Uncontested fact: The Cold War was a terrifying period in our history that almost saw everything we know wiped off the planet. A newly declassified U.S. Air Force study shows just how true that is, listing thousands of nuclear targets.
Specifically, the 1959 study came at the behest of the Strategic Air Command — aka the guys who had all the nukes, pictured here in 1995 blissfully innocent of just how terrible most of their plans were for global survival.
The full declassified report was published by the National Security Archives at the George Washington University on Tuesday.
The theory they were operating on worked like this: The bigger the boom, the more likely the fight was over quickly. So the SAC proposed using hydrogen bombs against the USSR's air bases, detonating them not in the air but super close to the ground.
This is, in a word, insane. Especially given that the "Air Power" list includes about 1,100 airfields, sorted by priority.
All told the "Air Power" target list had some 3,400 "designated ground zeroes" and the secondary list another 1,200.
The declassified version of the study scrubs just how many thermonuclear weapons — each of which 1.7 to 9 megatons, or up to 630 times the explosion that destroyed Hiroshima — the Strategic Air Command predicted would be needed to destroy each target. But we can assume the estimated number is "a whole lot."
"Moscow, the number one urban target, had around 180 installations slated for destruction; some were in the air power category, but many involved a variety of industrial activities, including factories producing machine tools, cutting tools, oil extraction equipment, and a most vital medicine: penicillin," the National Security Archive explains. "Other targets involved significant infrastructural functions: locks and dams, electric power grids, railroad yards, and repair plants for railroad equipment."
Beijing? Also had "population" listed among its targets.
Warsaw, pictured here in 1960, also included "population" targets. So, you know, devastation everywhere.