Tuesday, October 19, 2010

19 October 2010 Can’t walk you out in the morning dew

Story of B-53 'bunker buster' is a lesson in managing nuclear weapons

By Walter Pincus

Washington Post Staff Writer

Monday, October 18, 2010; 10:33 PM

“Outside of the nuclear weapons communities, little notice was paid last week to the announcement that authorization had finally come through to begin dismantling the last of the minivan-size B-53s, the most powerful thermonuclear bombs ever deployed in the active U.S. stockpile. “

“A terror weapon if there ever was one, the 10,000-pound B-53 was designed to deliver an explosion of nine megatons. That is the equivalent of 9 million pounds of TNT, or 600 times the power of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

Believe it or not, the last 50 B-53s were not retired from the active stockpile until 1997, and even then some were held as a "hedge" in case a new threat emerged”http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/18/AR2010101805197.html

Cassi Creek:

What this recalled was the middle days of the Cold War when the space race was more about delivering a nuclear greeting card with ever-increasing damage levels than about putting men on the moon. The navigation tools developed for moon shots became less important than those developed to allow missile submarines to launch with pin-point precision and for their deployed warheads to strike with the accuracy required to hit within ten meters of the target.

Soviet tools being more about damage levels than accuracy, the Soviets planned on huge overkill launches. We planned for fewer launches with better accuracy, but still built in massive overkill potential. Our triad of sub-launched, silo-launched, and bomber delivered warheads, while smaller in numbers, was quite adequate to fulfill our side of the MAD equation.

Gloria lived in the primary target area, the D.C. metro area. I live further from the seat of a government that wouldn’t be there to take the hit than she. But I live in a small city surrounded by missile silos, SAC bases, and interceptor sites. Given the accuracy lacking in Soviet missiles and the subsequent reliance on massive blast damage to accomplish their mission, neither of us would have survived the opening salvos.

Both sides knew that the command and control sites for the other side would be protected and hardened against blast by hundreds of meters of steel, rock and concrete. Both knew that they would need massive weapons of megaton capacity to take out the C&C sites of the other side. Both sides tried to harden their sites sufficiently to survive any imaginable blast. Both sides knew that surviving a megaton blast might be marginally possible but that the survivors would never see daylight again before dying.

There are few things uglier than nuclear weapons. We don’t want them in the hands of militaries that may become, or that have become, our enemies. Even less desirable is to find them in the hands of religious fanatics representing no nation, only ideology. We survived the Cold War without nuclear exchange because of common cultural backgrounds with the Soviets. Those commonalities aren’t shared with our enemies and potential enemies today. If they obtain “special weapons” they will use them against us.

While I can’t justify the use of a nuke, particularly one as horrible in nature as the B-53, against a civilian populace; I can justify the use of a bunker buster type bomb to destroy a nuclear arsenal bunkered into a mountain side or mine/tunnel/cave network. I can accept the use of such a horrible tool to prevent the use of a nuke against civilians by terrorists. I’d prefer that such arsenals be destroyed by the nations that hold them but that is highly unlikely. It would be better to expend one or two such weapons rather than to allow an arsenal to fall to religious fanatics. Most people are not likely to agree with me in this matter.

17 October 1962 President Kennedy was informed of the confirmed presence of Soviet SS-4 MRBM on Cuban soil. The first of three confirmed SS-5 IRBM sites is identified. IL-28 Light Bomber aircraft are identified on the decks of Soviet cargo ships and are subsequently photographed while being un-crated in Cuba.

The evidence was collected by over flights using U-2 aircraft for photographic reconnaissance. U-2 flights provide evidence of Soviet bloc weaponry including SA-2 SAM sites. On 27 October 1962 a U-2 piloted by Major Rudolph Anderson is shot down over Cuba. Maj. Anderson is killed.

The decision is made to enforce a naval blockade and quarantine of Cuba. The nation is informed by Kennedy in a televised address on 22 October. The USSR is transporting more missiles to Cuba by freighters in the Atlantic Ocean. The U.S. forces level of readiness is raised to DEFCON 2 – highest level ever since the DEFCON levels have been defined and implemented. The USSR has SS-5 missiles on route to Cuba and U.S. Navy warships are in blockade positions. Alert bombers are aloft, the rest of our SAC bombers are on 15 minute alert. Our Titan missiles are at 15 minute alert as are our missiles in Europe and Turkey.

The Soviet Union is equally on alert. The SS-4 missile sites in Cuba are active and in battery. The IL-28 bombers in Cuba are ready to fly. At least one Soviet submarine is present at the blockade line.

The opposing forces were ready to engage, held back only by a hair trigger command and control structure; each side waiting for the other to blink or swallow. The World was within seconds of thermonuclear war beginning.

At the final moment, Khrushchev backed down and offered a way to disengage. Kennedy accepted. The world was spared what would surely have begun a nuclear winter.

Throughout the nation, families are making emergency plans about where to meet after a nuclear attack. Basements are filled with home-made fallout shelters. Our neighbor built one and then began digging into the hillside next to his house in order to expand the size of his shelter.

While the crisis was playing out in deadly earnest, both sides were engaged in above ground testing of increasingly bigger nuclear and thermo-nuclear weapons, saber-rattling carried out to the worst extreme.

Released White House tapes are available at:


Folk singer Bonnie Dobson wrote a protest song that expressed the world’s fear and explored the world’s risk. Fallout was not and would be restricted to only those nations which were shooting participants in a nuclear war. The levels of Strontium 90, taken up by grazing cows and replacing Calcium in bovine milk were increasing and proof of the danger of fallout.

Dobson’s song was a plaintive little thing, asking for common sense among warring nations. Many singers and performers covered it. The most successful cover, in my opinion, was the adaptation which became part of the catalogue of songs performed by The Grateful Dead in live performance. I recommend the performance of 6-7-1977 at Winterland. Bach would be happy with the music. Unfortunately, as the Cold War becomes more remote, many people hearing this song will have no idea what it refers to. How dangerous to allow the history of such a danger to be forgotten. Unlike the closing line, ”guess it doesn’t matter anyway.” It most certainly does matter.

The original song was penned by Bonnie Dobson and Tim Rose. I’ve appended their phrases to the lyrics used by The Grateful Dead.

“Walk me out in the morning dew my honey,

Walk me out in the morning dew today.

I can't walk you out in the morning dew my honey,

I can't walk you out in the morning dew today.

I thought I heard a baby cry this morning, (Original thought I heard a young girl cry Momma.)

I thought I heard a baby cry this today.

You didn't hear no baby cry this morning,

You didn't hear no baby cry today.

Where have all the people gone my honey,

Where have all the people gone today.

There's no need for you to be worrying about all those people,

You never see those people anyway.

I thought I heard a young man morn this morning,(original thought I heard a young man cry.)

I thought I heard a young man morn today.

I thought I heard a young man morn this morning,

I can't walk you out in the morning dew today.

Walk me out in the morning dew my honey, (Original Now there’s no more morning dew.)

Walk me out in the morning dew today.

I'll walk you out in the morning dew my honey,

I guess it doesn't really matter anyway,

I guess it doesn't matter anyway,

I guess it doesn't matter anyway,

Guess it doesn't matter anyway.”

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