News » Cover Stories

1984 - Put your head between your legs…

Or, How the Times learned to stop loving and worry about the bomb.

by

comment
Ronnie was in the White House, Titan II nuclear missile silos were positioned all over north-central Arkansas, and we were the proud neighbors of two major Air Force bases and several war materiel plants. In other words, as President W. Bush might say, Arkansas was a prime target for nuk-u-lar war. In 1983, the TV miniseries "The Day After" had scared the bejesus out of the entire TV watching populace, with scenes of death and destruction in a town visited by the specter of nuclear holocaust. In the April 1984 issue, the Arkansas Times put the question on everybody's mind to the experts: what happens if we (or they) push the button? The answer is never going to go down on anyone's list of feel-good favorites. By 1984, FEMA had identified 25 probable targets for Russkie remodeling in the state: Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville, Blytheville Air Force Base, seventeen Titan II silos in White, Faulkner, Cleburne, Van Buren, and Conway counties, Little Rock-North Little Rock, Pine Bluff (Pine Bluff Arsenal), Camden (home of the Vought MLRS missile plant), Fort Smith, Texarkana (the Red River Arsenal), and West Memphis. All were thought to be targeted with long-range ICBMs, in the one to five megaton range, from 50 to 250 times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb (though government intelligence suggested that major Air Force bases like those in Arkansas could have been the target of bombs as strong as twenty megatons). In a nutshell: if the nukes ever flew, we were all going to have a really, really bad day. The results, gleaned from government studies: Between 16 and 34 percent of the state's population would be killed or severely injured within five minutes of the initial strikes. A five-megaton surface burst at Little Rock Air Force Base would: vaporize everything within a three-mile radius, including the City of Jacksonville, and 98 percent of the population. Cause scalding, 300-mile-per-hour winds radiating out from the blast for five to eight miles. Fifty percent of those caught out in the open in this radius would suffer immediate lethal burns, in addition to injuries caused by debris and wind. Blow out windows in all downtown Little Rock high-rise buildings, and cause an estimated 20 percent of the NLR/LR population to receive life-threatening burns and injuries from flying debris. A one-megaton airburst over City Hall in downtown Little Rock would kill 98 percent of the population in a circle bounded by the Little Rock Airport, War Memorial Stadium, Park Hill Elementary School, and the intersection of I-30 and the East Belt Freeway. The "severe damage" zone, with 50 percent immediate deaths, would extend to the Indian Hills Shopping Center, Crystal Hill, Murray Lock and Dam, Reservoir Park, Kanis Park, Geyer Springs, Sweet Home, and Prothro Junction. If a five-megaton bomb were detonated thirty miles above Little Rock, as some military strategists had foreseen, a phenomenon called "electromagnetic pulse" generated by the blast would flash fry virtually every electrical system in the state, including the power system, unshielded communications equipment, and any late-model cars with electronic ignition systems (a similar blast over Omaha, Nebraska would knock out power to the entire United States). Given an east-west wind, most of Eastern Arkansas, including all the Delta farmland, would be blanketed with a thick layer of radioactive fallout, making it all but unusable for countless generations. Days later, and given the patterns of the wind, most of the state would receive the same treatment from fallout produced by blasts at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, the Minuteman missile silos then in central Missouri, and/or Barksdale AFB in Shreveport. With post-blast disease, hardship, famine, and radiation-related illnesses, the estimated death rate among survivors of a full-scale nuclear war would be around forty percent per year. Given one and half million survivors of the initial blasts in Arkansas, the population of the state five years after the Big One would have been reduced to around one hundred thousand, living in almost Stone Age conditions. Call us crazy, but given either terrorists or the threat of nuclear annihilation, we'll take on the box-cutter-wielding extremists any day.

Add a comment

Clicky