was exactly right. When Biggs A.F.B. was a Strategic Air Command nuclear bomber base, the world trembled every time one of the belligerents issued a bellicose statement about unleashing the bombers. Ten years later the danger was intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach anywhere in the United States or the Soviet Union in 28 minutes. The final dawn of humanity seemed to have risen.
The road to annihilation started at the end of WWII in 1945, when the Soviet Union and the U.S.A. were feuding over the immense spoils both countries demanded from the destroyed nations for coming out ahead in the greatest cataclysm to ever engulf the Earth.
For some unearthly reason the generals and power mongers on both sides of the struggle thought they could do it again with nukes if need be. The U.S. already had them and the Soviets stopped at nothing to get them.
The hot war they’d just concluded quickly became a cold war over markets and ideology, pitting two economic concepts with diametrically opposed views against each other. The torpid new war was paid for with treasure the two factions had cooperated to obtain from the war’s many losers, assuring they would be the world’s only super-powers.
It started out as a good plan for the United States. From the summer of 1945 until 1949 the U.S. had a monopoly on atomic bombs so secret they weren’t even revealed until two relatively primitive devices were dropped on two Japanese cities that snuffed out 100,000 lives in an instant.
After the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb in 1949, the generals and politicians who still demanded nuclear weapons said they were manageable because the evolving concept of MAD ensured peace so the more the merrier. It was a flawed concept then and a much more dangerous one now.
The idea that nobody was stupid enough to wipe out the world seemed to work in one fashion or another for 79 years, that was until Donald Trump was swept into the White House filled with war mongers and dangerous ultra-nationalist agitators who empower his regime. Now nobody is so sure.