FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Skin of Our Teeth

by KARL GROSSMAN

As Thanksgiving 2010 arrives, thanks should be given for something that never happened decades ago: the use as planned of bases built all over the United States armed with BOMARC and Nike Hercules nuclear-tipped missiles.

It was the 1950s and 60s and the U.S. feared Soviet bombers might strike major American cities and various strategic targets. So a scheme was hatched to deploy nuclear-tipped  missiles. These were early antiaircraft missiles seen as unable to score direct hits. Thus the plan was to have the nuclear warheads on the BOMARC and Nike Hercules missiles detonate when the missiles reached a formation of Soviet bombers, blowing the formation apart—although also raining radioactivity down below.

The nuclear warheads on the BOMARC and Nike Hercules missiles had massive power. The tips on the BOMARCs had the equivalent of 10 kilotons of TNT. The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima had the power of 13 kilotons. The Nike Hercules warheads ranged up to 30 kilotons.

How much radioactive fall-out would have descended on the coastal areas where BOMARC and Nike Hercules bases were located depended on the winds and where the detonations of the nuclear warheads occurred. As for bases sited inland, and BOMARC and Nike Hercules bases ringed several inland cities including Chicago, the nuclear warheads would definitely have exploded over populated regions of America. The BOMARC had a range of 250 miles, the Nike Hercules 100 miles.

I had the eerie experience recently of walking around two former nuclear-tipped missile sites—a BOMARC base in Westhampton and a Nike Hercules base in Rocky Point, both on Long Island, New York. (The BOMARC program was run by the Air Force and named for its developers—BO for Boeing and MARC for Michigan Aerospace Research Center. The Nike program was run by the Army and named for the Greek goddess of victory, although in this scheme it would have been a potentially suicidal victory.)

I was making a TV documentary on the BOMARC and Nike bases set up on Long Island and elsewhere in the New York Metropolitan Area with Soviet bombers headed for New York City as the major concern.

The documentary, which I did as chief investigative reporter for WVVH-TV in New York, has been broadcast in recent weeks, and WVVH has also put it up on YouTube. You can view it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLb_8FuH-8M

Each of the 56 BOMARC missiles in Westhampton had its own building. The missiles were positioned on the floors of the buildings and their roofs would open when they were to be fired. The buildings remain, and they and the machinery in them to open the roofs are very solid. Large amounts of money were spent on this scheme.

With the shift by the Soviets (and the U.S.) to ICBMs, the BOMARC and Nike bases were closed in the 70s. The nuclear-tipped missiles are now all gone, but many of the bases remain, frightening reminders of a dangerous period.

The Westhampton BOMARC base was given to Suffolk County which utilizes some of the buildings for storage. The site is also used as a police shooting range. Fittingly, gunfire was in the background as we filmed.

The three-missile Nike Hercules base in Rocky Point is now the site of an Army Reserve Center. The Nike missiles were positioned underground in silos. I stood on one of the welded-shut tops of a silo to explain what had been below.

The words that came to me in visiting the nuclear-tipped missile sites were: by the skin of our teeth. Only by the skin of our teeth, I thought, had we avoided nuclear destruction. So the program is titled, “Avoiding Nuclear Destruction: By The Skin Of Our Teeth.”

A book has just been published, Continental Defense in the Eisenhower Era: Nuclear Antiaircraft Arms and the Cold War by Christopher J. Bright. He writes about the “effort to facilitate popular acceptance of these weapons…The arms were touted in news releases, featured in films and television episodes…The need for atomic antiaircraft weapons was readily accepted by most Americans, and few objected to their existence or ubiquity.”

Nuclear technology is still being heavily promoted. The U.S. as well as the French and Russian governments are pushing for the building of many more nuclear plants—and inevitably there will be more accidents as bad as or worse than the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster. Though ostensibly for civilian use, the reactors will also provide the fuel and give their technicians the expertise for making nuclear weapons—this is how India got the atomic bomb. The Pentagon, meanwhile, still holds nuclear war to be quite feasible. And U.S. Senator John Kyl, an Arizona Republican, is right now seeking to block ratification of a new nuclear arms pact between the U.S. and Russia, a successor to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. The treaty has done a good job in limiting the nuclear weapons stockpiles of both countries and providing transparency. Will Kyl and his followers kill that?

This, too, is a highly dangerous period.

In front of a BOMARC building, I ended the documentary asking: how long will we be able to survive by the skin of our teeth? We should give thanks tomorrow that somehow we got through the Cold War atomic nightmare. Now we must roll back the new crazy atomic push.

KARL GROSSMAN, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, has focused on investigative reporting on energy and environmental issues for more than 40 years. He is the host of the nationally-aired TV program Enviro Close-Up (www.envirovideo.com) and the author of numerous books.

 

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

More articles by:
May 24, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
The Financial Invasion of Greece
Jonathan Cook
Religious Zealots Ready for Takeover of Israeli Army
Ted Rall
Why I Am #NeverHillary
Mari Jo Buhle – Paul Buhle
Television Meets History
Robert Hunziker
Troika Heat-Seeking Missile Destroys Greece
Judy Gumbo
May Day Road Trip: 1968 – 2016
Colin Todhunter
Cheerleader for US Aggression, Pushing the World to the Nuclear Brink
Jeremy Brecher
This is What Insurgency Looks Like
Jonathan Latham
Unsafe at Any Dose: Chemical Safety Failures from DDT to Glyphosate to BPA
Binoy Kampmark
Suing Russia: Litigating over MH17
Dave Lindorff
Europe, the US and the Politics of Pissing and Being Pissed
Matt Peppe
Cashing In at the Race Track While Facing Charges of “Abusive” Lending Practices
Gilbert Mercier
If Bernie Sanders Is Real, He Will Run as an Independent
Peter Bohmer
A Year Later! The Struggle for Justice Continues!
Dave Welsh
Police Chief Fired in Victory for the Frisco 500
May 23, 2016
Conn Hallinan
European Union: a House Divided
Paul Buhle
Labor’s Sell-Out and the Sanders Campaign
Uri Avnery
Israeli Weimar: It Can Happen Here
John Stauber
Why Bernie was Busted From the Beginning
James Bovard
Obama’s Biggest Corruption Charade
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
Indian Point Nuclear Plant: It Doesn’t Take a Meltdown to Harm Local Residents
Desiree Hellegers
“Energy Without Injury”: From Redwood Summer to Break Free via Occupy Wall Street
Lawrence Davidson
The Unraveling of Zionism?
Patrick Cockburn
Why Visa Waivers are Dangerous for Turks
Robert Koehler
Rethinking Criminal Justice
Lawrence Wittner
The Return of Democratic Socialism
Ha-Joon Chang
What Britain Forgot: Making Things Matters
John V. Walsh
Only Donald Trump Raises Five “Fundamental and Urgent” Foreign Policy Questions: Stephen F. Cohen Bemoans MSM’s Dismissal of Trump’s Queries
Andrew Stewart
The Occupation of the American Mind: a Film That Palestinians Deserve
Nyla Ali Khan
The Vulnerable Repositories of Honor in Kashmir
Weekend Edition
May 20, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Hillary Clinton and Political Violence
Andrew Levine
Why Not Hillary?
Paul Street
Hillary Clinton’s Neocon Resumé
Chris Floyd
Twilight of the Grifter: Bill Clinton’s Fading Powers
Eric Mann
How We Got the Tanks and M-16s Out of LA Schools
Jason Hirthler
The West’s Needless Aggression
Dan Arel
Why Hillary Clinton’s Camp Should Be Scared
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima Flunks Decontamination
David Rosen
The Privatization of the Public Sphere
Margaret Kimberley
Obama’s Civil Rights Hypocrisy
Chris Gilbert
Corruption in Latin American Governments
Pete Dolack
We Can Dream, or We Can Organize
Dan Kovalik
Colombia: the Displaced & Invisible Nation
Jeffrey St. Clair
Fat Man Earrings: a Nuclear Parable
Medea Benjamin
Israel and Saudi Arabia: Strange Bedfellows in the New Middle East
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail