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Jakob Ehrensvärd | profile | all galleries >> Abandoned Soviet bases tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Abandoned Soviet bases

Although the Soviet Union and the US where allies during WWII, the ideological "incompatibility" between the systems became more than evident at the Yalta conference in early 1945. The event of peace in Europe, when Nazi Germany finally surrendered in May was blurred by the increased tensions between the former allies. At the time when the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs fell in August 1945, one could just imagine what went on in the heads of Stalin and Beria.

Although Truman thought he had the triumph on hand against Stalin and that the Soviets were helplessly left behind, the Reds detonated their first nuclear device "Truba" already in 1949. When the first US thermonuclear device (hydrogen bomb) "Mike" eliminated the Enewetak atoll with its shocking 10 megaton yield in October 1952, Truman was again triumphant. But already the year after, the Soviets' "Sloika" went off and in 1955, Sakharov's "third idea" yielded the Soviet's first 1MT+ bomb. Apparent to everyone, the Reds were now not just catching up, they were suddenly en par with Teller's guys or even ahead in some sense.

Now the spirit was definitely let out of the bottle and the nuclear race went on with an unbelievable determination on both sides and the term MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction became the leading star of the coming 35 years of Cold War insanity.

Powerful charges are not enough per se and relying on subsonic aircraft to deliver them at their targets was certainly a vulnerability. The USSR and the US grabbed their both fair shares of Nazi Germany's top rocket scientist, and after several years, the Soviets shocked the Americans when the "Sputnik" went up in space in 1957. The US Von Braun team were quick to respond and it quickly became apparent that a mach 5+ rocket delivering nuclear devices was to be expected very soon. In the few years to come, the term "ICBM" became known for Intercontinental Ballistic Missile and now practically all locations worldwide were in reach of nuclear destruction.

Confronted with the ultimate force of annihilation and the MAD doctrine, there was simply nothing like a post-war scenario for anyone (well, maybe someone like Herman Kahn would have disagreed). Where some of the leading scientists, like Sakharov, Oppenheimer and Szilard later on showed signs of remorse and guilt for what they had accomplished, others like Teller went on with a childish level of enthusiasm and the politicians listened and granted funds. Trying to mentally grasp what was really going on in the heads of the scientists, military and politicians back in that time is beyond me.

First-strike capability means that one must have both the hardware and the balls to strike first in order to eliminate the opponent's capabilities to do the same against you. The second-strike capability on the other hand was to have enough stuff and balls left after a devastating attack to be able to perform a massive retaliation in order to exterminate the opponent.

Now, confuse this with some political statements, such as "it is not our policy to strike first with nukes". And some military ones, such as the "decapitation strategy", where the only way to win is to strike first with all you've got.

Just imagine politicians and the military high-brass on both sides trying to put together this logic of delirium. Then add politicians having people like Werner von Braun, Edward Teller and Herman Kahn as advisors.

A complete marvel that we're still alive and that nuclear weapons were never used in warfare after Nagasaki...

Although "only a satire", the absolutely brilliant final scene in "Dr. Strangelove" from 1964 is probably the closest we can get in capturing the mood and lingo of that time. Kubrick is just a genius and the Teller/Kahn-like character Dr. Strangelove played so superbly by Sellers. Enjoy at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iesXUFOlWC0 . Another briliant clip can be watched at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTstgN8ReTo

A long ingress perhaps, but to me, this is one of several open fundamental and philosophic questions for mankind. Maybe I'm just all too blinded by being brought up in a country where the last 200 years have been in peace. But I'm particularly interested in the Soviets' full-commitment with regards to put such a high percentage of its resources and faith in the hands of the military.

When walking around in the remains of former Soviet bases from the Cold War era, the determination and full identification with a "permanent state of war" is there. It is just like the Soviets identified themselves so total with the Great Patriotic War and all the suffering they had to bear during these years. The science, culture, politics, everything, was just so dictated and colored by the past suffering and the inevitable and upcoming war. It was not a matter of "if" - it was just a "when". It somewhat seems like the Cold War omnipresent threat of instant annihilation suited this picture of self imagination, and maybe, it was a prerequisite to keep the system together. Interestingly enough, the communist dogma of the "inevitable fall of capitalism and Bourgeousie" did not resonate very well with the MAD doctrine. Keeping a straight face was pivotal and the doomsday scenario was politically impossible to express.

I've heard that several percent of the land in the Baltic USSR republics were assigned to the military. The young now independent states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have such a vast legacy of remains from the Soviet time and it is really a thoughtful experience to walk around and see it with your own eyes. Given the rate of decay, it seems like these installations will be completely gone within a twenty-year period.
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The Falkenhagen Complex
gallery: The Falkenhagen Complex
Abandoned WarPac installations
gallery: Abandoned WarPac installations
The missile base at Ploksciai
gallery: The missile base at Ploksciai
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