In 1979, the U.S. Senate commissioned a study on the effects of nuclear war. They wanted to know what would happen to government, the economy, and society if nuclear war were to break out between the USSR and the United States. What would the country be like afterwards? The result was a study (titled, appropriate, “The Effects of Nuclear War,” that outlined the specific effects of various attack scenarios, determining kill rates, illness levels, the effects on food supplies, etc. The interesting bit is that they commissioned a 15-page fictionalized short story of life after the war in one specific city. The author, Nan Randall, wrote about Charlottesville. Good news: we survive. Lots of refugees come here from all over the country, we communicate via CB radio, WCHV broadcasts messages from the president (who is in a bunker in the midwest), the city manager becomes the totalitarian ruler of Charlottesville and Albemarle, and…well, I won’t ruin it for you. The story is only available as a PDF (77k), but it makes for great reading.
20 thoughts on “C’ville: Survivors of a Nuclear War”
Jack, I sent that to you months ago, how come waldo beat you to the punch?
It is a good read, the parts about people’s CB radio problems and hillbilly subsistance farming are great. Stay off my land you big city folk!
Aside from virginia’s already heavy government presence, charlottesville was considered a black site during the height of the cold war. It’s proximity to DC, size, and geology made it an excellent choice for continuancy of government contingency plans. Notice those fallout shelters all over the place? Notice the big nondescript military compound in the middle of downtown? Notice the white vans? The black helicopters? Oh wait, I didn’t say that. You didn’t see anything, understand!?!?!? You were never here, this didn’t happen.
All hail Gary O’Connell, supreme leader! Jim Tolbert for vice-dictator! Lead us to the New Urbanist promised land!
It is interesting reading, but it never occurred to me that it would be C-ville news worthy, what with it being from several decades ago.
Now, with North Korea’s nuclear saber-rattling and budding ICBM arsenal, nuclear defense issues have suddenly become news again. The nuclear domino effect will surely lead to a lot of these old Cold War studies and exercises in game theory being dusted off and reexamined over the next few years.
While international news is perhaps beyond the scope of this website (except when City Council weighs in on Iraq) the truth is we are facing a serious nuclear threat, sometime next month.
The instant an American G.I. pops his bubble gum in the general direction of Baghdad, North Korea may take advantage of the distraction. Change of address, new zip code: simply "Korea."
North Korea understands the new American policy of world hegemony and preemptive strikes is aimed right at them after we are through with Saddam. They have to act now, or never.
The most likely use of their nuclear weapons (they have two or three) would be to hold them in reserve to repel an American amphibious re-invasion of the Korean penninsula. But there is a possibilty that they will mount them on Scuds (range 300 miles) in the hold of a freighter stationed off Rehobeth beach. If we complain about their change of mailing address, then say goodbye to New York and Washington.
I stress it is unlikely a Stalinist state would allow such valuable weapons out beyond their own borders. The nukes are probably going to be held in reserve. If kept in Korea their longest range missle could at best hit Honolulu.
Still the possibility really is there that soon nuclear war may move beyond the realm of speculation.
While in Nat Randall’s story our "small gracious community" survives, the truth is that Charlottesville was on Russia’s target list. The reason was not Gary O’Connel, though he might welll have been sufficient provocation.
You can see the reason we were targeted by walking to the bridge on Main Street and looking down. The intersection of three major cross-country railroad lines.
It is interesting reading, but it never occurred to me that it would be C-ville news worthy, what with it being from several decades ago.
I wasn’t sure that it was cvillenews.com worthy, but it amused me, so why not pass it on? :)
The railroad crossing here (for which we have Claudius Crozet to thank) was debateably one of the most important aspects of Charlottesville’s success in the 1800s. See Kenneth A. Schwartz’s Charlottesville: A Brief History: Railroads for a bit of a history with regard to the C&O/Southern Railroad crossing and its role in the social geography of Charlottesville.
If I were in Kim Il Jong’s shoes and I were looking for a good American target for a nuclear strike following interference in the invasion of South Korea, I would pick Guam.
Guam is well within the range of their ballistic missiles (they might not even need to use an ICBM). Guam is a key part of our power projection capabilities in the Pacific. Any air attack would probably come from there. Guam is basically one big military base with a population of less than 150,000 including military personnel. It would be decades before we could even think about returning to rebuild.
Nuking Guam would combine the elimination of our much of our ability to make war on North Korea with a reduction in the international consequences of using a nuclear weapon. Guam’s low civilian population and geographic isolation limits collateral damage. An attack on Guam would be solely against U.S. territory, unlike targeting American bases in Japan, which would create more enemies than necessary and rack up pointless civilian casualties.
Basically, North Korea will be looking to target military infrastructure in the Pacific. It will be quite a few years before they have the missile technology to strike the East coast of the U.S. A short-range missile launched from a Naval vessel close to shore is technically feasible, but too risky in that North Korea is decades away from having the naval muscle to risk deploying their most important weapons out of country. Though the odds are long, the consequences of the warhead(s) being intercepted en route exceed the benefits.
In short, I think that Charlottesville is safe from a nuclear scenario for at least another decade.
Charlottesville is indeed safe, almost certainly. Lots of refugees fleeing Washington though. Hard to get reservations at Fleurie.
Fascinating the military significance of Guam. Sort of like Pearl Harbor fifty years ago. But I disagree Guam would be North Korea’s first target, for the simple reason it wouldn’t work.
The minute their nukes arrived in Guam, B-1s from Diego Garcia, F-111’s from five Pacific carrier groups, cruise misiles from god knows how many submarines would darken their skies paying a reciprocal visit. North Korea is not much of a tourist destination as it is; afterwards there would be nothing left for sightseers but searing, bubbling molten glass.
So nuking Guam would be suicide without purpose. As would be nuking Honolulu, or Seattle if they can reach that far.
In contrast the threat–the credible threat mind you–of a decapitation of Washington and New York might give us pause. Would we really risk losing Congress, the Supreme Court, the President, our top military, the New York Stock Exchange, and the pizza parlors in Little Italy to come to the aid of an already overrun South Korea?
If the threat fails and North Korea actually has to launch the weapons, or detonate whatever shipping containers hidden in Bethesda, there is at least some possibility in the ensuing confusion that China or Russia would see an opportunity to keep America from regaining world hegemony.
Even if the US does keep it together long enough to retaliate, both sides are molten glass anyway so who cares? That would be at least suicide with a purpose. The hated US regime would be gone.
No the main deterent is North Korea’s parochial paranoia, unwillingness to entrust that kind of weapons to a crew that far from home.
Forgot to put in the conclusion before hitting ‘ok’ to post this.
I agree with Jack that the North Korean nukes will probably serve a military purpose, rather than be used as terror weapons upon US mainland cities. And I agree with Quibbledrool, that the military purpose most likely would be stopping a US invasion to re-take South Korea after the North has overrun it.
With a nuclear-armed North Korea now expecting a US preemptive strike, the US troops stationed in South Korea may no longer serve the purpose they once did. Once they were a tripwire deterrent. Now they might be properly re-named, ‘hostages.’
You don’t drop a thermonuclear weapon to destroy 10 square feet of railroad track.
The math of nuclear war says you expose your cities and protect your missiles. A russian nuclear strike is to disarm us. Those bombs are not pointed at NYC and LA, they’re pointed at command and control facilities, and SILOS.
Post-nuclear war 10,000 warheads would go off over this country. Guess what, TRAINS WOULDNT WORK. Trains are diesel electric. The EMP would fry all the engines anyway. And what do russians care if we can move stuff around? They want to make sure we can’t incinerate them.
Yeah, I suppose you’re right. I didn’t submit it either.
As for reexamining war game theory, they already have!
Preparing america for a fiery death
"In short, I think that Charlottesville is safe from a nuclear scenario for at least another decade."
Don’t be so sure! France has nukes AND a space program!
Yeah, and don’t be surprised if they use it on YOU.
It is the established policy of this country to essentially destroy any nation that launches a nuke against us. I doubt that Korea would ever launch directly at the mainland US, however they may use it to repel an invasion. However, even in that scenario they may not choose to detonate on their own soil – N. Korea is pretty small and fallout could contaminate a large portion of the country.
The good news is that these days the threat of a full scale destruction of the US or Russia is not really an issue. A stray nuke here of there is still better than 1000 going each way.
I lived in a bunch of places over my 32 years, and in each and every one of the they thought they were a nuke target. The fact of the matter is that a nation’s target package for their nukes is a closely guarded secret. Sure, there are some obvious choices (DC) but you may or may not be surprised at what was really in the USSR’s target packages.
Both the US and USSR had their own doctrines on how nuclear weapons would be used, and differing theories on what types of targets to hit.
Perhaps it’s sort of a status symbol for your community to be a target. "Oh yeah, well we got THREE warheads pointed at us." Hell, perhaps Russia could even have sold photos of "your" warhead … seriously, you just never know, and you don’t want to know.
Live or die after a nuclear war and your still screwed.
During the Clinton administration former National Security Advisor Anthony Lake told the Senate during confirmation hearings for his post as Director of Central Intelligence, that America and Russia had both "de-targeted" their missiles. For the last several years no US cities have lived under imminent, or at least immediate, nuclear threat from Russia.
How long would it take to re-target the missiles? About as long as it takes to slip a CD into your computer. But that’s beside the point.
The point is when we talk Russian 10 and 25 megaton monsters aimed at US cities we are talking the ’60’s and ’70’s, and an especially dangerous time in the early ’80’s when Russia mistakenly thought we were preparing a preemptive nuclear first strike.
Way back in the early days when Russian planners were picking targets–late 50’s early ’60’s–Russia thought in terms of railroads. We had no Interstate Highway system until Eisenhower created it, and back then almost all US commerce moved by train. That, and not the more recent arrival here of the Ground Intelligence Center which might seem a better reason, was what put us on Russia’s target list. Once listed it is hard to get off. The telemarketer list from hell.
We know this because Russia has said so. The old lists aren’t all that secret–nor for that matter the current ones. cf. America’s leaked list at http://www.clw.org/pub/clw/coalition/briefv4n7.htm It seems North Korea is right to be scared.
Finally, may I suggest to Lars: go skiing. You were complaining about the drought restrictions. Heck, now look at all the snow! A 25 megaton warhead detonated at 17,500 feet over Charlottesville would remove the snow cover and most all living thingsall the way to Wintergreen and beyond. So you better go skiing while you can.
So you’re saying that russia would rathar have our trains derail that destroy our land-based nuclear weapons?
A prime motivation for the increase in megatonnage of warheads was the "digging in" of silos in russia. The idea is destroy the silos, destroy the aircraft carrying nukes, and destroy the nuclear submarines. Trains are not part of the equation.
Like I said, trains wouldn’t work anyway. The motor coils would be vaporized.
But you do have a point, I do like to ski. I MUST be wrong.
Carrier groups do not carry F-111’s. In fact, I think the F-111 Aardvark has been all but retired completely and replaced with F-15E Strike Eagles.
Interestingly enough though, the F-111 was originally desgined as a carrier based bomber, however it was too large to be used conveniently on board ship. The A-6 was chosen instead, and the F-111 was sent to the Air Force instead, where it served well against Libya and Iraq before headed for retirement.
But you are correct in that the US response to any attack would make it not worthwhile. Even with DC gone, enough command authority would still exist to authorize a nuclear release, so nuking DC does not gurantee that we could/would not retaliate.
A single Ohio class submarine could unlease 24 Trident D-5 missiles with 8 warheads apiece. Do the math – that’s enough plutonium to glass the entire Korean countryside. And there are 18 of them in service.
I have a quick little question, and if this is answered later in Randall’s article, forgive me, as I still have half of it to read:
Why the heck would they hit Radford, Virginia and not Roanoke? Is there, or was there, some big military/nuclear installation there that I’ve never heard about?
Sure, Charlottesville survives, but it still sounds pretty crappy. As I said, I haven’t finished it yet, and I hope there’s a happy ending, but a life of food riots, radiation sickness and squatters in my house sounds like it’s not very fun.
I’m going to start working in the Citizens’ Commonwealth building this upcoming Friday, so it was weird to read about riots in the parking lot. I’ll have to try to imagine it next Friday.
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