Preparing for Doomsday
Has there ever been a nation as dedicated to preparing for doomsday as the United States? If that’s a thought that hasn’t crossed your mind, maybe it’s because you didn’t spend part of your life inside Cheyenne Mountain. That’s a tale I’ll get to soon, but first let me... Read more
Yes, the CIA Flew U-2 Spy Planes From Aircraft Carriers
On May 1, 1960, the Soviet Union shot down a CIA U-2 spy plane and captured its pilot, Francis Gary Powers. It was an international crisis for America’s intelligence agencies. A planned summit between Pres. Dwight Eisenhower and Premier Nikita Khrushchev was scuttled, much to Eisenhower’s embarrassment and to... Read more
The Lovely Little Town That Would Have Been Absolutely Screwed by World War III
This story first appeared on Sept. 27, 2013. For 40 years, during the height of the Cold War, the future battleground of World War III was a little known place. Just east of the West German town of Fulda, near the Inter-German Border, it was one of the most... Read more
The Sverdlovsk Incident Was One of the World’s Worst Bio Weapons Mishaps
In October 1979, a West German newspaper run by Soviet émigrés ran a vague story alleging that an explosion in a military factory in Sverdlovsk — now Yekaterinburg — had released deadly bacteria, killing as many as a thousand people. The story swiftly drew attention from other Western newspapers... Read more
NATO Bombed Soviet Submarines With Tiny, Annoying Magnets
At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union had so many hundreds of deadly submarines at sea that Western war planners willing to try almost any possible countermeasure, however goofy sounding. Some seemingly crazy ideas proved actually worthwhile, such as the underwater Sound Surveillance System—a vast chain... Read more
The ‘Tsar Bomba’ Was a 50-Megaton Monster Nuke
Maj. Andrei Durnovtsev, a Soviet air force pilot and commander of a Tu-95 Bear bomber, holds a dubious honor in the history of the Cold War. Durnovtsev flew the aircraft that dropped the most powerful nuclear bomb ever. It had an explosive force of 50 megatons, or more than... Read more
The United States Is Making the Soviet Union’s Mistakes
Jump into your time machine and let me transport you back to another age. It’s May 2001 and the Atlantic Monthly has just arrived in the mail. I’m tantalized by the cover article. “Russia is finished,” the magazine announces. The subtitle minces no words: “The unstoppable descent into social... Read more
Zbigniew Brzezinski, ‘Limited’ Nuclear Warrior
Zbigniew Brzezinski, the U.S. national security adviser to Pres. Jimmy Carter, died on May 26, 2017. A refugee from Poland, his family fled to Canada via France after the 1939 German invasion, and stayed after the Red Army swept into the country at the end of  World War II. As... Read more
A Soviet Fighter Plane’s Tragic Error Brought Us Google Maps
The April 1978 shootdown of Korean Air Lines Flight 902 by a Soviet Su-15 fighter plane—which killed two passengers but spared 107 others—distressed the Soviet air force, not because it had shot down a civilian airliner, but rather that it had gotten so far into Soviet airspace before being... Read more
The East German Death Strip Is Now a Beautiful Nature Reserve
The Iron Curtain divided Europe for more than 40 years and is one of history’s most iconic barriers. What began in 1945 as a simple barbed wire fence expanded throughout the Cold War to encompass a deep militarized zone extending kilometers from the actual border. The East German military heavily... Read more
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