Can Russia Defeat Us With Atom Bombs? (Feb, 1950)

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Can Russia Defeat Us With Atom Bombs?

Assuming that the Reds have enough A-bombs and the planes to deliver them—could they blast us into military, social and economic chaos by a sneak bombing attack on certain key American cities?

By Ralph Coniston

“THIS is WQZ, your favorite local station for music and news, bringing you a noonday program of recorded hit tunes. The first number on today’s show will be. …

“Just one moment, please. Here’s an important bulletin from our newsroom, just handed me. It’s date-lined Washington, D. C.

“A terrific explosion has just wrecked downtown Washington. The blast, of unknown origin, seems to have damaged communication lines out of the city.

“I can’t tell you any more because there is no more to the bulletin. So, until further news comes in we’ll return to our.

“Wait! Here! The explosion leveled the Capitol building where Congress, the Cabinet and all high officials had gathered to hear the President deliver an important message. Everybody is believed killed. Washington is in flames!

“Another bulletin! This one’s from New York. New York’s financial district, nerve center of the nation’s industry, was battered by a blast from a bomb apparently dropped by an unidentified plane. . . .

“My God, here’s more! Four other cities—Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago and Pittsburgh—have also been attacked by what some scientists think are atom bombs!

“Yes, that’s what it looks like—a sneak atom-bomb attack! I’ve got a thing here that says the Associated Press can’t raise its Washington Bureau. Communications between that city and the rest of the country seem to be broken of}.

“Bridges leading out of the city of New York are blocked by frantic mobs trying to escape. Roads are completely choked.

“Here’s an eyewitness report from Cleveland. The shrieks and moans of dying people, trapped in the ruins of this once-great industrial city can be heard on every street in downtown Cleveland. . . .

“And here’s a Detroit story! At this moment frightened crowds are storming auto warehouses in an hysterical effort to obtain vehicles with which to flee the city. . . .

“What? What’s that? Our engineer just told me that CBS monitors have picked up a broadcast from Moscow. Stalin is telling the Russian people that an atom bomb attack has been launched against the United States! Red armies are marching against Western Europe!”

IF Americans are lucky, that broadcast will never take place except as an admittedly imaginary account. But it could be true! According to official Government reports on the effectiveness of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki nearly five years ago, the fictitious chain of events described by our fictitious announcer could happen here!

So-called experts deride the suggestion that Russia could, in the near future, launch a successful atomic attack against this country. We hope they are correct. But, it’s difficult to forget that these same experts said Japan couldn’t last more than six months in a war against the U. S. and that Russia’s army would fold before the Wehrmacht. Other scientific experts also predicted that the Soviets could not possibly develop the atomic bomb before another five years. Well, look what happened!

Now, these same experts want us to believe that while Russia may have one or two bombs, she couldn’t possibly have enough with which to attack us. But Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the world’s foremost atomic scientists, said that a country could produce 1000 atomic bombs in two years by an all-out effort. The Russians have been working on the atom for longer than that!

We hope the Russians are not prepared to launch an atomic war against the United States. We hope they have no intention of ever doing so. But let’s play it smart this time and assume that the Reds have as many bombs as we have, and the means to deliver them to targets in America. What then?

In quest of the answer, government authorities in the field of atomic warfare were queried. Here’s the picture they painted.

We dropped two atom bombs on Japan— one each on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—on August 6 and 8, 1945, causing terrific destruction. Hiroshima, a city of 343,000— about the same population as Denver or Rochester-—was practically wiped off the .map. The official death toll was 78,150—one out of every four persons was killed! Nagasaki, with a population of 253,000, had a fatality list with close to 40,000 names on it —equivalent to the total population of, let’s say, Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Already, the type of bombs used on these cities has been outmoded. So, just imagine how much destruction could be wrought on heavily-populated American cities by the more destructive bombs developed in the intervening five years!

What would happen if just one bomb were dropped on the Capitol building in Washington, D. C, keeping in mind that devastation elsewhere would be even greater than in this “city of magnificent distances.”

Practically every building within a half-mile radius would be completely destroyed. Steel frames might be left standing but their walls would be stripped off by the mighty puff. Save in a few cases of exceptionally good construction, roofs and ceilings would collapse from the blast pressure and bury everybody inside. And remember, we’re assuming that only one bomb would be dropped!

Within this same half-mile radius, any living creature directly exposed to the blast would be killed immediately. Contrary to common belief, most immediate deaths would not come from radio-activity but from burns. A policeman standing on the Mall, 2000 feet from the explosion near the Capitol, would be fatally burned by the immense heat radiated by the bomb during the first split second.

Some of the Congressmen at the Capitol would die of ruptured internal organs. Those not killed immediately by flash burns or blast injuries might well perish beneath falling walls or in fires breaking out from damaged wiring and broken gas lines. At Hiroshima, only 15 in 100 deaths came from radiation sickness—the great majority might have been caused by any ordinary bombing. However, many other persons in this half-mile radius who escaped death initially, would probably die a few days later from radiation sickness.

In the area a half-mile to a mile from the explosion, most buildings would still receive major damage. The White House, much of which was built more than a century ago, would be smashed with the exception of the newly constructed East Wing.

In this area, deaths would taper off somewhat. Many of those exposed to radioactivity without shielding would become severely ill and then die. But some people would escape harm completely. The chances? About 50-50.

In the great swath a mile to a mile and a half from the explosion, damage would taper off still more. Modern buildings would remain standing but would require extensive repairs.

Deaths would be reduced but many would perish in the fires enveloping damaged structures and from injuries received in their collapse.

Beyond a mile and a half, death and damage would continue their toll although in lessening degree. Two miles away, the well-built structures would survive although flimsy buildings would suffer heavily. Even the Pentagon Building, three miles from the Capitol, would lose many of its windows.

Four miles from the center of the blast, there’d be almost no destruction and no injuries—only a memory of a muffled groundshaking rumble.

In other target cities, the effects would be similar. Relief and rescue work would be hampered in all places by blocked streets, broken water mains, failure of electric power and general panic. Medical supplies would be critically short, particularly unguents for burns. Hospital facilities would be completely inadequate, especially considering the fact that many units would be destroyed by the bomb itself. Remember that at Hiroshima nine-tenths of the doctors and nurses were casualties because hospitals were located in the center of town.

What would be the Russian plan of attack? Well, current American strategic plans are based upon the ability of the B-36 to deliver the bomb to Russian targets. The bulk and difficulties in handling the bombs would probably rule out the use of Fifth Columnists, submarines or guided missiles. So, the Russian bombs would probably be delivered by suicide bombers carrying . enough gas for a one-way trip or by super-bombers which could make the return trip. Word has leaked out of Russia that a new super-bomber has been produced there so that might very well be the vehicle of attack. Could they reach American target cities from their trans-Polar bases undetected? That depends upon many factors. Congress has appropriated funds for the beginnings of a protective radar net. Such a net, however, is like a chain—only as strong as its weakest link. To be completely effective, it must be all-inclusive, with stations in Canada and Mexico and on ships at sea. This is a tremendously expensive setup.

To take advantage of such a warning system we would need thousands of fighter aircraft and a well-planned system of civilian defense including specially built shelters. These facilities do not exist at present. Planes flying over Canada now would cross thousands of miles of wilderness where the few inhabitants would have little idea of whether they were Russian bombers or Hottentot airliners. And, if the planes carried standard U. S. Air Force markings indicating that they were experimental types, even the Air Force might be fooled temporarily.

Aside from the material damage, what would be the probable outcome of such an attack? Well, first of all, the nation would be paralyzed by shock for a short while. The wounds would be so great, there would be a tremendous job to do merely in overcoming the first [Continued on page 174] stunning effects of the surprise attack.

If most responsible members of our Government were wiped out, there’d be the question of who would assume responsibility. Probably a few members of Congress, who had happened to escape death because of absence from Washington, would set up an emergency government, even though they lacked constitutional authority. Or, high-ranking military officers might form a junta to rule dictatorially.

Of course, the 48 states would still exist and exert their individual authorities but their governors would have no federal authority. However, they might even meet and set up an emergency government.

Surviving military officers would have to thrash out the problem of who was to take command. Only after all this was accomplished could retaliation be started—unless earlier orders had been issued providing for action in case such an attack took place.

Could Russia actually carry out a physical invasion? Not immediately. First of all, she lacks ships to carry her armies for her merchant marine is not big enough for the job. As for aerial invasion, probably not even the United States with its tremendous industrial establishment could produce and keep in the air the tremendous number of planes needed for this. So, it would boil down to a war of waiting—waiting for an eventual invasion or waiting for more atom bombs.

Would we be defeated? We might. Possibly we would not recover quickly enough from the first sneak bombings and follow-up attacks to be able to prevent the Red armies from taking over Western Europe. This loss would mean isolation for the United States. And European shipping in Russian hands might bring invasion forces later.

But it is more likely that we would still be able to reassemble our forces and stage an effective war. Even all the factories in such cities as Cleveland would not be totally destroyed by atomic bombing. And in those factories badly damaged, the machinery could probably be put back in operation after repairs. Our defense forces would still remain intact for the most part. We might even be able to rush enough help to save part of Western Europe. In any event, if defeat is averted, there’d be a long stalemate with years of misery and anxiety for the whole world.

Can we prevent it? A well-planned system of defense might do it. With a good warning system our own fighter planes could shoot down a large part of the attacking bombers. The same warning system, coupled with adequate civilian defenses, might avert as much as 80 per cent of the casualties. Dispersion of our industrial resources—removing them from vulnerable centers—would cut down on initial losses, too.

We can also keep building better planes to carry the bomb and more and better bombs. But, let’s not fool ourselves. The best defense against atomic destruction is peace. And peace comes only with real international understanding—something that has to be worked at consistently. True, everybody must work toward the same goal—Russia as well as the United States. But the organization which can be used to insure peace—the United Nations —is there, all set up and waiting for a chance to be allowed to prove itself.

No longer can we assume that Hiroshima won’t happen to us. It can! It might!

  1. Remek says: April 21, 20081:39 am

    Wow, that artwork is so wrong in so many ways.

    Either the artist was totally ignorant of the effects of a megaton-sized airburst bomb a few miles away, and the story and art editor didn’t care; or, the editorial staff were ignorant and to blame for instructing the artist to stick to only their own vision of that type of nuclear bomb strike.

  2. Hip2b2 says: April 21, 20083:43 am

    The interesting difference between then and now is that any attack on the manufacturing heartland of America would now take place in China.

  3. Benzene says: April 21, 20084:45 am

    I think it’s one of those prehistoric photoshops. They took a recognizable city skyline and put the mushroom cloud behind it. If it had been accurate, the skyline would have been just another dust cloud. They wanted the buildings to remain to increase the propaganda factor. As if the Statue of Liberty looking mournfully on isn’t enough.

  4. Robert Synnott says: April 21, 20084:55 am

    At the time, multi-megaton bombs were not available, and people would probably have been far less clear on what a nuclear explosion looked like.

  5. jayessell says: April 21, 20087:47 pm

    No mention of M.A.D.?
    Attack on warning?
    (How we survived that I’ll never know.)
    Rooski double agents exagerated the number of Soviet bombers (and later missles)
    causing the US to build more than was needed.
    They should have told the truth or said they hardly had any!
    [Citation needed.]

  6. jmyint says: April 22, 20085:16 pm

    Jayesell by 1950 the Soviets had only tested one bomb, the US had detonated 8 between the two of them there were probably not more than 100 bombs at the time most about the yield of the Nagasaki bomb or less so mutually assured destruction was not yet an option. Attack on warning also wasn’t an option as the B-36’s lacked the station keeping abilities of the later B-52’s. Lying about the number of bombs would have been difficult for the Soviets as it is impossible to hide a nuclear test and estimates can be drawn from the number of tests and by 1958 the Soviets had tested 83 bombs.



  7. joe says: April 22, 20088:05 pm

    before comunism.. now terrorism… usa is a seek nation.this country needs a revolusion now.

  8. Firebrand38 says: April 23, 20084:13 am

    Well joe (if that’s how it’s spelled) I take it that it’s your position that neither communists or terrorists exist?

  9. Odon says: July 17, 20089:29 am

    So after scaring the shit out of readers with that article they finish by calling for international understanding and peace.

    But for a more realistic view of what would have happened to the USA in there’d been a limited nuclear war, check out the alternative-history novel “Resurrection Day” by Brendan DuBos.

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