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USA planned extensive nuclear bombing of populations – declassified documents reveal

their target priorities and nuclear bombing tactics would expose nearby civilians and “friendly forces and people” to high levels of radioactive fallout.
listed more than 1,200 cities in the Soviet bloc, from Estonia to China, all given graded priorities. Moscow and Leningrad were unsurprisingly priority one and two. Moscow included 179 DGZs and Leningrad had 145 – including “population” targets
 
atomic-bomb-lFlag-USAStranger than Strangelove: how the US planned for nuclear war in the 1950s,
The Conversation, ,   Senior Lecturer in Journalism, University of Sussex  December 28, 2015 Those who have written about the nuclear Cold War remain grateful to Stanley Kubrick for giving us the satirical 1964 film Dr Strangelove which captures the madness that swept the world for 40 years. The name Strangelove may be overused but the United States has now released a secret file that really does justify the sobriquet: “Stranger than Strangelove”. Almost anodyne in title, Atomic Weapons Requirements Study for 1959 is a truly shocking document, revealing the scale of the holocaust that would have been unleashed in a nuclear war.

But a little context first. Back in 2006, the journalist Michael Dobbs filed requests for the declassification of many Pentagon Cold War documents. Dobbs optimistically hoped these documents would illuminate his book on the Cuban Missile Crisis. After years in the review system, in October 2014, some 2,200 documents were released – and with Dobbs’ help, the not-for-profit National Security Archive in Washington DC (not to be confused with the National Security Agency) has been working on the bundle ever since.

The archive has recently released its assessment and the highlights are that major cities in the Soviet Bloc, including East Berlin, were high priorities in “systematic destruction” for nuclear attack and that H-bombs were to be used against priority “air power” targets in the Soviet Union, China, and Eastern Europe. The report also found that plans to target people (“population”) were in violation of international legal norms.

Meanwhile, Strategic Air Command (SAC) wanted a 60-megaton bomb – a weapon with the equivalent destructive power of over 4,000 Hiroshima devices.

Nightmare scenario

SAC’s Atomic Weapons Requirements Study for 1959, originally produced in June 1956, provides the most comprehensive and detailed list of nuclear targets and target systems that has ever been declassified. This 800-page study is unprepossessing, a list of geographical locations in the communist bloc and then a corresponding series of alpha numerical descriptors which reflect the targets.

Under the leadership of Dr William Burr, who specialises in nuclear history and who has been doing remarkable research for the archive since the 1980s, a team painstakingly cross-indexed the descriptors with other documents to build up a picture of where the US Air Force (USAF) would have delivered their nuclear payload.

According to Burr, as far as can be told, no comparable document has ever been declassified for any period of Cold War history. It is still partly redacted. SAC specified the numbers and types of nuclear weapons required to destroy each Designated Ground Zero (DGZ). The nuclear weapons information is completely excised from the report making it impossible to know how many weapons SAC believed were necessary to destroy the various targets. Nevertheless, the SAC weapons stockpile was increasingly rapidly at the time, from more than 2,400 in 1955 to more than 12,000 in 1959. It was to reach 22,229 in 1961.

Even after this length of time, the SAC study provokes a frisson. According to its authors, their target priorities and nuclear bombing tactics would expose nearby civilians and “friendly forces and people” to high levels of radioactive fallout.

What’s more, the study’s authors developed a plan for the “systematic destruction” of Soviet bloc urban-industrial targets that specifically and explicitly targeted “population” in all cities, including Beijing, Moscow, Leningrad (now St Petersburg), East Berlin, and Warsaw.

“It’s disturbing, for sure, to see the population centres targeted,” writes Burr, adding:

Whatever SAC planners had in mind, attacks on civilian population per se were inconsistent with the standards followed by Air Force leaders. While they were willing to accept mass civilian casualties as a consequence of attacking military targets, as was the case during the Korea War, they ruled out ‘intentional’ attacks on civilians… Moreover, attacks on populations violated international legal norms of the day, which were summarised in the then-unratified Hague rules on aerial warfare (1923).

Systematic destruction

It is worth remembering at this stage of the Cold War that the attacks would have been carried out by human beings in long-range jet bombers rather than missiles. Every SAC crew was given a nuclear target in the Soviet Union in case of war.

In the 1990s, I interviewed many SAC pilots about dropping nuclear weapons on cities. They dealt with this remarkably pragmatically, as military people do. They viewed it as a patriotic duty or as a job of work, retrospectively providing a successful deterrent. My questions stirred little reflexivity or rumination. I recall one pilot I interviewed, Colonel Sam Myers revealing for the first time his target: “OK, my target for my crew was Gorky. And, this involved airborne alert missions. And we did have full weaponry aboard.”

Another target set was of urban-industrial areas identified for “systematic destruction”. SAC listed more than 1,200 cities in the Soviet bloc, from Estonia to China, all given graded priorities. Moscow and Leningrad were unsurprisingly priority one and two. Moscow included 179 DGZs and Leningrad had 145 – including “population” targets………. http://theconversation.com/stranger-than-strangelove-how-the-us-planned-for-nuclear-war-in-the-1950s-52626

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December 30, 2015 - Posted by | history, USA, weapons and war

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