The Real Reason The US Put Cold War Missiles In Oklahoma
You and I have talked before about the role Oklahoma played in the Cold War, the Atlas missile silos planted in the middle of wheat fields all across the state, but until now we've only speculated on why. As time goes on and documents become unclassified, we're finding out it was more-or-less a banana in the tailpipe for the USSR.
When World War II came to an end, it wasn't because we had defeated the Axis Powers of Italy, Germany, and Japan... it was because England's Prime Minister, Winston Churchill couldn't get any support from the Allied Forces to keep marching on to Moscow.
The war was over and the overwhelming majority of people were insistent on entering peacetime.
The US and UK agreed that Joesph Stalin and the Red Army were a necessary evil in a righteous fight against tyranny and genocide, but when hostilities ceased in Europe, everyone was done playing with him. Churchill thought he was a threat and President Truman didn't think much of him either, so the UK and US broke the promises they made to the Communist dictator about how the conquered lands would be split.
Historians agree that these broken promises of split territories, along with a reluctance to rebuild Germany after the second great war are what caused the Cold War. Stalin was mad Russia wouldn't bounty from seizing the Eastern European states he was promised, so he took his ball and went home behind the iron curtain. This is what led to the nuclear buildup in the 1960s.
From 1960-1965, the US built twelve Atlas missile silos across Oklahoma. Many more were built across other sparsely populated rural states like Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, and the great empty areas of Texas.
When these rural missile sites were talked about with curiosity, the general standard answer was "The further into the breadbasket we store our arms, the safer we are from nuclear attack."
It made logical sense. Banks don't put vaults on exterior walls, why would we treat our nuclear deterrents any different, but it was never about nuclear secrecy... it was all about mitigating death in the event the Cold War turned hot.
When the threat of all-out nuclear war was realized, the US government determined that the most likely targets of a Russian attack were cities that met certain criteria. Obviously, places like Washington DC, New York, Los Angeles, and other major metropolitan areas were feared as targets due to the population.
The loss of life in a completely expected nuclear strike would be catastrophic, so the government hedged a bet on building intended targets in the vast open areas of the country.
Southwest Oklahoma was chosen as an Atlas missile silo congregation because the loss of life in the event of a nuclear strike would be far less than in our country's biggest cities. We were literal nuclear attack fodder as much as we were a deterrent.
Secrecy was the currency of the time, but there were no secrets about where these silos were in the grand scheme of things. Their specific locations weren't known widely beyond the communities they were in, but the general locations within our borders were slipped to the other side through counter-intelligence.
If Russia was going to hit that nuclear button, the US wanted rural America to take the hit. As tensions build between old rivals, the idea of America's "Nuclear Sponge" is once again at the forefront of defense talks even though the acceptable target states have changed.
For the most part, Oklahoma is no longer part of that nuclear sponge meant to soak up the potential damage. While the Atlas program has ceased, other states have been built up with modern equivalent arms. Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Nebraska represent the nuclear sponge today.
That's not to say Oklahoma doesn't remain a potential target in the future, the Dept of Defense is still our state's biggest employer... but I'd suspect the military munitions depot in McAlester and Tinker AFB would likely be bigger targets than Fort Sill. Regardless, be happy SWOK never had to be the USSR's banana in the tailpipe.