Uncle Sam’s Nuke Target List
by John Delach
The New York Times recently published a piece about an 800-page US Air Force document once labeled “Top Secret” that assigned identification numbers to various targets in Communist controlled countries. Titled, “SAC (Strategic Air Command) American Weapons Requirement Study, 1959,” it listed specific targets for SAC’s B-47 medium bombers and B-52 heavy bombers. The study was conceived in 1956 before effective intermediate and intercontinental missiles were available, when both nations nuclear strike forces were totally composed of long-range manned bombers.
Even though the SAC list is semi-public, it remains shrouded in double-speak. We do know our top priority for destruction was Soviet airpower to minimize retaliatory abilities. The next priority included government and military control centers. After that, we’d hit essential industries, transportation and communications. Major cities were prime targets as many of these facilities and operations were located in places like Berlin, Warsaw, Moscow and Leningrad. A very serious subject indeed!
Still, when I read this piece, I immediately thought of two things, the classic black humor movie, Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, and a parody of the New York Post featuring a front page headline that commanded:
90 Million Others
This parody of the Post was one of several done by a group of creative chaps during a lengthy New York newspaper strike in the 1980s. My personal favorite part of this parody was a side-line story on the second page that went something like this:
City Nuked 2nd Time
During yesterday’s nuclear
War, the air force admitted
they bombed Nagasaki for
the second time.
When reached for comment,
red faced Pentagon officials
admitted, “It was a mistake,
we forgot to take it off our
Doctor Strangelove starred Peter Sellers in three roles, President Merkin Muffley, Dr. Strangelove and RAF Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake. Mandrake was special assistant to Brig. General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) who unleashed a wing of B-52s against the Soviet Union. George C. Scott played Ripper’s boss, General Buck Turdgison, Air Force Chief of Staff, loosely based on the real General Curtis Lemay. Slim Pickens had a significant role as Major T.J. (King) Kong, the Texan aircraft commander who met his demise as he rode a descending hydrogen bomb while swinging his ten gallon hat rodeo style. Keenan Wynn, played an army major named Bat Guano. Unseen was the drunken Russian Premier with the delightful name of, Dimitri Kissov, who Preident Muffley was forced to calm and charm as the US bombers entered Soviet airspace.
The movie opened with an aerial re-fueling scene between a B-52 and a KC-135 tanker while the song, Try A Little Tenderness, plays in the back ground and ended with a parade of nuclear bombs detonating to the refrain of the old English music hall tune of, We’ll Meet Again Don’t Know Where Don’t Know When.
Stanley Kubrick produced this 1964 dark comedy with many great lines. The best is the last words spoken in the movie. They belong to the crippled, quasi ex- Nazi genius, and President Muffley’s chief advisor, Dr. Stangelove (think of a mad Henry Kissinger.) As the movie nears its end the doctor stops referring to Muffley as, “my president” in favor of, “mine fuehrer” and in a fit of excitement rises up out of his wheelchair, takes a step and shouts, “Mine fuehrer, I can walk!”
My father was a navigator / bombardier in B-47s. This aircraft was the air force’s first all-jet bomber and as he and the B-47 aged, SAC didn’t want to train him for new aircraft. He became somewhat of a vagabond moving from Homestead Air Force Base (AFB) just south of Miami in 1960 to March AFB in Riverside, CA until 1963 and finally to Pease AFB, Portsmouth, NH before he retired in 1966.
He noted to me over drinks one night that if the real thing happened, it would be a one way trip. It didn’t bother him though. If orders came, that is what he was trained to do. However, he did take a particular delight in the way his job was portrayed by a young James Earl Jones who played the navigator in Dr. Strangelove.
NIce piece, John. Just reading Gate’s book about Cold War days and his CIA time. SAC’s early targets were ALL missile silos in the Soviet Union until someone pointed out that by the time our missiles got there, the silos would be empty. Ah, the genius of the military.
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