Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"A Belated Missile Proposal"

The other day, I heard a report on TV about the president’s wanting to alter our missile policy. I don’t remember the details. It wasn’t important, beyond the fact that it could keep us from being blown up. Anyway, the policy adjustment is not the point – mushroom cloud, no mushroom cloud – whatever, Dude. For me, the report’s simply my “make it current” pretext for telling you this story. There, you got it out of me.

I’ve always taken this position, and nobody’s dissuaded me of it, mostly because I don’t talk about it out loud. Until now. During the Cold War, when American children were drilled to drop under their desks when a siren went off – though not Canadian children, who, apparently, nobody cared about, or Canadians are too sensible for such mishugus (insanity) – there was a lot of talk about the “Missile Gap.”

The “Missile Gap” referred to the mathematical differential between the number of nuclear missiles we had versus the number of missiles the Russians had. It was a counting thing. Apparently, there were satellites in the sky that could take pictures, from which could be determined precisely how many missiles each country had in their respective arsenals.

Whether the “counting thing” was true or not, I have no idea, but people high up acted like it was true, so it doesn’t really matter. You can get just easily blown to pieces by misinformation that’s believed to be true as by information that’s actually true. Ask the people in Iraq.

I’m also shaky about this part, “this part” meaning the precise number of missiles required to blow up the world. I guess it depends on how powerful they are. Maybe it only takes one missile, if it’s a really big one. Maybe two. They hit us; we hit them. (Notice I said, “they hit us” first. Even Canadians have prejudices.)

But let’s be conservative here. Not “Let’s bomb them before they bomb us” conservative, mathematically conservative. Say it takes ten nuclear missiles to blow up the world – five of ours, five of theirs*. (* I’ve made up an arbitrary number, because of my ignorance.)

What I recall is that, at the time they were counting them, the actual number of missiles were, like, fifteen hundred missiles each. Maybe we had a few more than them, maybe they had a few more than us. Whatever. That’s three thousand nuclear missiles*. (* Also an arbitrary number, but my overall point, I believe, still holds.)

If, as I ignorantly hypothesized, it only takes ten nuclear missiles to blow up the world, three thousand nuclear missiles could blow up the world – give me a minute – um… three hundred times. That’s right, isn’t it? I know it’s a lot of times.

(I’m aware that the concept of blowing the world up more than once falls more into the category of poetry. After you blow up the world once, that’s pretty much the ball game. You blow up the world three hundred times, and the last two hundred and ninety-nine times don’t really count. I mean, who’s going to do the counting?)

Okay, so the “Missile Gap’s” about numbers – we’re falling behind, they’re pulling ahead – it’s all about how many. And people took those numbers seriously. Big people, like people running for president. I believe the term “Missile Gap” was coined by the Kennedy side when JFK ran against Nixon in 1960. (Which immediately gave birth to another distinction – the “Exaggeration Gap.”)

It was all about numbers. Not just about numbers, of course. The missiles had to work. And when they didn’t, they took them back to the shop and refined them until they did.

This was no fairy tale. There was some big-time Boom-Boom roaming the earth. At least in two countries. The other countries lined up – the Soviet Bloc; the Us Bloc – and they hid behind them. (The Soviets actually conquered the countries first. Not China, but the other ones. Not North Korea, or Viet Nam or Cuba. But they had influence in those places. We had influence in other countries.)

Stick to the numbers, Earlo. The stuff you don’t know about is embarrassing.

Sorry. Here’s my point.

If it was simply a question of numbers – of, for example, their counting how many nuclear missiles we had – why didn’t we just build a few real nuclear missiles – say twenty times more than you need to blow up the world, so, like, a hundred – and make the rest of the missiles out of cardboard?

How would you do this? Well, there are some “Prop People” out there, trained to construct authentic-looking “mock-ups” of things in movies, making them look so authentic, it’s virtually impossible to tell the facsimile from the real thing. The only difference would be that the studio-built “mock-ups” of the missiles wouldn’t work. But why would that matter, when you’re only counting them from the sky?

I imagine this type of subterfuge has been pulled of in movies many times. I’m pretty sure that the military doesn’t lend out its nuclear missiles for film shoots.

“What if we don’t get them back?”

Would be just one of the problems.

So the “renting the missile” option is out. When they require nuclear missiles in movies, the filmmakers use documentary “stock footage” of actual missiles doing things, like taking off, or blowing up on the launching pad, or

They make missiles out of cardboard. Or some other material that, on camera, looks like an actual nuclear missile.

(There is a third option – the studios could build nuclear missiles of their own – I imagine there’s a “How To Build A Nuclear Missile” website on the Internet. But that would be way too expensive. Besides, what do you do with it when you’re finished? )

Speaking of expense – as I was in the brackets – that’s another issue solved by my little proposal. Cardboard nuclear missiles are cheaper to build than actual nuclear missiles, I imagine – though I’m not a nuclear missile builder myself – a lot cheaper.

Since the enemy is only counting them, it wouldn’t matter if the missiles actually worked. I mean, the majority of them. You could still have those hundred you need to blow up the world twenty times. The rest of them could be just as valuable a deterrent if they merely looked like they worked.

It seems like a great plan to me. And the beauty part is, no one’ll ever find out they were tricked. Why? Because it’s unlikely any of these missiles will ever be used. They haven’t been so far, because, I imagine, of what they call the “mutually assured destruction” problem, meaning, if the missiles were used, everybody would be blown up. Even the most passionate “hawks” are not enthusiastic about that eventuality. That’s Goodbye, Columbus.

There seem to be only two options. If the missiles, as it appears, are unlikely to be used, it doesn’t matter if the majority of them are made out of cardboard, or whether or not they work. On the other hand if the missiles that work are used, everyone’s dead, so there’s no one to discover that the majority of them were made out of cardboard.

To me, making the vast majority of the missiles non-functional is a “win-win” proposition. We terrify our enemies, for a considerably lower price.

I don’t know why they didn’t do that in the first place.

Or did they?


PG said...

There is no common sense to the entire issue. Just watch good old "Dr. Strangelove", stop worrying and love the bomb. Then have a stiff drink.
For you and your readers, one of the great documentaries of all time was made in the 80's on this subject, entirely out of archival footage, a lot of it formerly 'classified' by the government.
It was called "The Atomic Cafe" and is still available. You can laugh until you cry and then wonder how we're still here at all with all that craziness.

growingupartists said...

Ha, ha!!! Prop missiles. I've always worried about the nuclear-fallout from a single missle. Blowing in the wind and contaminating our food supplies.

gih said...

That's not a joke. And why people need to do this...

PALGOLAK said...

It is my belief, Earl, that you are missing the point.

More missiles means more moolah siphoned from government to the "Military-Industrial Complex".

Surely you are familiar with the MIC?

Anonymous said...

{sigh} well, they can't all be gems, can they?

Max Clarke said...

I used to be in the missile business, I worked underground in a launch control center. If the President had given the orders, I was one of the fellows who would have launched missiles toward the enemy du jour. I was assigned to Minot Air Force Base, in North Dakota.

There is evidence that a thermonuclear war of colossal proportions won't occur. Flying saucers have a history of visiting Minot and other bases such as Malmstrom in Montana. They have shut missiles down, drained their electrical energy, and ruined the morale of security personnel assigned to guard the missiles.

Most recently, the Russians tested a missile launched from a submarine during the night. It didn't just fail, it had a spectacular failure. It was surrounded by concentric circles of blue light as it slowed to the speed of a small airplane and then crashed into the sea. The original explanation for the concentric circles was silly, missile propellant spilling out in circles. More likely is the assertion by Richard Hoagland and others that a form of Tesla technology was used to capture the missile in flight.

Gee, who could have the top secret technology capable of capturing missiles with energy waves, making the current Star Wars program just a smokescreen for a more potent method of defense?

To answer in the words of bartender Woody of Cheers, who also pondered an important international issue during an episode, "USA!"

Anonymous said...

Bob Chesson writes:

Your comments about "mock-ups" actually has credibility. Undoubtedly the US and the USSR both conducted this type of subterfuge leaving the "enemy" to wonder (or panic) about the number of actual warheads. Unfortunately to fool the spys, both were required to spend lavishly on the whole process as if there were in full production leaving the USSR bankrupt and the USA with over a trillion $'s legacy (debt). See Richard Rhodes "Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb"

J. Leland Kupferberg said...

Earl, many, many years ago, we met for lunch, I showed you my work, and asked that you recommend an agent to me. You didn't think my work was up to par, and declined the request. Years later, I'm still a starving writer - unrepresented, unread, and unloved. Now, in the name of the large community of unagented, unpublished writers out there, I lay down the challenge - friendly, of course - for you to post any short story you might have on my newly launched site, PatronQuo dot com. With all sorts of rankings and performance stats, readers are able to see which stories outperform the others. Are you up for the challenge? As a paid writer of considerable reputation, are you ready to do some friendly literary "combat" with a creative pariah? It would be fun to find out who comes out on top, no?