More Lies

More from Gervasi:

The reason both superpowers consider forward land-based missiles more threatening than forward-based bombers or missiles at sea is not because they are more accurate. Missiles at sea are becoming just as accurate. Bombers have always been accurate enough. Nor it is because land-based missiles are less vulnerable to preemptive attack. Missiles at sea are nearly invulnerable, and likely to remain so at sufficient ocean depths and at sufficient range from hostile shores. Bombers are vulnerable only if caught on the ground. Indeed, land-based missiles are the most vulnerable because they are fixed in place and cannot quickly be repositioned. That is why we had planned anyway to remove our Thor and Jupiter missiles from Europe – though not as quickly as the Cuban Missile Crisis required – and to replace them with missiles more safely based at sea aboard the Polaris submarines then entering service.

Here, Gervasi is going along with the zeitgeist that the US arsenal is mostly defensive. It’s still mostly unthinkable to ask “what if these weapons were intended for offense, not retaliation?” Remember: the premise is that someone attacks the US and the US responds, after it has been shattered and blasted, with a revenge-strike of biblical fury. If the actual purpose was solely retaliation, why all the fuss and thousands of warheads? All that is needed is a dozen Polaris submarines, a few cruise missiles on a surface ship or two, and perhaps a small wing of B-52 bombers (nowadays, B-2s). There’s no need for stealth, the missiles from the Polaris subs would come in at orbital speeds and each of them carries 4-6 reentry vehicles. Nobody even slightly rational would gamble that none of that would get through.

Forward land-based missiles are the most threatening because they take the least time to reach their targets. Without placing its submarines at too great a risk, neither superpower can being them much closer than within fifteen minutes of flight time to their targets. Bombers take much more time, even though they are forward-based. An F-111E aircraft of our 20th Tactical Fighter Wing at Upper Heyford in England is only 1,500 miles from Moscow, but would still take over an hour to fly there with its six nuclear bombs. An F-4F Phantom of the West German Bundesluftwaffe 74th Fighter Group at Neuberg is but 1,200 miles from Moscow, yet it would take as long as the F-111E to reach that city with its three nuclear bombs.

On the other hand, a Thor missile of RAF 77 Squadron stationed at Feltwell in England had the capability to reach Moscow in nine minutes. A Pershing II of our 56th Field Artillery Brigade a Heilbronn in West Germany is now able to reach Moscow in only six.

Why, when we once removed land-based missiles from Europe precisely because they were at once too vulnerable and too threatening, and replaced them with missiles at sea which are still in position today, have we introduced vulnerable and threatening missiles again? Aside from their political function, do they serve any other purpose?

What if politicians, drunk on nihilism and power, used your life as a meaningless token in a great power-game, gambling you away as expendable in their relentless logic, dooming you to potentially crisping like bacon in the heat of nuclear explosions?

Yes, according to the professional journal Defense Electronics: “With a range allowing strikes on Moscow from Germany, the removal of C2 [command and control] capability by a comparatively small number of Pershings would render much of the Soviet ICBM first strike and retaliatory forces impotent.” Then the Pershing II may not simply play its advertised role in support of NATO forces in the European theater; it could also play a major role in our strategic plan for a first strike of our own against the Soviet Union, which Defense Secretary Harold Brown acknowledged was one of our “options.”

This is not what the public hears. The public has repeatedly been told that our new missiles are being deployed to Europe because Europe asked for them and because they are needed to redress an “adverse imbalance” of theater nuclear power.

These are not lies of normal importance. They amount to an acknowledgement that the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) is one that our military thinkers and politicians were actively attempting to exempt themselves from. By extension, “one cannot make an omlette without breaking a few eggs” – we are all eggs, and the heartland of Russia is the main dish.

Of course, the situation has changed since the 80s. The main change is that the USSR tapped itself out and wrecked its economy in an arms-race against the US’ winning position. Since then, the situation is hopeless for any other global power (including Russia) – even the nuclear-armed states are left without a credible threat of being able to preempt the United States, the best they can hope for is to annihilate an unlucky coastal city or two before they all die. I am not going to dig up the exact quote, because I’d have to flip through a small stack of books, but I believe it was Richard Rhodes in The Twilight of The Bombs who quoted Kim Il Sung as saying “So what if we had a nuclear weapon or two and threatened to use it? All that would accomplish is the death of the Korean People.” He was right. There is only one superpower in the world that has positioned itself to be able to “win” a nuclear war, and that’s the United States.

I’m going to go out on a limb and argue that this is the only way that a nuclear war can be won: make it so that it’s unthinkable for anyone to even try it because it’s not “mutually assured destruction” it’s “assured self-destruction.” I wish the US showed even inklings of the moral fiber necessary to discharge that role honorably. Since it got there by consistently lying to its people in a crudely anti-democratic strategy, I find it hard to imagine that is the case.


  1. jenorafeuer says

    I would think another reason forward land-based missiles are preferred is because they’re more blatantly threatening. Submarine-based missiles may be more threatening in actuality because you don’t know where they are at any given time, but I expect that half the point of land-based missiles is to be obviously pointed at someone.

    In other words, sabre rattling/macho posturing.

  2. xohjoh2n says

    I can also see an argument that looking obvious and vulnerable is a plus point. After all if there’s a bunch of them sitting there then the target has to build additional anti-missile capability to handle them. At which point you may as well put out as many as you can and fill the warheads with marshmallow – the target still has to waste resources countering them, resources that are no longer available to counter the non-obvious and non-vulnerable weapons.

  3. JM says

    I think your over emphasizing intentional lies. There is a lot of space for incompetence, self aggrandizing, paranoia, and wishful thinking in a large government to all be acting at the same time.
    There has always been a lot of wishful thinking about the possibility of a limited nuclear exchange. For this to happen there need to be smaller short ranged weapons. With shorter range weapons you need a lot more weapons to reach saturation of places you might want to hit.
    There is also a realistic fear of the accuracy and reliability of these weapons. This leads to building more then needed to insure that enough will work. This got grossly over inflated because the real concerns were in the period right after WWII when mechanical guidance meant that just hitting a city with an ICBM was a challenge. After advanced electronics came along and target error was reduced to a few meters there wasn’t any rush to reduce the number of weapons in line with increased accuracy.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    JM @ # 3: There is a lot of space for incompetence, self aggrandizing, paranoia, and wishful thinking …

    Not to mention the good ol’ bureaucratic-empire-building and (especially) profit motives…

  5. dangerousbeans says

    What if politicians, drunk on nihilism and power, used your life as a meaningless token in a great power-game, gambling you away as expendable in their relentless logic, dooming you to potentially crisping like bacon in the heat of nuclear explosions?

    Makes a change from politicians, drunk on nihilism and power, using my life as a meaningless token in a great power-game, gambling me away as expendable in their relentless logic, dooming me to death by preventable illness, either mental or physical. or maybe something to do with climate change

  6. says

    or maybe something to do with climate change

    Heat index in Rio De Janeiro is 137F.

    That’s +5C, FWIW. The Paris Accords were all about keeping the heat increase down around +1.5C, but of course the increase will not be even, some places will spike unusually hot. The people who are dying in Rio right now are the poor in the favelas. It is true that a nuke would be faster.

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