Report: 1950s nuclear plans released

A study reveals how 1950s military planners readied for war.
A study reveals how 1950s military planners readied for war.
A 60-year-old document reveals nuclear plans of the U.S. government in the event of war and details a strategy that would have included destroying population centers.
    The SAC [Strategic Air Command] Atomic Weapons Requirements Study for 1959 was produced in June 1956, but the document was not made public until December, when it was posted on the website of the National Security Archive at George Washington University. The study offers insight into the mindset of military planners in the decade after the end of World War II and the discovery in 1949 that the Soviet Union had secretly tested a nuclear weapon.
    Notably, military planners wanted a 60-megaton weapon. To put this in perspective, the archive notes that “one megaton would be 70 times the explosive yield of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.” Listed under the heading “alternative weapons,” the report reads: “The 60 MT weapon is considered essential, not only as a deterrent, but also to assure significant results even with a greatly reduced force in the event of a surprise attack by the Soviets.”
    The plan called for bombing air-power targets in the Soviet Union, China and Eastern Europe. It lists more than 1,100 Soviet-bloc airfields, with a priority number assigned to each base. Additionally, a list of urban-industrial areas was identified for “systematic destruction.”
    “The SAC targeting philosophy for the air power battle … encompasses all targets that support directly the enemy’s air power capability,” the document explains. Along with air bases and atomic stockpiles, this included “SovBloc air industry and resources that directly support the enemy’s air capability.”
    Once the air power battle was won, there would be “systematic destruction of the remaining SovBloc war-making potential,” the document states.
    While weighing the impact of nuclear fallout, the document warned that if the air power battle was not won, “the consequences to the friendly world will be far more disastrous than the expected effects of fall-out contamination in the peripheral area.”
    The National Security Archive, which makes documents available online, pointed out that “purposefully targeting civilian populations as such directly conflicted with the international norms of the day, which prohibited attacks on people per se (as opposed to military installations with civilians nearby).”
    From time to time, the archive makes headlines with revelations unearthed using Freedom of Information Act requests. In 2015, the group released grand jury records bolstering theories that Ethel Rosenberg, wife of convicted spy Julius Rosenberg,might not have been directly involved in moving information to the Soviets. 


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