The Atomic Prairie

One of the ‘features’ of modern civilization that presents itself here on the northern prairie is the presence of a major portion of the US’s offensive nuclear weapons. The northern plains are a former and current home to nuclear armed strategic bombers and ICBM’s.

There were a thousand Minuteman silos scattered across the plains at one time, somewhat fewer now. If you look carefully, you can see the silos alongside the road – typically all you see is a small fenced in concrete pad with an antenna tower. We drove past one a few days ago, near Minot North Dakota.

The plains were also home to several attempts to defend against ICBM’s by launching nuclear armed missiles at the incoming ICBM’s. The hope was that our missle would intercept their missle, and the nuclear explosion (someplace over Canada, most likely) would disable their incoming nuclear missle. One of the former anti-ballistic missiles sites is near Grand Forks, North Dakota. Several of the towns that hosted the anti-ballistic missiles have them on display. We ran into one of them while looking for a shady place to eat lunch.

Seeing the missle on display got me thinking…

I’m old enough to have caught the tail end of the ‘Duck and Cover’ era, when Americans believed that the Soviets were hell-bent on launching a nuclear attack on the US and killing us all (and that if we hid under our school desks we’d be OK). As a kid I read Popular Mechanics articles on building fallout shelters and as a teen I thought about routes to take to escape fallout from Soviet ICBM’s, places to hide out until the radioactive dust settled, etc. I’m too young to have experienced the peak paranoia in the 1950’s and early ’60’s, but old enough to have discussed (in grade school!) whether the US should use nuclear weapons in Vietnam. I’m also old enough to have had conversations with people who believed that the US should have used nukes in Korea and used nuclear weapons to ‘clean out the communists’ in China.

At the time, of course, none of us knew that when the Generals were claiming that the Soviets had hundreds of nuclear bombers and therefore we needed to build thousands, the USSR actually only had a couple dozen; or that when the Generals claimed that the USSR had hundreds of ICBM’s and we needed thousands, they really only had four. The Generals knew, of course. We did not, so we gladly handed them a pile of money.

The US and the USSR came close to nuclear war several times. Any of those ‘close calls’ could have resulted in hundreds of millions of dead, many more permanently disabled, the destruction of two nations, and perhaps Western Civilization itself.

And since this is a travel blog, and I somehow have to tie this back to our trip to North Dakota, I’ll observe that the beautiful landscape and scenery of the Great Plains would have been permanently destroyed by men. Arrogant, selfish, greedy, paranoid men.

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