Daniel Ellsberg is famous now as a strong whistleblower advocate who released the Pentagon Papers that showed that the publicly stated premises on which the US waged its invasion of Vietnam were based on lies. But before that, he was steeped in the Cold War military establishment as a strategic analyst at the RAND Corporation. In that role, he was asked to evaluate various proposals suggested by the military.
In a new book The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a War Planner, he reveals the extent to which the US military was willing to go in its war scenarios and some of them are truly crazy. Perhaps the craziest one was called Project Retro to securely attach to the Earth one thousand massive Atlas engines pointing in the direction opposite to the Earth’s rotation. Why?
The officer originating this proposal envisioned that if our Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) radars detected and reported on the huge viewing screens at NORAD a large flight of missile warheads coming across the North Pole from the Soviet Union – aimed at our missile fields in North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and Missouri – the array of Atlas engines would be fired, as near simultaneously as possible, to ostop the Earth’s rotation momentarily.
The Soviet missiles, on their inertial path, would thus bypass or overfly their intended targets. Our land-based retaliatory force would be saved, to carry out – presumably, when things had settled down and Earth was again spinning normally – a retaliatory attack against the cities and soft military targets (their missiles having already left their hardened silos) in the Soviet Union.
Ellsberg says that one did not need to be a rocket scientist (Ha! He actually used the word genius) to see that the idea was crazy. First of all, stopping, or just slowing the Earth’s rotation even slightly, would have catastrophic global effects far worse than would be suffered under any nuclear attack, such as earthquakes and tsunamis on an unimaginable scale. Secondly, on a purely practical level, one thousand Atlas engines going full blast would shift the Earth’s rotation by the width of just a few atoms.
Scott Manley goes into more detail on why Project Retro was so ridiculous.