The Cold War, Civilization in the Balance

The Cold War was one of the most significant and revealing periods in the history of our species.  From a current perspective, the arms race can appear apocalyptically surreal and suicidally paranoid.  However, at least in the early part of the Cold War, many military and civilian decision makers carried vivid memories of the dark and desperate days of WWII.  Only if one has experienced tens of thousands of war deaths a month, can one understand the brutally cold calculus of planning for nuclear war.  Though many of the Manhattan Project scientists had grave humanitarian reservations about their creation, the contemporary brutality of war provided a counterbalancing reality.  The will to succeed in the face of unresolvable ambivalence toward developing the bomb was simply carried forward unabated into the Cold War. The formidable technical barriers to producing the nuclear materials and designs gradually gave way, enabling weapons virtually unlimited in number and explosive power. At the peak of the buildup, there was a very real threat to the survival of civilization itself. The last half of the 20th Century saw a frenzied strategic and technological competition that left us with the chilling array of doomsday machines seen here.

I am indebted to the following individuals for their cooperation in enabling special access to the historic properties under their respective care: Yvonne Morris, Director of the Titan Missile Museum; Rangers Pam Griswold and Chris Wilkinson, The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site; Jerry Greenwood, Kathryn Haught, Robert Wells, and Harry Sarles, Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex; Scott Marchand, Pima Air and Space Museum; Lt Col Keith Balts and 2Lt Brandon Sivret, Cavalier Air Force Station. Special thanks also go to MSgt Jim Varhegyi, Office of Public Affairs, Secretary of the U.S. Air Force for access assistance on more than one occasion.