For some reason I’ve also had an emotional reaction when I see old news footage of the Berlin Wall coming down. I was just a child when the Cold War was coming to an end and don’t really remember that momentous occasion in 1989, but I’ve seen the effects of the Cold War – especially when living in a country formerly behind the Iron Curtain. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a remnant of those dark days of fear, bomb shelters and propaganda with a visit to the Titan Missile Museum in Green Valley, AZ.
After making a delivery to a client in Green Valley, I was planning on spending the rest of the day in nearby Saguaro National Park, but when I saw the sign for this national landmark I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit. I’m glad I did.
Green Valley, AZ is home to one of the many missile bunkers that was built in the 1960s to house the 9 megaton Titan II nuclear rocket poised to retaliate in case of an enemy attack on the U.S. This was part of the “peace by deterrence” policy, which basically means “we are ready to destroy you and will if you try to destroy us so don’t do anything you’ll regret.”
Anyway, the Titan II missile program was decommissioned in the 1980s by President Reagan and replaced with a newer version in other locations. After the program ended, the silos were destroyed wherever they were. The bunker in Green Valley was saved and preserved as a museum to help people learn about this part of history where it really happened.
Thankfully they did. What a fascinating experience. Whether you agree with why it was built or not, this bunker is a fantastic example of human engineering and ingenuity. When you think about it, our “war” with the Soviet Union brought about some amazing inventions and progress in technology. Does the space race ring a bell? Well, a lot of this innovation went towards our national defense.
For example, one innovation I found very cool was the shock-mounting of the whole bunker – meaning if there were an attack on the surface they wouldn’t feel a thing and none of their equipment would be damaged.
The tour of this Cold War relic starts with a video describing the program and purpose of the missile system. The video discusses the “peace through deterrence” concept and more. After this you go into the bunker.
The tour takes you down 50 or so steps then through the three extremely thick security blast doors. From there we went to the heart of the bunker – the control room. Here they have the full set up of computers, clocks, filing cabinets with two keys, radio systems, buttons and switches. It felt like we were on a movie set, but we weren’t – we were in the real place.
The guide explains all of the protocols and what would have happened if the orders had come to launch the missile. After explaining it all you go through the 58-second launch sequence with key turns, alarms, flashing buttons, etc.
From the control room the tour goes down the suspended tunnel – remember it is all shock-mounted on springs – to the silo where the missile lived at the ready. There is an actual missile still there. However, it is a training missile so no nuclear material on-site or harmful accelerants. The missile is more than 100 feet tall and would have traveled several thousand miles to whichever target it was programmed to hit. The personnel in the bunker didn’t know where their bomb would go.
They had three locations programmed in and if the orders came it would include which location to send it to – 1, 2 or 3. Because the Earth is moving and true north changes periodically, they would align it with the position of the sun through a nifty tool and tunnels letting in the light to ensure the missile would go to the right place.
I could probably go on for a while longer describing all of the fascinating things I learned and the thoughts I had while visiting the Titan Missile Museum, but I want to let you have a chance to discover and learn as I did by visiting and seeing it first-hand.
After a tour underground, I walked around up top, looked down the silo at the missile and checked out the antenna system with its multiple fail-safes. I also met a couple from Beijing that was touring the museum. Anyway, if you find yourself anywhere near Green Valley or Tucson for that matter, take the time to visit this national landmark. It took a couple of hours and was very much worth the stop.
I learned a lot about the Cold War and peace through deterrence at the Titan Missile Museum. One thing the docent said stuck with me and resonated strong with the current situation in North Korea. He said “no one wins a nuclear war.” This has been my take on the situation of why Pyongyang wouldn’t really follow through with their threats, but being in this piece of the past made me think a little more about those threats and how even if they don’t follow through they can change life as we know it for the whole world just as the Cold War did before.
I didn’t have time to hike around Saguaro NP as planned after visiting this sight, so I had a couple of other adventures in the Tucson area. I’ll share more about the San Xavier Mission in Wa:k and Biosphere 2 in the following posts.
Until then, go have an adventure. Maybe there’s a remnant of the Cold War near you to visit. Let me know what you learn.