George H.W. Bush, 41st president of the United States, passes away at 94

Former , who spent a lifetime in public service and as the nation’s leader scored a decisive victory over Saddam Hussein but battled a faltering economy, died Friday at age 94.

Family spokesman Jim McGrath said Bush died shortly after 10 p.m. Friday, about eight months after the death of his wife, Barbara Bush.

He is survived by five children (a sixth died in early childhood) and 14 grandchildren.

Former President George W. Bush issued the following statement upon his father’s death:

“Jeb, Neil, Marvin, Doro, and I are saddened to announce that after 94 remarkable years, our dear Dad has died. George H.W. Bush was a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for. The entire Bush family is deeply grateful for 41’s life and love, for the compassion of those who have cared and prayed for Dad, and for the condolences of our friends and fellow citizens.”

George H.W. Bush was known for his gentlemanly demeanor, dedication to traditional American values, willingness to take on foreign despots like Iraq’s Hussein and Panama’s Manuel Noriega, and presiding over the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Read More at Fox News.

Watch A-10 Thunderbolts practice landing on (West) Germany’s autobahn during the Cold War

When you think of the German Autobahn, you probably fantasize about burning rubber without worrying about getting a speeding ticket. What might not come to mind is that NATO plans for World War III intended for the Autobahns to do more than just move motor vehicles.

Some stretches of the Autobahn were meant to be used as emergency airstrips. This was actually some extremely prudent planning on NATO’s part. The problem with air bases is that they’re hard to hide, even in the days before Google Earth made hiding nearly impossible.

The operating assumption was that the Warsaw Pact was going to try to shut down those airbases by cratering runways, blasting facilities, and, if they were in a particularly nasty mood, they’d follow up those attacks by “sliming” the bases with persistent chemical agents. Now, this had the potential to be a very serious problem for NATO, since the Warsaw Pact’s war plans involved hordes of tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles, infantry, and artillery directed at NATO.

To stop those hordes, NATO relied on very responsive close-air support. There were two approaches to handling the only real option NATO had: One was to develop jets that could operate from very short fields, like the Harrier, used by both the Royal Air Force and the United States Marine Corps. The other approach was to find makeshift runways, outside of obvious airbases.

The Autobahn was a natural selection for such a task, since it’s wide enough and long enough to operate planes like the A-10. Plus, it would allow Harriers to use rolling takeoffs, thus enabling them to carry more bombs.

Of course, all of these plans were put in place for a war that never materialized — but the threat once felt very real and very imminent. So, on occasion, NATO would practice operations from the Autobahn, so that should a real war break out, they were ready to keep planes like the A-10 Thunderbolt in the fight. The A-10s could then remain more responsive to troops fighting on the ground, rather than having to operate from bases further back from the lines.

Read more here.

Cold War History: Pentagon Draws Up First Strategy For Fighting A Long Nuclear War

From 1982:

WASHINGTON, May 29— Defense Department policy-makers, in a new five-year defense plan, have accepted the premise that nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union could be protracted and have drawn up their first strategy for fighting such a war.

In what Pentagon officials term the ”first complete defense guidance of this Administration,” drafted for Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger’s signature, the armed forces are ordered to prepare for nuclear counterattacks against the Soviet Union ”over a protracted period.”

The guidance document, drawn up in the Pentagon and reflecting its views, will form the basis for the Defense Department’s budget requests for the next five fiscal years. The document was also a basic source for a recent strategic study done by the National Security Council, according to Defense Department officials. That study is the foundation of the Administration’s overall strategic position.

Debate on Nuclear War

The nature of nuclear war has been a subject of intense debate among political leaders, defense specialists and military officers. Some assert that there would be only one all-out mutually destructive exchange. Others argue that a nuclear war with many exchanges could be fought over days and weeks.

The outcome of the debate will shape the weapons, communications and strategy for nuclear forces. The civilian and military planners, having decided that protracted war is possible, say that American nuclear forces ”must prevail and be able to force the Soviet Union to seek earliest termination of hostilities on terms favorable to the United States.” The Pentagon considers a ”protracted” war anything beyond a single exchange of nuclear weapons.

Read More at the New York Times.

On this Date, 29 May 1988: Reagan Goes to Moscow

reagan-gorb-1988President Ronald Reagan travels to Moscow to begin the fourth summit meeting held in the past three years with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Though the summit produced no major announcements or breakthroughs, it served to illuminate both the successes and the failures achieved by the two men in terms of U.S.-Soviet relations.

In May 1988, President Reagan made his first trip to Moscow to meet with Gorbachev and begin their fourth summit meeting. Just six months earlier, during a summit in Washington, D.C., in December 1987, the two men had signed the historic Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which eliminated an entire class of nuclear weapons from Europe.

In many ways, Reagan’s trip to Moscow in May was a journey of celebration. Demonstrating the famous Reagan charm, the president and his wife waded into crowds of Russian well wishers and curiosity-seekers to shake hands and exchange pleasantries. Very quickly, however, the talks between Reagan and Gorbachev revealed that serious differences still existed between the Soviet Union and the United States.

From the beginning, Reagan–who had in the past referred to the Soviet Union as the “evil empire”–pressed Gorbachev on the issue of human rights. He urged Gorbachev to ease Soviet restrictions on freedom of religion and also asked that the Soviet Union relax the laws that kept many Russian Jews from emigrating. The Soviets were obviously displeased at Reagan’s insistence on lecturing them about what they considered purely internal matters.

A spokesman from the Soviet Foreign Ministry showed his irritation when he declared to a group of reporters, “We don’t like it when someone from outside is teaching us how to live, and this is only natural.”

Despite the tension introduced by the human rights issue, the summit was largely an opportunity for Reagan and Gorbachev to trade compliments and congratulations about their accomplishments, most notably the INF Treaty.

As Reagan stated after their first day of meetings, “I think the message is clear–despite clear and fundamental differences, and despite the inevitable frustrations that we have encountered, our work has begun to produce results.”

The (ex) Top Secret Military Base Hidden in Chernobyl’s Irradiated Forest

duga-3This April 26 marks the 30th anniversary of one of mankind’s most catastrophic events: the explosion at Chernobyl’s reactor number four.

Recent years have seen Ukrainian authorities allowing intrepid visitors into the Exclusion Zone to see the haunting side effects of the disaster. But while the abandoned town of Pripyat, with its iconic ferris wheel, receives the most attention, there is an even more mysterious site hidden in the irradiated forest.

The site was shrouded in such secrecy during the height of the Cold War that on official maps, it was marked as a children’s summer camp. Like the rest of what would become the Exclusion Zone, it had to be abandoned suddenly in 1986. While it once was at the forefront of Soviet military and scientific technology, classified as top secret, today it rests, mostly forgotten and silent in the woods surrounding Chernobyl.

Venturing deep into the forests of the Exclusion Zone for Atlas Obscura, I went to explore the derelict and awe-inspiring military base known as Duga-3.
Read More at Atlas Obscura.

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