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Nuclear Nightmare — will it happen?

A SCHOOL of anchovies glistened iridescently, like thousands of tiny winking lights, flickering, and then disappearing, in the gently heaving clear waters of the California continental shelf. They flowed and ebbed, shimmering faintly, as their leaders darted this way and that, in pursuit of the tiny microorganisms glowing with faint phosphorescence in the brightly moonlit Pacific water.

Suddenly, a huge black shape slid enormously toward them, trailing ponderous streams of bright, glasslike bubbles. The little fish, startled by the monster looming from the murky depths below, winked dully as they darted frantically away.

The black shape shoved its rounded nose silently along, raising its snorkels and periscope to the surface like a weird, primordial monster gasping for air.

Eyes glued to the face piece, the stout blondish captain, whose not unpleasant, fleshy farmer's face belied his 52 years and past war wounds, issued sibilant orders in a strange, rapid-flowing succotash of sounds, smiling tiredly as he gazed at the faintly visible lights of the hills above San Francisco, 40 miles away.

The huge submarine, slowing, tracked around to 280°, its computers whirring and clicking, or quietly humming their sterile electrical tune as they continually fed corrective information — course, speed, pitch, yaw, depth, distance from target — into the impersonally somnolent firing mechanisms of the huge, bottle-like missiles nestled, totally hidden, in their immaculately clean cylindrical metal silos plunging from tightly sealed deck-level doors into the bowels of the ship.

They were the being and purpose of this sophisticated undersea monster — those missiles. Everything, from the cramped crew's quarters to the tiny captain's cabin, and everyone, from the least machinist's mate to the captain himself, was subservient to them. Like monstrously threatening ancient Molechs or Dagons, they stood upright, quiet, never stirring, yet perpetually poised for instant, shattering, terrifying flight.

Their individual targets never changed. Three of their multi-megaton nuclear tips were programmed to explode high in the air over strategic parts of San Francisco. Two would ignite into thermonuclear flashes of destruction over Oakland, and others would fall upon preselected Air Force and Naval targets.

Sighing with patient resignation, the captain snapped orders, heard them crisply repeated, watched the shining tube begin its swift plunge, retracting the periscope. The huge shape shoved smoothly downward, toward safer depths, to continue its endless, intricate changes of course, always remaining within a specific block of ocean, covering its pre-assigned target areas.

In San Francisco, the throaty roars of the crowd at Candlestick Park soared into frenzy as Willie Mays rapped a sharp single into right field, loading the bases against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Atop the Mark, cigarettes winked dully, as couples sipped their martinis, and allowed their gaze to wander along the beautiful lights below — the Embarcadero, the flow of red taillights going north, and white headlights coming south, autos along the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a beautiful, rare, clear night in San Francisco.

Nearby, at Naval Air Station, Alameda, the young sailor heard the final report. "Target lost, last position (check charts for accurate fix about 40 miles offshore). Possibly large school surfacing dolphins." The roar of a departing Electra, radically altered, with its pipe-like tail extension, could be heard faintly from inside communications, as another American ASW patrol bomber, armed with the latest electronic surveillance equipment, bored into the bright night, headed for its assigned sector far offshore.

Near Albuquerque, New Mexico, a tired Lieutenant Colonel listened for the thousandth time, it seemed, to the carefully detailed report of anti-missile magazine conditions — temperatures, security reports, a stupid jeep accident that had partially jammed an expensive door. Inside those deep shafts, ranging along the bleak, eroded mountains, were stockpiled the assorted shapes and sizes of the weapons of modern thermonuclear madness — which boasts enough explosive force to more than annihilate two worlds full of people.

Tomorrow morning, his relief would come in the form of pedantic, bespectacled, career officer George MacDoughty, and he would return to the world of normalcy — perhaps he ought to run up to Taos, for a bit of skiing. Mary and the kids would like that, if she felt it was OK to take them out of school for a few days. . .

At Norad, a youngish officer reached for the millionth time, it seemed, to grasp one of the many tape cassettes, preprogrammed to flash instantaneous messages all over the country — to DEW stations, to missile silos, to aircraft aloft, to selected public communications centers, and to the White House.

Aghast, he suddenly heard the unbelievable words stirring his consciousness . . . ". . . radar identified as enemy missiles incoming over . . ." and realized he had grasped the wrong cassette!


No. The submarines are there. They are real. The nuclear weapons are not only stockpiled in mountain magazines, but carried daily back and forth in the bowels of American and Soviet nuclear submarines, in aircraft of both nations, or nestling ominously in their underground silos. Soviet submarines prowling America's Pacific shores replenish at sea, or in far-off Vladivostok. Those patrolling the Atlantic or Gulf replenish either at rendezvous at sea, with their tenders, or at the Soviet submarine base newly being developed in Cuba. The stored bombs are real. The preprogrammed messages are real. American bases, equipped with B-52 bombers, armed with nuclear bombs, ring the Soviet Union. American nuclear submarines prowl the waters of the world, off Soviet Siberia, in the Mediterranean, in the icy waters near the roof of the world, or in the Sea of Japan. They carry nuclear-tipped Polaris-type missiles, capable of being fired from beneath the sea.


A continuing part of the deadly, computerized, tape-cassetted, preprogrammed flirtation with Armageddon — the accoutrements of a nuclear nightmare — the war of nerves between the superpowers.


Computerized Cosmocide

Not only do preprogrammed, specially cut tapes exist which warn of enemy missile attacks, but prewritten newspaper and radio releases also exist which give general, horrifyingly encouraging accounts of "massive retaliation heavily devastates major enemy targets."

What a shocking age — this 1971.

Now, warfare could be joined — nuclear disaster which could forever maim the world, potentially exterminating all humankind, or leaving only pitifully warped, struggling survivors — all by accident. A faulty transistor, a sudden, unexplained surge of electrical power, a nervous hand inserting the wrong preprogrammed orders into a bank of computers — a chance midair collision — these could plunge the world into a nightmare of destruction.

Wide World Photo

U.S. Hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Island, May 1956.
Photo was taken fifty miles away from an altitude of 10,000 feet.

It all began back in August 1945. At 8:15 a.m. on that day, three United States B-29's approached Hiroshima, Japan. One plane, the Enola Gay, carried a single atomic bomb.

The culmination of years of painstaking research, scientific theory and experimentation, military intelligence reports of the mysterious new "super weapon" the Germans were working on, an awesome, towering explosion as a test — and the final "go" signal from the Commander in Chief, Harry S. Truman, had contrived to place the bulbous, massive shape securely in place in the belly of the Enola Gay.

The "fat man," as it was menacingly dubbed in tragicomic jesting, comprised the accumulated knowledge, research, sacrifice, effort, and prodigious cost of man's latest and most advanced "achievement." It was being steadily borne, now, nearer the target, selected almost by chance occurrence of clear weather — equally necessary for the all-important films and observation as for sighting in on the target correctly.

Released of its burden, the Enola Gay, lightened, surged noticeably upward, requiring a re-trimming of controls.

Moments later, about 100,000 human beings ceased to exist. One moment they were there. The next, they were nothing. Another 140,000 suffered the mutilating, searing, tearing effects of the flash, resultant fires, and force of the huge explosion. They died. Another 100,000 would carry the mutilations for years — many to finally die.

The "atomic age" had arrived.

No one felt like applauding.

A war was brought quickly to an end; and a new era — with the growing realization of a more awesome power potential for destruction than the most hideous of nightmares — dawning on human minds.

From then to now, men have changed.

We live, now, in the vortex of a spiraling arms race. It races dizzyingly upward, as the combined forces of scientific research, discovery, experimentation and invention contrive to devise ever more ghastly means of disintegrating, pulverizing, burning, vaporizing, blasting, tearing, searing, maiming, or exploding human flesh.

We have arrived.

We have made it. Now, we can kill the world.


The Quarter-Century War of Nerves

For more than twenty-five years, human governments have vied for position, jostled, maneuvered, parlayed, fought, struggled, talked, argued, threatened and conciliated as they somehow steered a death-defying course between a war which must not be fought, and a peace which always eluded their grasp.

Between the larger jostling among the superpowers, the mindless, agonizing record of terror has continued to mount as the smaller nations — almost always helped by the larger, nuclear-powered nations — fought bloodily.

From the end of World War II, and the horrifying explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, more than 50 separate struggles have been fought, with two of them, Korea and Vietnam, becoming of such major proportions they vie with World Wars I and II for numbers killed, bomb tonnages expended, and towering costs.

Somehow, the world proved it could still go about the grisly business of war in efficient, pragmatic fashion, killing one another by the "conventional" means of searing napalm, exploding mortars and bombs, or the sudden shock of a high-powered bullet.

Whatever your stand on killing, your whole life is dramatically affected by it. You may, without realizing it, owe your job to the business of death. You may, without realizing it, be busily enjoying the paraphernalia and gadgetry of a modern age of affluence which owes its very being to the never-ending quest for means to kill. Practically all our most significant breakthroughs in science, industry, technology, aerospace, medicine, and even agriculture, are direct "spin-off" from man's bizarre search for destructive devices.

But the traffic in arms, and the search for more effective ones, goes on.