“There is nothing to be gained by trying to get away”

Between the weather and a complete lack of good news in the world, I’ve been in not so much a foul mood lately as a dark mood; I’ve found myself exploring all manner of eschatology and other ridiculousness related to the apocalypse (great resource: Exit Mundi). And rereading my own article hasn’t helped anything. I know this is old news to most, but I was reminded of the BBC’s nuclear war transcript the other day and thought it deserved some reprinting.

If Britain had been attacked with nuclear weapons during the Cold War (I believe the years 1974-79 were when this particular transcript would have been used), then BBC presenters would have read the following chilling passages to the nation:

This is the Wartime Broadcasting Service. This country has been attacked with nuclear weapons. Communications have been severely disrupted, and the number of casualties and the extent of the damage are not yet known. We shall bring you further information as soon as possible. Meanwhile, stay tuned to this wavelength, stay calm and stay in your own homes.

Remember there is nothing to be gained by trying to get away. By leaving your homes you could be exposing yourselves to greater danger….

Make your food stocks last: ration your supply, because it may have to last for 14 days or more. If you have fresh food in the house, use this first to avoid wasting it: food in tins will keep…

Do not, in any circumstances, go outside the house. Radioactive fall-out can kill. You cannot see it or feel it, but it is there. If you go outside, you will bring danger to your family and you may die. Stay in your fall-out room until you are told it is safe to come out or you hear the “all clear” on the sirens.

The actual BBC link above has a clip of Harry Shearer reading the transcript while doing a pretty serviceable impression of Cronkite. But I’d love to hear it from an actual Briton. Is there anything more despair-inducing than “nothing to be gained by trying to get away”?

Underground Testing

Recently, France and Britain concluded a defense agreement which, among other things, provides for increased joint nuclear research between the two. In the spirit of that nuclear cooperation – and also in the spirit of getting things done while Congress has their heads up their asses – I have decided to reprint my essay “Underground Testing: Anglo-American Nuclear Cooperation, 1946-58.”

The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima, August 6, 1945.

In 1946, atomic collaboration between Great Britain and the United States screeched to a halt. The fruitful partnership between the ‘Tube Alloys’ team in the United Kingdom and the scientists of the Manhattan Project had grown increasingly one-sided, with the United States’ research contributions far outstripping those of the British by the end of World War II. Two atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945, demonstrating the arrival of nuclear hegemony. The British were merely informed of the decision, to which they acquiesced with “little or no debate.”[1] As the technology gap across the Atlantic Ocean continued to widen in the immediate postwar period, Britain was increasingly thrust into a lesser, subordinate role.

With the passage of Senator Brien McMahon’s Atomic Energy Act in 1946, Anglo-American collaboration in the field of nuclear power and weaponry appeared to be at a congressionally-mandated end. Much of Thatcher-era historiography views that collaboration as entirely dormant until the McMahon Act’s repeal in 1958, and that in the meantime Britain forged on as the jilted partner in the ‘special relationship’.[2] While true on an official level, this ignores the underlying reality of close continuing cooperation on atomic weaponry between 1946 and 1958. Nuclear cooperation did not hit a wall in 1946; it merely endured ‘underground’ for twelve years.

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A History of Violently Blowing Things Up

Isao Hashimoto has produced this magnificent video of all 2,053 nuclear explosions – almost all tests – conducted between 1945 and 2003 (that’s everything ever except the two North Korean tests in 2006 and 2009). Each second is equivalent to a month – look at the 50s and 60s. How is it that the nightmare scenarios resulting from the use of nuclear weapons never came to pass?

One thing’s for sure: it was a Michael Bay kind of century we just had.

Via The Map Room.

A New Definition of Suburban Sprawl

The atomic bomb was on everyone’s mind quite a bit in the late 1940s. Clearly it was a real city-killer of a weapon, one that worked best when targeted against a dense population system. So what was America to do in the face of such a threat? Simple: spread them out and move all industry underground.

The crux of the issue was to remove everyone from any American city with a population greater than 50,000 people and place them in newly-built communities set out across the country’s landscape (mostly) like a chess board, the towns existing on all of the connecting lines. [As weird as this sounds, the great Norbert Wiener came up with a similarly astounding, untouchable idea using circles.]. The authors proposed to build 20,000,000 new homes, relocate industry (preferably underground), reallocate and redistribute energy supplies and natural resources, and recreate the very fabric of social and economic life in America.

Via io9.

The American Way of War: A Review

After a long while of meaning to, I’ve finished Russell Weigley’s magisterial book The American Way of War. Took longer than it should have, but as a foundational text for understanding not only American strategy, but basic concepts of national strategy itself, this book is unsurpassed. It’s one of the few I can truly call “epic.”

Beginning with George Washington’s “strategy of attrition” during the Revolutionary War, Weigley traces the scope of American strategic thought up to the closing days of the Vietnam War. Structurally, American strategy falls into several phases. Washington eventually gives way to Halleck, who is then replaced by Ulysses Grant. Grant’s approach to war – “a strategy of annihilation” – then serves as the United States’ guiding principle until well into the twentieth century.

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