Plans for the nuclear bombardment of the countries of the Communist bloc have for the first time been published in the United States. Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev and Berlin were to be stricken from the face of the earth. The civilian populations of these cities were included in this list of targets. The U.S. approach to this issue following the Vietnam War became significantly kinder; however, the mortality figures for these special operations still number in the hundreds of thousands.
The Oak Ridge National Laboratory, located in Tennessee, has for the first time in 30 years begun manufacturing plutonium-238. Production of this plutonium isotope was minimized in the 1980s, and the U.S. began purchasing this radioactive isotope from Russia in 1992. Now, due to the introduction of U.S. sanctions, U.S.-Russia cooperation on nuclear issues — as on the majority of issues — has seriously suffered and is unlikely to be revitalized anytime soon. Indeed, the complete opposite is more likely: Our countries may soon, in fact, return to Cold War rhetoric.
The term “nuclear cudgel” used by Vladimir Putin is from the 1970s and early 1980s, when both the Soviet and American press regularly accused their enemies across the ocean of intending to unleash said cudgel on civilian cities.
However, after the Cuban Missile Crisis, both sides understood that nuclear missiles are simply weapons of containment, and that serious use of these weapons was out of the question. The strategy of assured mutual destruction, which was based on the nuclear parity, as well as on the fact that neither side had a 100 percent reliable anti-missile system, guaranteed that the USSR and U.S. would not engage in open conflict. Washington and Moscow negotiated their relations through the use of so-called proxy wars, the most well-known of which were Vietnam for the U.S. and Afghanistan for the USSR. Furthermore, in the U.S. there were analysts who were absolutely certain that it was exactly the Soviet “international obligation” in Afghanistan that lead to the fall of the USSR.
The end of the Cold War (in the American version, their victory) facilitated the lessening of tensions surrounding nuclear issues, and the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, as well as the three START treaties, reduced the quantity of each side’s arms. The last treaty, New START, came about not long ago, in 2010.*
It is likely that the greatest triumph of Moscow and Washington during the 1990s was the removal of nuclear weapons from the post-Soviet republics. In Ukraine last year, there was serious talk about the possibility of nuclear strikes on Moscow, Donetsk and Crimea. Fortunately, Kiev did not have and will never have that capability.
Sixty years ago, the U.S. did in fact also have its own plans to destroy Moscow, Kiev, and other Soviet republic capital cities and governments of Eastern and Central Europe. As cited in The New York Times, the published plan lists 179 targets in Moscow, 145 in Leningrad and 91 in East Berlin, with code numbers corresponding to specific places. Exact addresses and names of locations are as yet still classified — evidently due the fact that these have not changed much.
Even taking into account the fact that the power of nuclear bombs at that time was inferior to that of modern weapons, all of the above examples imply the complete destruction of these cities, as well as their populations. Moreover, each city listed as an official target served as a section for “population.”
“It’s disturbing, for sure, to see the population centers targeted,” commented William Burr, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive at George Washington University.
None of this is really surprising. In fact, what is instead surprising is that in the following decades, military and political actors in the U.S. publicly advocated for the reduction of civilian casualties. Because, well, practically every war in which the U.S. participated in the second part of the 20th century was accompanied by massive numbers of deaths of noncombatants (civilians).
The most striking example of this was the destruction by the Allied Forces of Dresden in 1945. The efficiency of this operation has since been discussed, and many historians and military analysts have concluded that there was no need for strikes on this large of a scale. The number of victims that resulted from the firebombings and accompanying carpet bombings of residential districts amounted to at least 25,000 people. Soviet and British historiographers place the figure at 135,000 casualties, while German sources claim the number is 250,000.
However, the number of deaths in Dresden would have been higher if a portion of the American Air Force had not veered off course and had not bombed residential districts in Prague: 701 civilians were killed, 1,184 were injured, and 11,000 were left homeless. Not a single military target was hit. The “accidental” nature of this bombing came under severe scrutiny during the Soviet era.
At the time of the Allied Forces’ carpet bombing of Hamburg in 1943, 40,000 civilians were killed.
As a result of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Americans killed anywhere from 150,000 to 240,000 civilians, according to different accounts. However, in Tokyo, the U.S. undertook strikes with conventional bombs. After a single day of bombing conducted on March 10, 1945, more than 100,000 unarmed civilians had been killed.
In Vietnam, the loss of civilian life as a result of bombing campaigns is estimated at 64,000 people (according to U.S. statistics) to 2 million (according to Vietnamese statistics). Americans often described Vietnam as a special “free-fire zone” where the military had the right to destroy anything living. The ecological ramifications of carpet bombing, as well as the application of napalm and “agent orange,” are still being felt in Vietnam today. It was during the time of the Vietnam War and the massive protests in the U.S. that there was a call for the military to minimize its number of civilian casualties.
At the time of the “humanitarian bombings,” which NATO undertook in Yugoslavia in 1999, the strikes were described as “precise.” However, the number of civilian deaths amounted to 1,700 people, including 400 children. People were killed in officially neutral Montenegro, which not long before had in fact been invited to become a NATO member state.
Finally, during the course of the two Iraq wars and the campaign in Afghanistan, the number of victims due to American actions already amounts to the hundreds of thousands, and this lamentable list continues to grow. Not long ago, a hospital in Afghanistan was mistakenly bombed; in Iraq, the same kind of mistakes have resulted in the deaths of not only civilians, but also Iraqi soldiers allied with Washington.
In recent years, the U.S., Russia and other countries of the world have actively worked to develop highly strategic weapons capable of striking exclusively military targets in order to minimize noncombatant deaths. However, it is not possible to avoid this entirely. Moreover, in the so-called civil wars taking place in the Middle East and Ukraine, combatants intentionally use civilians as shields and undertake their military operations from within densely population civilian areas.
Nuclear weapons on principle simply cannot be targeted or strategic, as is the case with chemical and biological weapons (rumors often appear that this will soon be possible, but as of now that’s not the case.) That is why they are called “weapons of mass destruction.” Whether or not civilians are targeted doesn’t matter when tens of millions of people are being killed, even if the missiles are to be aimed exclusively at military targets.
It is for exactly this reason that the task of global political leaders is to prohibit the possibility of nuclear conflict.
*Editor’s note: START stands for Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, a bilateral treaty between the U.S. and the USSR to reduce and limit strategic offensive arms.
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