Museum of Geopolitical Insanity

My recent story on preserving a nuclear missile silo brought a fair amount of mail. Let’s start with the story:

Defrost Cycle

The U.S. Congress has taken the first step to preserve a Minuteman nuclear missile silo in South Dakota and turn it into a Cold War museum. The Minuteman “was America’s first push-button nuclear missile,” says South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson, who sponsored legislation to spend $5 million to preserve silos at Ellsworth Air Force Base. “When the wing was deactivated, something was missing on the high plains of western South Dakota,” agrees Rep. John Thune of the same state, adding that under one missile’s concrete door, which resembles a pizza box, “someone wrote, ‘Worldwide delivery in 30 minutes or less or your next one is free.’ Dark humor, I know, but it was a reality.” (AP) …Opening soon: The Museum of Geopolitical Insanity.

The Letters

On the one side was Tim, who didn’t say where he was from, who wrote:

Christ, Randy, I hope you’re not one of those asshole history revisionists. Agreed, the Cold War was not a high point in the History of Mankind, but shall we deny it ever happened? If we do that, how the hell do we ever learn important lessons. Don’t tell me you’re turing into a narow-minded, half-blind Yuppie idiot who’s all IQ and no brains, all Volvo and no driving ability. Sure, there are many better ways to spend 5 mil; why didn’t you focus on that?

Who in the World Said we should deny the Cold War?!

Not me: I think the silo should be a National Monument (to our own stupidity — and by “our” I mean humanity, not just American). I certainly don’t object to the proposal, or even to spending $5 million to preserve it and turn it into a museum — I’d go, stand in awe, and listen to the lectures on the site with great interest.

The site’s blast door. It was painted in 1989 by deputy crew commander Tony Gatlin, with wording input from his Alert shift partner, Capt. Rob Drury. (Photo: National Park Service)

But I do object to the yahoo South Dakota congressmen gleefully talking like they wish the Cold War never ended. Their praise of the wonderful “push-button nuclear missiles” and saying what a shame it was that they were deactivated (“something was missing on the high plains of western South Dakota”) was what got me: that’s the exact idiotic mentality (on both sides) that caused the Cold War to last as long as it did.

Phil, who works for the U.S. National Park Service (which will administer the site), understood the idea behind the story much better, and writes

President Clinton signed [the bill] designating Minute Man Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota as the 379th National Park Service unit and our 78th National Historic Site. Maybe the park interpreters will use your ‘Museum of Geopolitical Insanity’ as a story theme for the vacationing tourists. Working for the NPS, and having lived through the 1950’s with our grade school drills of ‘duck and cover’ (even a grade school kid knew that adults could not be trusted since when is a little wooden desk going to stop an H-BOMB!!!), I think it appropriate to ‘preserve & protect’ this insanity least we forget. The world is a very dangerous place, especially in the hands of politicians and the military industrial complex. ‘This is True’ tells it like it is and keeps life in perspective. Thank you, good job, and keep up the great service to us common folk.

See you in South Dakota, Phil!

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7 Comments on “Museum of Geopolitical Insanity

  1. Without going into detail as to exactly when, how, or where I saw this, I had the privilege of going into an active nuclear missile control center once. These are the underground bunkers that the people who launch the missile live in for weeks at a time, isolated from the rest of the world. As is common in the military, the site was identified by an alpha-numeric code. This one happened to be a J-site, and “J” in militarese is pronounced Juliet.

    As I rode the elevator down to the lower levels, I noticed a beautiful painting on the wall akin to an English castle, replete with climbing vines, overlooking a lush countryside. Above what appeared to be the first blush of dawn creeping over the horizon were the immortal words:

    “But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east and Juliet is the sun.”

    As the elevator continued to descend the light on the horizon was revealed to be a mushroom cloud in all its terrible glory.

    If we’re going to preserve a missile site, let’s preserve that one!

  2. ‘Their praise of the wonderful “push-button nuclear missiles” and saying what a shame it was that they were deactivated (“something was missing on the high plains of western South Dakota”) was what got me: that’s the exact idiotic mentality (on both sides) that caused the Cold War to last as long as it did.’

    I think you want to look into the MAD convention (common idea in this context, I don’t think it was ever a mutual agreement between the sides), which is the scary and idiotic mentality.

    You’re confusing it with: “wonderful push-button nuclear missiles and saying what a shame it was that they were deactivated.”

    Why is that such a shame? Because the deployment of ICBM’s brings employment and money to the region, and jobs and prosperity, since if the darned things are ever going to be used, then the hell with it, everybody will be dead anyway. (See MAD)

    I am quite familiar with MAD; I have no idea why you’d presume I am not. No, there was no mutual agreement, but you end up with a Nash equilibrium since the strategy is clearly known by the other side. As far as providing economic prosperity to a region, there’s a hell of a lot of better ways to do that than run a cold war. -rc

  3. Denise of NC, and others, may be interested to know that in a number of nation’s services the colloquial name for a nuke is a ‘Bucket Full of Sunshine’.

    The story as a whole, and the reference to the insanity of nuclear war, reminded me of a documentary I saw last weekend. The show was about underground structures, the particular segment this story reminded me of was about an early (pre-ICBM) defense against Soviet bombers. This site sat on the hills above San Francisco and housed 20+ short range but very fast missiles each carrying a 40 kiloton nuclear warhead. The plan was that as the bombers came overhead these missiles would be fired off to climb above the bomber stream then drop back into it where the warhead would detonate. Forty kT is about 3 times the size of the Hiroshima bomb (which was around 13-14 kT). Whilst it would certainly stop any bombers in the vicinity it would, according to the site curator, also kill pretty much everyone in the city not in a deep shelter. Effectively the plan was the sacrifice the city to stop the bombers.

    Apparently there were many such sites on both coasts of the US. They were stood down when the ICBM became preeminent as the delivery system for nukes as it was believed that the initial ICBM punch would seriously degrade the ability of these sites to act against the bombers when they arrived.

  4. Randy, Yes of course, I did not mean to condescend, I merely meant to illustrate the madness of it all (How was I to know that you are aware of MAD? Many history professors (!) I studied under are not, and yes, the Nash equilibrium has been proved a valid theorem many times over.)

    Do not get me wrong, I’m a child of the 80’s born in 1980, I have no concept of what it must feel like to live under nuclear threat, apart from the one everyone’s having to deal with now that the cold war is over. Ernest Rutherford’s heritage as such is clear. But being born later and as such I have no emotional relation to the fear and the tension, I can now easily say that the perpetrator of the First World War was sheltered by the Netherlands until 1941 and that we would not extradite him because he was kin to us and our royal family. (The subject is still fairly hot in political circles since they have a good collective memory).

    To react first to Stephen: I’m very interested in that documentary, could you please post its title?

    To react to Randy: ‘As far as providing economic prosperity to a region, there’s a hell of a lot of better ways to do that than run a cold war.’

    Yes, and I could not agree more, however, what’s the chance of this happening? The states where ICBM’s were positioned were far away from any strategic targets as to make sure they were deployable in case of MAD. But that’s all the states were to the strategy makers. It reminds me of a quote, I think I saw it on You’re eligible for retirement as there’s nothing left of you that we can use — so the states are retired as there’s not more threat, not more sense in keeping the nukes, not much sense in keeping the jobs. The most common excuse is that it can’t be afforded.

    That’s the real madness in MAD really, once its threat is over, it’s abandoned on a whim, not replaced with anything else but the war on drugs and then terrorism, which will not employ nearly as many people, at least not in the same places.

    But this is not a problem limited to the United States, over the last thirty years we have seen NHS in the UK grown out of proportion, we have seen the agricultural subsidies take shape for Germany and France (and explode in magnitude), even though it’s denied that there is a causal link. And as such we have seen the rise of the EU, explosive growth in China and more protective strategies in Japan (on an economic level).

    It’s the world struggling on as it always has, no luxury of forbearing or hindsight, we dodged a few bullets, and a few big firework shows. Let’s keep fighting the fights we think we can make a difference in (crooked sentence), like Zero Tolerance and overall Stupidity.

  5. …and now, 2023, we look like at the start of a new Cold War….

    Oh, the new Cold War has been going on longer than that. See next comment (which was made before I approved this one). -rc

  6. The thing is about the Cold War is that we Americans felt we had won it when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union splintered and collapsed. There was a brief detente for a few years while Yeltsin danced (and drank) while organized crime flourished. When Putin took power, though, it was quietly resumed. He even called the collapse of the USSR the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th Century. It was a bitter humiliation for an old-school KGB thug and he’s been in the process of trying to rebuild a new version of the USSR ever since, simultaneously engaging in a continuous campaign to weaken democracies in the west and diminish the influence of NATO. Every single US President during that time has more or less ignored this.

    I sadly agree. I’ve been saying we’re back in the Cold War for several years now. -rc

  7. Tim’s comment used the phrases “asshole history revisionists” and “a narrow-minded, half-blind Yuppie idiot who’s all IQ and no brains, all Volvo and no driving ability.”

    I’m a bit surprised you allow and publish that kind of comment. You certainly don’t use insults and stereotypes, even when you vehemently disagree with someone. Tim’s language does not promote debate; it destroys debate by bringing it down to the level of mud slinging.

    There are all kinds of readers out there, since there are all kinds of people. Tim is one of those that we all have to deal with from time to time. I could either ignore him, or show him — and everyone else — how it’s done with thoughtful dialogue. It’s far, far better than lowering myself to his level. -rc


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