Global News: November 2006 Archives

Cold War ruins

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Not too many farmers own an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile launch control facility, but the Neidlinger family of Hampden, North Dakota, does. When the Grand Forks Air Force Base Minuteman missile field was decommissioned about a decade ago, they bought back the site of the E-0 launch control center. A few days ago, Julie Neidlinger's dad took her for a look inside the building:

It was an eerie experience, walking through the disasterous mess that still didn't hide the evidence of a system dismantled in the name of peace. Today was windy, like all North Dakota days, the wind blowing in hard and cold from the west, whistling through the ventilation system in the kitchen. The darkened interior, only lit by my dad's flashlight and the periodic flash of my camera, mixed with the windy wail.

"It's kind of ghostly in here," dad said. I agreed. I'd been thinking that myself, feeling as if I was walking through some cold war graveyard being overrun by the animals who were already busy reclaiming an area of the country where the people were few and the space was great. I felt as if I was on the set of a horror or disaster movie. It wasn't The Day After. It was The Decade After.

In a re-run entry from summer '05, Julie tells of a tour of the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex near Nekoma, N. D., an anti-ballistic missile complex briefly operational in 1976:

Though not as large as its still very much functioning counterpart at the Cavalier Air Station, whose pyramid is monstrous with a radar so sensitive in cataloguing space debris that it once overloaded Cheyenne Mountain, Nekoma's pyramid rises from the plains like a prairie iceberg. Most of it's cyclopic structure is buried below ground, leaving only the tip to poke through and be seen. According to our tour guide, one of the few men still taking care of the abandoned site, the interior of the structure has been stripped bare, but is so huge and cavernous that many of the hallways and passages deep inside have their own atmosphere. He told of how, on certain days, some hallways have fog rolling about inside. There is also much water, particularly since the water table in the region has been high since about 1993.

Just to the north of the radar pyramid are bunkers and a flat area of weedy concrete with two types of white hatches. Housed here were the Sprint and Spartan missiles. These missiles functioned as interceptors, one long-range (Spartan) and the other in case the Spartan failed.

Both entries have photos of the facilities and links to information about the North Dakota missile facilities. Beyond the technical details, Julie provides a sense of how North Dakotans felt about having nuclear missiles in their backyards, and how they feel now that those days are gone:

The people in the towns of both Nekoma, and especially Langdon, still talk about the glory days of the missile site. You can hear it during meetings, when someone will carelessly refer to a past event with the tag "that was back when the missiles came."

I still hear of how nice the county road became when a Minuteman went in along it. Good roads are gold here, and to some, if it brought about good roads, there wasn't much to complain about.

For some reason, as I try to motivate you to read these blog entries, I keep thinking about Stuckey's. We spotted a couple of former Stuckey's and Nickerson Farms buildings on our way back to Tulsa on Sunday. These roadside businesses went hand-in-hand with the spread of the interstate highway system. (On trips down the Turner Turnpike, Dad preferred the Stuckey's near Wellston and Bristow, because they served real Coke, not Ho-Jo Cola.) They were modern in the '60s, and who would have imagined a long car trip without spotting a dozen or more along the way? Today, most of the old Stuckey's locations are closed (although Stuckey's is still in business as a franchised convenience store chain), Nickerson Farms is long gone, and the buildings have been "repurposed" as antique malls, pr0n shops, and, mostly, ruins.

In the same way, in the '60s and '70s, it was hard to imagine a world without two nuclear superpowers aiming massive numbers of nuclear missiles at each other, a world in which a good defense was considered an offense against peace, a world in which billions of dollars were devoted to maintaining a sufficient deterrent against a ruthless totalitarian regime that threatened our liberty and our existence. Today, some of that infrastructure for deterrence may be repurposed as a place where trees and vegetables may be grown, unmolested by deer. Today, America can't muster the political will to protect our borders and project power against another ruthless totalitarian movement which threatens our liberty and our existence.

If you lived through the Cold War, or especially if you didn't, read these two articles.

Fifty years ago today, Imre Nagy, Prime Minister of Hungary, declared his country's withdrawal from the Soviet-controlled Warsaw Pact. This marked the high point of a brief period of independence which had begun 11 days earlier and which would end three days later when Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest. Nagy was tried, executed, and buried in secret. It was only after the 1989 revolution, when Hungary finally and completely threw off the Soviet yoke, that Nagy was given the honor due him.

Freedom Fighter 56 Oral History Project presents the stories of 56 Hungarians who were there and remember that time.

Although the Revolution of '56 was shortlived, it left a deep impression on someone who would have a significant role in Hungary's ultimate liberation, remembered by economist János Horváth:

I became acquainted with Ronald Reagan in 1974 when he was Governor of California. At the time I was head of the Department of Economics at Butler University in Indianapolis. Governor [Ronald] Reagan came to Indiana repeatedly during the early months of that year to help in the Republican primary election campaign his friend and colleague, Governor Edgar Whitcomb, who aspired to become a U.S. Senator. I was Chairman of Economic Advisors for Governor Whitcomb, and in that capacity I accompanied the two men on many campaign trips throughout the state....

[After fielding questions at a campaign stop], when we were riding in the automobile or sitting in a restaurant munching on a sandwich, I would meticulously elaborate on the theoretical as well as the institutional background of the question. Reagan repeatedly redirected the conversation to other topics. Almost always he reached back to the 1956 Hungarian revolution and fight for freedom, and he revealed a surprising acquaintance with the details.

Governor Reagan during those months repeatedly questioned me about the events and circumstances of the 1956 revolution. Frequently, he interrupted my explanation of economic matters with an unexpected question. “János, you were there. Tell me about the demonstrations on the Parliament Square. Who brought the the 300,000 people to the square? Why did the ÁVO open fire on the crowd on October 25th when it hadn’t on the 23rd? Is it really true that the demonstrators did not possess weapons initially?” And he had further questions regarding the Kilián barracks and the heroic resistance at Széna tér (Haymarket Square)....

I asked questions of Governor Reagan, too. I asked why he knew so much about the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Was it because he was contemplating the future outlook of the Soviet Union? What would he do in the role of making foreign policy? From his responses and comments it became crystal clear that he was quite close to the position that had evolved during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, namely, that the Soviet Union and communism in general were not as stable as they had appeared to be.

In another account, Andrew P. Fodor, then a Hungarian Army cadet, remembers a scene of resistance that would be repeated 33 years later, half a world away:

I peeked through the factory gate. I could hardly believe my eyes. Across the street, in the dark, shadowy doorway of a rundown building, a fellow cadet from my school was standing armed to the teeth, aiming his weapon at something. But at what? I peeked out again; there was a lone Soviet tank standing about two blocks away.

Again, I looked across the street, for I thought he was going to fire at the tank - and he did. The tank immediately replied. Across the street, the whole doorway collapsed and part of the building disappeared. István and I hurriedly retreated to the basement again.

I cannot forget this cadet's face. It was partly lit by a weak, autumn sun after a rainy day, on a sad, very sad November day in Budapest. His fight was futile and hopeless, yet he was a real patriot. When István and I finally left the factory, I crossed the street and wanted to put some flowers where he stood, but there were no flowers around. I reached into the pocket of my workman's overall, where I carried my military cap and slowly placed it on the shattered plaster pieces, which were all that remained of the doorway where he stood before.

As the years passed, his image faded in my memory, but once in a while his desperate act still haunts me. The last time I remembered him vividly was when I saw the picture of a lone Chinese student in Beijing trying to stop a long column of Chinese army tanks going to Tiananmen Square…

I found this via Robert N. Going's Judge Report. Going remarked on the effect of the uprising and its suppression on the West:

First, it reminded us at just the right time that, as Dr. Fred Schwarz used to say, you can trust the communists to be communists.

We were in the early years of the post-Stalin era and, as we've heard so many times since, a new enlightened leadership was at the helm. Nikita Kruschev had denounced Stalin and his terror and all the usual suspects (who had ignored Stalin's terror while it was happening) proclaimed the age of peaceful cooperation. Anti-communism in the United States had run its course following the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954, and we were back on the road to blissful ignorance.

I wasn't around in '56, but somewhere along the way I remember hearing about an after-effect of the events of October and November -- the December 6 water polo match between Hungary and the USSR at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia:

By the start of the Olympics, the uprising had been brutally dealt with, and many of the players saw the Olympics as a way to salvage some pride for their country. "We felt we were playing not just for ourselves but for our whole country" said Zador after the match. By this time, the international community had become aware of the full brutality of the Soviet response to the Hungarian uprising and the Hungarian Olympic team was cheered wherever it competed. The "Blood In The Water" match was played out in front of a partisan crowd bolstered with expatriate Hungarians, many of whom had been in the boxing arena a few days before to see Laszlo Papp win his third gold medal.

From the start, the match was a very physical encounter with kicks and punches being exchanged. Star Hungarian player Zador scored two goals to the cheers of the crowd. Leading 4–0 going into the final minutes, Zador was forced to leave the pool after being punched by Valentin Prokopov. Zador's injury was the final straw for a crowd which was already in a frenzy. To avoid a riot breaking out, the match was abandoned with 1 minute to go and police entered the arena to shepherd the crowd away. Pictures of Zador's injuries were published in the press around the world leading to the "Blood in the Water" name, although reports that the water did actually turn red were probably an exaggeration.

The Hungarians went on to beat Yugoslavia 2–1 in the final and win their fourth Olympic gold medal. Following the Olympics, half of the 100-member Hungarian Olympic delegation defected.

Zador went on to coach American Olympic champion Mark Spitz, who is narrator of a just-released film about the match, Freedom's Fury.

(Unrelated except chronologically, Going has a sweet personal reminiscence about being a five-year-old budding contrarian in 1956.)

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Global News category from November 2006.

Global News: September 2006 is the previous archive.

Global News: December 2006 is the next archive.

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