Saturday, April 19, 2008

"peace is our profession," "war is our hobby." - Leaving (but never REALLY leaving) Cheyenne Mountain - William Astore, War Games

Gee Whiz! Wish I Had One Of Those!
posted April 17, 2008 11:04 am
William Astore, War Games

William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), has taught at the Air Force Academy and the Naval Postgraduate School. He now teaches at the Pennsylvania College of Technology.
In 1986, the year President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev teetered on the brink of eliminating superpower nuclear weapons at their summit meeting in Reykjavik, I participated in a computerized war game inside Cheyenne Mountain. It ended in a simulated nuclear attack against the United States.

By today's standards, our computers were primitive leviathans: IBM mainframes with old-fashioned tape drives -- roughly the size of jumbo, sub-zero refrigerators in today's McMansions; they had disc drives or "packs" roughly the size of dishwashers. Our computer screens were a monochromatic green. From a Hollywood special-effects perspective, they were poorly lit and relentlessly boring -- not at all like the glitzy nuclear war room in the 1983 film WarGames that starred a fresh-faced Matthew Broderick.

As those monochromatic missile tracks crossed the Arctic Circle and began to terminate at various U.S. cities, the mood among the battle staff grew reflective. Yes, it was only a game, but everyone present knew that nuclear Armageddon with the Soviet Union was possible, and that it would kill tens, perhaps even hundreds of millions of people in both countries. That day, in that command center, we were virtual witnesses to our worst nightmare: a nuclear holocaust that might not only destroy our country and the Soviet Union, but perhaps civilization as we knew it.

How We Never Left Cheyenne Mountain

When the Soviet Union began to disintegrate in 1989, few people were more surprised than our intelligence agencies and our military (myself included). After putting decades of thought and planning into mutually assured destruction, after planning not just to fight but to win nuclear wars, we now faced a brighter, potentially less nuclear, or even non-nuclear future. And all this had come about -- under the shadow of true global terror -- without a Department of Homeland Security, or an Orwellian "Patriot Act," or so many of the other accoutrements of our present homeland security moment. (Without, in fact, even the emotive, vaguely un-American word "homeland" being in use.) Indeed, when it was over, we claimed victory on the very basis that our freedoms -- and our political system -- were stronger than our rival's...

In Full @ Tomgram: William Astore, War Games

This piece is a shared venture of Tomdispatch on-line and the Nation magazine in print. Tom

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