Friday, June 3, 2011

How close we came to the End of the World.

No I'm not talking about the Rapture or 2012, but in my little sub comment thing it talks about history and so I guess I should be talking about it then. So whats something historical that is decently interesting to most people? How about talking about how close the earth was to being engulfed in radioactive flames during the cold war! Thats pretty cool (At least I think so).

I think everyone knows a certain amount of the cold war but let's dive into that a bit. So after six years of fighting Nazi Germany, England, France (even though everybody knows they did nothing), the USA, and the USSR finally reached and took down the capital, Berlin. Now after starting two world wars (maybe not the first one entirely but definitely the second one), no European nation trusted Germany so they split apart the country in two, the East side for Russia and the West side for the Western allies, England, France and America (But mostly America). After two world wars destroying their economy, infrastructure, and landscape Europe was not ready to support it self, leaving the two nations that where relatively unhurt (Russia was hurt allot more son than it put on but did not want to seem inferior to the Americans) the two countries quickly filled the gap left by the war. With both countries having modern industrial capabilities (America quickly became an industrial power house since the 1880's and have made many pioneering efforts to the mechanization of everything, and Stalins five year plan was effective in forcing people from the farms to the factories and was in five years made a nation with the industrial output rivaling the US) they quickly became known as superpowers, countries with international power never before seen on this planet on a global scale. With only one real opponent and vastly different forms of government, any similarity the saw in fighting a common enemy quickly vanished and they pointed the gun barrels at each other. With NATO formed in 1949 the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was a blatant sign of Western Europe siding with America and the USSR responding in kind with forming a Soviet Bloc of most of the countries in Eastern Europe placing puppet communist leaders that were allied with the USSR, and an Iron Curtain Fell upon Europe running north and south from the border of East and West Germany, clearly defining the American and Russian Spheres of influence. Quickly the search for more allies reached out of Europe as both super powers went into Central and South America, Africa, and Asia and funded rebellions, staged coups, and on many occasions invaded countries to make their they where on their side, or at least not on the enemy's side. With German scientists going to each side after the war each superpower was matched for scientific advancements and in 1949 the USSR had atomic capabilities. So for the next 40 years the world was split into two camps and the two schizophrenic superpowers were sitting on a stock pile of nuclear weapons able to destroy the world many times over waiting for the smallest signal of attack it is quite a miracle we are all still living here to day.

Definitely the most famous event that almost caused nuclear holocaust is the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. When the Cuban revolution put Fidel Castro in control of Cuba in 1959, the US felt very uncomfortable having a communist ninety miles from it's closest shore in South Florida and having the capital well within the range of short range nuclear ICBMs if they were put into Cuba. In 1961 the US tried to start a new revolution in Cuba by backing up an invasion force of Cubans who were exiled from their home country in the Bay of Pigs. However the invasion force was quickly defeated and the Island remained staunchly communist. Later a U2 spy plane flying over Cuba noticed what looked to be nuclear ICBMs. Even though America had Missiles in Turkey that where as close to Moscow as Cuba was to Washington D.C. the US demanded that no more armaments where allowed to enter the country and the Current weapons there to be dismantled and set up a blockade around Cuba preventing Russian ships to pass through. The US contemplated invading the island but held back due to the threat of M.A.D., or Mutually Assured Destruction that any military action from any Superpower would be met by the other ending of the destruction of both (get it? Because the would be "MAD" to attack ;D). At one point Russian ships where on their way to Cuba past the American ships with the Directives to Shoot any ship that attempts to cross the blockade. With the quick diplomacy of both JFK and Khrushnev the ships stopped and turned around and eventually America agreed to take down the missiles in Turkey if the Russians took back the missiles in Cuba.

A couple of other close calls came during the Cuban Missile Crisis when a U2 spy plane, which where ordered not to fly over Russian soil as to not antagonize the Soviets during this crisis, accidentally flew over the Chukotski Peninsula in Eastern Russia when the Aurora Borealis affected his readings and made him fly of course. Quickly Russian MiG fighters where sent to take down the plane. The US responded quickly and sent in F-102A planes armed with nuclear missiles to escort the plane rather than just let the Russians shoot it down and let the matter be over with. The pilots of the F-102A also had clearance to fire their payload if they thought the situation required it. Luckily the Russian MiG's backed off and the U2 pilot made it back safely. Also during this crisis, in Minnesota a guard at an airbase saw someone climbing the fence into the base. The guard quickly shot the intruder and launched an intruder alert. The alert, as supposed to, spreads to a few nearby military bases but at one air base the wrong alarm was launched indicating full scale war was beginning and F-106A planes with Nuclear weapons were about to leave the runway before a truck had to chase them down to tell them it was a false alarm.

Another close call came in 1961 (I guess the early 60's were scary times), with the Berlin Crisis. Even though Allied troops and diplomats had full access to the whole city of Berlin, which even though was in East Germany it was still managed by the "Big Four", USA, USSR, UK, and France. But to prevent East German citizens from emigrating to the West the Soviets put up the infamous Berlin Wall, the most literal symbol of the split of the world during the Cold War. But as E. Allan Lightner, the US Chief of Mission, crossed Checkpoint Charlie he was stopped by East German police. To show Berlin the the US was not to be messed with American Diplomat, Albert Hemsing, tried crossing the border and was stopped again. But Soon American military police came in to escort Hemsing and eventually went back to West Berlin. When Hemsing tried crossing the border again US tanks where sent nearby not knowing how the USSR would react but as the same result happened the tanks left. Soon Russian Tanks showed up on the border at Checkpoint Charlie some only 50 to 100 meters from West Berlin. The American Tanks quickly turned around and came as equally close to the border pointing their guns at the Russian Tanks. So here are two squadrons of American and Russian tanks 100-200 meters from each other both having the orders to return fire if fired upon. One small mistake, one backfire of a car engine could have American and Russian troops shooting at each other quickly escalating to full scale war. How ever John F. Kennedy and Khrushnev talked to each other again and  agreed to have each tank back up 50 meters at a time until both sides left the border.

In the 50's the US, along with Canada, created NORAD, the North American Air Defense Command (Where the acronym NORAD comes from I do not know), which was a system of radar stations used to detect ICBMs that come across the Arctic, which was the shortest distance between the USSR and the USA. In 1961, again not a good time, three Early warning stations in Alaska, Greenland, and England simultaneously went down. Operators and engineers at NORAD knew that this was most likely not a coincidence since NORAD was built with numerous redundant systems and having them all fail at the same time could not just be bad luck. If the Russians did plan to invade the United States the first thing they would do is take out their early warning system and then launch their missiles. During the cold war the US had a fleet of B-52 bombers constantly flying around the borders of Russian radar detection just in the off chance that the  USSR attacked first the B-52s would than quickly fly into Russian territory and bomb several strategic military bases with their nuclear payload. These planes got the orders to get ready to fly in and bomb Russia and where just ready for the final confirmation. However the problem was found, and as it turned out all those three radar systems went through one junction in Colorado and that a motor overheated and broke causing the entire system to fall. Also one day in 1979 a technician at NORAD put in a test tape to make sure everyone new what to do when the real thing happened however the technician failed to turn the "Test" status on and everyone thought it was the real deal. And then twice during 1980, three days within each other, NORAD falsely detected phantom missiles coming from allover it's area of detection. Once again the fleet of bombers around Russia got ready to fly in and drop their bombs but before the final confirmation was given technicians figured out it was a false alarm and called the bombers back. After the second event it was found that a single faulty microchip was the cause of the false detections and quickly replaced.

The last time we came within inches of Apocalypse was actually after the cold war, after the USSR fell and the Russian federation took its place. An american rocket was launched over the arctic filled with measuring devices to study the Aurora Borealis and other phenomena that takes at the North Pole. However Russian early warning radar systems detected the missile and could not distinguish it from an nuclear armed missile. The group originally launching the missile tried to tell the Russian government of the experiment but did not know the message did not get through. The Russian government knew that if the US was to launch a surprise missile attack at Moscow the scientific missile's trajectory would be the one they would use and the higher ups in the Russian government actually stepped into the Russian president's office with the button to authorize the Russian military to launch it's remaining armed missiles at the US. Luckily the president didn't feel like the Americans would do such a thing at this time and contacted the US government to confirm they where not attacking them. And eventually the scientific missile did it's thing and ended its flight short and landed safely in the Arctic.

To think that in fifty years how closely, within a hairs breadth, we've been to world war three and the eventual end of civilization as we know it as the massive payloads of nuclear weapons each side stockpiled during the arms race. We should definitely be thankful that we are still here to day and that the cold war finally began to thaw leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of the United Soviet Socialist Republic (you thought the R stood for Russia didn't you? Well you're wrong!) in 1991. Now instead of two superpowers willing to kill each other at the snap of a twig we just have to worry about the very insane and militant groups stealing, buying or making, a nuclear weapon, which is becoming much easier as more and more nation get the secret of nuclear power as time passes by and the fall of the Soviet Union saw the loss of much Uranium and Plutonium on the black market, then smuggling it into the United States and setting a few bombs off simultaneously in major cities all across the country. Aaahhh, what a peacefull time we live in (Maybe I should talk about 2012....?).


  1. Wow, I've never thought of it like that...

    Makes me glad we're still around haha! :)


  2. And yet throughout all of this, we've managed to prevail through the thinnest line of peace and oblivion.