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.