** war and social upheaval: The Cold War weaponry

The Cold War: Weaponry

Figure 1.--America was fixated on the threat of Soviet atomic weapons during the Col War. Largely unknown were the witches brew of chemical and biologicl weapons the Soviets were also producing. Here school children are engaged in a school drill. The wire service caption read, "Hope and Reason: Rebuilding the world will be the task of today's children if nuclear war should come in our time. These vyoungsters in Topeka, kansas, are practicing survival methods, crouched in a school hallway with small hands shielding small heads during Civil Defenses test. As sireens wailed, some 31,000 children in the barea left their desks and took shelter in the comparative safety of the halls, presenting photographers with moving scenes like this one. Civilization's best hope for the future, children are today's best reason for Peace on Earth." The photograph was dated December 1, 1960.

Throughout history war has pushed technology more than any other mechanism. Weapons productiin has always been at the forefront of technical advances even thousands of years before science was invented. And on science di develop, states marshalled its scientists to support the war effort. Usually little could be accomplished during a war, espcially short wars, but longer wars involving powerful nation states were a different matter. This occiurred during World War I, but World War II more than any other war was a war in which scientific establishments played a major role. The War involved all of the great world industrial powers and their scientiic establishments. The Germans began the War wth perhaps the world's most impressive scientific establishment closely followed by the British and with the funds poured into weapons development had an important lead. Fortunately for the world, Germany lacked the industrial capacity to take full advntage of its scientific capabilities. The War set the parameters for the Cold War arms race. Hitler essentially diarmed Germany from the nuclear arms race by attacking Jews including important nuclear scientists. These and other European scientists coiming to America helped turn America from an industrial powerhouse to a technological giant as well. Here Britain's desperate War-time decsion to share its tecchnology with America also played an important role in this process. The Soviet Union emerged from World War II badly damaged, but a super power capable of sweeping over a devestated Europe. The country had a large industrial infrastructure and was training a huge numbers of scientists and engineers, many of whom were assigned to a vast weapons development effot. As in America, German technology and scientists played an important role. This set the stage for an explosive growth in weapons development with two super powers rushing to develop new and destructive weaponry. Many thought after Wold War II that the Soviets would win the Cold War. The growing Soviet scientific establishment impressed many. But in the end, Soviet science failed their Cold war effort. The Soviets proved adroit and stealing Western military secrets from the West, but less successful at developing new technologies. This is not to say that the Soviet weapons industry did not produce excellent weapons, they did. But they did not produce the innovative high-tech weaponry capable of gaining a military advantage in the Cold War. The Soviet weakness in electronics meant that when Soviet and military weaponry met in Cold war battlefield, especially the Middle East, their weapons proved disappointing. And their failure to allow industry to capitalize on scientific advances meant that the Soviet economy did not benefit from the advances their scientists were making. As a result the Soviet weaons industry was never able to gain a lead in weapons development. And in the end the failure of socialist state planning to compete with the dynamic capitalist economies meant tht the Soviet Union could not sustain the enormous costs neded to compere with the United States. At the same time the United States work in communications, radar, aircraft, nuclear submarines and carriers, space, and nuclear energy gradually found their way into industry and built the dynamic modern economy, including computers and the internet.

Conventional Weapons

Many advances made during World War II were perfected during the Cold War. The Soviet Union produced excellent land army weapons. Russia has a long tradition as a land power and produced many fine weapns during World War II. Artillery and the innovative Katyusha rocket launchers came to dominate the Eastern Fronnt battlefield. Sovier Cold War land weapons were generally comparable to American weapon and in some cases superior. The threat of Soviet tank armies sweeping over Western Europe was a real danger throuhout the Cold War. Soviet weapons tended to be robust, proving especially durable in battlefield conditions where high-tech weaponry is often difficult to maintain. The Kalashnikov assault weapon became an ikon of the Cold war, even appearing on Third World flags. The Soviet Union produced one of the best World War II tanks--the T-34. By the Cold War, American tank technology had caught up. American and Soviet tankers never fought each other, but American and Soviet tanks were used in several, mostly Middle Eastern battlefields. Soviet tanks came off poorly, but here training and tactics were factors as well as airpower. The Soviet Navy stated far behind the U.S, Navy both in size and quality. Unlike the Army, Russia did not have the traditiin of a great naval power. America's dominant navy and carrier battle groups played a key role throughout the Cold War. The Soviets made, however, considerable progress as the Cold War continued and by the 1980s was a substntial threat to the U.S. Navy, especially their submarine force. In particular the Soviet's made considerable progress in reducing noise made by their submarines, a critical factor for the 'silent service'. Here both Soviet technology and espionage played important roles. It was air power where the Soviets lagged consistently behind the United States. Here it was not so much the air frames or even the engines that proved inadequate, although some Soviet aircraft might be called 'flying tanks' in the Stemoval tradition. The critical difference was electronics, although training was another important factor. Soviet pilots rarely flew against American pilots, but combat in Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East pitted American and Soviet aircraft in aerial combat.

Atomic Developments

The United States developed nuclear weapons during World War II. It was a massive research anf development effort--the Manhattan Project. The Germans were unable to penetrate the security around thge Project, but the Soviets did. The Goldbergs were just one of the active Soviet spy rings. The first American atomic bomb was a uranium (fission) sucessfully andcsuccessfully tested (July 1945). A month latter, uranium and plutonium boms were used to end the Pacific War. The United states for a brief period had a monopoly on atmoic weapons. American planners assumed that monoply would last some time. The Soviets had, however, their own nuclear experts and had begun their atomic project during the War. Stalin ordered the project after Soviet spies began reporting on the American project. The Soviet research was directed by nuclear physicist Igor Kurchatov. The Soviets aided by their spy operations and captured German scientists, exploded their first atomic bomb (August 1949). It was no accident that within a year, the North Korans launched the Korean War. America debated the H-bomb (fussion weapon). Oppehimer argued against it, but his loyalty was questioned. Teller argued for it. Unbeknownst to the Americans, the Soviets had already begun their H-bomb program. [Reed and Stillman] Stalin put NKVD Chief Beria in charge of the project. They weapons were exponentially more powerful than fission weapons. The Soviets tested a primitive fusion weapon (1953). The American H-bomb was the first true fusion weapon and was exploded over Bikini (1954). The Soviets followed with their own H-bomb (1955). Andrei Sakharov played a major role. The Chinese exploded their first nuclear weapon (1964) and their first H-bomb 3 years later (1967).

Chemical and Biological Weapons

Chemical and Biolgical Warfare (CBW) we now know was a huge danger during the Cold War. Frigtingly deadly agents and strains were developed. Biological warfare (BW), commonly called germ warfare is the use of biological toxins or infectious agents (bacteria, viruses, and fungi) to ill or incapacitate people directky or the animals and plants on which people depend. Chemical Warfare (CW) uses chemicals, commonly called poison gas, to kill. CW was developed by the Germans and first used in World War I. The World War I chemical agents, however, rather primitive. The Germans in the inter-War period begn developing much more deasly nerve agents. The Japanese also had an active program and actually used both biological and chemical agents in china, primarily in China. BW was not used. Thus CBW terrified the public before Wotld War II, but were not given much attention in the public mind during the Cold War. CBW was not new to warfare These weapons had been used such ancient times. Rotten or diseased carcases were catapulted into besieged coties. Some times it was inadvertent, such as the spread of disease by Europeans in the Americas. The public in the Soviet Union and America were focused on the new nuclear weapns. And unlike World War I, chemical weapons had not been widely used. Largely unknown to the public was the huge advances thathe Germans and made in CW during the War creating deadly nerve agents and the massive BW progrm launched by the Soc\viet Union after the War. The Soviet Union after devloping nuclear weapons (1949) developed a two strike Cold War military plan. The first was to devestate Anerican cities with nuclear weapons and then complete the destruction of American society with BW. The later was a program not known to the public and not appreciated as to importance by the CIA and military establishment. Bioweapons were banned by treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union (1972). The Soviets never, however, fully accounted for their stocks of CBW weapons. Russian President Boris Yeltsin admitted that the weapons still existed (early-1990s). [Warrick] Details on the Soviet CBS program only became public year after the end of the Cold War.



Reed, Thomas C. and Danny B. Stillman. The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and Its Proliferation.

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Created: 11:39 PM 3/26/2014
Last updated: 5:49 PM 3/27/2014