Growing up in the Cold War

December 14, 2014

The museum in Albuquerque, NM. photo by Steve Davis

During a recent road trip I visited the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque, New Mexico. More about the museum itself in a future post, but the gift shop had some old government publications for sale. I picked up one titled, “Survival Under Atomic Attack”. This is a printed by the Office of Civil Defense, State of California in October 1950. California reprinted it from a federal government brochure.

It is an extremely interesting document from the Cold War era. The government tried to prepare and reassure the populace by telling them it was actually possible to survive an all-out nuclear exchange between the USSR and the United States. Not only that they actually told people that life would go on much as before. Reading this brochure I found it so asinine that I actually laughed out loud at a lot of the contents. I thought I’d share some of the ‘deep thoughts’ found in the booklet.

On the very first page it states,


you can live through an atom bomb raid
and you won’t have to have a Geiger counter,
Protective clothing, or special training in order to do it.

The secrets of survival are:




Forgive my skepticism but okay folks whatever you say.

Then there is a page titled “Kill the Myths” I found this just absurd. Here it is,

Myth #1 “Atomic Weapons will not destroy the Earth. Not even hydrogen bombs will blow the earth apart or kill us all by radioactivity.”

Yeah right they’ll just kill most humans, animals, and all other life and leave the planet uninhabitable.

Myth #2 “Doubling Bomb Power does not double destruction.”

This is total bullshit. Nuclear weapons would be detonated above their targets causing enormous damage. The governments who control these weapons have done extensive testing and know full well that this statement is an outright lie.

Myth #3 “Radioactivity is not the bombs greatest threat.”

Maybe not over the short-term, but over the long-term it is the greatest threat. It would linger and as proven by studies of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagaski, do damage for generations. Why do you think those x-ray techs in the dentist’s office run out of the room when they take those shots of your teeth? Why do they drap that lead vest around you and your vital parts? It’s because of the radiation. Granted it’s only in small dosages from x-rays, but nuclear weapons emit massive amounts of radiation when they explode.

Reading this document at this time in our history is an amusing peek into the mindset of those in power during one of the most frightening periods in recent history. As a child who grew up during the Cold War the contents of this document are beyond comical. It shocks me that we actually believed this stuff. I guess it reassured us that we shouldn’t have been scared. Hell no in reality most of us were scared shit-less!

My personal philosophy in the event of an all-out nuclear exchange was simply that I would prefer not to survive thank you. Let others deal with the nuclear winter and fall-out that would affect the Earth for thousands of years. Let others try to live on without law and order. Let others live on without the benefits of modern civilization like drinking water, heat in winter, and food. The dead would be better off, of that I have no doubt.


National Museum of Nuclear Science & History
Alburquerque, New Mexico

Kennedy Sworn in as President – 50 yrs Ago Today

January 20, 2011

President Kennedy - official White House photo

 Fifty years ago today John Fitzgerald Kennedy took the oath of office at exactly 12:00 p.m. Eastern time in Washington, DC.

Kennedy’s inauguration signaled a new generation ascending to power. His predecessor, President Eisenhower was of a previous generation and had served 8 years, since 1954-1961.

Kennedy, or JFK as he was affectionally known, was the youngest man ever elected president at age 43. Teddy Roosevelt was younger when he became president, but he became president after McKinley’s assassination.

Kennedy was also the first person of the Roman Catholic faith to be elected to the office.

The other fascination for people was his young family and his war service. He exuded personality and vigor. New ideas and renewed energy brought hope to young people.

When he was elected it was the height of the Cold War. The United States and the USSR had enough nuclear tipped missiles targeted at each other to destroy the world several times over. This wasn’t just an American or a Soviet issue, but a world living in the shadow of destruction. In fact the official policy of both nations was Mutually Assured Destruction or M.A.D. for short. Simply put if one country attacked the other it was assured both would be destroyed. Sounds crazy, but it was a fact that all of us lived with during that period. No wonder people were looking for new ideas and fresh hope.

Although his presidency was short-lived Kennedy began the dialogue with the Soviet Union on disarmament signing the Test Ban Treaty. This was a first step towards reducing nuclear arsenals.

I remember President Kennedy today for those steps he initiated towards reduction of nuclear tensions.

Book Review – Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years

March 31, 2008

brothersbookcvr.jpgBrothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years

by David Talbot, Free Press a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, NY, 2007

This is a riveting expose of the Kennedy era through the eyes of John Kennedy’s most trusted adviser and confidant, his brother Robert Kennedy and other close friends from that era. It begins with John F. Kennedy’s presidency in January 1961 and continues through his brother, Robert Kennedy’s assassination, on June 6, 1968.

Using startling new evidence and interviews, the author reveals for the first time that Robert Kennedy did not believe the Warren Commission’s lone gunman theory and was convinced his brother was the victim of a conspiracy. When he became president he intended to re-open the Warren Commission Investigation into his brother’s assassination.


Previously unknown and chilling facts about the era are uncovered. The historical characters come to life in the pages of this book. The reader will be pulled into the events as if they were there. For example, the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff of the American military planned to carry out a surprise nuclear attack on the Soviet Union in the early 1960s to remove the communist threat. President Kennedy asked them what American losses would result. The reply was, “only 20 or 30 million deaths, and a few major cities would be obliterated.” It was inconceivable to him they would seriously consider such a thing. During his entire administration the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the military were conducting operations that he would not sanction, yet they went ahead regardless.

Some key points made by the author put this era in context,

          This was the height of the Cold War and the communist threat was the dominating fear of the CIA, FBI, and the military.

          The use of nuclear weapons and nuclear war were not unthinkable concepts to the military.

          The CIA was fixated on Fidel Castro’s Cuba and overthrowing its socialist government.

          The assassination of Castro was actively pursued with the help of the Mafia and without Kennedy’s approval or knowledge.

Any and all attempts by Kennedy to ease tensions with the Soviet Union were strongly opposed by the military and others who said he was “soft” on communism and believed as a result he was endangering the security of the United States.

He was opposed in his attempt to assist Martin Luther King, Jr. and his drive for civil rights for black Americans. The resulting split in the Democratic Party seriously endangered the re-election of Kennedy in 1964. If he did not win the state of Texas in the election of 1964, he would not be re-elected, hence the urgency of his trip to Texas in 1963. He needed to attack extremism in America and promote his view of world peace that relied on peaceful co-existence, not nuclear confrontation.

Reading this book made me believe in conspiracy simply because he had so many powerful enemies who had the motive, means and opportunity to murder the president. The author answers another statement made by those who don’t believe in conspiracy – “someone would have talked”. Talbot documents the fact that many reliable witnesses have talked over the years. They have not been taken seriously, eliminated, or their testimony buried. Although the story is woven into the assassinations of both John and Robert, it is not a true assassination book. It doesn’t advance a specific conspiracy scenario, rather it summarizes the most significant theories on the subject. What he does do most effectively is lift the veil on the many enemies of the Kennedy presidency. Bottom line thesis the book seems to advance is that Kennedy’s approach to the Cold War was so revolutionary, sinister forces fought to end it.

To anyone interested in the history of this era, this book will be a page-turner. I read it in a couple of days and couldn’t leave it alone. Talbot has so well-researched and documented his story the reader will be thinking about it for a very long time. It reads like a thriller. He accomplished the goal of examining the Kennedy Era through the eyes of those who lived it. After reading this book I am amazed that nuclear war did not occur.

Previously unpublished interviews with Jackie Kennedy and Robert Kennedy concerning the events of November 22, 1963 and their aftermath are a highlight of the book. Jackie’s descriptions of the bloodbath inside the presidential Lincoln are especially gut-wrenching. These descriptions serve to force the reader to look beyond the Zapruder film and realize the human carnage that was taking place.

The final question posed by the author is, “Why should we care after all these years?”  His book argues that democracy is threatened by lies and untruths perpetuated by governments. For this reader, a child of the sixties, the Kennedy assassinations were the beginning of my cynicism of governments. This book reconfirms my beliefs.

The author, David Talbot is the founder and former editor-in-chief of Salon, one of the most respected on-line magazines. He has written for The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and other publications. When Robert Kennedy was assassinated, Talbot was a sixteen-year old worker in Kennedy’s campaign for the presidency.

This was the most thought-provoking book I have read for a long time. I highly recommend it.


Nuclear Guinea Pigs: Canadian and American Troops At Ground Zero

November 13, 2007

dog2-alt1.jpgRecent articles in national and local newspapers have brought attention to a hidden and shameful part of American and Canadian military history. 

(Left: A-bomb and troops at Nevada Test Site. In this photo they are only 6 miles away. Official U.S. military photo.)

During the Cold War in the 1950s the United States was actively testing nuclear weapons in the Nevada desert.  As part of these atmospheric tests it was decided to see how ground troops would fare at ground zero of the explosions. At the request of the American military Canadian troops were sent to take part in the tests. The Canadian troops were exposed to at least six atomic bomb detonations in 1957 at the Nevada Test Site. “Operation Plumbbob” was a series of 29 atomic explosions conducted from May 28 to October 7, 1957 at the Nevada Test Site. It was the most controversial test series because military troops were heavily involved.

The troops were placed within several miles or less from ground zero. The wore normal field uniforms with no protective gear other than masks to protect against the dust of the explosion. Oh yes, foxholes were dug and the troops tool shelter in them. Once the explosion took place and the dust settled they were then ordered to walk into the center of the explosion.  All this while technicians dressed in spacesuit-like outfits monitored them for radiation. Most troops were very young and newly enlisted. They wondered why these alien-like scientists were dressed in all this gear and they weren’t, but most said that they were trusting in their superiors and willing to follow orders. They trusted that their superiors knew enough to protect their safety.

pbsmoky2.jpgApproximately 18,000 members of the American and Canadian military were exposed to these explosions.

“The military was interested in knowing how the average foot-soldier would stand up, physically and psychologically, to the rigors of the tactical nuclear battlefield.

(Above: A-bomb test “Smoky” which exposed several thousand troops to radiation. Part of Operation Plumbbob tests held during 1957. Official U.S. military photo.) 

“These exercises exposed the servicemen to relatively high levels of radiation. A survey of these servicemen in 1980 found significantly elevated rates of leukemia: ten cases, instead of the baseline expected four.” (Source Wikipedia article – see link below)

The atomic weapons being tested yielded more than twice the explosive power of the Hiroshima bomb. Because the tests were mainly ground bursts the resulting dust storm was highly radioactive. Scientists conducting these tests were well aware of the effects of such bombs to humans. In fact many of them had visited the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagaski to see first-hand the effects of a nuclear bomb on humans. They had seen what radiation sickness was doing to the surviving citizens of these cities. There can be no excuse for their callous use of these troops for their self-serving experiments. They knew full well that the men were being exposed to dangerous radiation levels.

American troops that took part in these tests have been officially compensated, if that is truly possible. Canada has done nothing so far to even attempt to compensate the troops. In fact the Canadian government has not been forthcoming with information on the tests that the troops participated in. These is actually much more information on the internet from official sources. The men are slowly dying off which seems to be fine with the government because then they won’t have to compensate them. This is shameful and reeks of coverup.  All this at a time of year when we are honoring our veterans. Veterans of the testing of these horrible weapons of mass destruction deserve better.

First of all both governments need to admit that they were wrong in using human guinea pigs in these tests. Then they need to compensate them as best as possible for their service.

More Reading:

“Victim of A-bomb testing dies awaiting federal redress”, by David Pugliese, CanWest News Service, Calgary Herald, November 13, 2007. (This article was the inspiration for my post, but no quotes have been used.)

Paul Tibbets, Jr. and Enola Gay

November 2, 2007

paul_w_tibbets_usaf_bio_photo.jpgColonel Paul W. Tibbets Jr. died November 1, 2007 at the age of 92 years. He was the pilot of the Enola Gay an American B-29 bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan, August 6, 1945. At least 80,000 people died instantly with thousands more dying later of radiation sickness.

Nuclear war was introduced to the world. The result was a quick end to the Second World War. The war against Japan lasted from December 7, 1941 until September 1945 when Japan finally surrendered. It took two atomic bombs dropped on Japan to force a surrender. Even then they reluctantly surrendered.

Although horrific events, the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagaski did finally end the war without having to invade Japan. Military experts generally agree that the eventual invasion of the Japanese homeland would have resulted in a terrible loss of life both for the American invaders and the Japanese defenders. The war would also have lasted at least another two years. The Japanese were fanatical and were fighting to the death. This was illustrated by the blood baths of Iwo Jima and later of Okinawa both of which we parts of the Japanese homeland. One can only imagine the terrible carnage that would have resulted from an invasion of the main Japanese islands.

atomic_cloud_over_hiroshima.jpgPresident Harry Truman approved the plans for the invasion of Japan on June 18, 1945. The initial assault by over 800,000 troops was scheduled to begin November 1, 1945 followed by an attack of 1.2 million troops. It was estimated that it would take over 10 years to wipe out the last pockets of resistance with total American losses of one million men. (Left: Atomic cloud over Hiroshima)

The lasting result was the real fear of the consequences of a nuclear war and what it would do to earth’s civilization. The destruction of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagaski pale in comparison to what a nuclear attack could do today. Modern nuclear weapons are smaller in size, but with many times more destruction power than the small yield weapons dropped then.

485px-tibbets-wave.jpgColonel Tibbets was never proud of the result, but he did his duty in an all-out war. He saved countless lives by completing his mission. Let’s hope that such a mission is never necessary again.

(Left: Tibbets waving from the Enola Gay the day of the mission)

Note: All photos in this article are official U.S Air Force photos and are in the public domain.

The U.S Does Not Torture. Right!

October 12, 2007

President Bush recently made a public statement that the United States does not torture captive terrorists. Forgive me for being just a little bit sceptical.

Think about this scenario for a second. The CIA captures a terrorist. They have reliable information that he has just planted a 20 megaton nuclear warhead in downtown Manhattan. Now obviously this person is not going to voluntarily devulge the location of the bomb. Hell he’s planning on going to his “paradise” along with the other 5 or 6 million Americans he will kill.

Do we resort to any means necessary to get the info out of him? I say morals be damned in this case. Millions of innocent lives are at stake. You bet we torture him and with all means possible to extract the location of that bomb. I bet President Bush would not want to answer later that “yes we had the ability to get the info, but gee we were afraid to hurt the poor guy by torturing him, and yes some bleeding-heart liberals might not have approved.”

I leave it to you the reader to think about that scenario. Hopefully we will never have to face it. Never say never. Torture is not something we like to see as a democratic society, but the greater good must come first.

Presidential Primer #2 – “The Most Powerful Man on Earth”

October 3, 2007


Above: “Teddy” Roosevelt, President from 1901-1907. His foreign policy was to “Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick” 

This is the second instalment in my series on the American Presidency.  The first one defined who is eligible to become the President, this one discusses the power of the office.

 Reference for this discussion: Constitution of the United States, Article II, Sections 2 and 3.

In layman’s language here are the defined powers that the President has:

1) He is the Commander in Chief of the American armed forces.

2) He has the power to reprieve or pardon crimes against the United States, except for impeachment.

3) He can make treaties with foreign powers. They have to be ratified by 2/3 of the Senate.

4) The President can appoint ambassadors, judges of the Supreme Court and other ministers or officers of the federal government. These have to be ratified by Congress.  For example he appoints his cabinet and then Congress holds hearings to review the appointment. Then the ratify or not the appointment.

5) He can propose legislation to Congress. This is usually done through his annual “State of the Union” address to Congress.  Again Congress is not bound to pass the legislation, but it is formally placed on their agenda for consideration.

What makes the President of the United States the most powerful man in the world is one thing.

He is the Commander in Chief of the most powerful military forces in the world.  This effectly gives him the power to go to war. Congress must ratify or confirm his actions within 30 days. How and if they could do this in the case of a nuclear exchange is doubtful. Most ominously he has his finger on the nuclear arsenal of the world’s only remaining true superpower. Only he can trigger a nuclear strike. A military officer with the codes and controls to allow him to use this power always accompanies the President wherever he goes. This briefcase is referred to as the “nuclear football”.


Above: Harry S. Truman (President 1945 – 1953) was the first President to have command over nuclear weapons and to use it. He ordered the use of the atomic bomb in World War II to end the war against the Japanese.

When the United States was in its infancy and was not a world power, the President was really only a powerful man in his own country. Now that it is a superpower with a nuclear arsenal and a formable military, he truly is the “most powerful man in the world”.


Above: Photo of a hydrogen bomb test. This unthinkable power that can be unleashed in a nuclear war is apparent. It truly would end civilization as we know it.

Let us all hope that the office of the Presidency is always held by a man of wisdom and courage.

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