Essay:History of nuclear war
This is very much a work in progress, but let me see how much I can lay down in one beat session.
In the beginning, there was the US project to develop a nuclear weapon. Building on the backs of certain ex-pat German scientists with no souls, such as Albert Einstein, and some ladies with a penchant for glowing metals like Marie Curie, it was understood that some heavy metals were unstable to the point where they might release energy if provoked to do so.
Most of this research took place during World War 2. Late in the the war, the scientists and engineers presented President Harry S. Truman with a little birthday gift - a bomb that could potentially destroy an entire industrial city's core. If it worked.
And they had built a couple of them, in case he ok'd the plan.
Meanwhile, there was a problem in the closing down of WW2. The Russians were all over Eastern Europe, and in order to defeat the
wily yellow man Japanese in the Pacific theater some serious war was going to happen - including - most importantly - the relocation of Russian troops to Eastern Asia to help with the attack on the Japanese home islands, which would have created a strong Russian military presence on the Pacific shores.
However true these theories may be or not, as it turned out, Truman ordered the deployment and use of an atomic fission bomb of roughly 15,000 tons of tnt power on Hiroshima.
The bomber tasked with dropping it flew at stratospheric heights, and thus was ignored by Japanese radar operators, as being probably a spy plane, since nothing at that height could accurately drop "normal" bombs or cause local harm. Little did they know what was about to ensue.
The Enola Gay let drop from its bay doors on that fateful day one simple weapon, that was designed to detonate at a specific height above ground.
When it did, all of central Hiroshima was engulfed in a fireball, a huge impact never before seen or caused by man. It took Japan by shock, as they surveyed the remains of the now out-of-contact city. Three days later, for some asinine reason, a slightly larger bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. The Japanese promptly surrendered (perhaps that was the reason for bomb #2, since the first one didn't convince them?).
The world had entered the nuclear age.
Also, if Truman's goals were to scare the Russians, or to keep them out of East Asia, he had made a great mistake: he showed them that nuclear weapons could work.
Within a few years, the Russians detonated their own test nuclear weapon.
During the era of the "bomb", it was a scary weapon, but at least required intimate delivery over the enemy's territory, with some accuracy. This at least allowed for old fashioned air defense systems to be deployed to reduce its effectiveness. Huge bombers approaching one's territory are relatively easy targets.
Both Russia - the USSR, as it became, while it overrode neighboring nations with tanks - and the US, became engaged in an arms race of sorts. Both countries wanted to have enough of these insane weapons to deter the other from "attacking", even though neither had any plans to actually attack the other. Europe peed in their pants while the behemoths butted chests.
Up until this time, delivering nuclear "bombs" required flying huge planes over the enemies' territory and dropping them. This was a very clumsy mechanism, since planes can be seen on radar for hours (days, even - heavy bombers are not even supersonic), and fighters can be deployed to shoot them down.
Then came the great idea of sticking nuclear bombs on the end of rockets. Remember the rocket? Germany terrorized Britain with the V-2 - dynamite on a stick, with no pilot to kill.
The first deployments of such arsenals were, of course, largely defensive emplacements of guns near the Soviet border, such as in Turkey.
Oh Shit! The missiles of October 1962. The Soviets were observed to be placing missile launching facilities near the US, in Cuba! (Look it up)
JFK managed to balls up and scare down Khrushchev, while also scaring the living shit out the rest of the world. He cut a deal in secret, trading the crappy old-school missiles in Turkey for the threatened missiles in Cuba.
Meanwhile, both the US and the USSR were arming nuclear-powered submarines with nuclear tipped missiles. Finally, the antagonist could get close to the enemy if they wanted, and potentially unleash the fires of hell on their major cities with little or no warning.
The Cold War
During this era, the US was fighting silly little "wars" in Korea and Viet Nam against the evil Communists that no one cared about. The two sides were mostly testing out tanks and drafts and machine guns against each other. Chemical and biological weapons were right out, theoretically. Unless you count Agent Orange, which was like RoundUp only used on other people's fields.
Duck and cover
Let us not waste our time on this hilarious joke of how to endure a nuclear attack. Google it.
The ICBM and everything changed
The ICBM altered all of the foregoing political balances.
ICBM stands for Intercontinental Ballistic Missile: meaning, a stone that can be thrown over the pole (see: great circle) and land on another continent. The ICBM created a whole new world of potential nuclear warfare. These weapons would be launched from deep in their home territory, and rapidly get into and over the stratosphere - that is, their launch might be detectable, but their subsequent path is out of the reach of earthbound radar. Their re-entry into the atmosphere (say, seven miles high) would be only be seconds, or at best minutes, before the detonation of their deadly cargo.
A missile launched from northern Asia, or Northern America, would less than an hour to reach its destination. By now, each superpower also had the ability to build and "hide" ready-to-launch an incredible number of such missiles. (Note: as of 2009, most are still "live" and aimed.) Anyway, by this time in people's lives - the late 1970s - 1980s, roughly, the US and the USSR had at their fingertips enough weaponry to pretty much destroy western civilization - several times over. (See later comments on the southern hemisphere)
Most of us either ignored it, or had "contingency plans" - personally, the concept was, "what would I do if I knew I only had a few hours to live?" I had two responses - a woman, ideally, or heroin, out of curiosity. See, I live in the seacoast of New Hampshire, and back then we had, within a 20-mile radius, a Navy nuclear sub repair facility, an SAC Air Force base, and a nuclear power plant.
The hydrogen bomb
The hydrogen bomb sounds so much "cleaner", doesn't it?
Much as the conventional fission bomb requires a heavy charge of TNT to slam the critical mass together and make it hot enough to start fusing and run out of control and explode, the hydrogen bomb requires a fission bomb to compress and heat the deuterium/tritium mix enough to cause fusion to start. A "nice clean" hydrogen bomb might be designed to minimize heavy metal by-products, of course. But since they are designed to drop on one's enemies, how much does that matter? Keep in mind that China is a nuclear power, but their fission bombs are nasty and dirty and toxic. Why? Because it doesn't matter if they "smell nice". All that matters is that if you attack them (or us), they will melt a city or yours or seven.
The aftermath of use of nuclear weapons is both overblown and understated.
It is overblown in the whole "life on earth would be eradicated" - hell, the cockroaches and many other insects will almost certainly survive. As would, almost certainly, many bacteria.
It is understated in the idea that people far from the conflict would survive. Humans, and most mammals, are very complex organisms, and very sensitive to high energy radiation. While most of the aforementioned "disasters" would obviously be unleashed in the northern "stupid" hemisphere, their results would be worldwide.
You know that classic "mushroom cloud" a nuclear bomb makes? The reason it mushrooms is that the hot gasses and other combustion byproducts stream upwards in the atmosphere until they hit a level - 7-10 miles high - where they are finally heavier than the surrounding atmosphere. Then they spread out - over the entire globe. At that altitude, suspended matter will travel over the whole planet, and slowly descend and get mixed into clouds and rain, contaminating surface water everywhere with all that happy Strontium-90 type shit. Who cares if some of the heavy metal have half lives of six months? Where will you get fresh water for six months on short notice? Oh, and avoid rain, since it's now deadly?
Certain forms of radiometric dating (I think based on iodine) are no longer useful, since we have mucked up the radioisotopes on our planet with all our nuclear weapons tests.