Archives for posts with tag: civil defense

[Recently I heard a story about World War II that rings true today. Back then both sides used cyphers to scramble their messages, especially the ones about war plans, troop movements and so forth. The Germans had an especially good cypher, called Enigma, which they thought unbreakable. What they didn’t know was that the British had, in fact, broken it. So the Brits had a window into German operations and could take appropriate countermeasures when necessary. But the British advantage would last only so long as the Germans were unaware that their messaging was compromised.

The British advantage could be helpful for a lot of reasons, most especially because in the 1940s the Germans did a lot of bombing in England. In those days, by the way, many bombing campaigns were considered “strategic;” i.e., were focused on destroying factories, ports and other war-making “infrastructure.” The Germans didn’t worry much about civilian casualties when going after strategic targets. Later in the war our side pretty much did the same thing to them.

Well, one day the Germans did a major bombing run against Coventry, England, a town in the industrialized Midlands. The locals weren’t told about it in advance, didn’t evacuate, and the raid was catastrophic. In one night over 4,300 homes were destroyed, and two-thirds of the city’s buildings damaged.[1]So why wasn’t the target city warned? Well, there are two versions of an answer:

  • One is that the central government simply didn’t know Coventry was targeted that night. The government had data about an impending attack, but didn’t know where the German bombers would go.
  • The other is that the government did in fact know the target, but withheld the information for reasons of state. Warn Coventry and most likely that would tell the Germans Enigma was compromised. The British would lose their intelligence advantage.

So which is it? Did Winston Churchill sacrifice some civilians to preserve a competitive advantage in World War II? Or did he not know about the Coventry raid? Some say that the British had some information that might have helped them identify the target, but they didn’t understand it. On the other hand, Churchill himself is quoted as saying he had “aged 20 years” when he decided to let Coventry burn.[2] That implies he knew. This sounds like a good topic for a thesis. Perhaps some Ph.D. candidate in History can get to the truth for us.

The point of the story is not that it’s true or false. It’s that there are circumstances, conceivable circumstances, where our government – or any government – might elect not to tell its citizens about a threat. The TV version of that, of course, is the plastic character who decides people would panic if they knew the truth about this or that, so he [or she] lies to save us from ourselves. That’s pretty much a sci-fi cliché. Don’t tell anybody about the space aliens; if you do, the country might disintegrate!

But instead let’s talk about something more serious, about what happens if our government lies to us or says nothing about impending danger, and when that might happen. In particular, let’s look what might happen at the start of a global thermonuclear war.]

This is Fred, by the way, and yes, I’m back on nuclear war. Lots of people criticized my last post, saying I was far too pessimistic. Sure, if war caught us by surprise, people at the various grounds zero would not have much time to evacuate. But really, the critics said, when would a major war sneak up on us like that? Crises leading to war take time to build. Surely there would be advance warning. People would leave their bullseye neighborhoods as soon as they knew there was a problem.

Perhaps. Let’s think about evacuation for a bit. People won’t run until they’re sure there’s a crisis, right?   So who should they believe: the media [who these days are alarmists about everything, just to keep the ratings up]; the family psychic or minister, who seems to know just about everything; or our government?  I’m betting that, at the end of the day, most folks would turn to the government when the issue is war or peace. After all, it’s supposed to be the expert on foreign crises and will fight any wars that erupt. And in a crisis what will our government say about whether people should flee their homes? That depends. Remember Coventry.

Who Wants A Nuclear War?

Atomic conflicts are not a new problem. Luckily we’ve avoided nuclear war for seven decades, so we have no actual experience with it. But we’ve been thinking about it all that time, and a lot of good work has been done. For our purposes let’s start with an early example of the war plan genre: Herman Kahn’s scary treatise about the unthinkable, On Thermonuclear War.[3] It’s a classic; old but still relevant; one of the foundational books in the field. It also has things to say about our current subject.

Herman Kahn believed most governments, if left to their own devices, would prefer peace over war. [He said that over 50 years ago, and perhaps had in mind stable governments like those in Eastern and Western Europe; not the failed states we find today here and there around the globe.] Peace is safer than war. But, he added, if war is inevitable, most governments would prefer to strike first, rather than wait for their enemy to take the initiative.[4] Those who go first, attacking the enemy’s strike forces, improve their chances of surviving the engagement. This, of course, also was Dwight Eisenhower’s view when he was President.

If a country decides war is probable, the pressure on it to strike first increases. Once the other side understands that, it’s also motivated to do a first strike.  There is a “reciprocal fear of surprise attack” that pushes both sides toward war.[5]

How Bad the War?

It would be very bad. Back in the 1950s we had a combination of nuclear and thermonuclear weapons in the inventory. [The so-called “A” and “H” bombs.] The difference between them is the difference between kilotons and megatons. A kiloton is 1000 tons. A megaton is 1000 kilotons. The destructive power of the bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was measured in kilotons. Today the warheads on our missiles are measured in megatons. “Megaton weapons are comparable to gross forces of nature, such as earthquakes and hurricanes.” [6] If used, they would be enormously destructive.

Evacuating People

So here we are in a paranoid situation, two countries, hyper vigilant, sure that there will be a war, each afraid that the other will attack first, and then one of them evacuates its cities. Flee, flee, it says to its people! The bombs are coming! What does that tell the other side? That its enemy is going to war, and is preparing its people to survive retaliation after it strikes? That’s the logical conclusion, wouldn’t you think? But evacuation is more than a “tell” in poker. It’s the same as a declaration of war. [7]

Herman Kahn was of two minds about this. He thought that evacuations should be low key and reassuring to the other side. Evacuations should be “as undramatic as possible,” and assurances should be given that no decision has been made to go to war. But if one side has decided to launch a surprise attack, of course it would make reassuring noises. Why ruin the surprise? And why would its adversary believe anything from a country that’s obviously mobilizing?

Why indeed? Even Herman Kahn saw the problems. “Evacuation-type maneuvers,” he said, “are risky because they may touch off an attack by the other side.[8]” And that, I think, is the answer to the question I posed at the beginning of this piece. Why would a government refuse to tell its population about an impending threat? Answer: To avoid aggravating an already bad situation. Perhaps it thinks a peaceful resolution is still possible. Perhaps it’s going to launch a pre-emptive strike and doesn’t want to telegraph its intentions. Either way, it doesn’t want to agitate the other side. Boom!

Conclusion

So get used to it. In a crisis your government may well lie to you, for the very best reasons, of course. There are always reasons. Use your own judgment when you read the news.

[Please note: This post is speculative only. We don’t have any government secrets here at Elemental Zoo Two, and don’t want any. If you want confidential sources, named or unnamed, go to the Washington Post. And we’re not accepting calls from North Korea. Have a nice day.]

 

 

[1] See the Wikipedia entry on the Coventry Blitz, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coventry_Blitz .

[2] Id. at Coventry and Ultra.

[3] See Kahn, On Thermonuclear War (Princeton, 1960, Transaction 2007, 2010). The Transaction edition is a reprint of the original, plus some additional material added by the publisher. The book will be cited as Thermonuclear War at __. Page references will be to the 2nd Transaction edition of 2010.

[4] Thermonuclear War at p. 136. “Most governments when asked to choose between war and peace are likely to choose peace, because it looks safer. These same governments, when asked to choose between getting the first or the second strike will very likely choose the first strike. They will do so for the same reason they choose peace in the first choice; it is safer.… [M]ost governments would much prefer getting in the first strike once they feel war is inevitable, or even very probable.”

[5] Id. “As soon as either side thinks that war is probable it is under pressure to pre-empt. …[T]he instability is increased  by the “reciprocal fear of surprise attack” in which each side feels a pressure to strike mainly because it feels the other side has exactly the same pressure.”

[6] Thermonuclear War at p. 313: “The most important technological development … is the fact that it would have been a thermonuclear rather than an atomic war.  The difference between megaton and kiloton is very large, in some ways larger than the difference between a kiloton and a ton. Megaton weapons are comparable to gross forces of nature, such as earthquakes and hurricanes. The effects of the use of such weapons are not only extremely widespread; they are also occasionally very subtle and hard to predict. As a result, for the first time in the history of war we have what might be called the problem of the post attack environment.”

[7] Thermonuclear War at p. 648. “If true and clear to the enemy, this is extremely serious, because he will be impelled to strike the U.S. during the evacuation (not to kill civilians, who are not really a military target, but to get in the first blow.)”

[8] Id. at 132.

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[This is Fred again. I was more or less shut out of the UFO project, so I decided to look for something else civilized folks don’t like to talk about and discuss that. That could have been any one of a lot of things, usually involving sex or death, and possibly the End Times. But last week I spotted a new book about bomb shelters that fits perfectly, and is interesting to boot, so I went with that. The book is Raven Rock;[1] my local book store got only two copies; I snapped up one of them; and have been reading it since. It’s well researched, has lots of footnotes [I like that sort of thing] and seems accurate. I lived through some of the events it describes and haven’t found any glaring errors.

Also it’s worth noting that our posture vis-a-vis North Korea and its weapons program has worsened quite a bit and people are beginning to notice. North Korea has built some of the smaller nuclear weapons – the  so-called atomic ones – and our media and foreign policy establishment seem totally afraid that North Korea might use a few of those to attack us or someone we like. Some, most notably the hackers known as “Anonymous,” have predicted a nuclear war in our future: no, strike that; in our near future[2]. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfOC2nz5Nmc&feature=youtu.be . I don’t agree; nor do I disagree with Anonymous.[3] Who knows what might happen? But the current furor makes revisiting the bomb shelter issue look a bit more intelligent than it did, say, last week.

G. Sallust has a story that pretty much explains who needs bomb shelters and who doesn’t. It seems that he worked in the Pentagon in the 1970s, and lived within walking distance of it. Each day he would leave work via the South Parking entrance, walk through the parking lot to a tunnel under the highway[4], go through the tunnel, then cross a road to his apartment building. So one day he was doing just that and was passed by a military guy doing the same thing. Being a friendly sort, G. decided to make small talk. “I read in the Post,” he said, ‘that Soviet missiles could reach us within 15 minutes of launch if we go to war. What would you do if you got word that was happening?”

“I’ve thought about it,” the guy said. “I’m not responsible for making launch decisions, so probably I would do what we’re doing now. I would have just enough time to leave the Pentagon, go to our apartment building, take the elevator to the 14th floor, go to the roof, crack open a beer, and watch the traffic jam. Then, boom!” The moral of the story was, you don’t have post-apocalypse worries if you live or work on Ground Zero. The Pentagon certainly was that.

The same was true for me back in the 1960s, when I lived outside an air base that hosted SAC B-52s[5] kept ready to respond if Soviet missiles came our way. The bombers were “locked and loaded,” you might say, and so were the crews; both were ready to take off in less than 15 minutes if the need arose. That made the air field a prime target for our enemies; in time of war they would try to strike before the planes took off. Whether the planes escaped or not, bystanders didn’t need to make long-term survival plans. The whole area would go boom when the missiles arrived!]

So bomb shelters aren’t really for the people at Ground Zero. Modern thermonuclear weapons [bombs or warheads] most likely will destroy anything in the blast zone that humans have built. Shelters are for the people who aren’t immediately incinerated; they’re for survivors who need to be fed, watered and protected from radiation. You put them far away from the blast zones and hope survivors get there before they die of the aftereffects of the attack. What aftereffects? Well, radiation poisoning, dehydration, starvation, epidemics, violence, that kind of thing.

We do have bomb shelters for that, but mostly to protect the Government, and its ability to fight a war; and to plan for reconstruction; not to shield civilian bystanders. The public are expected to flee the various Ground Zeros that will dot our landscape, and forage for food and take shelter on their own. No doubt there’s a Government plan to help with that – usually labeled “Civil Defense”- but I haven’t heard much about it in recent decades. I’ll bet you haven’t, either. Post war everything will be magically reconstructed through the miracle of capitalism. Details to follow.

Global Nuclear War

These kinds of things were openly discussed back in the day, and sometimes intelligently, but you don’t hear much about nuclear war in today’s media. Instead you hear babble and chatter about our “national interest” in this sea lane or that mountain top, or in righting wrongs in one place or another, or spreading democracy here and there, or in fighting terrorism or making the world safe for our way of life. Our leadership in the 1950s didn’t think that way. They were much more practical, and knew stupidity could have consequences. “Global war as defense of freedom [is] almost [a] contradiction in terms.[6]Who said that? Our President, Dwight Eisenhower, a seasoned warrior from World War II who held five stars and commanded the European Theatre of that war.[7] His Vice President, Richard Nixon[8], also had served, and so had a large part of the American population.

So what? You might ask. Nobody wants a “global” nuclear war. Let’s just have a limited one. We’ll just use a few nukes here and there, and promise not to do more; the other side will fold; and we’ll win. What’s wrong with that? Winning is good.

It’s unrealistic.  Suppose we launch one or two nuclear missiles at Russia to punish its government for something it did, or we thought it did, in the Middle East. Then we promise that we won’t throw any more at them. Why should they believe us? We already did a sneak attack. What’s to stop us from doing another? Also, the Russian military would be livid. If they were caught napping by us, they won’t want to repeat the experience. It would be better, they would argue, to strike first, in strength, to maximize Russia’s chance of surviving a war. Otherwise Russian armed forces would be merely targets for the Americans.

So how do I know that’s the way they would think? Because it’s the way we would.[9] President Eisenhower, for one, understood that “… the only way to mitigate losses [in a nuclear war] would be to strike first in a surprise attack ordered on the sole authority of the president himself ….”[10] If he did otherwise, he said, the Congress should have him shot for dereliction of duty.

Shelters

Raven Rock isn’t about bomb shelters for the masses, so probably we should reserve that topic for a later post. The book discusses four principal ones, two of which are well known today, and two that are relatively obscure. All are [or were] intended to help preserve the “continuity of government”[11] in the event of a big war. In Government-speak that’s also known as “COG.” The facilities are:

  • A very large fallout shelter built into the Greenbrier Hotel, a resort complex in West Virginia, to shield our Congress in the event of war.
  • The Cheyenne Mountain communications center, maintained by the North American Aerospace Defense Command [NORAD] near Colorado Springs, CO.
  • Raven Rock, an alternate DoD command post and communications center maintained in Pennsylvania in case the Pentagon is destroyed. Actually the military identified a need for an alternate Pentagon just six years after the original opened for business.[12] They selected Raven Rock and have been digging there and improving the site ever since.[13]
  • Mount Weather, a similar facility maintained for the civilian agencies.[14]

There was a time when each of these was a big secret. Since they were alternate command and control centers for use in time of war, or as a refuge for key members of our Government, or both, no one wanted them targeted for nuclear weapons. While three of them were truly “hardened” sites, possibly able to withstand a nuclear attack, why test that if you can keep the site a secret? The enemy can’t nuke what it doesn’t know about. However, none of the big 4 is secret anymore. Today they all have very informative Wikipedia entries.[15] So if the Government wants to have secret places to hide again, it will have to build new ones. Perhaps it has. Stay tuned.

Reconstruction

President Eisenhower was not an optimist about nuclear war, and how it might turn out for us. He thought, for example, that every country that entered such a war would emerge as a dictatorship. Democracies could not survive the stress of all that death and destruction.[16] Also the survivors might be set back quite a bit in their technology. If World War 3 is nuclear, the one after that might be fought with bows and arrows.[17]

Nevertheless, he didn’t give up on the notion that we might rebuild something after a nuclear war and, to that end, made arrangements to appoint key people, leaders of industry, to guide the effort. These individuals, also known as his “shadow government,” were specially appointed by him to take charge if disaster struck, and do what was necessary. Perhaps the legality of all that was questionable, but the idea was that if everything was falling apart, the survivors would go along.[18]

The idea began with the Eisenhower Administration, but didn’t end there. The Reagan people, for example, devised a complex plan to deal with a hypothetical “decapitation attack,” i.e. a successful attack mounted by our adversaries to eliminate most or all of our leadership. It also included a list of civilians who could be drafted to take over in case of need.[19]

My guess is that those are not the only administrations to have had that idea. It’s a natural if one is planning for catastrophe. So don’t be surprised if there are more revelations.

Conclusion

So that’s enough for now about bomb shelters and disaster plans.  I don’t put a lot of confidence in shelters largely because, if they’re hardened, most likely they’ll be obvious from the air, something like a castle in the middle of nowhere, with roads running to it and no reason to exist. I’ll just bet that we spend a lot of satellite time looking for that kind of thing in Russia; and they do the same with us. And both sides, if they find something interesting, add it to a target list, along with a note as to what size nuclear device might be needed to crack it. Aerial and/or space surveillance can be very effective. Just ask ISIS about the MOAB.

Of course if you live out in the country and a good distance from a potential Ground Zero, and worry about nuclear war, you might want to consider some sort of fallout shelter, perhaps like the ones people use to shelter from tornados. But be sure to cover it with at least 3 feet of earth. And, of course, if you live near any kind of military installation, you might want to forget the whole thing. You’re probably in a Ground Zero of some sort. Blast is your problem, not radiation.

 

[1] See Graff, Raven Rock, The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself While the Rest of Us Die (Simon & Schuster, 2017).  Hereafter the book will be cited as Raven Rock at __.

[2] See also New York Post, Perez, Anonymous warns world to ‘prepare’ for World War 3 (May 8, 2017), available at http://nypost.com/2017/05/08/anonymous-warns-world-to-prepare-for-world-war-3/  

[3] If I did, no doubt they wouldn’t forget. Who would want Anonymous for an enemy?

[4] Today it’s called I-395. Before that, it was “Shirley Highway.”

[5] For those of you who must know, it was Robins AFB in Georgia. It’s still there, but apparently the nuclear weapons aren’t. See the Wikipedia entry on Robins AFB at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robins_Air_Force_Base

[6] This is from President Eisenhower. See Raven Rock at p. 46.

[7] Wikipedia has a pretty good Eisenhower biography at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dwight_D._Eisenhower .

[8] Wikipedia’s Nixon biography is at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Nixon .

[9] See Raven Rock at p. 67. “Wars and military endeavors were unpredictable, irrational and difficult to control once started; they escalated in unintended ways and, and military commanders would never admit defeat if they still had weapons to deploy. Eisenhower was certain any war with the Soviet Union would become a nuclear war, and that any nuclear war would escalate into a full, all-out general nuclear exchange. That end, catastrophic for the planet, was just too awful to contemplate. … ‘You might as well shoot everyone you see and then shoot yourself.’”

[10] See Raven Rock at p. 68.

[11] See Raven Rock at p. 49.

[12] See Raven Rock at p. 50.

[13] See Raven Rock at p. 49 – 54.

[14] See Raven Rock at p. 61-62, 130-32, 185 –188, 228 – 231.

[15] See Raven Rock at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raven_Rock_Mountain_Complex ; Mount Weather, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Weather_Emergency_Operations_Center ; Cheyenne Mountain Complex, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheyenne_Mountain_Complex ; and The Greenbrier Bunker photos at http://www.bing.com/search?q=the+greenbrier+bunker+photos&FORM=QSRE7 .

[16] See Raven Rock at p. 57. “The President said that, of course, his imagination as to the horrors of a third world war might be overdeveloped, but he believed that every single nation, including the United States, which entered into [a nuclear] war as a free nation would come out of it as a dictatorship … That will be the price of survival.”

[17] See Raven Rock at p. 77: “The destruction,” Eisenhower told his cabinet at one point “might be such that we might ultimately have to go back to bows & arrows.”

[18] See Raven Rock at p. 92 – 97.

[19] See Raven Rock at Chapter 16, Nine Naught Eight, p.297 – 337