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Here's A Ridiculously Long List Of Places The U.S. Wanted To Nuke In 1959

The plan includes dropping hydrogen bombs on a ton of Soviet airbases and some smaller nuclear weapons on civilian populations.

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Uncontested fact: The Cold War was a terrifying period in our history that almost saw everything we know wiped off the planet. A newly declassified U.S. Air Force study shows just how true that is, listing thousands of nuclear targets.

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Specifically, the 1959 study came at the behest of the Strategic Air Command — aka the guys who had all the nukes, pictured here in 1995 blissfully innocent of just how terrible most of their plans were for global survival.

The full declassified report was published by the National Security Archives at the George Washington University on Tuesday.

Basically, the study suggested two tiers of targets: What the Air Force called "Air Power" targets — or ways to prevent the Soviets and their allies from using their own nuclear weapons — and targets that would cripple industrial output.

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The theory they were operating on worked like this: The bigger the boom, the more likely the fight was over quickly. So the SAC proposed using hydrogen bombs against the USSR's air bases, detonating them not in the air but super close to the ground.

This is, in a word, insane. Especially given that the "Air Power" list includes about 1,100 airfields, sorted by priority.

All told the "Air Power" target list had some 3,400 "designated ground zeroes" and the secondary list another 1,200.


The two main targets for the "Air Power" strikes were both in what would become Belarus, likely due to the bombers that could reach Western Europe from there.

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The declassified version of the study scrubs just how many thermonuclear weapons — each of which 1.7 to 9 megatons, or up to 630 times the explosion that destroyed Hiroshima — the Strategic Air Command predicted would be needed to destroy each target. But we can assume the estimated number is "a whole lot."

Somehow, the plan for the second-tier targets was both kinder and scarier. They are the targets that would contribute to "war-making," so basically everything. Those targets would receive plan-old atomic bombs to the face, not hydrogen bombs.

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"Moscow, the number one urban target, had around 180 installations slated for destruction; some were in the air power category, but many involved a variety of industrial activities, including factories producing machine tools, cutting tools, oil extraction equipment, and a most vital medicine: penicillin," the National Security Archive explains. "Other targets involved significant infrastructural functions: locks and dams, electric power grids, railroad yards, and repair plants for railroad equipment."

Worse still: Moscow and Leningrad both had "population" listed as targets. "In other words, people as such, not specific industrial activities, were to be destroyed" with nuclear weapons, as the Archive puts it.

You know else was on the list? China. Doesn't matter that they weren't exactly a threat to Western Europe, they were in the Soviet bloc at the time and that was bad enough.

Also on the target list: Eastern European countries allied with the Soviet Union, due to be hit with lower yield nukes. Well, except for the airbases there. Those still get H-bombs.

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Warsaw, pictured here in 1960, also included "population" targets. So, you know, devastation everywhere.

None of the targets listed were finalized and the Cold War never went hot, which is great because the odds of anyone surviving to read this article would be pretty much zero if the list had been acted upon.

Hayes Brown is a world news editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

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