Lately, the topic has gotten some air. That’s good, because – in my opinion – most people do not adequately understand the tremendous whopper-level lies that governments have told about nuclear weapons. I have raised some of this topic before, but it’s worth hammering on: the stated use of nuclear weapons is as a deterrent, yet none of the countries that might be involved in a nuclear war have nuclear arsenals that are oriented toward a deterrent purpose. If that doesn’t make you wonder, what will?
A deterrent nuclear force would include buried ground-burst weapons – essentially nuclear IEDs – that would make occupying a defeated power an unattractive option. And it would be heavy on survivable counter-strike weapons that could rain delayed death on a victorious enemy. Instead, the nuclear powers of the world (most notably the US) have oriented their forces toward a quick, stealthy strike that might win a war, but certainly would reduce the enemy’s ability to retaliate in kind.
Think about it for a couple of minutes, and you’ll realize that stealth cruise missiles have no value as a retaliatory weapon, but they’re great for a well-timed first strike. The new US high precision warheads and delivery systems are useless for retaliation – for retaliation you want great, big, population-killers – but they’re ideal for a “decapitating” first strike against a targeted nation.
That all probably sounds like a broad, dramatic accusation but I don’t need to say anything to back it up; anyone with any awareness of how nuclear weapons work can think it through and realize that “mutual assured destruction” was always a sham. For example, the US has consistently used NATO as a cover for positioning close-reach nuclear weapons around the USSR/Russia – including a weird bit of theater in which the US provided NATO aircraft with capability to drop B-61 nuclear bombs, while still claiming it was not “proliferating” because there were Americans guarding the revetment where the bombs are kept. “Proliferation” apparently is something that occurs on very short notice. But, in a counter-strike situation, what are a bunch of F-16s in Turkey and Germany going to do? Fly over Russia and make the rubble bounce? No, what’s useful is stealth aircraft dropping a carefully coordinated first strike on command/control. Which, in the case of Russia means, of course, cities burn and millions die.
The most difficult part of the lie to deconstruct is that part that is partially/mostly true: the ballistic missile submarines. It is true that a ballistic missile submarine represents an incredible deterrent. A former friend who was deployed on a “boomer” (ballistic missile submarine) had a unit patch that read “sunshine from the depths” just to give you an idea of the mindset of the men who lurk in mobile death platforms. A ballistic missile submarine like a US Ohio-class (we have 14 of these monsters) carries 24 missiles, each of which carries in turn 12 W88 warheads on independent re-entry vehicles. That’s 288 times 1/2 megaton and they have a range of 6,000 miles. From one sub. Multiply that times 14 and you’ve got 4,000+ burning cities. Is that not a sufficiently credible “deterrent”? But the problem is more complicated – a missile might take 1/2 hour to cover 5,000 miles of distance but what if the super stealthy sub scootches closer to the target, and the boomers launch their cloud of warheads timed to arrive 60 seconds after a wing of stealth bombers fly past Moscow and vaporize the city? A ballistic missile launch is not exactly “fast” by anyone’s terms, but if you supplement the stealth bombers with a few stealth cruise missiles, you might be able to put enough photons on a target country that they’d have no time to respond before they were wrecked. Ballistic missile subs are good deterrent but as soon as the US started deploying cruise missiles on them, the whole game changed: now they are a stealth attack platform that is hard to trace and hard to destroy pre-emptively.
I hope you sit and think over what I just wrote above, and realize that – yes – you’ve been lied to. Horribly, ruthlessly, and callously. The US is like a mass-casualty shooter who buys a sniper rifle and says it’s for “home defense.” Weapons systems embed aspects of their strategic purpose and it is simply impossible to make nuclear weapons acceptable. By the way, perhaps you remember the “neutron bomb” – enhanced radiation warhead. Whatever happened to that monstrosity? It was a big deal in the 1980s. It never was successfully or widely deployed because US war planners realized it wasn’t cost-effective. There is, and was, no need to prepare a zone of nuclear death to keep the Soviets from invading Germany – the US would simply launch a pre-emptive strike against the entire USSR when Soviet troops began massing to attack. Neutron bombs were not cost effective and that’s the only reason the US didn’t bother with them anymore, and instead pursued its current strategy of trying to build a first-strike capability that is more threatening than mutual assured destruction. The US first-strike capability is more like “I don’t know if you’ll get any of us, but there will be none of you left to find out.” Basically, that was the US attitude toward N Korea in 2019, when Donald Trump paraded his love/hate relationship and psychological disorders as he attempted to get Kim Jong Un to unilaterally disarm for no good reason.
There has been a lot of discussion lately about the nuclear “football” and launch codes, but that’s all window-dressing. Sure, some of the weapons’ targeting systems embed a PAL (Permissive Action Link) but most of the ones that matter, don’t. The 4,000+ warheads on the boomers don’t have PAL, because the US says they’re a “deterrent” and as such they need to be operable in the situation where NCA (National Command Authority) is unable to authorize a release because they’re all dead or whatever. But there are still multiple controls: the sub must be at the right depth (which the captain can order but does not control, the pilot does that), the tubes must be flooded and the hatches opened, the sub must be immobile, etc. The captain cannot lose his shit and go trigger a launch – the entire crew of the sub must be involved to some degree or other. The commander of a B-52 cannot unilaterally decide to drop a bomb, either, the bombardier does that, the pilot does that, the navigator does that, etc. I have a story to tell about unauthorized nuclear weapons releases, which depends on this information – that is why I am struggling to expose it to you, so you more fully understand that story when I tell it. And, if you understand it, you’ll believe it and not dismiss it as theater.
Speaking of theater: I was thinking last night of writing a posting as a series of fictitious message artifacts regarding Donald Trump’s attempt to actually order a missile launch. What if his mysterious trip to the Naval Observatory was because he was sedated by a quick-thinking team of White House security, when he tried to order a full-up strike on N Korea? They decided to make it look like perhaps he had a heart attack or mild stroke but, in fact, he was berserk bat-shit insane, and everyone knew it. They had to throw themselves on him to calm him down. Remember, that was around the time when he started playing musical chairs with the staff at the pentagon? What if? How would a political party and his hangers-on handle a situation like that so they could stay in power in spite of the fact that the president was obviously insane? They did it for Reagan, too, but he was never as bad as Trump. And Trump came back, bragging about his high score on a cognitive test for Alzheimer’s – as if it cleared him of suspicion of being a dipshit. Maybe they strapped him down at the Naval Observatory and told him that he was going to get 25th’d out of office if he didn’t calm down and spend the rest of his presidency playing golf. Trump clearly envied Kim Jong Un’s dictatorial control over N Korea’s arsenal – I wonder why. And then there was the sudden frosting of relations with China’s Xi, who was probably terrified that a bat-shit Trump would launch a first strike against them, if China didn’t agree to help him win the next election. What if the conspirators put Rudy Guiliani on Trump’s team to make them look stupid? Go ahead and write the screenplay, toss me a bone when you sell it to Amazon.
Now, it’s time to talk about SIOP.
SIOP stands for “Single Integrated Operations Plan” and it’s described in multiple corroborating sources including Daniel Ellsberg (who does not come out as a hero; he was a nuclear war planner specializing in making nuclear attacks more effective) But if you want a really interesting view into the underside of the US monster-beast, you should read Fred Kaplan’s The Wizards of Armageddon – [wc] – its a detailed history of the personalities and process from which the doctrine of MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) arose. A view into the government-proximal “think tanks” like RAND and Sandia is fascinating and disgusting in its own right: these are people who kissed their kids good morning then went to the office and planned to burn everyone in Russia with transcendent heat, then came home and slept comfortably.
When the US began building its nuclear arsenal, everyone wanted some: Army, Navy, Air Force, etc. It was from the beginning a great big inter-service pork-barrel that everyone grabbed importance and money from. Quickly thereafter it turned out that the US plans for using the new weapons were nonexistent or inadequate. This was at the same time that the Soviets only had 4 or so ballistic missiles that had maybe a 50/50 chance of working at all, but the US was laboring under the self-created impression that there was a “bomber gap” – the Soviets had a much bigger arsenal than the US. Later upgraded to a “missile gap.” I personally doubt that any of the higher-ups believed any of it, but it was a classic case of intelligence agencies telling their bosses what they wanted to hear. Anyhow, the analysts began looking at the hodge-podge strategy the US was setting up and realized that it was utterly incompetent. Curtis LeMay, in charge of the SAC (Strategic Air Command) was only planning a first strike which was obvious when anyone noticed that the SAC’s bombers were all parked on airport taxi-ways ready to fly or get blown to bits in a first strike. The analysts concluded that the US war-plans were inadequate, further, because basically everyone planned to hit Moscow ridiculously hard, then, um, everything else. There were actually concerns that there would be so many warheads in the air over Moscow that the first one which went off would destroy all the others, etc. Unlike the kind of war that LeMay was familiar with “throw all the shit at the enemy” was not an effective strategy. Ironically, the US military was so incompetent at that time that the Soviets probably could have sent a few bombers over and blown up Washington and New York and the US would have surrendered because there was no effective counter-strike. That realization was then the doctrine of MAD started to evolve: “how do we stop a rational enemy from attacking us?” At that time, Curtis LeMay said, “Easy. We burn everyone, right now.”
Reading this stuff is chilling, because it reveals the utter immorality of US leaders and its military. We knew Stalin was a monster and Krushchev was a badass who survived a lot of nazis and Soviet politics. But we were beglamored by the shallow Kennedy and the affable militarist Eisenhower, and never realized that our leaders gave Krushchev nightmares. And Reagan hadn’t come into office, yet.
By the Navy’s definition of “minimum number,” the SIOP would be a war plan that allocated just enough weapons to “accomplish the specific objectives” and nothing more. Consistent with the Navy’s own doctrine of “finite deterrence” it would suggest an upper limit to the number of nuclear weapons that SAC could build and deploy. By SAC’s definition, on the other hand, the SIOP would amount to firing off all the weapons at once, with no logical limits on how many targets the US would have to destroy to accomplish those objectives and, therefore, no limit on the number of weapons needed.
Everywhere SAC Intelligence looked, they found targets, thus justifying the need for more weapons. They thought the Soviets would have 700 ICBMs by 1962, the Navy thought there would be only 200; the Air Force won the battle, to the extent there was one, with the result of 500 extra targets, requiring more than 500 extra weapons. Similarly, SAC listed 1,115 airfields that should be targeted; the Navy analysts found only 770.
Then, to top it off, the Air Force assumed a built-in attrition rate – up to 1/3 of the bombers wouldn’t make it or would have weapons failures, You guessed it: more bombs, more planes.
Once the SIOP started to get sorted out, it turned out that it was very difficult to assign megatonnage and targets, and the original idea of having multiple plan options was not going to happen. The computers of the time simply could not handle it. So instead of having “War Plan A” and “War Plan B” etc., there was “The War Plan” – the SIOP. The account of Robert McNamara’s visit to SAC is priceless but I don’t want to type it all in. Basically, the generals tried to outright fool McNamara and it didn’t work – he was a monster, but he was a really smart monster.
There was something else that troubled McNamara. What SAC labeled “Plan 1-A” of SIOP-62 – suggesting that it was the basic plan – called for an all-out preemptive first-strike against the USSR, Eastern Europe, and Red China, in response to an actual or impending Soviet invasion of Western Europe that involved no nuclear weapons at all. That was the crux of SIOP: a first-strike plan that held back nothing, that killed hundreds of millions of people, just because they lived under Communist rule, without any Communist government’s having so much as scratched a square inch of the United States. As much as anyone else who witnessed this spectacle, if not more so, Robert McNamara was horrified.
That’s the Robert McNamara who oversaw bombing Vietnam flat with conventional weapons. It would take a lot to horrify McNamara but the SAC succeeded. Go back and re-read the previous quote and remember it because it’s extremely relevant to the second story I’m going to tell you about nuclear weapons command/control. I’ve been sitting on this stuff for years and it’s been too painful to contemplate. It’s still tough – if McNamara was scared, how do you think a normal decent human feels?
It was just too damn hard to come up with detailed targeting for the USSR and it was too hard to discriminate what should be a target so the Air Force decided “nuke ’em all.” That was US policy because that was what was embedded in the plan. Elsewhere LeMay said that he was uninterested in planning for the SAC to survive a first strike because his plan was to be launching the first strike and never receiving one. He did not say “MAD my ass” but that was basically the plan.
The capper came from General Tommy Power. Not the least appalling detail of SIOP-62 was the virtual obliteration of the tiny country of Albania – even though it had dramatically disassociated itself from the politics of the USSR – simply because within its borders sat a huge Soviet air-defense radar, which, according to the SIOP had to be taken out with high assurance. As Power was leading McNamara and his entourage outside the briefing room after finishing his presentation, he smiled at McNamara and said, with a mock straight face, “Well, Mr Secretary, I hope you don’t have any friends or relations in Albania, because we’re just going to have to wipe it out.
McNamara stopped in his tracks for a moment and glared at Power with all the contempt he could muster.
I probably should mention, at this point, that SAC and Navy had both chosen a mix of military and civilian targets. In fact, as the development of the targeting program proceeded, it turned out that it’s pretty hard to determine a difference between civilian and military targets with 1-megaton nuclear weapons. If there’s a military facility outside of a city – let’s say 3 miles outside – like the pentagon is to Washington (1 mile, just across the river) – you can’t hit the pentagon without flattening the city, too. And in order to be sure that the pentagon is destroyed you target “overkill” – 3 1mt warheads and, sure, the city won’t be there afterwards, either. Nothing will be left of mankind’s works within miles of that spot, and the ensuing fires will burn for miles and days.
Eventually the pentagon provided McNamara with a counterforce “no cities” war plan, that would have resulted, everyone knew, in wiping out the USSR anyway: the first strikes would hit every significant military facility and command/control with massive overkill and – if the surviving Soviets got off a shot in return, the second US “retaliatory” strike would make the burning rubble bounce and burn. The official strike doctrine was that the US would “launch on detonation” not “launch on warning” – that was what the US public was convinced to believe – the US would wait until a warhead went off somewhere, and then the four horsemen would gallop. But that was bullshit, too – the RAND analysts who looked at the SAC’s deployments realized that a first strike could disable virtually the entire SAC, so it was clear, sotto voce, that the US would launch on warning. As soon as Cheyenne Mountain detected a massive cloud of traces inbound, the US would launch its entire arsenal at everyone. LeMay’s answer was to launch at everyone, first.
If the creeping terror isn’t sinking in, to you, I don’t have enough words to explain this stuff further. Read The Wizards of Armageddon or Richard Rhodes’ The Twilight of The Bombs [wc] or Ellsberg’s confession The Doomsday Machine [wc] in which he naively apologizes for making the war machine much deadlier. The Wizards of Armageddon, however, is the most distilled view I’ve found of the horror that the US government created, and prepared to unleash on some clear blue-sky night. Can you wrap your brain around that? The US government’s plan, meticulously prepared, was for people around the world to wake up to sirens, run around for 15 to 30 minutes, and then burn like candles in the wind. That is what the world’s “essential democracy” put in place.
It could still happen.
Next episode, I will write about a truly scary incident that only makes sense if you know what you now know about SIOP. Oh, boy. In the meantime, be thankful that you’re alive.
Every US president since Truman (inclusive) has understood that this is what the US war machine is about. They planned these things, which are worse in concept than what the nazis did. But we should not forgive them because they did not act on their plans – they did act on their plans: they built the death machine to end all death machines, they just haven’t pushed the button yet. And pushing that button is what Trump wanted to do. In a just world, someone would have shot him in the back of the head, instantly.
National Security Archive has some good stuff on SIOP 62, [here] It’s tempting to just not believe this stuff, but that’s dangerous.