9 Times The World Was At The Brink Of Nuclear War - And Pulled Back

Soviet submarine B-59 on the surface, with a US Navy helicopter circling above, in the Caribbean Sea near Cuba, October 29, 1962.Wikimedia commons

The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945 marked the end of the World War II, and the beginning of the age of nuclear weapons.

During the Cold War, the policy of mutually assured destruction between the US and the Soviet Union — appropriately referred to as "MAD" — meant that if one nation used nuclear weapons on another, then an equal response would have been doled out as soon as possible.

Over the course of the Cold War, and several times after it, the citizens of the world were forced to hold their breath as the superpowers came close to nuclear war.

Here are nine times the world was at the brink of nuclear war — but pulled back:

October 5, 1960 - The moon is mistaken for missiles

Early warning radar quickly became one of the most important tools in the nuclear age. American radar stations were built all around the world with the hope that they would detect incoming Soviet missiles, warning the homeland of a strike and allowing for the president to form a response. 

On October 5, 1960, one such warning was issued from a newly constructed early warning radar station in Thule, Greenland (now called Qaanaaq). Dozens of missiles were reportedly detected, and at one point were said to reach the US in 20 minutes. 

A panic ensued at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) HQ in Colorado, and NORAD was placed on its highest alert level. 

The panic was put to rest when it was realized that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was visiting New York at the time. A later investigation found that the radar had mistaken the moon rising over Norway as Soviet missiles.

November 24, 1961 - A single switch causes a mechanical failure

Just over a year later, Strategic Air Command (SAC) HQ in Omaha, Nebraska lost contact with the Thule radar station. SAC officials then tried to contact NORAD HQ in Colorado, but the line was reportedly dead.

It was determined before that the probability that both Thule and NORAD's communications would shut down due to technical malfunction was very low, making SAC believe that an attack was underway. 

SAC's entire alert force was ordered to prepare for takeoff, but crisis was averted when a US bomber managed to make contact with Thule and confirm no attack was underway. 

It was later discovered that a single malfunctioning switch managed to shut down all communications, even emergency hotlines, between SAC, Thule, and NORAD. 

Artist impression of the Thule site J BMEWS station's detection arcs.Wikimedia commons

 

October 25, 1962 - A bear almost turns the Cuban Missile Crisis hot

The Cuban Missile Crisis is perhaps the closest the world has ever come to global nuclear war. Four instances over the 13-day event stand out in particular, the first one happening on October 25, 1962.

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