Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Exactly what Soviet sites did the U.S. target for nuclear bombing?

The fear of an unprovoked nuclear-missile attack unleashed without warning by the Soviet Union was an ever-present danger for many Americans during the Cold War.  To combat that threat, America built a series of silos, each containing its own missile, capable of delivering a nuclear warhead back towards the Soviet Union.  (This map purports to show some of 150 intercontinental ballistic missile sites in North Dakota.)
For many years, it's been possible to visit a decommissioned nuclear launch facility in South Dakota to see remnants of America's nuclear missiles.  (I myself took the tour with my family many years ago.  The Park Rangers who escorted us on our tour were both retired Air Force officers who had served as Nuclear Launch Control Officers, so their insights and recollections were fascinating to hear.)
Ranger leads visitors on tour at Delta-09
A National Park Ranger shows visitors the top of a decommissioned Delta-09 nuclear missile silo.  (From the National Park Service.)
But just Tuesday, for the first time, the National Archives has released an 800-page list, produced by the Strategic Air Command in 1956, of potential targets for those missiles.  A zoomable map produced by the private National Security Archive based at George Washington University shows the sites targeted by SAC commanders.

It would be fascinating (and frightening) to share these resources with our students in the spring when we're studying the Cold War.  The detailed level of planning here clearly shows the extent to which America's leaders planned for a possible nuclear engagement.

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