Is truth stranger than fiction?

TIME Magazine's cover story on their August 10, 1992 issue talked about 
newly released data of the US Military's "Doomsday Plan," developed in 
the 1950s in the event of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. It seems 
that last-case scenario plans dealing with nuclear war were not only 
designed: several times, the White House came dangerously close to 
giving the "go" to activate them. The Soviets had a similar plan, of 
course.

Sounds like the stuff of nightmares, doesn't it?

What's especially ironic about this newly declassified "doomsday 
blueprint" is how it was predicted so accurately, 28 years ago, in 
Stanley Kubrick's DR. STRANGELOVE: OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND 
LOVE THE BOMB. Thinking about this subject gave me an urge to turn on 
the TV and watch this Cold War masterpiece one more time.

Don't forget that even though the Cold War is fading behind us, the 
threat of nuclear destruction has not ended. There are still thousands 
of nuclear warheads in existence, carefully aimed at almost every spot 
on Earth. What would happen if a situation arose where someone, perhaps 
someone insane, actually took action to start a nuclear war?

The possibilities make DR. STRANGELOVE less outlandish and more 
realistic . . . The TIME article never mentions DR. STRANGELOVE -- but 
nonetheless there are similarities between it and the movie. . .

In the movie, the nuclear survival plan made sure to include the top 
military and political leaders of the country -- after all, they 
certainly didn't want to suffer the consequences of their own mistake. 
In real life, a huge "Underground Pentagon" was built to shelter the 
members of Congress, and the top military leaders of the armed forces 
too.

In DR. STRANGELOVE, the disaster comes through implementation of an 
insane idea called "Plan R." ("R for Romeo" -- sex, sex, sex!) Well, it 
turned out that the real-life Underground Pentagon was called "Site R!"

In the movie, the generals talk about running the country even though 
the world is coming to an end. In real life, every federal agency was 
given a plan on how to survive even after a nuclear attack.

In the movie, there was the Big Board that monitored the entire country, 
and the Soviet Union too. In real life, there was the Bomb Alarm board, 
dotted with hundreds of lights that would flash on to indicate the sites 
of nuclear explosions.

About the only thing the real-life Doomsday Plan doesn't have that DR. 
STRANGELOVE did was the sex. Or does it? Apparently the real-life plan -
- which was called "Plan D" -- makes sure that the inventory of the 
underground Presidential bomb shelter included birth-control pills: "not 
because of any anticipated sexual activity but so that female officials 
would not have to interrupt their pill-taking cycles."

The article doesn't say why female officials were taking these pills in 
the first place.

                  "Mein Fuhrer! I can walk!"
                                                                (M.M.)

      [Here are excerpts from the August 10 article [by Ted Gup]):

          *          *          *          *          * 

Outpost Mission was but a fragment of a vast and secret doomsday plan 
devised by senior U.S. officials who spent their lives preparing for the 
unthinkable -- nuclear war. Their mission: to ensure the survival of the 
U.S. government, preserve order and salvage the economy in the aftermath 
of an atomic attack. Still others were charged with rescuing the 
nation's cultural heritage, from the Declaration of Independence to the 
priceless masterpieces of the National Gallery of Art. Now, with the end 
of the cold war, many doomsday operatives are breaking their silence for 
the first time. Confronted with the potential horrors of atomic warfare, 
they drafted detailed contingency plans and regulations that, while 
trying to save constitutional government, would have radically 
transformed the nation's political and social institutions.

What they envisioned was an America darkened not only by nuclear war but 
also by the imposition of martial law, food rationing, censorship and 
the suspension of many civil liberties. "We would have to run this 
country as one big camp -- severely regimented," Eisenhower told 
advisers in a top-secret memo dated 1955. Nor is it a matter only of 
remote historical interest. Many of those doomsday regulations would 
still be put into effect after a nuclear attack, and while preparations 
for rescuing the nation's leaders and cultural treasures remain in 
place, efforts to shield the civilian population were virtually 
abandoned decades ago. . . .

Senior Washington officials received an emergency telephone number that 
bypassed the commercial system and linked them directly to crisis 
operators, who understood that if the caller uttered the single code 
word -- FLASH -- it meant the call was "essential to national survival." 
Never out of the President's reach were the Presidential Emergency 
Action Documents and "Plan D," his options for responding to a surprise 
nuclear attack.

The doomsday plans took shape during the Eisenhower Administration, 
spawning an entire bureaucracy and a web of government relocation sites 
situated around the capital in what became known as the Federal Arc. 
Each year the government conducted elaborate exercises in which 
thousands of officials relocated in mock nuclear attacks. Eisenhower and 
his Cabinet convened at Raven Rock, the 265,000-sq.-ft. "Underground 
Pentagon" near Gettysburg, Pa., code-named "Site R," or at Mount 
Weather, a bunker near Berryville, Va., code-named "High Point" (see 
"Doomsday Hideaway," TIME, Dec. 9, 1991). Airborne command posts and 
reinforced communications ships stood by to receive the Commander in 
Chief and his advisers. Congress had its own top-secret relocation 
center buried beneath the Greenbrier, a five-star resort in White 
Sulphur Springs, W. Va. Outfitted with its own Senate and House 
chambers, as well as a vast hall for joint sessions, the facility was 
code-named "Casper," and only half a dozen members of Congress knew it 
existed. . . .

Few men have a more intimate understanding of the doomsday scenario than 
Bernard T. Gallagher. Known to his friends as Bud, he was a Strategic 
Air Command pilot and served as director of Mount Weather for 25 years, 
until his retirement last March. A robust 70 years old, he wears a white 
cowboy hat . . . and is an unabashed patriot. As an "atomic-cloud 
sampler," he flew through the billowing mushrooms of 13 U.S. nuclear 
blasts in 1952 and 1953. To measure the radiation passing through him, 
he swallowed an X-ray plate coated with Vaseline and suspended by a 
string that hung out of his mouth during the flight. . . .

Though Gallagher has spent his life preparing for nuclear war, he has 
few illusions about what it would mean. "Through the years, we always 
reacted like we could handle an all-out nuclear attack," he says. "I 
don't think people -- even our top people in government -- have any idea 
of what a thousand multimegaton nuclear weapons on the U.S. would do. 
We'd be back in the Stone Age. It's unthinkable."

Buried within a mountain of superhard greenstone, the 200,000-sq.-ft. 
Mount Weather has been a primary relocation site for the Cabinet and 
cadres of federal employees -- and was long a primary haven for the 
President. . . . Before they could be admitted past the facility's 6-
ft.-thick steel "blast gate," officials would have to show their special 
ID cards. . . .

Mount Weather could hold two, even three times as many people as there 
were bunks -- several thousand in all. . . . So complete is the site's 
inventory that it now includes birth-control pills -- not because of any 
anticipated sexual activity but so that female officials would not have 
to interrupt their pill-taking cycles. . . .

In a White House vault were Eisenhower's standby crisis orders, already 
initialed by the President, including some that would have imposed 
martial law. . . .

As a soldier, Ike had few illusions about the doomsday plans. A "secret" 
White House memo dated 1956 records his rebuke when a Cabinet Secretary 
noted that 450 people were evacuated "rather smoothly" during an 
exercise. Eisenhower "reminded the Cabinet that in a real situation, 
these will not be normal people -- they will be scared, will be 
hysterical, will be `absolutely nuts.' We are going to have to be 
prepared to operate with people who are `nuts.'. . . He feared anarchy. 
"Government which goes on with some kind of continuity will be like a 
one-eyed man in the land of the blind," the White House memo concluded. 
. . .

U.S. doomsday strategists also coordinated their relocation and post-
attack production plans with private industry considered vital to 
national survival. In April 1970, for example, White House emergency 
planners joined Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey executives in a mock 
nuclear war exercise. Standard Oil's senior management withdrew to its 
emergency operating center, buried 300 ft. below the ground at what was 
once called Iron Mountain Atomic Storage, near Hudson, N.Y. . . . 
Company officials balked when it appeared the government might take over 
the firm in wartime. . . .

There were also elaborate plans for a national censorship office called 
the Wartime Information Security Program, or WISP (as in whisper). A CBS 
vice president, the late Theodore F. Koop, had agreed to be the standby 
national censor, and about 40 civilian executives had consented to work 
as the unit's staff in wartime. A 1965 internal government memo notes 
that censorship manuals and regulations had been stockpiled, and a fully 
equipped communications center was established outside Washington. Press 
reports in 1970 exposed the existence of a standby national censor and 
led to the formal dissolution of the censorship unit, but its duties 
were discreetly reassigned to yet another part of what an internal memo 
refers to as the "shadow" government. . . .

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S.'s doomsday planners are 
engaged in a sweeping reassessment of crisis scenarios. The old 
relocation centers are under review. Some are to be mothballed, others 
converted to more mundane uses: record storage and office space. 
Contingency plans and dusty crisis regulations are being re-examined. 
Having outlived its enemy and its original mission, the doomsday 
bureaucracy faces a more immediate threat -- irrelevance. But as the 
last members of the original generation of doomsday planners step down, 
they do so with cautionary words: the Soviet Union may be history, but 
new dangers abound -- nuclear proliferation, the resurgence of 
nationalism and the threat of terrorism. "You shouldn't shut the damn 
door yet," warns Mount Weather's first director, Leo Bourassa. Bud 
Gallagher, his successor, prefers to cite Plato: "Only the dead have 
seen the end of war."

Back to Table of Contents.