Seriously, 40 years ago, the world almost ended in a fiery nuclear holocaust. If you want to know even more in great, great depth, I highly recommend the podcast Snafu hosted by Ed Helms. I’ll just give a synopsis.
Thanks to St. Reagan’s saber rattling: calling the Soviet Union the evil empire (never mind our foreign policy) and promoting the Strategic Defense Initiative, aka Star Wars since the Pentagon loves bullshit jargon; the relatively new Soviet leader Andropov was worried of an American first strike.
Full disclosure. Even now, I still fear dying in a nuclear war but throughout my teens, I had numerous, difficult nights falling asleep because I didn’t want to get in a quick “shit!” and then be vaporized. St. Reagan was crazy enough to do it; he was getting advice from Nancy’s astrologer on a non-secure phone line to the White House! So I was all in favor of anything capable of preventing Soviet missiles from hitting us despite the asshole in the White House. Today, I know the Math, Physics and computing power to make this even a remote possibility is a fantasy.
Andropov figured a first strike was in the cards. If the US had a shield to prevent a Soviet counterstrike, why wouldn’t St. Reagan try? Throw in another threat we’ve forgotten; West Germany hosting a series of Pershing missiles capable of nuking major Soviet installations and cities within 10 minutes instead of the 22-28 minutes ICBMs and submarines take. This is also why politicians across the spectrum piss me off, they never do nor say anything to our enemies to allay their worries, which also happen to be mine. A Maggi presidency would’ve said, “As we deploy our missile shield, we will also be reducing our nuclear stock pile since our need for a counterstrike will decline. I also want to reassure the Soviets, one thing the US will never ever do under my tenure is execute a first strike…ever! We may not agree on numerous matters but I’m confident we all want to die in our sleep and leave a better world for our descendants.”
It wasn’t meant to be. Throw in the Soviets killing all aboard the Korean airliner and the US invasion of Grenada earlier in the year, tension was high.
Let’s return to Yuri Andropov. Before he was the boss of the USSR, he was the KGB’s boss. Paranoia was in his DNA. As soon as Brezhnev was dead, he had all intelligence agencies in Warsaw Pact watching for American war preparations. The clues he and his inner circle were focused on were ludicrous, again go to the podcast to find out. All the sleeper agents within the US said nothing was happening, American leadership was more focused on the economy. East German intelligence, who was physically closest to NATO bases agreed, no signs nor interest in war. Andropov refused to believe, he figured, “That’s what they want us to think!”
Then NATO forces nearly granted Andropov his morbid wish via the annual Fall exercise named Able Archer 83. He didn’t think it was a drill when certain American units (namely paratroopers) “disappeared” and misinterpreted the allied (practice) communications as the real thing. Once more, Western-based spies and East Germany pleaded to their Soviet bosses to chill the hell out. NATO couldn’t be deploying a first strike; Western media and cities are not even discussing it nor are they prepared for it. Democracies are 99% likely to warn their citizens what’s about to go down.
Andropov didn’t believe anyone so he gave the ordered for Soviet bombers to start packing their nukes and get airborne. We can thank an American Air Force general in nearby West Germany and his staff noticing the unusual Warsaw Pact activity. They considered doing the same to show their readiness since they interpreted the Soviet action to be posturing. But the general wisely chose to wait for them to take their next action…nothing. Within an hour, the enemy bombers withdrew to their home bases. Little did the general know how closely he avoided WWIII until much later, I think when he retired, catch the podcast!
The Corporate Media, the general public, Congress, etc. were never told for years. Oh the CIA, NSA, etc. whipped together a white paper attempting to remove the cause for concern on how The End nearly came.
In 13 days, the first signs of Operation Able Archer 83 scaring the living crap out of those who were in the know, namely St. Reagan’s Cabinet…tried to re-assure America, hey, don’t sweat it. Good thing they sent someone with a terrible poker face. See ya’ in 13.