“For 40 Minutes in 1971, It Seemed the End Was Near”
I was a junior then senior in High School in 1971 and the world was a very chaotic place. Some would even say it was explosive. The Vietnam War was still raging despite the peace talks that had been underway. Conflicts in Ireland and around the Middle East went from hot to cold on a regular basis. India and Pakistan were at odds in a shooting war and our own country was still very much aware that less than nine years before, the Cuban Missile Crisis had nearly created World War 3.
Nuclear testing by the free world and the USSR was a routine event.
Since I was born in 1954, my generation was used to the idea that there might come a day when nuclear weapons might be used in a war. To be honest, since there was so little trust between the East and the West, it was almost assumed by many that a Pearl Harbor style attack would be how we would get hit. My father’s generation was still in control and still bore the emotional and physical scars of the last war.
The proliferation of testing and the advances in delivery systems did nothing to calm the waters. In a tit for tat back and forth exchange, testing and new weapons were introduced with strength in the sixties and seventies. This only served to heighten the tension and seeming escalation. Remember that the American submarine fleet swelled to its full “41 for Freedom” size by the early seventies and the USSR continued to build their own underwater launch platforms with great speed. The fear of missiles dropping with little warning was a constant threat.
So the country developed a federal alert system to try and warn as many people as possible. It did not happen overnight. The system hasn’t always been in place. And more honestly, it hasn’t always worked. Despite assurance of the federal government, there were flaws in the system and frankly one of those flaws resulted in a test that went very badly on February 20, 1971. The result of that test failure resulted in widespread panic that America had been attacked and was entering a nuclear war.
Fortunately the authorities did not over react. Adjustments were made to the alert system.
I would join my place in the defense of freedom in April of 1972. In October 1973, our systems would once more be tested during the Yom Kippur war. But that is a story for another day.
America and her allies won the First Cold War as the USSR disintegrated. But as we watch Russia once more threaten disharmony in an attempt to show her previous reign as a super power, we are reminded that it would only take a moment to change the planet we call home. Add to that the growth of the Communist Chinese Party and their territorial aims.
One can only hope and pray that the leaders of the Free World are competent, capable and courageous in the face of these renewed threats. Or World War Three will indeed be a short event.