Cold War

Photo of the Day

A Long Island family sits in a ‘Kidde Kokoon,’ an underground bomb shelter manufactured by Walter Kidde Nuclear Laboratories, Garden City, New York, 1955.. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

Nuclear Fallout Shelters

On September 15, 1961, millions of Americans who subscribed to?Life?magazine pulled the latest issue from their mailboxes and beheld something remarkable inside: a letter from President Kennedy addressed to them. But if the fact of the letter was a pleasant surprise, the glow wore off quickly: JFK?s news wasn?t good. ?My Fellow Americans,? he wrote, ?nuclear weapons and the possibility of nuclear war are facts of life we cannot ignore today.?

Kennedy went on to explain that the federal government would soon begin a program ?to improve the protection afforded you in your communities through civil defense.? A national survey was in the offing, one that would identify ?all public buildings with fallout shelter potential,? and mark them accordingly.

In other words, the federal government was devising a way for 50 million Americans to survive a nuclear war by scurrying to the nearest basement. The National Fallout Shelter Survey and Marking Program had begun.

It?s the stuff of nostalgia now. Kennedy?s letter and the shelter program he announced happened 56 years ago. It?s a Cold War footnote, a misty memory lost in the era of bouffant hairdos and Gunsmoke.

Or perhaps not.

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In December 1982 Samantha Smith, a 10-year-old girl from Manchester, Me., wrote to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov to ask if he was going to wage a nuclear war against the U.S. The following July she toured the USSR at his invitation and as a result, became known as America’s youngest goodwill ambassador.

Samantha Reed Smith

“Actually, the whole thing started when I asked my mother if there was going to be a war. There was always something on television about missiles and nuclear bombs. Once I watched a science show on public television and the scientists said that a nuclear war would wreck the Earth and destroy the atmosphere.? Nobody would win a nuclear war. I remembered that I woke up one morning and wondered if this was going to be the last day of the Earth.?

Like millions of American children during the Cold War, 10-year-old Samantha Smith of Manchester, Maine, was terrified of getting nuked by the Russians. News reports and TV specials about nuclear bombs, missile defense systems, and ?mutually assured destruction? were commonplace, and Smith got more and more frightened about the possibility of war.

In the summer of 1983, 10-year-old Samantha Smith from Manchester, Maine, was the most famous little girl in the world. Images of a freckle-faced smiling Samantha holding a letter from the Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov and later touring the Soviet Union went out on all news wires.

?Actually, the whole thing started when I asked my mother if there is going to be a war,? Samantha wrote in her book, ?Journey to the Soviet Union.?

In response to her daughter?s question about war, Jane Smith showed Samantha a November 1982 Time magazine, with stern bi-spectacled Andropov gracing its cover. In it some U.S. experts were concerned about escalating U.S.-Soviet conflict; others saw ?the transfer of power in the Kremlin [as] an opportunity to relieve tensions.?

Samantha?s reaction: ?If everyone is so afraid of him, why don?t they ask him if he is going to start a war??

?Why don?t you write to him?? suggested Jane.

Samantha did just that.

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David A. Steeves, circa June 1957.

Pilot’s Story of Survival?Doubted

On an early weekday in July of 1954, starved to the bone, ankles swollen and clothing tattered, a disheveled 23-year-old man, stumbling through Kings National Park, a nearly 500,000-acre spread of rugged mountain country east of California?s San Joaquin Valley, stepped into a campground with an incredible tale. So incredible, many would ultimately doubt its veracity.

This is the story of a 1950’s Cold War scandal that ruined an Air Force pilot’s career and rocked his marriage – all when the news media stirred up false suspicions about his heroic 54-day survival ordeal in the Sierra Nevada wilderness.

In the 1950s the cold war was escalating; the KGB had just been established and the Russians were gearing up to launch the Sputnik into orbit. Vietnam was split at the 17th parallel and McCarthy’s witch hunt had raised the ardor to a fevered pitch.

America was engaged in a race of military mite and super power status came with a focus on state of the art aircraft with superior handling and missile firing accuracy. Readiness was paramount and Lockheed’s T-33 was a front line training jet for advanced level Air Force pilots.

Only a few trusted high level men were engaged in the secrecy of aircraft training, testing and development.

May 9th, 1957, one of those young top guns, 23 year old David Arthur Steeves, took off on a solo flight from Hamilton Air Force Base?to Craig Air Force Base near Selma, California. The flight route took the young pilot over the Sierra Nevada near the rugged backcountry of Kings Canyon National Park. A routine flight plan was filed, nothing out of the ordinary except, the young pilot and his top level aircraft disappeared from radar and never landed at the central valley Air Force base. A search and rescue mission was launched but failed to find any trace of the pilot or his airplane. First Lieutenant Steeves was declared dead and a death certificate was mailed to his family.

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Photo of the Day

Digitally manipulated photo.

Digitally manipulated photo.

Project A119

U.S. Had Secret Plan to Nuke Moon During Cold War

The U.S. considered detonating an atomic bomb on the moon in an effort to intimidate the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War

During 1958 and 1959 the US Air Force studied project A119 which called for the explosion of a nuclear weapon on the surface of the Moon. This project remained secret until 2000, when Leonard Reiffel, a former scientist of the Illinois Institute of Technology revealed its existence.

It may sound like a plot straight out of a science fiction novel, but a U.S. mission to blow up the moon with a nuke was very real in the 1950s. At the height of the space race, the U.S. considered detonating an atom bomb on the moon as a display of America’s Cold War muscle. The secret project, innocuously titled ‘A Study of Lunar Research Flights’ and nicknamed ‘Project A119,’ was never carried out.

In 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into low earth orbit. It was the planet?s first artificial satellite?and much to the apprehension of the Pentagon and U.S. policymakers, it belonged to the Russians?. The Space Race had begun and America was losing.

The decades that followed were a parade of Cold War paranoia, technological innovation and bizarre military strategies. Both the East and West wanted to make sure the world knew who was the top superpower. But how?

Being the first to the moon was the top prize. In the early days of the Space Race, both countries thought the best way to prove they?d been to the moon was to nuke it.

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Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

The first Civilians in American History to be Executed for Treason

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg – Americans who were involved in coordinating and recruiting an espionage network that included Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were tried for conspiracy to commit espionage, since the prosecution seemed to feel that there was not enough evidence to convict on espionage. Treason charges were not applicable, since the United States and the Soviet Union were allies at the time. The Rosenbergs denied all the charges but were convicted in a trial in which the prosecutor Roy Cohn said he was in daily secret contact with the judge, Irving Kaufman. Despite an international movement demanding clemency, and appeals to President Dwight D. Eisenhower by leading European intellectuals and the Pope, the Rosenbergs were executed at the height of the Korean War. President Eisenhower wrote to his son, serving in Korea, that if he spared Ethel (presumably for the sake of her children), then the Soviets would simply recruit their spies from among women.

Saturday 20th June 1953.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed early this morning at Sing Sing Prison for conspiring to pass atomic secrets to Russia in World War II.

Only a few minutes before, President Eisenhower had rejected a last desperate plea written in her cell by Ethel Rosenberg. Mr Emanuel Bloch, the couple’s lawyer, personally took the note to the White House where guards turned him away.

Neither of the two said anything before they died. The news of their execution was announced at 1.43 a.m. (British time).

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Photo Of The Day

Robert Lee Johnson.

Robert Lee Johnson.

A Most Valuable Spy

This is the story of Robert Lee Johnson, a sergeant in the United States Army stationed in Berlin. Johnson has such a hatred of the army that he risked everything to hurt the country he was tasked to serve. He finally got his wish of revenge and it came during the cold war, as an association with the Russian KGB turned a run of the mill NCO into one of the most infamous spies in history.

The meeting had not gone well, the man gloomily reflected as he was driven out of East Berlin. His head was still heavy after a few too many snifters of cognac. The American?s ambitious scheme to build a life and career in Moscow had sputtered to an unforeseen halt; the only concession the Russians had made was to invite him back for another meeting in two weeks? time. The three KGB representatives he had talked to didn?t seem very enthusiastic about his offer to defect from the US Army.

The date was 22 February 1953. It was George Washington?s Birthday, a holiday for all American troops stationed in Berlin. The drunken man being shuttled out of East Berlin in a Soviet car was Robert Lee Johnson, a 31-year-old sergeant in the United States Army. Most competent intelligence services would have considered the Army clerk useless, dismissing him as an embittered bureaucrat with a grossly inflated sense of self-worth. Nine years later he would, through a combination of luck and circumstance, become one of the most destructive spies the KGB had ever implanted into the US military.

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Map of the Day

Europe - Easten Bloc 1949-1989

1949-89: During the cold war, the USSR?s sphere of influence extended over Eastern Europe, via the Warsaw Pact countries and a divided Germany.

Part 3