NPF: I'VE HEARD BETTER IDEAS

The Cold War inspired a brand of apocalyptic thinking that one just doesn't find anymore. Sure, terrorism has caused more than a few people and societies to lose their minds with fear, but you lose some of the legit crazy when you remove strategic contingency planning from the battlefield and traditional State vs. State conflicts. I mean, it's not like the Pentagon is dreaming up scenarios for what we will do if we have to abandon the United States after it is taken over by ISIS.

We wouldn't do something, for example, like plan to salt the Earth with radioactivity while retreating from the onrushing Soviet armored columns.

In the 1950s the U.S. and its NATO allies (which at that time essentially meant Britain, and they were still having a rough go of things post-War) were planning for World War III under the assumption of absolute Warsaw Pact numerical superiority. They had more men, more guns, and more tanks than the Free World could ever hope to muster. This explains why Western planning so readily embraced nuclear weapons; it was assumed that it would be the only option left when faced with being overrun by the Red Hordes.

There are holes in all of this logic in hindsight, of course. It was what they believed at the time, though, based either on the information available or their ideological motivation.

The Brits, still preoccupied with rebuilding their nation and not interested in raising enough ground forces to keep Ivan from charging into West Germany, came up with a particularly efficient way of contributing to the defense of the Western World. Project Blue Peacock (also known variously as Blue Bunny, which is now a lethal ice cream, and Brown Bunny, in which we can watch Vincent Gallo get a beej) was a plan to bury nuclear mines throughout Germany so that upon retreat we could wait until the Soviets occupied the area and then give them a big, one million degree surprise. It's not the worst plan anyone ever devised, if it is a bit nihilistic even by Cold War standards. Here's where it went from sublime to ridiculous.

Burying what at the time was a relatively rudimentary device meant that the electronic and mechanical parts would get unacceptably cold and most likely fail to work when the crucial moment arrived. Some visionary in the Pentagon or Ministry of Defense came up with the bizarre if somewhat unorthodox solution of putting a couple of chickens in the bomb housing. A small amount of feed and water would keep the chickens alive for the 8-10 days for which the detonation timer would be set. Their body heat, although not great, would be sufficient to keep the electrical parts up to temperature. When the moment of truth arrived, these Service Chickens would then be the first victims (by microseconds) of the explosion.

In the pantheon of harebrained Cold War schemes, it's actually not the worst idea. Ridiculous, sure. Unorthodox, obviously. But it probably would have worked. It sounds positively dull when you compare it to things like Project Acoustic Kitty.

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25 Responses to “NPF: I'VE HEARD BETTER IDEAS”

  1. J. Dryden Says:

    It's worth remembering that when Kubrick & Co. went about making STRANGELOVE, they came to the project originally intending to do a serious take on the subject. Only when they began to do their research–and discovered how utterly and determinedly batshit these people and their plans were–did they discover that they pretty much HAD to do a comedy.

  2. Talisker Says:

    The linked BBC story was published on 1 April 2004 and contains vigorous denials it's an April Fool gag.

    The birds would be put inside the casing of the bomb, given seed to keep them alive and stopped from pecking at the wiring.

    I'm glad someone thought to stop them from pecking at the wiring, because that would be bad.

    Alternatively, they could have put in a battery-powered heater. I'm pretty sure they had those in 1957, and the heater won't suffocate if the ventilation system stops working. But the Service Chickens are just better, obviously.

    @J Dryden: Something similar happened when Terry Pratchett tried to do a comic take on opera in "Maskerade". He soon realised the reality was completely beyond parody, and all he had to do was take a real-world opera house and transfer it to the Discworld.

  3. HoosierPoli Says:

    It's amazing what people were prepared to do to prevent planned economies and full employment.

    I've spent a lot of time with East Germans who lived through various stages of the GDR, and they were all happy when the wall fell but it my impression is that it was more of a Kafka-esque hassle than a living nightmare. You kept your head down and focused on your personal life and let the politicians do what they wanted. If it came down to living in the GDR or nuclear hellfire, I'm sure all of them would take communism six days a week and twice on Sundays.

  4. Anonymouse Says:

    Correction, Ed; it's Blue *Bell* that's the lethal ice cream, not Blue *Bunny*.

  5. Anonymouse Says:

    @Talisker; Terry Pratchett was an absolute genius at being able to clearly see the insanity and the inanity of society and document it in his Discworld books. He does a great job in Monstrous Regiment of capturing the Cold War mindset.

  6. sluggo Says:

    @jdryden
    Major kong actually survived that ride on the A-bomb. We should hear from him shortly.

  7. Jimcat Says:

    Ed has it right about Blue Bunny.

    http://www.bluebunny.com

  8. John Danley Says:

    Project Acoustic Cruz involves placing a dual tracking device inside a glass of sweet tea at a Southern Baptist convention.

  9. Skipper Says:

    These were the same geniuses that were going to off Castro with an exploding cigar or secretly inject him with a depillatory to make his beard fall out so that he would lose credibility and, at the same time, power.

  10. c u n d gulag Says:

    @Skipper,
    Yes, the failed "Cuban Beard Crisis!"

  11. Edward Says:

    "if it is a bit nihilistic…"

    Only for the Germans. The mines were not buried on British territory.

    Unfortunately, given the U.S. provocations in Ukraine, we are again in danger of nuclear war. There were some very close calls during the cold war. Curtis Lemay, for example, ordered the air force to fake bombing runs against Soviet targets in the hope of convincing them a U.S. attack was commencing and causing them to begin a war. In a similar incident in the 1980's, the Reagan administration ordered U.S. planes to buzz Soviet bases. The Soviets decided that if this did not cease in 24 hours they would launch a nuclear attack. This was only averted because a courageous KGB agent warned Britain what was about to happen.

  12. Dave Dell Says:

    Mutually Assured Destruction. Still a possibility. More remote these days than the days of my youth but still…

  13. Dave Dell Says:

    Oh, and during NCO leadership training (what a joke – I was due to get out four months later) one of the training films was about leadership in the face of tactical battlefield nuclear weapons and the troops that didn't want to advance into previously nuked territory.

  14. Lawrence Says:

    Dr. Strangelove/Chicken Run script project has now commenced. Hopefully I can get Mel Gibson to reprise his role with Rocky the flying rooster in the Major Kong part. When I need him to be really demented I'll just ask him about the Jews, or his ex wife.

  15. Jack the Cold Warrior Says:

    I was an LT stationed in a Mech infantry battalion in West Germany 76-79. Spent 6-8 months of each year out on training exercises. Had a deployment position almost in view of the Czech border. Another near rolling, mostly clear farmland extending 10 Klicks. Heaviest AT weapon my platoon had was the 90mm recoilless rifle with a 400 meter effective range. The battalion did have TOW tracks with a 3 k range.

    The Warsaw Pact expected tactic was to outnumber us 10-15 to 1 in tank and mech infantry forces in breakthrough sectors. So….

    Every major autobahn, railroad and secondary highway bridge in W. Germany were built with chambers for Atomic Demolition mines to destroy them
    and impede a Warsaw Pact Attack. These were small 0.1 to 5 kiloton atomic bombs that were (literally ) the size of a large backpack. Not multi megaton Doomesday devices as in Dr Strangelove.

    We figured we were the tripwire or speed bump to slow the Soviets; by day 3 expected it to go full nuclear. Consequently, we did a lot of "eat, drink, and make merry" for tomorrow we may die- our New Year's Eve parties were outrageous…

  16. Skepticalist Says:

    Chicken shit gaps all over the place.

  17. Katydid Says:

    @Jimcat: Blue Bell recall: http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/24/health/blue-bell-ice-cream-recall-listeria/index.html

  18. John Says:

    Dr. Strangelove was definitely the best. And it speaks to the point of this article. Nuclear weapons as a final option, that is also an interesting stance, as far as the policy was concerned.

  19. Robert Says:

    Acoustic Kitty makes me think of Krosp I, Emperor of Cats, from "Girl Genius". He was a mad-science enhanced cat (human intelligence, speaking ability, etc) who was to command unenhanced cats in recon and sabotage.
    It worked about as well.

    The idea of suitcase nukes buried under autobahns is some grade-A nightmare fuel. I've read some LeCarre and Deighton, and know exactly how feasible it would have sounded to the Powers What Were.

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  21. willf Says:

    Don't forget the Bat Bombs and Pigeon guided missiles (B.F. Skinner came up with that last one).

  22. Kaleberg Says:

    There were a lot of hare brained schemes in the golden days of the Cold War, but nuclear weapons were terribly new. When you consider how long it took Europeans to figure out how to fight wars in which both sides had machine guns, figuring out nuclear weapons was a surprisingly quick and safe episode. In 1949, Vannevar Bush pooh-poohed nuclear weapons arguing that they were no worse than conventional weapons. As far as killing Japanese civilians went, Hiroshima and Nagasaki made for a slow week when compared with conventional weapons in the weeks before. The hydrogen bomb upped the ante, but by the 1960s everyone realized that nuclear weapons could only be used once and that no one would really win in any conventional sense.

    The Brits might have been occupied rebuilding their own nation, but they did take the effort to build their own nuclear capability. They even grabbed a chunk of German rocket technology and pushed that as far as they could. This whole chicken thing and the idea of planting nuclear mines strikes me as rather strange though. The British did have an air force, and in the 1950s especially, the British were ahead of everyone in aircraft development. They were ahead of the Americans in jet aircraft and even produced the first commercial jet liner. Why leave a weapon where it could be captured and disarmed when you have an air force? It doesn't make a lot of sense.

    Besides, there is still a lot of apocalyptic thinking. Have you been watching cable news? ISIS has supposedly already established Sharia law in several US cities. Eventually, they'll be putting up pictures of George W. Bush, their founder.

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