Americans: Was your town a [rumored] Cold War missile target?
October 27, 2009 10:55 AM   Subscribe

Americans: Was your town a [rumored] Cold War missile target?

I grew up in New Jersey. When I lived there, people would sometimes say, "You know, after [DC|New York], our area is the number-two target on the Soviet nuclear ICBM list, because of Bell Labs." I didn't really think about this too much at the time, and it seemed at least somewhat plausible. But as I've gotten older, I've heard people from all over the country say, "You know, [my town] is #2 on the Soviet missile target list because of [$feature]."

I had a text file of them for a while, I was collecting them because I think they are interesting bits of folklore, but I can't find it now. I'm curious as to where this rumor got started, where people claim to find this information, etc., because it must be false, right? I mean the whole MAD strategy was predicated on the idea that the Soviets and the USA could pretty much totally wipe each other out in one go, so there were probably dozens or hundreds of places with equal target priority.

Mostly, though, I'm interested in these rumors. The commonalities are:
1) #2 target. There's always a credibility-adding reference to a clearly more-valuable target. In the Northeast, this is generally DC, the Pentagon, or New York.
2) A specific reason that points to some local feature as being of strategic import, and often one that you wouldn't immediately think of, like Bell Labs (really? A lab? that's going to be ahead of a SAC HQ?)

So my question is did you hear this about the place where you grew up or lived? What was the reason your town was supposedly targeted? What was the reference target of greater import?
posted by jeb to Society & Culture (242 answers total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
 
I grew up in Victoria, BC, which lies on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The area was devastated by atomic bombs in Neville Shute's "On the Beach."

We would have been a target: Victoria is home to the Esquimalt naval base, with one of the largest dry docks on the Pacific coast of North America. Juan de Fuca Strait is also the route American nuclear submarines take to get from Bremerton to the Pacific.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:58 AM on October 27, 2009


1) #2 target. There's always a credibility-adding reference to a clearly more-valuable target. In the Northeast, this is generally DC, the Pentagon, or New York.

A city like D.C. probably had dozens of nuclear warheads pointed at various buildings, including one for the Capitol, one for the White House, one for the Pentagon, one for Ft. Meyer, along with a 20 mt airburst over the city for good measure. Andrews would also get a bomb as well.

When I was a kid, I lived in the suburbs of Chicago. I knew the city was going to get hit.

Amazing how scared we were, wasn't it?
posted by Ironmouth at 11:02 AM on October 27, 2009


Growing up in Latrobe, Pennsylvania I heard that very rumor (even the "number two"). The reason given was our local steel production.
posted by ctab at 11:02 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I also grew up in Jersey (although after the Cold War). There were abandoned Nike silos near our house, so I wouldn't be too surprised if the area was actually on a hit list. Wasn't first strike supposed to attempt to wipe out as much of the return capabilities as possible?
posted by backseatpilot at 11:04 AM on October 27, 2009


My school, in the sticks of northern New York, regularly underwent air raid drills in the 1980s. We would crawl under our desks and cover our heads with our arms. This would supposedly protect us from a Soviet nuclear strike.

The rationale, as far as any adults ever explained it beyond ZOMG RUSSIANS GONNA KILL US ALL, was that the town was located on the St. Lawrence Seaway and thus was important to shipping (I guess?), as well as having a GM powertrain plant and a major hydroelectric plant.

Hilariously, this same town's approach to the new threat has been to remove the United States sign at the border crossing from Canada, presumably to deter opportunistic strikes by terrorists suddenly realizing where they are.
posted by stuck on an island at 11:04 AM on October 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


I grew up across Lake Champlain from Plattsburgh, New York, which seemed to think it was the #3 target after DC and NORAD. Plattsburgh AFB was the last US refueling station for planes heading over the North Pole to attack the USSR.

I'm afraid we took this pretty seriously. Constant noisy exercises by the Air Force and the Vermont Air National Guard probably didn't help the nerves.
posted by GodricVT at 11:05 AM on October 27, 2009


In the SF/Bay Area, I'd heard about the "Blue Cube" , being the reason for the area being a first strike zone.
posted by doctor_negative at 11:07 AM on October 27, 2009


Not my hometown, but 100 miles away we heard Charleston, SC was on "the list" because of its port and also nearby Augusta, GA because of the Savannah River Site (nuclear reactor). So we were told (by social studies teachers)we'd be nearly insta-fried.
posted by pointystick at 11:08 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've heard that about the area that I'm living in now (East-Central Iowa) because the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois is about 45 minutes away from here. Of course, I live in a hippie college town, and some of our streets have "no-nuclear zone" signs still posted.
posted by scarykarrey at 11:08 AM on October 27, 2009


Bell Labs was probably the fourth or fifth target in Monmouth County, New Jersey during the Cold War.

I would put Fort Monmouth as number 1, since it was the headquarters of the US Army Signal Corps and probably had about 30,000 military and civilian employees at one point.

The number 2 and 3 targets would have been Earle Ammunition depot, in Leonardo and Coltsneck respectively.

Number 4 target would have been the Nike Missile Command Base in Middletown, now part of Hartshorne woods. It was the nerve center built into the side of a hill that coordinated the Nike Missile defense system that surrounded NYC.
posted by otto42 at 11:10 AM on October 27, 2009


I grew up in the hills of Eastern Tennessee. Which seems like an unlikely target, though we were only a few miles from Oak Ridge.

I'm sure we would have gotten at least one bomb, but I never heard anything about it at the time.
posted by bshort at 11:10 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Where I live we always felt we had a bullseye painted on us because of the proximity to Ft. Bragg.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:11 AM on October 27, 2009


I grew up next to the Lawrence Livermore Lab, which we were told was a primary target, complete with blast radius maps in elementary school.
posted by rhizome at 11:11 AM on October 27, 2009


I think everybody claimed they were in the top five. For me, it was "Natick is number FOUR on the 'hit list', because of Natick Army Labs!"

The word "four" was always emphasized.
posted by bondcliff at 11:11 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's a strange manifestation of local pride. The same thing happened after 9/11.

ctab: Growing up in Latrobe, Pennsylvania I heard that very rumor (even the "number two"). The reason given was our local steel production.

C'mon, it should be obvious to you that their real target was Rolling Rock HQ.
posted by mkultra at 11:13 AM on October 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


I heard this growing up in Bristol, TN. Although the rumor wasn't necessarily that we were #2, but in the top 10. At the time we had Raytheon (making missile components), Beecham (one of the largest plants for antibiotics in the US), and Sperry-Univac (computers). We were also not far from Oak Ridge... so I guess the plan was to blow-up all of rural east TN.
posted by kimdog at 11:14 AM on October 27, 2009


Grew up in Blair, Nebraska, 20 miles north of Omaha. Was told pretty much yearly by parents/grade school teachers (?!?) that we would get nuked in the first wave because of our proximity to Offutt Air Force Base, headquarters of the Strategic Air Command.

When i was a kid, that scared me shitless. As an adult, I'm weirded out by how proud everybody seemed of it.
posted by COBRA! at 11:15 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yes, Indianapolis was "#3" because of the engine plants. Or sometimes Kokomo, or Terre Haute. It's funny to think that urban legend grew up in so many places.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 11:16 AM on October 27, 2009


St. Louis was the "third" target according to the popular wisdom of my jr. high school in the late 1980s because of the local McDonald Douglas, Chrysler, and Monsanto production facilities.

As the OP notes, none of this made any sense because in a full-out nuclear war, manufacturing capabilities wouldn't really mean a whole lot. Command, control, and launch vehicles (silos, subs, bombers) were undoubtedly the first 1,000 or so targets.
posted by Mid at 11:17 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I came of age, whatever that means, right around the end of the Cold War, but I distinctly remember hearing in 8th grade US History (1995-1996) that our little town in the middle of nowhere Western NY would've gotten lots of fallout from Buffalo (a 2 hour drive) and Pittsburgh(4hours) being targeted for their industrial centers.
posted by knile at 11:17 AM on October 27, 2009


Nothing about a specific number, but it was always said that the Lyndhurst, OH (then)TRW headquarters, just blocks from my house, was on the target list.
posted by kickingtheground at 11:18 AM on October 27, 2009


I was told the entire Boston area was a high profile major target because of things like MITRE corporation, Raytheon, Fore River shipyard, and the biggest/best medical facilities in the northeast.

I don't know if we had a specific number for the target, but several folks I knew talked about having a big party on the roof of the MITRE building in Cambridge when we heard the nukes were inbound.


So, have lists of Soviet missile targets ever been revealed or leaked to the general public?
posted by rmd1023 at 11:20 AM on October 27, 2009


Like IronMouth said, Chicago and the surrounding area (including Naval Station Great Lakes) were targets. There were Nike missile bases in the city and suburbs. Just over the border in Wisconsin, construction started on the Richard Bong Air Force Base to defend against bombers coming over the North Pole. It was abandoned before completion and turned into the Bong Recreation Area, much to the amusement of people driving past the sign on the interestate.
posted by indyz at 11:22 AM on October 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


I grew up in SE Michigan, between Willow Run (where the bombers came from in WWII) and Detroit/Dearborn, home of (at the time) half of the manufacturing capacity of the US, and 4 miles south of DTW. While probably not #2 (and very probably not actually on the list) the area was certainly a tier 2 target and would have gotten fried in the second wave.

And Detroit Edison's "troubled Enrico Fermi nuclear power plant" (we used to claim that that was its true name) was 20 miles away, so if it ever actually blew we were in the fallout zone. We did 'duck and cover' drills when I was in school in the mid-late 1970s, but they were mostly in case of tornados or other natural disasters. The assumption was that if the bombs actually showed up there was no protection from them, and there was no point in giving false hope.
posted by jlkr at 11:23 AM on October 27, 2009


That is so funny! I heard the same story growing up in Columbus, Ohio (heh.).

The reason given was the presence of Battelle Labs. I haven't thought about that rumor for more than 25 years. Looking back, I can't figure out why no one ever realized how silly that was.
posted by AngerBoy at 11:24 AM on October 27, 2009


In Central Connecticut, we thought that Pratt & Whitney would be a major target and we'd be toast.

Even if you didn't believe P&W was important, the nuclear shipyard in Groton was thought to be a major target, and Connecticut's not a big enough state to get clear of a nuclear attack there.
posted by saffry at 11:24 AM on October 27, 2009


While not a Cold War tale, growing up in Springfield, VT, we heard that we were on some kind target list during World War II, because Springfield was an industrial center that produced most of the machine parts for the war effort.

Funny, a quick Wikipedia glance cites this:
"During World War II, Springfield's production of machine tools was of such importance to the American war effort that the US government ranked Springfield (together with the Cone at Windsor) as the seventh most important bombing target in the country.[4]"

4 ^ Wayne G. Broehl, Jr., Precision Valley: The Machine Tool Companies of Springfield, Vermont. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1959) p. 184, citing W. Storrs Lee, The Green Mountains of Vermont (New York: Henry Hold & Company, Inc., 1949) p.76.
posted by General Malaise at 11:29 AM on October 27, 2009


Grew up in Blair, Nebraska, 20 miles north of Omaha. Was told pretty much yearly by parents/grade school teachers (?!?) that we would get nuked in the first wave because of our proximity to Offutt Air Force Base, headquarters of the Strategic Air Command.

COBRA! -- This is terrifying, but a key difference in your case is that Operation Looking Glass is pretty clear evidence that the US military commanders agreed with this assessment. It must have been so weird to be among the families of the crews of Looking Glass. And by weird I mean terrible.

Everyone else-- a lot of these are exactly what I'm talking about. I'm not arguing that these were true or made strategic sense, its the specificity of the rumors that I think is interesting. I've also never seen any others that had specific, non-#2 answers, so that might have hindered my searches. Its crazy that people like bondcliff were specifically told they were NUMBER FOUR.
posted by jeb at 11:32 AM on October 27, 2009


My school, in the sticks of northern New York, regularly underwent air raid drills in the 1980s.

Seriously? That's not a typo?

Best anecdote I've heard on the whole missile thing was of Lewis Lapham's being sent out as a Herald Tribune cub reporter to the streets of NYC at the time of the Cuban missile crisis when omigod bombs could literally drop Fail Safe like at any minute. His mission was to ask the Man In The Street just How He Felt about the situation.

One woman said she wasn't at all concerned because the fact was, she wasn't really from New York, she was just visiting.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:32 AM on October 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


> In the SF/Bay Area, I'd heard about the "Blue Cube" , being the reason for the area being a first strike zone.

Thanks. I can see this from my office and I always wondered what it was. Interesting that it says it's been closed since 1995, as it clearly still has armed guards and people coming and going.
posted by cj_ at 11:34 AM on October 27, 2009


Tucson, Arizona: home of Davis Monthan Air Force Base. Also just north of a whole mess of Titan missile silos. Would have been dust in the first round.

Albuquerque, New Mexico: home of Kirtland Air Force Base. Also home of Sandia Labs. Would have gone at the same time as Tucson.

If you didn't follow the wikipedia links above, let me preview one phrase common to all sites: "nuclear weapons."
posted by deejay jaydee at 11:37 AM on October 27, 2009


I attended the University of Waterloo in southwestern Ontario (Canada) and heard echoes of this rumor about the Math building, which once held a powerful computer (rare at the time). The math building is built like a fortress and, according to rumor, if hit by a nuclear bomb, the walls would fall outward rather than caving in, thus leaving the precious computer intact.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:40 AM on October 27, 2009


Given that these rankings appear to have been:

1) common as dirt
2) inaccurate, or at least exaggerated in most cases
3) largely irrelevant

...I wonder who was responsible for spreading this type of information? In the absence of cable news, what was the medium? Along with base propaganda and fear mongering, was there any purpose?

My father says that the public school system was used to spread these "facts". He also remembers going to a "local observation station" in his town of about 800 people (spread over 35 square miles) that housed listening equipment and posters of what sort of planes you should be looking for in the event of a nuclear attack. This would have been in the late 50s/early 60s I guess.
posted by GodricVT at 11:40 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I grew up about 15 miles outside of Washington, D.C., right down the road from an underground ballistic missile installation. The missiles were decommissioned right around the time I was born, but until then, and probably afterwards, it's safe to say we were on somebody's target list.
posted by killdevil at 11:42 AM on October 27, 2009


Seattle - because of Boeing and the shipyards.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 11:45 AM on October 27, 2009


Hmm I live 45 minutes outside of nyc on long island so i would say yes. Heck in ww2 we had nazis land on our south shore.

Also we housed grumman which built the lunar landar and the f-14. We also have brookhaven national labs, and plum island. Long island was used in the cold war to protect boston and New york city. We still have a huge radar tower at the east end by montauk point.

http://www.americanairpowermuseum.com/Images/Newsday-10-04-09.pdf
posted by majortom1981 at 11:52 AM on October 27, 2009


In San Antonio, we were rumored to be a "top ten" target because of the large amount of military bases around town. After seeing The Day After, I remember being sort of relieved that we'd be a direct hit and wouldn't be around for the aftermath.
posted by Addlepated at 11:53 AM on October 27, 2009


The many mentions you've heard of "my town was #3" sound like a garbled version of what I heard -- that our town was on a list of third-WAVE targets.

As I heard it, the Soviet attacks would go in three waves: first would be major military/population/communication/combinations-thereof cities, and a second wave of attacks would target major whatever-else-you'd-think-was-on-the-first-list-but-wasn't cities.

Then, if anyone was alive, there would be a third wave of attacks -- which was to target industrial centers. My home town had been pivotal to the textile industry up until the late 1970's, so the rumor was that we were still on the list of "third wave of attacks" targets.

Maybe that's what you're hearing -- people having heard their town was on the third-wave list, and conflated that to "my town was #3 on the list of targets". Of course, this assumes that my town was even on that third-wave target list in the first place, but at least it sounds plausible.

I think my friends and I just laughed when we heard it, because by then Willimantic was plummeting into a serious economic downswing and the thought of it being notable for ANYTHING AT ALL was just hysterically funny.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:54 AM on October 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


I grew up in Charlottesville, Va, which I think was supposed to be a "tertiary" target due to the military have a satellite image analysis office located there.* Also, there's supposed to be a spy training school in town called the Federal Executive Center (still there!).

Also, supposedly there's a large Dupont factory not very far away that was supposed to be one of those ancillary targets.



* We had a person come from the place when I was in 7th grade, and it turned out to be one of the more boring guest speaker events ever. Every answer, "Top secret!" Bah.
posted by Atreides at 11:55 AM on October 27, 2009


Our little mountain town created enriched uranium or plutonium or whatever it was for the manhattan project. It's my understanding we were chosen specifically BECAUSE we'd be hard to hit. Of course, that's pre-cold war, but it's pertaining to our targeted-ness in another war.
posted by TomMelee at 11:56 AM on October 27, 2009


When I was in the Army Security Agency, we were often told that ASA installations (signal intelligence gathering stations) would be the first to be attacked (along with their Navy and AF counterparts). Years later, I was on the periphery of some strategic war planning. A recurring premise was that C3I (Command, Control, Communication, Intelligence) structures would have been destroyed in the first phase of the war. That included those signal intelligence stations I mentioned above, so this "we're number two!" thing seems to infect more than just cities in the US.

The real answer is that everybody was probably correct. US policy was to have enough weapons to bomb every Soviet city and town several times over; the Soviet policy was probably similar. First wave takes out Washington (Command), major hub cities (Control and Communication), and any crucial intelligence gathering/analysis sites (Intelligence). Second wave (which is really kind of wave 1A) takes out immediate war-fighting capability such as military bases, third wave takes out everything else as does the fourth wave and the fifth wave. Sixth, seventh, and eighth waves pound the rubble (or ruble). Ninth wave is to satisfy that anal-retentive general in the Supply Corps.
posted by joaquim at 11:58 AM on October 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Salt Lake City, because of Mormon HQ. More realistically though, I suspect the more interesting targets were a bit further afield. Ogden, ~30-40 minutes north, was a major civilian and military logistical hub, and had an air force base with F-16s. To the west, Dugway Proving Grounds held a lot of supposedly obselete chemical weapons, and who knows what else. The west side of the Salt Lake Valley was home to a huge copper mine and processing facility that produced all sorts of metals. North Salt Lake also had a couple of oil refineries.
posted by Good Brain at 11:59 AM on October 27, 2009


Sarnia, Ontario had a thriving petro-chemical industry (a lot of synthetic rubber was produced during the war) and my Mum says everyone considered it a prime target during the Cuban missle crisis. She was pregnant with me at the time and very worried.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:59 AM on October 27, 2009


This is the best question ever.

I grew up being told that Montgomery, Alabama was the #3 target because Maxwell Air Force Base was the redundancy computer control system for the Air Force.
posted by jefficator at 11:59 AM on October 27, 2009


Rumor was since Clinton Sherman AFB (closed by the cold war and near my hometown) had one of the longest runways in the world, we were all doomed. DOOMED!

Funny you bring this up - my daughter was asking what a symbol meant on a building here in town just the other day and i was trying to explain bomb shelters and the whole cold war thing. Hopefully her history teachers will do a better job.
posted by domino at 12:04 PM on October 27, 2009


Fun times, I can still hum the song 'Duck and Cover' - we did that at least monthly for a few years in elementary school!
Denver was always supposedly way up on the hit lists for a number of reasons:
- NORAD was just down the road in Colo Springs
- Rocky Flats (just west of Denver) made the plutonium triggers for the N-bombs
- Chemical warfare stuff going on at Lowry (? - or another Army base, I forget)
- The US Mint in downtown
- The US Bureau of Standards (in Golden, but close enough)
and loads of other reasons.
I don't know if it's still true, but growing up, the Federal Gov't was the largest employer on the Front Range by a long, long shot.
posted by dbmcd at 12:05 PM on October 27, 2009


I was always told that Tulsa, Oklahoma would be a target because there were a number of aerospace facilities there (primarily Rockwell International). It was always said with a sense of pride. I never heard that we were especially high on the list, but I do remember discussion about whether we would rank as high as Oklahoma City (Tinker AFB). One of the more ridiculous aspects of the rivalry between the two.

I'm guessing this was more common in medium sized cities like Tulsa, which struggled with a bit of a sense of inferiority. Kind of a "Look how important and special we are!" claim.
posted by Dojie at 12:06 PM on October 27, 2009


Niagara Falls, power generation, I think I remember #2. I would be interested in theories on how this was propogated, other than Godriks Dad's theory
posted by rakish_yet_centered at 12:07 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Growing up in West Virginia, we always heard that Charleston (WV) was "on the list" because of all the chemical plants in the area. I remember it being in the "top 20" or so, but never as high as #2; apparently, our statewide inferiority complex manifested itself even in our nuclear fantasies.
posted by arco at 12:08 PM on October 27, 2009


Jacksonville, FL. During the roaring eighties, home of Cecil Field Naval Air Station, Naval Station Mayport, Naval Air Station Jacksonville, with proximity to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay.

Back then "Sara" was based out of Mayport...

Yeah... this little corner of the U.S. would have made for an interesting new water feature.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 12:09 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


In 1979, I was assured by a PA Forest Service employee that the Quehanna Wild Area in Clearfield County was on high on some list of targeted sites because of the jet engine testing that had been done there 20 years earlier.
posted by maurice at 12:10 PM on October 27, 2009


I grew up on USAF bases, specifically bases that housed the Strategic Air Command. We knew we were on the first wave target list. It was never discussed as a #1 or #2 target as the assumption was that the USSR would launch an overwhelming attack at hundreds of targets designed to make it impossible for us the counterattack. And we of course would do the same - thus the whole Mutual Assured Destruction thing that somehow actually worked.

The odd thing is that I don't remember ever once worrying about it. I saw fighters and bombers in the air every day of my childhood, but I guess it was such a normal part of the landscape that it never occurred to me that I should worry about it.
posted by COD at 12:18 PM on October 27, 2009


I grew up in Salina, Kansas, during the height of the cold war, and we were told we were a strategic target because our airport had one of the longest runways in the U.S. at the time (being the former site of Schilling Air Force Base and Smoky Hill Air Force Base, our runways were upgraded specifically to accomodate heavy-duty plans like the B-52 Stratfortress and the KC-135 Stratotanker). Our surrounding farmland was also home to several ICBM silos.
posted by amyms at 12:18 PM on October 27, 2009


Like pointystick, I, too heard that Augusta, GA was high on the list of targets, not only because of the Savannah River Site (which manufactured plutonium for nuclear weapons) but also nearby Fort Gordon, home of the Signal Corps. I figured we weren't unique in this regard, but I had no idea how many other areas made similar claims. As recently as 2004, it looks like Robert McNamara was claiming New York City was #1, after east coast military installations:

In addition, a report commissioned in the 1980s
by the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment is
still as relevant today.
It said Soviet nuclear war plans called for aiming
two one-megaton bombs at each of the following:
The three airports serving NYC; Wall Street; each
major bridge; all major rail centers; all power
stations; four NYC-area oil refineries; and the
NYC port facilities.


That is a scary number of megatons (remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by bombs in the 20 kiloton range).
posted by TedW at 12:20 PM on October 27, 2009


I live in Cincinnati, OH and have heard on numerous occasions that Cincinnati was a #whatever target because it was (still is I believe) where GE made all of the aircraft engines.
posted by comatose at 12:29 PM on October 27, 2009


A Bell Atlantic (I think) owned satellite communications center in my small hometown in NE Pennsylvania was a rumored target as it was "a vital part of our communications infrastructure". This was regularly talked about by us kids and may have been part of childhood wargames ala "Red Dawn".

When I was first grade or so, our cub scout troop went on a tour of the facility around the time of that artificial heart transplant that was big news around that time. I think there must have been a tv feed coming through one of the monitors as I thought the artificial heart was satellite controlled. I think that idea persisted for several years. I may not be as bright as I thought I was.
posted by buttercup at 12:30 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Denton, TX has a FEMA center and many folks there say they're on the list. notably, for the OP, they commonly accept that they're lower than 5th or 6th down the list, and the opined numbers tend to vary.

also lived in Norwich, CT which is near enough to Groton and the sub base there that similar talk was had. i was too young to remember where on the list people thought we were, but it was commonly accepted that we'd be hit in the event of nuclear strike.
posted by radiosilents at 12:33 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


The odd thing is that I don't remember ever once worrying about it. I saw fighters and bombers in the air every day of my childhood, but I guess it was such a normal part of the landscape that it never occurred to me that I should worry about it.

I think that's a big part of the popularity of these myths. They substitute certainty ("yeah, we're totally screwed") for uncertainty.
posted by onshi at 12:36 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


My dad was in the USAF and our family spent 1980-1986 stationed at Offut AFB and at McConnell AFB. In 1986 he was stationed at RAF Molesworth which was scheduled to house Ground Launched Cruise Missiles and we moved to England. Where ever we were I always assumed we were a Cold War target.
posted by bendy at 12:38 PM on October 27, 2009


I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio and I always heard we were "on the list" because of a GE plant on the north side of the city. I also heard that Dayton (the next major city north of Cincy) would be hit because it is home to Wright Patterson Air Force Base, which is (currently, though I'm not sure if it was during the cold war) one of the major communication hubs for the Air Force, or so I've been told.

No one ever said what number either city was on the list, though.
posted by paulus andronicus at 12:39 PM on October 27, 2009


Yes, Thomasville, Georgia, a teeny hamlet of Tallahassee, Florida -- I heard the near-the-top-of-the-list rumour, because of a supposed underground command center near/in/beneath a state-run hospital. It seemed plausible, because the grounds were big, surrounded by barbed wire, and a nuclear strike would probably try to prevent return-attack more than wipe out industry.

Excellent question.
posted by cmiller at 12:51 PM on October 27, 2009


I'm from Cincinnati, Ohio and I was always told (after the fact -- I was born in '85) that southwest Ohio was a target because of Fernald (a uranium procession facility).

More info can be found here
posted by LittleKnitting at 12:52 PM on October 27, 2009


Not an American, but sort of related thanks to our location and who funded it.

I grew up in the town of Stornoway, which is on the Isle of Lewis off the west coast of Scotland. In the early 80's NATO paid for an extension of our runway to be built, despite local objections that this would almost certainly cause us to be wiped out in the first strike. (Huge trucks rolled up and down the main road near my house for weeks, one of them ran over and killed my dog. The certain knowledge that the Russians were going to annihilate us any second didn't make that any easier for my 7 year old self.)

Following completion, we were the nearest NATO-standard airfield to the UK's north west approaches and a refueling stop for NATO aircraft on their way to and from Soviet airspace. I reckon we'd have been toast pretty quick. Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising features Stornoway pretty heavily and I'm sure the Russians got most of their intel from his books anyway.
posted by IanMorr at 12:58 PM on October 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Here in Eastern Canada, we heard this all the time as well. Not specific numbers, just a "don't think just because we're nice peaceful Canadians and not those warmongering Americans that the evil Russians aren't targetting us, too" kind of line. That, and the fallout from all the strikes on the US northeast would roll right over us as well to ensure we were doubly dead, of course. No real purpose to this talk, from what I remember.

What amused me was local Haligonians were always placing Halifax slightly higher on the list (due to the harbour and military bases for all three branches of the armed forces) than Gander (air force) and Saint John (shipyards). There was the "civic pride" thing of being "more worthy" of being a nuclear target, and the impression that there would be some valuable duration of time between the waves of missiles - like the morning paper would bring an update of which cities were hit the day before.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 1:00 PM on October 27, 2009


I grew up in a Detroit suburb during the 80's. I remember people talking about the manufacturing and engineering facilities in the area making Detroit a target. I don't think we did nuclear fallout drills, but I remember being paraded into the fallout shelter in my elementary school for tornado drills. The nuclear fallout signs were still up in the halls.
posted by paulg at 1:08 PM on October 27, 2009


It would be interesting if people added when it was that they were growing up & hearing these rumors. For me (see above about Salt Lake City), it was the early/mid-80s, when I was in my early to late teens.

I suspect that a lot of these ideas entered the culture in the late 50s or early 60s and took on a life of their own after that. It would be interesting to know how specific the original inoculations were. What were the early mass media manifestations of the specific idea of when a given community would likely be hit? By the 80's ICBMs with multiple reentry vehicles and large nuclear armed submarine fleets made almost any story plausible, but early in the cold war, delivery would have been by strategic bomber or short range missile, and targets would have been picked much more carefully.
posted by Good Brain at 1:11 PM on October 27, 2009


Growing up we "knew" we were 1st wave targets because of the local PineTree site at Mt. Lolo some 25 kms away. Probably second wave targets as well because of the concentration of transport facilities in the area (Yellowhead and TransCanada highways and CN & CP railroads).
posted by Mitheral at 1:23 PM on October 27, 2009


What a great question. Great discussion too. It's really incredibly that so many people seemed proud of their status on the hit list... almost as if it were a coping mechanism.

Personally, I had the exact opposite experience. I grew up in the middle of a corn field, with only a couple small cities an hour's drive away, and no major metropolitan areas within three hours. The missile fields were all hundreds of miles away.

Some people there believed that when the cities burned then the rural areas would remain, and that their superior way of life would become the norm. They were optimistic.
posted by rlk at 1:24 PM on October 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Waterloo/Cedar Falls, Iowa for the John Deere manufacturing plant, because "it could very quickly be converted to weapons manufacturing". Only, I heard (starting in the mid-90's all the way through 9/11) that it was a terrorist target rather than a Soviet target, and it was just "top ten" and not #2.

I never really considered that there was no way in the world that this could be true. The manufacturing plant is not that big. But Iowans will grasp at anything that makes them sound more interesting :)
posted by relucent at 1:29 PM on October 27, 2009


I grew up in Kansas City, and I remember clearly my dad telling me we were first wave targets because of the nearby Bendix plant where they made components for nuclear weapons. What an ominous place that seemed to be. Then when The Day After, which is set Kansas City, aired when I was in elementary school, it became common knowledge that we were all fucked.

It was kind of a relief to me at the time, actually; especially after seeing The Day After at 9 years old I didn't really have much interest in surviving a nuclear attack and it was nice to know I didn't really have to worry about such things.

Given the widespread nature of this idea, I do wonder about the motivation for the meme; is it that nowhere was safe? or everyone is fucked so you don't need to stock up against mutants? Or your crappy hometown isn't just boring, it has international relevance? Amazing. Great question!
posted by ulotrichous at 2:02 PM on October 27, 2009


Oh, right, the greater Boston area (well, Cape Cod, actually) had - and still has - the US east coast PAVE PAWS facility. So the entire Cape was fucked, too.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:06 PM on October 27, 2009


I was told, in the mid 90's, that the nuclear power plants at Turkey Point in South Florida were going to be the first to go if Cuba ever struck at the United States -- according to my (Cuban exile) Spanish teacher, they knew this because a Cuban fighter pilot (having flown under the radar all the way from Cuba, just as he was trained to do) popped up next to Homestead Air Force Base one day in his MiG and asked to defect.
posted by Comrade_robot at 2:09 PM on October 27, 2009


I grew up in southern Indiana, and heard this story because of the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant in Charlestown.
posted by andrewzipp at 2:12 PM on October 27, 2009


We believed this in Peoria, IL, because Caterpillar could re-tool their factories for heavy machinery production, and again at the University of Illinois, Urbana, because of the rumor that deep below ground were supercomputers that held the entire backup of the Federal government's data.
posted by hwyengr at 2:22 PM on October 27, 2009


Heh. I grew up in NJ too (~20 miles from NYC in Union County), and while I never recalled hearing anything in school, my mother told me many times when I was growing up in the mid-late 80s how we would be "first on the list" because of the proximity to New York and to all the oil refineries (which are in Linden, NJ). I guess my mother had an inflated sense of our importance compared to most of these rumors!

Also, I think onshi has it exactly right:

I think that's a big part of the popularity of these myths. They substitute certainty ("yeah, we're totally screwed") for uncertainty.

I never felt particularly anxious because of my mother telling me how we'd be sure to die (subtext: hey, at least it'll be quick!) were there a nuclear attack. It was just, okay, well, we're first on the list! Fatalism.
posted by lysimache at 2:22 PM on October 27, 2009


Fargo ND: it was probably in the 5th grade, around 1985 or 1986, late in the Cold War game so we didn't do 'duck and cover' but I distinctly remember getting the Nuclear War Talk from a teacher. We were told Fargo was high on the list (I don't think specifically #2) because our Air National Guard group, the Happy Hooligans, were a first-reponder sort of capacity, and NDSU had some sort of nuclear energy research department which had some strategic value.
posted by AzraelBrown at 2:26 PM on October 27, 2009


When I was growing up in Rochester, New York in the 1980s, there was a rumor in my 5th grade class that we were 17th on "the list". I don't remember a rationale, but the weird number -- seventeen -- definitely stuck out to me.
posted by k8lin at 2:29 PM on October 27, 2009


I wasn't really around during the Cold War, but I definitely heard these rumors after the WTC attacks. I'm in Albuquerque, New Mexico, home of Kirtland Airforce Base and Sandia Labs (as noted above). If I remember correctly, these were usually appended with why *we* would be the target instead of Los Alamos.
posted by NoraReed at 2:51 PM on October 27, 2009


Growing up in Houston, I heard several people bemoan that the Port of Houston and all the nearby oil refineries would be a primary target and that even if we didn't die in the initial blast the atmosphere would catch on fire or some such thing due to all the petroleum.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:05 PM on October 27, 2009


^and also because of Ellington Air Force Base which would be targeted to prevent interceptor fighters from taking on oncoming Russian bombers.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:07 PM on October 27, 2009


Grew up not too far from Wright Patterson AFB, a large base. I often heard that we would be a target, but don't recall a number. I remember assuming that there were some pretty important targets with much higher priority, but also thinking that if there was an exchange of missiles, there might be an exchange of a LOT of missiles. It's an interesting example of how scary a time it was. Watch Failsafe sometime.
posted by theora55 at 3:18 PM on October 27, 2009


I was always told that Tulsa, Oklahoma would be a target because there were a number of aerospace facilities there (primarily Rockwell International).

Actually, Tulsa would probably have been nuked twice -- the airport (with the Rockwell factory and the 10K foot runway) and the (at the time) three oil refineries in west Tulsa. But Tulsa would certainly have been a secondary target; first strike targets would have been Tinker, Vance, and Altus AFBs, Tinker for the AWACS base, Vance and Altus for their strategic bomber wings.

Tulsa would be hit when they decided to go after economic and army-related targets. Ft. Sill and the army ammo depot in McAlester would be with that wave of nukes.

If anyone remembers the 1980s RPG Twilight 2000 they laid out a possible nuclear target scenario in the US. Most of what was hit in that version was government, air command, and energy-related infrastructure like refineries.
posted by dw at 3:24 PM on October 27, 2009


Don't know where we were on any list but growing up within 5 miles of a SAC base and a Naval Shipyard probably put us up near the top.

Living in the flight path of the base was an adolescent boy's dream, though.
posted by D_I at 3:33 PM on October 27, 2009


Yes, Indianapolis was "#3" because of the engine plants.

I had heard that Indianapolis was "in the top ten" because of the Army Finance Center at Fort Benjamin Harrison.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:34 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I grew up in Springfield, MO. I never thought I was on the list.

However, going to Kansas City we always drove past a bunch of missile silos (with missiles in them until fairly recently). The common wisdom was that those were on the list.
posted by Netzapper at 3:41 PM on October 27, 2009


I had heard that Indianapolis was "in the top ten" because of the Army Finance Center at Fort Benjamin Harrison.

Sorry, I forgot to mention that this was mid-1980s.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:48 PM on October 27, 2009


Growing up in the Manhattan Project city of Oak Ridge, TN, I don't remember any rumors of our having a specific ranking, it was more just assumed that any list of primary targets would surely include us. The post-apocalyptic novel Alas, Babylon had us thoroughly nuked, FWIW. In retrospect, since our specialty was nuke production, not launching, it would only make sense to take out Oak Ridge if the Soviets were planning for a long-term nuclear war.
posted by Tsuga at 3:53 PM on October 27, 2009


Oh yes, we were certain that it was, despite the fact that less than 400 people lived there. Something about the railroad going through our piddly village (in northwest Ohio) being a "vital railroad link" or something. It's pretty laughable when I think about it now.
posted by elder18 at 4:02 PM on October 27, 2009


ulotrichous writes "Given the widespread nature of this idea, I do wonder about the motivation for the meme; is it that nowhere was safe? or everyone is fucked so you don't need to stock up against mutants? Or your crappy hometown isn't just boring, it has international relevance? Amazing. Great question!"

Keep in mind this thread is practically 100% self selected for these stories. People who didn't grow up with this knowledge aren't commenting.
posted by Mitheral at 4:12 PM on October 27, 2009


Bendy already provided the link for McConnell AFB in southcentral KS, so I won't duplicate it. I grew up in Hutchinson, about 50 miles from there, and there were a few Titan II missile silos nearby, so we always figured we were on the list. We never prided ourselves with any number status, though. We would just acknowledge it with a moment of doom and gloom, and then it was back to the corn dogs at the state fair.
posted by bryon at 4:15 PM on October 27, 2009


I grew up within a mile of the California Voice Of America tower located in Delano, CA which recently closed 2007. http://www.answers.com/topic/voice-of-america
posted by perplexed at 4:32 PM on October 27, 2009


Like COD and bendy, I grew up on or near USAF bases. We always knew we were a target and took it for granted. Our family had the "luck" to be stationed twice at Minot AFB, North Dakota twice in my father's career. Due to the presence of numerous ICBM silos scattered in driving distance of both the Minot and Grand Forks, we knew the state would be a first-strike target.

We also used to joke that if North Dakota seceded from the Union, it would be a major world power. And then we'd move back to San Antonio for the second or third time...
posted by Robert Angelo at 4:37 PM on October 27, 2009


Great question. We were number two in suburban/rural Pennsylvania because of our proximity to the Army's Fort Indiantown Gap. After moving to NYC and being here for 9/11, it became very, very obvious that rural/suburban Pennsylvania was not on anybody's list of targets.
posted by anildash at 4:48 PM on October 27, 2009


(Clearly, locations with porn in the woods were bumped up the nuclear target list until they were tied for second place.)
posted by anildash at 4:50 PM on October 27, 2009


I forgot to mention, that yes, according to my teachers, we were the 2nd place on the list of sites to get hit after Washington DC.
posted by perplexed at 4:52 PM on October 27, 2009


(Anil-- I decided to take this idle wondering to metafilter after remembering how mind-blowing the porn-in-the-woods thread was.)
posted by jeb at 5:01 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, totally!

I grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario - right on the border with Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. It's a steel town, and it was even moreso 20 years ago. My mother always told me that it was a target because of the steel plant. Also, the Soo Locks are a critical shipping connection, and across the river in the States, the USAF flew B-52's out of Kincheloe, even thought it closed a decade before I was born. My run-down little hometown didn't have a lot going for it, but at least we knew we were worth bombing.

And sure enough, across the road from my elementary school was one of those rotating-horn air-raid sirens, perched a few stories in the air on a rickety wooden stand, which once or twice a year would start up and make the scariest damn sound I've heard in my life, howling over the city. They kept this up through the late 80's, no less. This was long past the era of duck-and-cover drills; we just had to sit there, covering our ears and meditating on doom.

There was another corollary. One of the cold war-era high schools had a curious design whereby the only windows in the classrooms were located at the front and the back, and they were angled inwards in a kind of V-shape. We were always told, with great authority, that it had been designed that way so that, when the bombs fell, the windows would implode towards the front and back of the class, sparing the students but killing the teacher.

As you might imagine, this particular idea got some traction with the city's teenagers. It was somehow appealing to think that, after the Pentagon was nuked, the teachers of Bawating Secondary School were next on the list.
posted by bicyclefish at 5:31 PM on October 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


I grew up just north of Plattsburgh, NY which, as GodricVT mentioned, had an air force base which housed bombers that would have gone over the North Pole with their nukes. But I don't remember hearing much about it except from my junior high social studies teacher, who would get a tiny bit hysterical about it.

The base was decommissioned in the early '90s, and has since hosted a Phish concert and now a public airport. It's amusing and also reassuring to take twin-propeller Cape Air flights up from Boston to see my folks. After landing the plane usually takes 10 minutes to taxi to the end of the runway formerly used by heavily laden bombers.
posted by A dead Quaker at 5:41 PM on October 27, 2009


I was told many times that our town, Ogden, Utah was in the top five because of Hill Air Force Base and its importance to Dugway Proving Ground.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 5:48 PM on October 27, 2009


I grew up in Shrewsbury, MA, where our new neighbors told us we were targeted for the second wave because of the shadowy Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research in the center of town. Seemed plausible to the third grade me.

Really, I think they should've aimed some stuff our way to try and get Spag's.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:29 PM on October 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Agreeing with COBRA! and bendy. I grew up near Offutt and always heard it was pretty close to the top of those lists.
posted by DJWeezy at 6:32 PM on October 27, 2009


Early eighties Toronto, oh yeah, we were next after NYC. No, it didn't make any kind of sense but it was a way for Canadian's to feel that yeah - we are important enough to get nuked too. Why Toronto? Well because it is "the engine that runs Canada" and without Toronto the rest of Canada would quickly acquiesce to the Russians.

In reality, the rest of Canada wouldn't notice Toronto was gone except for the lack of Toronto-focused news. If anything, they'd be thankful the insufferable bastards were gone.
posted by saucysault at 6:36 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Growing up in Vegas, I never heard this at all. Sure, Vegas has Nellis AFB, home of the Thunderbirds, so I guess the Commies could have taken out our aerobatics advantage. The nuclear test site in Mercury is also proximal, and many of the employees commuted from Las Vegas, but when it comes to a shooting war, maybe testing new weapons is kind of a moot point.
posted by logicpunk at 6:38 PM on October 27, 2009


This is one area where Metafilter's lack of former KGB agents really shows.
posted by Panjandrum at 6:39 PM on October 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


I was told growing up in small-town New Boston, NH that we were a second-tier nuclear target. I believe that's understated, actually, because we have the New Boston Air Force Station, one of eight satellite tracking stations the US maintains. (The giant geodesic domes over the tracking antennas are known locally as "the golf balls", and can be seen easily from pretty much any hills nearby.) I'd be surprised if that wasn't a top target, given that decapitating communications would be a nuclear-strike priority.

This is particularly ironic as a very odd bit of town history starts with Roger Babson, businessman and college founder, moving to New Boston in 1948, having determined it was far enough away from any big cities to avoid World War III. In fact, he went as far as to put up a sign declaring New Boston the safest place in America in the event of nuclear war. (The tracking station didn't open until the late 1950s.) Having moved there, he purchased a good amount of the town and founded the Gravity Research Foundation, "[pioneering] active research for anti-gravity and a partial gravity insulator". (I quote that directly from the stone monument in the center of our town.) It was, shall we say, eccentric; here are two articles from a local paper that tell the story better than I can.

After Babson died, the foundation no longer maintained a physical presence, but they still exist with an essay contest, which now brings in works from generally reputable scientists who wouldn't mind a few thousand dollars. (For NH types who'd like to investigate more, the monument is in the center of triangle where Route 13 and Route 136 meet. Park at the bank and walk across the street.)
posted by Upton O'Good at 6:41 PM on October 27, 2009


I grew up just outside DC.

Sometime in the early 80s, when I would've been about 7 or 8, I remember sitting down with the world book encyclopedia's article on atomic bombs, a city roadmap, and a protractor. I then plotted out the blast radius and destruction zones for direct hits on the Capitol and White House, for various megatonnages of bomb (according the handy World Book).

I figured out that unless the Russkies hit DC with a Tsar Bomba, my parents and I were quite likely to escape death in the initial blast, but would almost certainly die slowly and painfully thanks to the subsequent fires, radiation, and fallout.

I immediately started wheedling with my mom, asking if we could move closer into the city. She thought it was because I wanted to be able to visit the Air and Space museum whenever I wanted, when really it was because I didn't want any of us to suffer when the bombs inevitably dropped.

I'm so goddamn glad that I'm raising my daughter in a different world.
posted by xthlc at 6:44 PM on October 27, 2009 [13 favorites]


It wasn't exactly 'second on the list' but Russellville, Arkansas was popularly assumed to be a target because of the nuclear power plant.

I didn't live there, but Pine Bluff, Arkansas was also considered high on the list because of the Pine Bluff Arsenal, one of the few chemical and (formerly) biological weapons storage installations in the US. Thankfully it's also where we're in the process of destroying a lot of those same weapons.
posted by jedicus at 6:44 PM on October 27, 2009


I grew up in Columbus, and I can agree that I heard Dayton was a target due to Wright Pat (and then all the fallout would blow our way...) Never heard about Cinci, Columbus itself, or Cleveland, though.
posted by olinerd at 6:50 PM on October 27, 2009


Just after September 11, word was going around that Pittsburgh was a high priority for terrorists. The thinking was that they would only have access to third world textbooks from years ago, and would incorrectly surmise that Pittsburgh was still the steel capital of the world. People were pretty proud of our infamy.
posted by Archibald Edmund Binns at 6:52 PM on October 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


when really it was because I didn't want any of us to suffer when the bombs inevitably dropped.

On several occasions as a child, my mother would tell me quite assuredly that if there ever was a nuclear war then we should really hope that we get zapped in the first blast because otherwise life will really suck. As an 8 year old, I didn't really know whether to find that comforting or terrifying so I just devised some kind of amalgamation of the two feelings.

In addition to the other things I mentioned about Houston, people also seemed to think that that NASA's Johnson Space Center would be targeted as well.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:57 PM on October 27, 2009


This wasn't during the Cold War, but in the mid-'90s, I "learned" that Manchester, NY would have been fourth on the Nazis' target list during World War II, had they ever been able to pull off transatlantic bombing raids. There was a major railroad yard there.

There has been absolutely nothing of any strategic significance in Manchester since before I was born.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 6:58 PM on October 27, 2009


I grew up in Charlottesville, Va, which I think was supposed to be a "tertiary" target due to the military have a satellite image analysis office located there.* Also, there's supposed to be a spy training school in town called the Federal Executive Center (still there!). Also, supposedly there's a large Dupont factory not very far away that was supposed to be one of those ancillary targets.

I grew up just outside of Charlottesville, and we were told that after they hit DC first and we were just "getting over" the peripheral impact, they would come back and hit us #3 because of there was strategic/intelligence targets "at the University and in town." They didn't mention the Dupont factory in Waynesboro at all, probably because several of my classmates' parents worked at Dupont and we all knew they were making carpets and textiles. We also thought, based on something one kid with parents there said, that they were studying Soviet satellite images at the Federal Executive Center and that's what made us a target. No one knew who #2 was.
posted by julen at 7:04 PM on October 27, 2009


I went to high school near Charlottesville, and we always heard tiny Culpeper, Va was, if not #2, then high on the list for a TERRORIST attack (I'm dating myself.) The reason was a large facility that served as a critical data center for credit card companies.

I wonder how badly I'm mangling a story my Algebra 2 teacher told me, but I think that's kind of the point of things like this.
posted by Vhanudux at 7:14 PM on October 27, 2009


I live in suburban Atlanta, in Cobb County, GA. We would almost certainly have been a target due to the giant Lockheed (then Martin Marietta) plant and Dobbins ARB.
posted by deadmessenger at 7:18 PM on October 27, 2009


Here's one more that even 100+ posts wasn't likely to uncover: North Bay, Ontario, rumoured throughout my high school to be a major secondary nuclear target. (I believe it was often phrased After the Pentagon and New York or words to that effect; sometimes the rumour acknowledged more important US targets such as Dakota missile sites or the Cheyenne Mountain complex in Colorado made famous to us '80s kids by War Games).

The explanation: North Bay is home to Norad's most important northern command centre, which is located in a bunker buried several hundred metres beneath a hill on the edge of town. The North Bay Norad complex was in charge of tracking Soviet missiles and aircraft as they entered North American airspace.

This part wasn't really bullshit - my father, a Canadian air force officer, actually worked in the command centre, known colloquially as "the hole," and it was indeed the most important Norad installation in Canada. He used to go to Washington with suitcases that had seals on them that customs officials weren't allowed to open. He'd sometimes bring back a bottle or two of booze over his official duty-free limit because he knew they'd never check those cases - the closest my straight-arrow dad ever came to transgression.

Ah, Cold War nostalgia - who knew in those Day After days it'd come to taste so sweet?
posted by gompa at 7:26 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hah! I call all y'all and your podunk towns, and raise you my hometown, with one nuclear power plant, THREE (and more) military installations, a port, and an international border.

"San Diego is the site of one of the largest naval fleets in the world, and San Diego has become the largest concentration of Naval facilities in the world due to base reductions at Norfolk, Virginia and retrenchment of the Russian naval base in Vladivostok." [wiki]

Even back in the day, it was a pretty damn big military target. So yeah, we might not have been number two, but we could say with certainly that the Soviets were DEFINITELY going to bomb us. The Cold War talk eventually died down, but after 9/11 (especially considering how many of the hijackers lived in San Diego for a while), we were back on the target list.
posted by librarylis at 7:29 PM on October 27, 2009


I'm from San Diego, and we figured we'd be a decent target for the Pacific fleet of the Navy, as well as a couple Naval air bases and a marine base, but nuking the marine base wouldn't really do anything since it's mostly empty anyway. I'd think the #1 target in California might be Vandenberg or something.
posted by LionIndex at 7:51 PM on October 27, 2009


Like jlkr said above, I lived in SE Michigan and we figured Detroit was high on the list "because of all the car factories." We used to duck and cover, they called them "tornado drills."

Cold War related anecdote/myth: My hometown was small, suburban and very white-bread. We had one homeless guy. He had red hair and big beard and walked around in an army jacket. When we were kids we somehow knew he went crazy because he worked on the atom bomb.
posted by marxchivist at 7:53 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Growing up in a very small town in the northeastern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan I was told that we were unlikely to survive a nuclear strike because of our (relative) proximity to Midland, MI, home of Dow Chemical and two large chemical plant complexes and their industrial capacity.

We didn't think about this at the time, but Wurtsmith AFB (where many B-52s (nuclear armed?) were stationed) is in the same area and would be guaranteed to be a first-wave target.

The scary thing is that there were (and still are) enough nuclear weapons in either side's inventory to hit every missile silo, every strategic Air Force base and response in this thread ten times over. There's definitely some interesting data in this thread for a social scientist or arms-control researcher.
posted by theclaw at 8:00 PM on October 27, 2009


I didn't even grow up in Albuquerque, and we in Las Cruces claimed that we would be the #2 9/11 hit (too young for Soviet nuclear attacks) because of White Sands Missile Range. Pathetic, I know.
posted by pravit at 8:03 PM on October 27, 2009


Off topic?

I just got a flyer announcing an Open House & Sale at Riker Hill Art Park, Nov 7&8, at 284 Beaufort Avenue (Off Eisenhower Parkway just north of Route 10, but you knew that) in Livingston, NJ.
Free Admission.

Riker Hill Art Park was the command&control for the nearby Nike Hercules missile launch facilities in the 1950's or so. Now it houses a bunch of artist's and artyist's studios. It's worth a look for the art, and for the remaining decayed infrastructure of the duck and cover defenders.

I remember crawling under my desk in the fourth grade when my teacher said 'take cover' (we had atomic war drills in 1950s Brooklyn). I never thought about how valuable a target Brooklyn might have been. Of course, bombing Brooklyn then would have taken out more communists than bombing Odessa...
posted by hexatron at 8:04 PM on October 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


As a bit of contrast, the town/area that I live in (Dryden, in Northwestern Ontario) is said to be one of the safest places that you can be living in the event of a nuclear attack - there's not really anything of any importance around here.
posted by davey_darling at 8:05 PM on October 27, 2009


Living in Minnesota I always heard, "Yeah, we're like...the number four target if anything goes down 'cause we have Prairie Island." That never made sense to me because although it's a significant piece of energy infrastructure and a potential bomb-fuel producer, I just never saw it being a strategic target.

Googling, I came up with this. There also seem to be similar maps for other states, so I wonder if these were published as part of the nuke scare from the 50s to the 80s. It seems like the map is just explaining where you might be exposed to a nuclear radiation threat; missile attack, core meltdown, or otherwise. I could see how information about what to do if a local plant goes super-critical could be misconstrued to sound like a Communist scare.
posted by Demogorgon at 8:22 PM on October 27, 2009


While dbmcd identified a few Denver landmarks, I grew up a few miles from the Rocky Flats Weapons Plant where they manufacturing plutonium triggers for nuclear warheads. We never claimed to be the number two target, but we did believe we were fairly high up on the list.
posted by jazon at 8:25 PM on October 27, 2009


Wow. This thread has turned out better than my wildest dreams.
posted by jeb at 9:03 PM on October 27, 2009


I know when I was growing up a lot of the "yeah, we're on the list, high up there, first strike!" stuff wasn't really bravery, it was more about wanting & hoping to go quickly. We knew once all the megatons had their way with the planet, all that'd be left for us to do was wait for a long, painful, awful death. In comparison, the idea that we'd be gone in a bright flash was somehow easier to take.
posted by Salmonberry at 9:26 PM on October 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was told that Montgomery, Alabama was high on the list because of our Air Force base (Maxwell) and the Air War College which it hosts, where they train high level officers to conduct the eponymous activity.
posted by Clay201 at 9:28 PM on October 27, 2009


Hamilton, ON, CA represent:
nuke pointed at us on account of the steel industry -
a fact verified by our quite good but easily excitable geography teacher

I agree with the sentiment that it was a strange source of pride -
and also, after learning the details of a nuclear holocaust,
a cold source of comfort
posted by sloe at 9:44 PM on October 27, 2009


I had heard that Duluth MN was on a secondary list of targets since it's an important port on the Great Lakes.
posted by flod logic at 10:01 PM on October 27, 2009


This has to be the most pathetic iteration of the rumor: We knew we would get fallout from the bomb that took out the Smyrna airport The Tennessee Air National Guard was just that important.
posted by vibrotronica at 10:13 PM on October 27, 2009


I grew up just outside the DC beltway in Reston, Va and it was assumed that we'd be incinerated in the first wave attack because our proximity to DC. The heavy presence of CIA, Honeywell, Martin Marietta, and a defense satellite agency sealed the deal. I never heard a number assigned to our fate.

Growing up in West Virginia, we always heard that Charleston (WV) was "on the list" because of all the chemical plants in the area. I remember it being in the "top 20" or so, but never as high as #2; apparently, our statewide inferiority complex manifested itself even in our nuclear fantasies.

In high school I had a history teacher who was a retired soviet specialist for the Navy. He told us a story about having to prepare a huge report to debunk the rumor of a nuclear "bounce-off" effect. The story goes that Senator Byrd was concerned that some of the nukes that hit DC might not detonate, but would bounce off and land in West Virginia to explode there. That fits arco's theory that West Virginia was eager to get any nuclear action, even sloppy seconds.
posted by peeedro at 10:15 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


We weren't likely high on the list, but situated as we were very near Seattle & dead (heh) center as the crow flies between Bremerton (Bangor Naval Base), Fort Lewis (Army) & Fort McChord (Air Force) both in Lakewood, WA we figured we wouldn't be around for long. Seattle & Bremerton kinda sealed it in our minds as being the important ones, Lakewood would have just been because they were in the neighborhood & it would be rude not to stop by.

I don't remember a specific number just that it was A Certainty. Like Salmonberry, it was more about wanting & hoping to go quickly, but it was poorly masked by a sad sense of bravado that didn't really hide the fact that we all had other things we'd rather do than get incinerated or die of radiation poisoning.
posted by susanbeeswax at 10:37 PM on October 27, 2009


Just over the border in Wisconsin, construction started on the Richard Bong Air Force Base to defend against bombers coming over the North Pole. It was abandoned before completion and turned into the Bong Recreation Area, much to the amusement of people driving past the sign on the interestate.

My Dad works as a park ranger at the Bong Recreation area, and has for nearly 10 years. He still doesn't think the name of the park is funny.

Racine, Wisconsin, where I grew up, was explained to me to be a "number two level" target, because of it's proximity to both Milwaukee and Chicago. They horrifyingly cynical reason was that a strike targeted there would do massive damage to the two surrounding population centers, while allowing their residents to survive, only to face confusion and starvation after the initial attack.

I swear to God that very thought kept me up at night.
posted by elmer benson at 10:53 PM on October 27, 2009


I grew up near Cordova, Illinois, site of one of the few nuclear plants in the midwest. I was always told it was a target...it was also the cite of the regions only amateur car racing track. Can't say exterminating the rural midwest amateur car racing population would have been real high on the Russian's hit list...
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:55 PM on October 27, 2009


On preview - North Bay was already been mentioned, but not only is it home to the backup site to the Cheyenne mountain NORAD site, it was formerly home to BOMARC nuclear-tipped EMP anti-bomber missiles (that's right, nukes in Canada).
posted by acro at 10:56 PM on October 27, 2009


Growing up in the 1980's in Albuquerque, NM, were were always pretty aware of the fact that we had the WORLD'S LARGEST NUCLEAR WEAPONS STORAGE FACILITY at Kirtland, or before that in the Monzano Mountains just east. There are currently 3,000+ nuclear warheads stored there, and probably twice that many in the 80's.

I was once assured by a family friend who worked for NORAD that we were only a tertiary target, though, because none of those were immediately deliverable and all the old Titan silos fifty miles south of town had already been decommissioned.
posted by signalnine at 11:04 PM on October 27, 2009


I grew up in Gunnison, Colorado. Population 6,500.

I remember distinctly hearing from at least four different people that Gunnison was actually supposed to be geographically the least likely to get hit by nuclear weapons.

It was actually kind of nice.
posted by koeselitz at 11:18 PM on October 27, 2009


Aha! This declassified CIA document doesn't name names, but it does list the types of targets the Soviets would strike first, in order of priority:

1. strategic missile launch sites
2. sites for the production, assembly and storage of nuclear weapons and of means for delivering them to the target
3. large airfields, air force and naval bases
4. centers of political administration and of the military industry
5. large communications centers
6. large factories and power centers
7. arsenals and depots with strategic stocks of armaments, military equipment or strategic raw materials
8. strategic reserves and other targets of strategic significance in the deep rear of the enemy

Population centers that that were not strategically important were not targeted. Of course, if this thread is any indication, every town was strategically important.
posted by Tsuga at 12:11 AM on October 28, 2009 [7 favorites]


Awesome question. I love it when weird little springs of trivia are tapped in AskMe.

I grew up in the Norwich/New London area of CT, like radiosilents, and our childhood mantra was that we'd be somewhere in the single digits (maybe 5 or 6) on the Soviet nuke'em depth chart, because of the submarine base and shipyards in Groton, mentioned by saffry. In the 1980's much of the U.S. nuclear sub fleet was built or repaired in Groton and New London, and a dozen or more subs were based there. While one or two of those Polaris- and Trident-missile-armed beasts were being built from scratch at any given time, a whole mess of them could be lurking in the waters of the Thames (pronounce the "th") River. It definitely added to the stress of a 1980s childhood, but it was also a point of pride. For proof, you just had to look in the Yellow Pages: In the front of the book was an "escape map" in case of an unspecified emergency, which we all knew was a Soviet attack -- something about the red circle emanating from Groton. Hilariously, the map (if I remember correctly) showed a big arrow telling everyone to get on the same freeway and drive until you hit New Hampshire.

The answer to your question -- why does everyone seem to have the same story? -- is touched on by joaquim. The U.S. and Soviets had a laundry list of targets minor and major, and fleets of bombers -- and subs -- that could pump out a Galaga-worthy stream of nuclear missiles essentially simultaneously to wipe them all out. (Mutually Assured Destruction and all that.) There were lots of secondary targets after DC and NYC, and they could all be hit at once.

How do I know this? Not from book-learnin' (or Wikipedia), but from personal experience. If you'll indulge a little story: At the age of 10, I was roused from a deep winter sleep by my Dad, who bundled me in my puffy vinyl winter jacket (it was 1980), and drove me, in the middle of the night, to Groton. We passed through a Navy checkpoint and drove onto the sub base, right up to the docks. Then, we walked up a gangplank in pitch darkness onto the bobbing deck of an honest-to-God nuclear sub. (I know the name of the boat, but best not to mention it.) Since this wasn't a tourist attraction like the Nautilus, the metal deck was wet and slippery, and there was only that 6-inch high handhold-of-last-resort wire that ran along the perimeter of the boat to keep me and my new Adidas trainers from slipping into the sea.

Throughout childhood, I loved to play "sinking submarine" in the shower -- I'd plug up the drain and push my hand against the spray, pretending that I was trying to close a leaky hatch and dive, dive, dive away from trouble, WWII-diesel-boat-style. And here I was, staring down into the real thing -- a circular rabbit-hole in the deck, which Dad and I promptly climbed into. Inside, the sub was less like Das Boot and more like a modern power plant stuffed into a Winnebago -- lots of beige formica and stainless steel, and guys in blue jumpsuits and moustaches squeezing through hallways. (I was very, very sleepy, so even at the time it seemed surreal.)

We were on the sub because my Dad had been in Navy basic training with the now-captain of this boat way back in the day; the skipper promised that some day, he's invite us for a tour, but because all of their missions were technically secret, the call would come on short notice -- and tonight, the time was right.

My adventures that night were both mundane and deeply odd, like the lecture from the nuclear-turbine guy who warned me never to wear a wedding ring near the engines because there were giant magnets (or something) in there that would rip your finger off. But the best part of the whole experience was when we were in the galley having cookies, and a loud alarm went off; apparently, the electricity cable that ran from the boat to the dock (so its batteries wouldn't drain) stopped working, so protocol was to assume the worst: that Groton had been attacked by the Russkies, and the cable had been cut/melted/sabotaged. Suddenly, our host turned a little gray, realizing that having a kid on board during a war was probably a bad idea; and even if it was a false alarm, I was about to see some stuff I wasn't supposed to. Which happily, I did: All those guys in blue jumpsuits suddenly appeared with guns of all shapes and sizes, pulled from lockers in the hallways; one guy even armed himself with a giant wrench.

When the hubbub died down (it was a false alarm, duh), everyone was visibly relieved, and kind of punchy. So they brought me up to the command center and let me pretend to fire some nuclear missiles. As a WWII sub-movie nerd, I was disappointed to learn that there were no joysticks or red buttons attached to the periscope; instead, there were a couple guys facing walls of little black toggle switches, like old-time telephone operators. And there were a lot of switches. One dude asked me what cities I wanted to bomb; I picked Moscow and New York, just to be fair -- and ornery. They didn't blink an eye at my insouciance, pointed to the toggles I needed to throw, and I flicked 'em. Done and done. Not very satisfying, but a precocious introduction to the banality of modern warfare: If the guys doing the nuking were just flipping switches like the AT&T guy adding a fax line out at the utility box -- then imagine how removed our dick-swinging politicians are from the fiery havoc they can (and do) cause.
posted by turducken at 12:37 AM on October 28, 2009 [31 favorites]


There's an underground facility in rural north-western Pennsylvania that I was at once. It had to be high on the target lists. See here (you'll probably find that question fairly relevant to yours as well).
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:56 AM on October 28, 2009


I don't think it was the DuPont factory in Waynesboro, Virginia that was the problem, I think it was Westinghouse that built guidance systems there! Or so I was told, circa 1958, by people in Staunton explaining why they were now a target. (There was also something about whatever it was that GE was doing in Staunton, Virginia.) At the time I was astonished at how proud people were of being a target. And I want everyone to know: there is no way, ever, that the place where I now live has any strategic importance, so just cross me off your map! Please.
(Postscript) I was at work in small town Canada in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Gorbachev may have been out of power, I don't remember. I do recall him musing aloud to reporters about Reagan's unwillingness to dismantle nuclear weapons. I think this was within five years or less of the time I'm talking about. Anyway, I was at work and the staff had the radio on a US station (Spokane) that played rock. Suddenly, the program broke and a voice announced they were going over to Conelrad! Holy fuck! All my conditioning to duck and cover cut in. I felt myself as close to a heart attack as I have ever been in my life. I listened for the sound of missiles striking to the south. Then the announcer said (cheerily) "This was a test! Back to your regular programming." Jesus! I hadn't listened to US radio in years. I didn't realize that 640/1240 was now being used for all kinds of crap (school closings due to snow, high winds, big rain) because, in my day, it was only for nuclear war. You tuned to Conelrad for directions on how to escape your target zone. Often I have thought on the insanity of those MAD years.
(By the way, no one yet has mentioned Ward Moore's short story "Lot", so I thought I would. See, anyone who read science fiction knew all this civil defense/duck and cover/Conelrad stuff was nonsense.)
posted by CCBC at 2:40 AM on October 28, 2009


Coming in late after seeing this in the sidebar - awesome question!

Growing up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, everybody knew we were a target because of the Hamilton Watch company (who made timing mechanisms for bombs) and Armstrong Flooring (who made, oh I don't know, but there had to be something secret and military there).

But we were more modest - people only ever said we were number 3 on the nuclear hit list, not 2. Maybe because no one really believed they would nuke the Amish.
posted by Mchelly at 4:49 AM on October 28, 2009


I grew up in Newport, RI, and we had the opposite thing going on. Everyone knew that we'd make through the bombing OK because we were far enough from NYC and Boston, but we'd better have plans to evacuate to Upstate New York to avoid fallout once the button was pushed.

I once asked my Dad, who worked for the DoD as an engineer, which way we would drive if that happened, and he quietly explained that Newport had the Naval War College, which acts as a strategic command center, the Navy Labs, Electric Boat submarine works, the facility that programs and then controls all of the Navy's cruise missiles remotely once they're fired, and we had the closest deepwater port to the North Atlantic shipping lanes with Navy refit/resupply facilities. The submarine pens at Groton were pretty close, too. We were probably more of a priority than Boston, and wouldn't be driving anywhere once the balloon went up.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:33 AM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I grew up in East Texas, in apparently the only place in the country that wasn't sure they were a high priority direct-strike target. On the other hand, Houston was two hours in one direction and Shreveport (Barksdale AFB) was three hours in another.

It would be slow, horrible radiation death for us.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:16 AM on October 28, 2009


Not my hometown, but 100 miles away we heard Charleston, SC was on "the list" because of its port

Grew up in Charleston, SC. Not #2, but top 10 certainly due to the huge military presence.

Related to the port - which handles commercial shipping - there is also a deep water military port for shipping military stuff. There is the Charleston air base - mostly used as a transport hub and repair base for many many large military cargo aircraft (C130, C5s). They used to have a large naval shipyard that services both subs and surface ships (mothballed mostly now) and they still have the Naval Weapons Station - ie nuke warehouse for the Atlantic Fleet. Would you like to know more?

The weapon station is in the small town of goose creek, SC about 20 miles outside Charleston proper and where I went to high school. Talk of what to do once the bombs fell was pretty much limited to wondering if you'd get incinerated in the blast (lucky ones) or die of radiation in the rubble after a few days.
posted by anti social order at 6:27 AM on October 28, 2009


My small town of Connersville, IN was a supposed target because of a munitions depot that is housed.

Relatedly, on 9/11 I was attending the University of Notre Dame and students kept talking about how Muslims hate Catholics and how ND was a target because it is the most shiningest beacon of all Catholicism in the US, or somesuch.

I thought they were both bunk, but I really wanted to see the munitions depot when I was a little guy.
posted by sciurus at 6:43 AM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I really feel the need to point this out:

Mine. His.

I don't know if Clay's parents were military, but mine weren't. For the suspicion/rumor to be so wide-spread is interesting to me.
posted by jefficator at 6:45 AM on October 28, 2009


I grew up in the shadow of Cal State University Long Beach which is a couple of miles from the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station and less than 10 miles from the Long Beach Naval shipyard. I started school in 62 and remember the duck and cover exercises, but they would have been completely futile in the event of a real attack. What I don't remember was any talk about how we were #2 or #3 on the list-- maybe because it was too obvious.

To this day you can drive down Westminster Blvd. which cuts through the Naval Weapons Station and see all the grass covered bunkers erected in the middle of a beautiful wetlands area. For many, many years developers in the area have been salivating at the prospect of the station closing down because it is some of the most sought-after real estate in So.Cal.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:59 AM on October 28, 2009


Midcoast Maine -- yes, we also thought we were #2, due to Brunswick Naval Air Station (they do sub spotting, mostly). Also, Bath Iron Works, one of the three remaining places you can get a big, big ship fixed on the east coast.
posted by anastasiav at 7:10 AM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I grew up in Oshawa, which is a major manufacturing centre, so we had our share of such rumours as well.

I notice there are several people in this thread answering from Canada, as well as one from the UK. I hope the exclusionary nature of your question's wording didn't put anyone from outside the US off answering. I for one would be very interested to hear from people in, say, Europe or Asia.

Let's not forget that the US has thousands of nuclear missiles aimed at countries the world over; surely people in these places consider their likelihood of being nuked too?
posted by stinkycheese at 7:51 AM on October 28, 2009


Spokane, Washington. 14 miles away is Fairchild Air Force Base. Now the West Coast’s biggest refuling base, during the Cold War, it also housed B-52 long range (nuclear) bombers and Atlas ICBMs. The nukes were there until the early nineties, I think.

Who knows what the Russians’ target list looked like, but I’d imagine they’d have preferred to hit our nukes before they got off the ground, wherever they were.
posted by SirNovember at 7:55 AM on October 28, 2009


One more count for Spokane - Kaiser Aluminum, on the north side, and other plants a bit further out. It used to be an important industry for the area.
posted by SirNovember at 8:02 AM on October 28, 2009


Harrisburg, PA. Didn't hear anything about cold war (although we did duck and cover practice in elementary school), but I heard we were 3rd on the Nazi list due to rail yards.
posted by MtDewd at 8:30 AM on October 28, 2009


anti social order beat me to it. In the seventies and eighties Charleston had the Air Force base and the Navy base and the Naval shipyards and a whole slew of other clearly targeted stuff and we all knew we were Number Two, after DC and New York. Why New York? Just seemed natural, I guess. I remember in the mid eighties some artist had painted huge circles around downtown with the distance from ground zero (assuming, I think, that the Navy base was it) and text explaining just how vaporized you would be. It was kind of cool. Yeah I thought the world was ending all the time. We all did. Nowadays the military presence in Charleston is pretty much gone; I think they have probably moved down from Number Two to like Number Seventeen unless the zombie Soviet high command has a particular hate on for tourists, in which case, well.

The Navy base was scary. I remember once going with one of my cousins and my boyfriend out in the harbor for a spin in my dad's new boat. Our consciousness was somewhat altered, to put it mildly, and we thought it would be cool to go as far up the Cooper River as we could, check out the Navy base, you know. We'd all been there before, knew people who lived there, worked there, whatever. Well, approaching from the harbor was a little different. There were personnel out on the docks with guns and megaphones, telling us to retreat immediately or be fired on. We got sober in a hurry and retreated very immediately.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:35 AM on October 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


I also heard this growing up in Sarnia, Ontario. The reasoning wasn't due to the area's economic importance but because we were sitting on the U.S. border and the Russians could score blow-up bonus points by hitting the petrochemical plants when their goal was death and destruction. But we always believed there that we were sitting on a chemistry experiment that could go up at any time. I was awoken more than once as a kid by a big boom from the plants. For several years after the cold war ended, there was something wonky with the warning system in Sarnia. Sirens would go off all over town whenever there was a lightening storm.
posted by TimTypeZed at 8:40 AM on October 28, 2009


My high school history teacher told us that the Catholic church, in Norwood, MA, on the corner of Nahattan St. and Washington St. was a "second wave" target, because it was (a) a designated fallout shelter and (b) well positioned strike point to take out the western suburbs of Boston.

My high school history teacher was a little over-enthusiastic about military history in general though.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 9:06 AM on October 28, 2009


St. Louis was the "third" target according to the popular wisdom of my jr. high school in the late 1980s because of the local McDonnell Douglas, Chrysler, and Monsanto production facilities.

As a kid, I also heard that St. Louis was a major target, mostly for Scott Air Force Base, McDonnell-Douglas (now Boeing) and the chemical plants at Monsanto, which were less than two miles from where I grew up. Scott AFB was the main communication training center for the Air Force, so that made it a genuine target; McDonnell-Douglas makes sense as well. But the Monsanto plant near the Missouri River mostly produces frankencorn as far as I know, and not potentially lethal chemicals.

Still, as a kid it was comforting to see the nightly glow of the Monsanto greenhouses and "know" we'd die quickly and painlessly.

This thread is fantastic not just for the #2 rumors, but also for the accounts of nuke drills.

I spent a few years of my youth in Connecticut. It was the early 1980s, and I remember ducking and covering under my desk, totally aware even then that the desk would do me no good. Air raid drills were basically a few minutes to contemplate your own fiery destruction, hoping that some kid would fart and make us laugh to break the tension as had once happened.

Once my family moved to Missouri, the nuke drills were called "tornado drills" or "disaster drills," but they persisted until the mid- to late 80s as I recall. Funnily enough, the collapse of the Soviet Union seemed to remove the need for regular "tornado drills."
posted by Monsters at 9:06 AM on October 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


Well, Winnipeg represent. No ranking mentioned, but a "definite target" due to its CFB.

What is it about social science teachers?

I remember some very early duck-and-cover like action, but I don't recall what the stated threat was. If there was any pride, it seemed to be in the grim realization that, if it happened, there was nothing you could do. We did have big honkin' air raid sirens around town and occasional tests well into my teens.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:09 AM on October 28, 2009


In some sort of twisted coincidence, as I was reading this thread again this morning, my phone rang. It was my mom. She didn't want me to get upset, she was just calling to say that a friend of hers knows a guy who...let's just say he's a serious guy. And this guy says that They are picking up elevated "chatter" again, unnamed terrorist forces are planning to attack New York City in the next few days. She knows I won't leave cause I won't believe it, it's just a rumor, but please can I not take the subway for a few days? Maybe they are trying to attack the World Series, she speculates.

The more things change and whatnot. You know, I think I liked the rumor that you and everyone you cared about would be instantly vaporized better than this one: that you'll probably be fine, if you just don't take the subway, and you steer clear of the World Series, but the rest of this town, they are on thin ice.
posted by jeb at 9:30 AM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Native of Charleston, WV, seconding arco's recollection, i.e., the petrochemical industry. I do not recall a specific number. There was indeed a certain nuance of civic pride in all of this.

I also recall this being discussed in relation to WWII, that Charleston was high on "Hitler's list."
posted by halcyon_daze at 9:32 AM on October 28, 2009


Between Boston and Cape Cod in the 70s/80s, I don't remember ever hearing anything about a specific position on a target list. But I do remember a specific number of bombs. There were to be 3 bombs. One to the north-northwest for Boston, one a little further west for Hanscom Field and MIT's Lincoln Labs, MITRE, and all of the other top secret stuff. The last one would be to the southeast for Otis Air Base and the big early warning radar that rmd1023 mentioned. We used to climb up a hill behind my house that had a clearing on top, and you could just see the tops of the Hancock and Prudential buildings from there. I would always get the creeps when I imagined the three different white-hot clouds that you would've seen if you happened to be standing there at the end of the world. Wouldn't have seen it for long, anyway.

I can't really believe that this thread has made me nostalgic for the instantaneous destruction that we all thought about then. I suppose it beats the long term global climate meltdown destruction I'm thinking about now.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:44 AM on October 28, 2009


I grew up in central Kentucky, about six miles away from the Bluegrass Army Depot.

Our rumor was that the Depot was in the top ten to be hit, due to all of the nerve gas stored there. Which, if Tsuga's list is correct, makes a lot more sense than I thought all these years.
posted by magstheaxe at 9:53 AM on October 28, 2009


Thirding the Augusta, GA/Aiken, SC area due to the Savannah River Site. I'm too young to know about these rumors from the Cold War, but after 9/11 my father, who works at SRS, was told similar things as above ("We're high on the list," etc). I'm sure this applies to the Cold War as well.
posted by derogatorysphinx at 9:53 AM on October 28, 2009


My mom told me that growing up she heard that Delaware was the number one (no number two for us!) target, because it was halfway between DC and New York and had the Dover Air Force Base.
posted by lagreen at 10:02 AM on October 28, 2009


I grew up in Baton Rouge, LA where I remember hearing that we were the third most likely target in the nation because of our oil refineries. This was in the 1980's.

I do recall that my friends and I were terribly skeptical because, really, if we didn't care for Baton Rouge, how likely could it have been that important to anyone else? Ah, youth.
posted by oreonax at 10:11 AM on October 28, 2009


I'm Canadian, but I recall being told that Grande Prairie, near where I grew up was a possible target due to it being a gateway to the north and Alaska.

Thankfully, I was a kid in the 80's and we'd kind of gotten over the duck-and-cover thing by that time.
posted by Kurichina at 10:18 AM on October 28, 2009


I don't remember ever hearing about a rank, but I lived for a while in Annapolis and in Los Alamos, and folks figured we were on the target list owing to the Naval Academy and the lab, respectively.
posted by nickmark at 10:21 AM on October 28, 2009


What is interesting to me is how deeply ingrained the fear of nuclear attack is. I thought I was past all that fear.

Just a couple of years ago I was driving in a whiteout with my husband and hydro poles were exploding beside us and there was a weird glow in the sky in the direction of Toronto. We couldn't get the radio working and all I could think about was the bomb had been dropped and I wouldn't see my children again. And OF COURSE Toronto was the first to go.

I actually just found out a house on my street (small town Ontario - NOT a target) has a fall-out shelter. I am so glad my children won't be warped like my generation was.
posted by saucysault at 11:36 AM on October 28, 2009


I grew up on Long Island, and remember hearing something at some time about our spot on "the list". We ranked because Huntington had a Nike missile site. And then in college at Plattsburgh (hi GodricVT and A dead Quaker!), heard the same rumor, but because of the AFB.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 11:38 AM on October 28, 2009


Anchorage AK, #2 because A) we were so close to the Soviets, and B) we had two military bases within the town's borders (Army and Air Force).

My related question is, did anyone else's home town's yellow pages have a Civil Defense section, with a series of concentric circles overlaid over a map of the town? It presumed that downtown Anchorage would be Ground Zero, and offered zones of relative safety/death.

My home was in the farthest-out ring, which on the one hand meant I would probably live (if I followed the rest of the instructions in the blue pages). But on the other hand it meant having to scramble for survival with all the giant mutant cockroaches. So kind of a wash.
posted by ErikaB at 11:43 AM on October 28, 2009


In Memphis, we heard that we weare on the list because of Millington Naval Air Station, the "largest inland Naval Air Station in the world."
posted by charlesv at 12:15 PM on October 28, 2009


I went to kindergarten in Baltimore (1985), and then returned to the city for 3-8th grades. We descended to the basement for regular nuclear fallout drills. Yellow and black nuclear warning signs led the way past the kindergarten rooms and into the cafeteria.

The explanation we received was that we were so close to DC. We wouldn't necessarily be instant toast, but if we could make it to the basement in time, we'd have a better chance of surviving.

Contrast this with my experience in Tacoma, where all we ever dealt with were earthquake drills. For those we smooshed ourselves under our desks or into doorways, but in Baltimore it was all about getting to the basement in a quick and orderly fashion.

Oddly, I was more afraid of earthquakes than I was of nuclear war.
posted by bilabial at 12:32 PM on October 28, 2009


Um, the point I didn't make was that Baltimore was not #2 because of proximity to #1, which was DC. We were often told, "because we're so close to the #1 target, we have to be prepared."
posted by bilabial at 12:34 PM on October 28, 2009


I grew up in the same area jazon did, about 10 years later (Columbine HS), and by then we'd added the Martin Marietta plant to the list of reasons why Denver was pretty much guaranteed to be included in any first strike.
posted by hackwolf at 12:45 PM on October 28, 2009


ErickaB -- I knew a guy who claimed to have been in the military (not sure which branch) stationed up there, and swore that there were plans in place including nukes on-site for self-destruction of several of the bases up there to avoid the possibility of the soviets taking posession.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:46 PM on October 28, 2009


Because I couldn't help myself, I ripped off everyone's reported data (up to ObscureReferenceMan's entry) and crunched it. The buckets I used were actual numbering when a number was given, "first wave", "second wave" and "third wave", "top twenty", "top ten" and "top five", "on the list", and "Zombie Nazi Target".

Without further ado, here are the highlights of the MetaFilter Self-Reported Nuclear Apocalypse Deathwatch:

Consensus Targets:

Washington, DC (jeb, GodricVT, killdevil, perplexed, xthlc, julen, peeedro)
Cincinnati, Ohio (comatose, paulus andronicus, LittleKnitting)
New York City, New York (jeb, saucysault)
Ogden, Utah (mr_crash_davis mark II, Jazz Odyssey)
Sarnia, Ontario, Canada (bonobothegreat, TimTypeZed)
Denver, Colorado (dbmcd, jazon)
San Diego, California (librarylis, lionindex)
Groton, Connecticut (saffry, radiosilents)
Augusta, Georgia (derogatorysphinx, TedW)

Multiple Award Winners:

Albuquerque, New Mexico (1st, "Third Wave")
Charleston, South Carolina (2nd, "Top Ten" and "On The List")
Charleston, West Virginia ("Top Twenty", "On The List" and "Zombie Nazi Target")
Charlottesville, Virginia (3rd, "Third Wave")
Detroit, Michigan ("Second Wave", "On The List")
Indianapolis, Indiana (3rd, "Top Ten")
Montgomery, Alabama (3rd, "Top Ten")
Ogden, Utah ("Top Five", "On The List")
St. Louis, Missouri (3rd, "On The List")
Washington, DC (1st, "First Wave")

Most Dangerous States/Provinces:

New York (8 mentions)
Indiana (7 mentions)
New Jersey (6 mentions)
Ontario, Canada (6 mentions)
Pennsylvania (6 mentions)
California (5 mentions)
Colorado (4 mentions)
Massachusetts (4 mentions)

Safest States/Provinces (never mentioned):

Alaska
Hawaii
Idaho
Iowa
Maryland
Mississippi
Montana
Nevada
North Carolina
Oregon
Rhode Island
South Dakota
Wyoming

Most Reliable Indicators That You Will Die In A Nuclear Apocalypse:

You live in New York (8 mentions), OR
The name of your city begins with "Charl" (8 mentions)

Cities In Which You Are Most Likely To Encounter Marauding Nazi Zombies:

Manchester, New York
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Cities In Which You Are Most Likely To Encounter Radioactive Marauding Nazi Zombies:

Charleston, West Virginia

Most Unusually Specific Numeric Ranking:

Rochester, New York, ranked 17th according to k8lin.
posted by scrump at 12:54 PM on October 28, 2009 [19 favorites]


another Connecticutter. I grew up in New Haven between Groton and Sikorsky. We always thought we'd be screwed even if New Haven was not targeted.
posted by sundri at 12:57 PM on October 28, 2009


Grew up about 1 mile away from a missile site in rural western Nebraska. Missile site here. Had many discussions about going up in smoke with my dad in the 80s.
posted by mtstover at 1:19 PM on October 28, 2009


jedicus: "It wasn't exactly 'second on the list' but Russellville, Arkansas was popularly assumed to be a target because of the nuclear power plant."

I can second this, grew up in a town about thirty miles from Russellville and remember discussions with friends about whether we'd be killed by the nuclear bomb blast directly or the fallout.
posted by aerotive at 2:05 PM on October 28, 2009


When I lived in Modesto, I heard that Stockton, California was #3 on the list because of a ball bearing plant there.
posted by jpf at 2:48 PM on October 28, 2009


Aha! This declassified CIA document doesn't name names, but it does list the types of targets the Soviets would strike first, in order of priority:

1. strategic missile launch sites
2. sites for the production, assembly and storage of nuclear weapons and of means for delivering them to the target
3. large airfields, air force and naval bases
4. centers of political administration and of the military industry
5. large communications centers
6. large factories and power centers
7. arsenals and depots with strategic stocks of armaments, military equipment or strategic raw materials
8. strategic reserves and other targets of strategic significance in the deep rear of the enemy


Here's one more for you... It looks like I would have fallen under #2 as I lived literally a stone's throw from the West Coast's Nuclear Arms cache. I mean the Naval Weapons Station was across the STREET. And YES, I heard about it all the time as the #1 target on the West Coast, in my little town of Seal Beach, CA.

Our little town still has a battleship pull into the tiny harbor, dwarfing the town, so it can load up on munitions. The hundreds of acres of weapons were hidden by strategically covering all the buildings with earth and grass (still like that today) so from the sky it just looked like wetlands, not nukes.

We also still have massive buildings there that make rockets (with Boeing across the street) and railroad tracks snaking all over that would help transport the weapons from buildings to battleships. They still have large "blast hills" separating where the weapons would be loaded from the street.

The anecdotes are starting to flood back..
posted by namewithhe1d at 3:40 PM on October 28, 2009


Naval Weapons Station and Seal Beach, CA
posted by namewithhe1d at 3:41 PM on October 28, 2009


I also heard the San Antonio because of the military bases target reasonings
posted by Pants! at 5:05 PM on October 28, 2009


Here in western NC, I've always felt like the consensus is that we're a low-priority target. This was the feeling around here around 9/11, too.

(FWIW, scrump, there was a reference to Ft Bragg upthread, which is in NC.)
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 7:04 PM on October 28, 2009


I grew up in a town nearly equidistant from Cleveland and Akron and that was supposedly the reason we were on the nuke list, although even as a kid I thought that was far-fetched.
posted by Falconetti at 7:06 PM on October 28, 2009


Stylus, I saw that, but the statement just said that it was a general feeling, without giving an actual numerical value to the feeling: I was going pretty strictly by statements like "I was told that we were a first-wave target" or "that we were number 2 after...".
posted by scrump at 8:44 PM on October 28, 2009


Growing up in Beckley, WV, I also heard in the 1980s (from a teacher, in class!) that Charleston, WV was a target because of its chemical factories. This same person thought that the first strike would hit Alaska, because it is so close to Russia. I was not terrified by these stories.

Come to think of it, that may have been the same teacher that thought all of Mexico was above 14,000 feet, because it was greyed out on the color-coded elevation map. So maybe I already knew better than to believe her about geography.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 4:46 AM on October 29, 2009


Here's the actual data for the State of North Dakota.
posted by fake at 6:24 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I grew up in the shadow of Cal State University Long Beach which is a couple of miles from the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station and less than 10 miles from the Long Beach Naval shipyard

Here's one more for you... It looks like I would have fallen under #2 as I lived literally a stone's throw from the West Coast's Nuclear Arms cache


Oh hey, namewithheld! Looks like we grew up in the same area. As a matter of fact I bought a home with my first husband in 1989 a block from the weapons station. I think we had to sign some sort of waiver that we were aware of the weapons station and would not be suing anybody in case of an attack.

I adore Seal Beach, weapons station and all.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:10 AM on October 29, 2009


xthlc: I figured out that unless the Russkies hit DC with a Tsar Bomba, my parents and I were quite likely to escape death in the initial blast, but would almost certainly die slowly and painfully thanks to the subsequent fires, radiation, and fallout. I immediately started wheedling with my mom, asking if we could move closer into the city.

To this day I remember my FOURTH grade teacher telling us that if the bombs started dropping, she was going up on the roof because she didn't want to live through that. THANKS, LADY. I'm not, you know, scarred for life nearly 30 years later or anything.

In Cleveland (Ohio) we didn't hear a lot of specific "oh, we're #5" or whatever, but I will tell you that on 9/11 we had a really weird situation happen with fighter jets, the mayor and the airport. I worked downtown, right near the lake, and they evacuated everyone out of downtown as fast as they could. Working for Salomon Smith Barney and with the market shut down, it wasn't like anything was happening anyway, so we were among the first wave to get sent home. Many, many people reported seeing fighter jets scrambling over Lake Erie.

I went home and watched CNN/local news obsessively for the rest of the day. At one point, the mayor came on, was asked about a plane that had reportedly been grounded with suspicious people on board and parked on the most distant runway at the airport. He confirmed the report and quickly moved on to another topic. Later that day, asked about the plane, he denied all knowledge. "What plane? I don't know what you're talking about..."

My aunt, though, knew someone on that plane. There were "Arabs" (who knows...it's Cleveland, they could have been Argentinians, our security people aren't too bright) on the plane, and they stranded it out as far away from the main airport buildings as they could for HOURS with no air conditioning (that day was pretty warm for September), no food, no nothing until agents swept the plane and cargo and finally let everyone go. To this day I've never heard any official report of what happened (or what they thought was happening).
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:37 AM on October 29, 2009


When I lived in Modesto, I heard that Stockton, California was #3 on the list because of a ball bearing plant there.

Weird, I grew up in Stockton in the 1970s/1980s and never heard that. I don't remember hearing that we were any sort of special target at all, but that our population of about 150,000 at the time probably warranted a nuke.
posted by exogenous at 8:17 AM on October 29, 2009


Where I grew up? Peabody, MA.

1) Lynn, MA - a big General Electric manufacturing plant was located there.
2) Route 128, MA - The High-Tech Highway bisected my city.
3) and Cambridge, MA, just because of Harvard and MIT.

Oh yeah, we were going to get DOZENS of bombs just for the OVERKILL. That had me staying up late at night many a night. What would I do with my last few minutes of life? All the kids seemed morbidly fascinated by just how fucking nuked we would get. Luckily, I eventually grew up.
posted by not_on_display at 9:22 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Whippany, NJ Home of one of the big Bell Labs, also we had a Nike base a few miles away in East Hanover, and Pickatinny Arsenal in Dover about 6 miles away. We were toast for sure! There are many stories in Weird NJ Magazine about the Nike bases in NJ.

Hexatron's Wife
posted by hexatron at 9:28 AM on October 29, 2009


I never heard "#2 target" per se, but rather more along the lines of "who would be hit in the first 15 minutes." As mentioned upthread, Tucson would be a prime target. Until 81 we had 18 active duty Titan II silos around the city, so there's frontline nuclear strike capability, and we also have Davis Monthan Air Force Base, which was (not sure if it still is) home to a Ground Launched Cruise Missile (GLCM) unit. These weapons also were nuclear-capable. D-M's primary aircraft is the A-10, which has played a huge role in both Iraq conflicts and is proving impossible to phase out, since it keeps proving its value. For added bang for the ruble, we also have the AMARC boneyard, and more importantly Hughes Aircraft (now Raytheon) which make weapons, weapons, and more weapons. Today they make the Tomahawk. So, yeah, we wouldn't have been around long once the nukes started flying.
posted by azpenguin at 10:06 AM on October 29, 2009


I'll second all the folks saying Indianapolis was #3 for reasons cited above: Ft. Ben, Grissom AFB, and our engine manufacturing. But the real reason was... we were the "Crossroads of America."

Ha!
posted by LakesideOrion at 10:40 AM on October 29, 2009


I can not believe there is someone else from Springfield, VT who already posted our town's WWII status. It is just about the only thing we have going for us.

(Also: I'm pretty sure I know that guy. And I'm pretty sure I'm sorry that I kicked him in the shins during German class.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:46 AM on October 29, 2009


@bitter-girl.com: To this day I remember my FOURTH grade teacher telling us that if the bombs started dropping, she was going up on the roof because she didn't want to live through that. THANKS, LADY. I'm not, you know, scarred for life nearly 30 years later or anything.

Not a country kid, then. Although the teacher may have been. Out in farm country, that was the general feeling -- much better to go out in the initial blast than hang around. And there was no point in worrying about it when there was little you could do about it anyway.

Much more important was whether the fields were going to dry out enough so you could get the combine in before the deer ate all the corn; or if you'd waited long enough to put the garden in so it wouldn't get frostbit.
posted by jlkr at 11:32 AM on October 29, 2009


i too grew up in Central NJ and actually now work for AT&T so i have a couple of things to add to the OP's urban legend.
of course we heard how we were #2 because of Bell Labs, but it never made too much sense to me until i started working at AT&T. i don't think it is because of Bell Labs at all but because of the concentration of telecommunication control in the area. i have even heard people say, in the past few years, how the building i work in now was on the top of the list because the GNOC (global network operations center) is here. and if someone did take it out, they could pretty much knock out land line service for much of the northeast.
even on 9/11 my boss's boss stood by the elevators, not letting anyone leave because we were essential to national security and had to keep the network up. it seems a load of crap to us so we took the stairs out if we wanted to leave.
but still, it shows just how pervasive adn long lasting these tales can be.
posted by annoyance at 12:20 PM on October 29, 2009


I think the big takeway here is that America has a scary-massive military-industrial complex and it's all over the country.

@bitter-girl.com: To this day I remember my FOURTH grade teacher telling us that if the bombs started dropping, she was going up on the roof because she didn't want to live through that. THANKS, LADY. I'm not, you know, scarred for life nearly 30 years later or anything.

I remember that some TV mini-series about the aftermath was assigned as homework for the whole school when I was in 4th or 5th grade. Something about how it was educational. We even had discussions about it in class that week. Not living through the blasts was a desired rsult and there was relief that we mostly wouldn't. Crazy times.
posted by anti social order at 12:48 PM on October 29, 2009


A great thread.

I was particularly interested in the point about Stornoway (Western Islands of Scotland up thread). I grew up and still live in Glasgow in Scotland. I was always under the impression that we would be among the first to be vaporised because of our proximity to The Holy Loch (A US Navy base for the submarine launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles) and Faslane (home of the UK's trident nuclear warhead fleet).

When I think of it though, it might not be too unrealistic to think that we would be pretty high up the target list (maybe not a NORAD, a New York or a London, certainly, but reasonably high). If I was a Soviet planner, I would want to destroy two enemy countries strategic bases fairly early on and those bases about 30 miles from the biggest city in Scotland would seem to fit that bill.

Growing up as a small child reading When the wind blows in fucking school and watching Threads wasn't good for dispelling fears of MAD.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 1:20 PM on October 29, 2009


So my question is, could Russians (or rather, people living in the former Soviet Union or Eastern Bloc) assemble a similar list? Did they all think they were number #2 on the Americans' hit list? Or did the fear of nuclear war take a different form?
posted by chinston at 2:34 PM on October 29, 2009


The DuPont plant in my hometown made nothing but raw nylon which was shipped to other plants... to make things like bomber tires and parachutes. And that's why we were #2 on the target list.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:11 PM on October 29, 2009


Here is the data for all states.
posted by fake at 3:36 PM on October 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


"are the data" damnit.
posted by fake at 3:36 PM on October 29, 2009


I was one of those kids who sat down with a compass (drawing, not magnetic) and a map of the state and tried to figure out where the 6 warheads from an SS19 would hit if a war started. growing up in the shadow of an airbase made me very fatalistic about the whole nuclear war thing.
posted by Megafly at 4:30 PM on October 29, 2009


Maybe not second, but definitely I'd heard that Houston would be in the first wave. Reasons were that we were one of the largest cities, an energy town (so, knocking out the companies that controlled the movement of oil, gas, and electricity), the refineries, NASA just down the road and other military installations nearby, and the Port.

I distinctly remember air raid drills in elementary school (where you crawled under your desk with your fingers laced together and placed over your neck). That would have been the mid- to late-1970s. Then in middle school I was allowed to watch The Day After when it was broadcasted, and I learned that crawling under a desk was not going to help, and I'd rather be a point zero rather than live through fallout and a nuclear winter. Fun times!
posted by Houstonian at 5:42 PM on October 29, 2009


I grew up in SE Kansas. To the south in Oklahoma, there were two major air bases and Ft. Sill. To our west, there was McConnell AFB (Wichita) with a B-52 wing and Titan II missile site, not to mention additional Titan II silos to our south and east down in Arkansas. To our north were Minuteman silos in Nebraska, while to our northeast and down the western side of Missouri were additional Minuteman silos plus Whiteman AFB. Now add in Fts. Riley and Leavenworth to our north and Ft. Leonard Wood to our north and east.

Can you say "nuclear crosshairs"? Sure you can ....
posted by Gingercat at 5:54 PM on October 29, 2009


Ok, a full scale nuclear confrontation between Nato and the USSR would leave the vast majority of populated regions in ruins. In July 2007, the Soviet Union still claimed 3,909 deployed strategic nuclear warheads!! thats enough for every city, military base, and significant resource node. Apparently, we had 40(!!) warheads aimed at Kiev (population 2 million) alone. And even if you did manage to survive the initial blasts and firestorms, the world that would be left behind would be very, very bleak indeed. You s hould definitely check out this BBC film, Threads from 1984. The film quality is kind of cheesy, but man oh man is this the bleakest thing I've ever watched. If this is what the post-apocalypse would look like, I much rather be inside the blast zone and be vaporized, than to live to pick up the pieces. Yikes! For the record I live in Austin, Texas. Though low on the list for Texas targets (San Antonio has several major airforce bases, Houston is a major port and industrial site, Dallas has aerospace factories, Killeen has Fort hood, etc) we would still probably be targeted as a secondary command and control center, due to the state capital.
posted by AswanDamn at 6:16 PM on October 29, 2009


Also chiming in on Charlottesville, VA here. There are three other reasons why Charlottesville was rumored to be high on the list.

First and foremost is the presence of the Army National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC). They're now famous for being the (stovepiped) source of the "aluminum tubes" accusation that the White House leveled against Iraq. Lots of spook information is all gathered up and analyzed at NGIC, and it'd be a hell of a good place to hit.

Second is the presence of "the Peters Mountain facility," aka "Leesburg 5," located fifteen minutes north of town. (I live very close to it, so I've gotten pretty familiar with it.) Its cover is that it's an AT&T switching station, but it's gradually become public that the decades-old rumors are true, that it's part of the core switching system for the DoD's AUTOVON telephony network. Or, rather, that it was. Now it's said to be part of a microwave-based communications network that has replaced the old AUTOVON (landline) system. But, more important than that, it's also said to have served (and may still) as a hardened relocation facility for federal evacuees in case of attack. Looking at the place from the air, as I've done, it's pretty funny: there's an enormous parking lot, a helipad, and a single teeny, tiny building. I've talked to just one old-time contractor who claims to have worked on the structure, and he said that it involved stunning quantities of cement, and that it went some ridiculous distance down into the mountain—I can't even remember how many stories. Anyhow, the entrance looks like such, and photographed through my 8" Dobsonian telescope from Cash Corner, the facility looks like this.

And the third and perhaps most important reason is that a 1979 U.S. Senate-commissioned study about the effects of nuclear war included an appendix with a narrative-style story about post-apocalytic life in the United States. The city that they chose to set it in? Charlottesville, VA (77k PDF). Although the point of the story is that Charlottesville didn't get hit—unlike "much of the country," we "escaped unharmed." Although by the end of the story, it looks like we're pretty well fucked anyhow. Still, after this story, I figure the USSR added us to their "to be nuked" list. ;)

FWIW, I'm told that the Federal Executive Institute's primary role in this world is for federal judges and congressman to sober up. Not as exciting other stories, but I buy it.
posted by waldo at 6:26 PM on October 29, 2009


I grew up in Las Cruces, NM. We were always told that we were high on the strike list because of White Sands Missile Range just over the Organ Mountains. The bright side, everybody said, was that we would be shielded from the initial blast by the mountains and would have time to run (where I have no clue..El Paso has Fort Bliss, and heading West was a wasteland). The downside... we would all die of radiation poisoning. Fun times!
posted by Benway at 6:49 PM on October 29, 2009


My parents tell me that Grand Forks, where I grew up, was the first city to show up on the War Games map o' doom... a movie they saw right before they moved there.
posted by flaterik at 8:00 PM on October 29, 2009


Cool thread.

Can't speak for priorities, but I do recall reading (on the BBC news website - possibly a post- Mitrokhin Archive release?) a declassified Russian document detailing targets and assigned warheads in the UK during the cold war.

My home town (Middlesbrough) was to be the target of 8 500Kt warheads (the document even gave the missile type that would deliver them, but I forget what it was now), presumably due to the proximity of heavy industry like steel and petrochemicals, and the cargo port/logistics capability the area provides for North Sea Oil production.
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 8:14 PM on October 29, 2009


You know now I wonder...

Did these rumors start because of people's twisted sense of civic pride?

Or were there actual leaders at organizations who wanted to instill work ethic and said, "Men, you need to know, what we do here is so important that we're the 3rd strike for the Russians...."

Maybe?
posted by jefficator at 9:02 PM on October 29, 2009


Schenectady, NY
I never heard anyone say we were "#2", but everybody just KNEW we were a target. (We were assumed to be a target in WWII, if the Nazis ever got bombers (...or V-weapons...) with sufficient range.) Since the 1920s, Schenectady called itself "The City That Lights and Hauls the World". That much industry in one small city tends to attract attention.

1) GE's Schenectady Works on the west side of downtown.
2) ALCO's Schenectady Locomotive Works, on the east side of downtown.
3) GE's Knolls Atomic Power Lab, on the east side.
4) GE's Research & Development campus.
5) GE's Telecommunications & Information Processing Operations center.

Nearby:
To the north: GE's Kesselring Nuclear Reactor Training Center, run to train the nuclear Navy.
To the east: The Army's Watervliet Arsenal.
To the south AND north: huge military depots (built in WWII to marshall the trainloads of materiel manufactured in town).

A hundred miles to the west of us was Griffiss AFB, home of nuclear-armed B-52s. Griffiss was an obvious first-strike target, and we were downwind of it.

In the 60's, we just assumed we were a first-strike target, without much worrying about the "after [DC/NYC]" aspect.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 10:31 PM on October 29, 2009


Looking at those maps... my house sits directly underneath an expected strike. At least I won't have much to worry about, or long to worry about it.

The Arizona map (haven't looked at the other states, but I would figure they're similar) has the major power plants in the state as targets. This includes the one that is a mile from both my house and the Air Force base, so that pretty much obliterates me. But some of the others, such as the one outside of Winslow or the Springerville plant, just seem surreal to see on a target map. Then there's Page, where Glen Canyon Dam is as well as the Navajo Generating Station. Hoover Dam is on the list; more hydro power. And Parker Dam as well. So the drinking water for millions of people will be partially vaporized, and mostly irradiated. Plus there's the whole thing about what two massive dams and one mid-sized one being instantly destroyed would mean for downstream areas, with the sudden release of water. I get the whole strategic value of those targets, but hitting the dams just seems like a dick move.
posted by azpenguin at 10:53 PM on October 29, 2009


Growing up in the UK in the late 80's and early 90's, I have to admit mybiggst fear was that we wouldn't get hit, leaving us to die slowly in a shelter formed by two doors propped against a wall.

Thinking about it, our proximity to RAF Brize Norton probably had a lot to do with that: close enough to be in the 'wash' but far enough away not to die instantly. Horrible nightmares, I had.
posted by subbes at 5:46 AM on October 30, 2009


Horrible nightmares, I had.

Not only was I living in Northeastern Connecticut in the 1980's -- in a town 25 miles from Groton, 46 miles from New Haven, 120 miles from New York and 73 miles from Boston -- but in high school some friends and I embarked on a project which compelled to watch The Day After, Threads, and When The Wind Blows as research.

My nightmares about nuclear war were vividly-detailed visions, and my brain was using Hi-Def with THX sound. They did not abate until about 1996 or thereabouts. I saw the film Terminator 2 in a theater for the first time and their dream sequence prompted the one and only panic attack I've ever had in my life because HOLY SHIT IT IS THE CONTENTS OF MY OWN HEAD PROJECTED ON A 50-FOOT SCREEN I HAVE TO GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:59 AM on October 30, 2009


Pittsburgh. We made an enormous amount of steel; about half the steel in the country at the beginning of the 20th century, and something like a hundred million tons of steel for WWII.
posted by talldean at 6:21 AM on October 30, 2009


At one time, if North Dakota seceded from the union, it would have been the world's third largest nuclear power.

So the talk here in ND had some basis in fact, it wasn't just say-so that you'd be "first" or "second" (which is kind of a silly idea anyway, if a country launched it would be many simultaneous missiles, not just one, and it's hard to believe that there would be many sequentially, unless you mean separated by less than an hour). Many acquaintances of my parents, now old, are starting to feel comfortable talking about being on the construction crews that built the launch facilities in ND, and it is interesting to hear their stories.
posted by fake at 6:50 AM on October 30, 2009


I was always told that my college town, Binghamton, NY, was “number seven” on the list, because it was near an IBM defense facility (now Lockheed Martin).
posted by Garak at 7:26 AM on October 30, 2009


I grew up in Fredericksburg, VA, in the 1980's. After watching The Day After as a teenager I tried to figure out if our town would be targeted for destruction by the Soviets. There did not seem to be any important targets in our then, still small, town.

However Quantico was just to the north and was the home of HMX-1, the Presidential helicopter squadron, that would certainly have been a first order target. To the east was Dahlgren NSWC, but that was an R&D center, so probably further down the list. To the west, just outside of Culpeper, was Mt. Pony, which was a COG facility and almost certainly a first order target. To the southeast was Fort A.P. Hill, but that did not seem to be an important target since it was basically a training area without much in the way of actual facilities.

I figured that our fate would be similar to that of Lawrence Kansas as depicted in the film. I don't know if the Soviets targeted the telephone network but Fredericksburg was home to a 1AESS switch in the Central Office downtown. Did not think about that at the time.
posted by smoothvirus at 8:14 AM on October 30, 2009


Thanks Mid and monsters, I wanted to post that St Louis was definitely #2 for all of the reasons that you mention. This truly great post has got me wondering: did anyone think that they were *not* a target? It seems like the entire situation was so fatalistic that we tried to rationalize why sudden capricious death might fall on us from the skies. I remember the "civil defense drills" in the 70s and spent time figuring out if my proximity to the Chrysler and Caterpillar plants (5 miles to the NW, known targets!) would mean certain death.

hwyengr: having worked in PLATO lab in the Foreign Language Building at UIUC I can confirm that the architecture was so that when the strike came the building would collapse outwards to protect the sensitive computers and communications equipment in the basement.
posted by cgk at 8:48 AM on October 30, 2009


I have not read through the whole list, but I did hear this once or twice about the targetting of the largest town near where I grew up -- Galesburg, Illinois -- because of the fact that two major railroad lines went through town (Burlington Northern and Santa Fe, I think, but I never actually knew exactly -- until very recently, this town of 35,000 people had two seperate Amtrak stations; each having trains terminating in Chicago -- though they got their by different routes. Those train routes are still used, though they only go to one station.)

Because of the reasoning behind this, I believe this was actually a rumor that probably originated during World War II that had (slightly) more basis in fact that had just sort of grown into its own Cold War scare story.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:56 AM on October 30, 2009


Growing up in Virginia Beach, we were always pretty confident we were going in the first round. We had the Oceana Naval Air Station, as well as the Norfolk Naval Base, home of the Atlantic Fleet and half of the nuclear submarines in the arsenal. Throw in Fort Story with the Nike base and other exciting coastal radar and missile stuff with a half dozen other military facilities and the attitude was more like certainty that we'd get a bomb in the backyard. On the plus side, I figured vaporizing in an atomic fireball was preferable to living like Mad Max in a radioactive wasteland.
posted by Lame_username at 12:22 PM on October 30, 2009


I once lived about a mile from here.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 2:35 PM on October 30, 2009


I grew up near Frederick, MD, home of Ft. Detrick, USAMRIID (biological weapons research, discussed extensively in The Hot Zone), and several large fields of satellite antennas and aerials. I'm not sure if we were more worried about the nukes or about what kind of nasty might get out on its own. Never heard a specific "threat level," but between the bugs and the antennas, I suspect we were on the list.
posted by Alterscape at 1:10 AM on October 31, 2009


I grew up in Albany County, NY; AsYouKnowBob beat me to it.

I would not consider Nevada particularly safe at all due to NTS. Among other things.
posted by jgirl at 10:54 AM on October 31, 2009


In Philadelphia, the joke was that despite this being a large city, they just wouldn't bother because Washington and New York were nearby. This is really answering the opposite of your question.
posted by madcaptenor at 10:12 AM on November 1, 2009


Bit surprised that no one has mentioned how the Minneapolis/St. Paul area was near the top of the list because we had Honeywell. This was common knowledge when I was growing up.
posted by triggerfinger at 11:19 AM on November 1, 2009


This is a nice question, but AswanDamn gets to the real point with the numbers — the Soviets still have almost 4,000 nuclear warheads, and there are only 601 towns in the U.S. with more than 50,000 people. Every city, rumored or not, could have been a potential target, and there were more than enough missiles to hit each place multiple times.

There's no way, though, that random weapons plants or military bases or shipyards were that high on any initial list; those would have to have been NORAD's facility at Cheyenne Mountain, SAC headquarters in Nebraska, or places like the PAVE/PAWS radar mentioned by md1023. In this area along the Maine coast, the initial target would not have been the Brunswick Naval Air Station or Bath Iron Works but rather the Navy's VLF installation at Cutler near the Canadian border, including 2,000 acres containing twenty-six 800- to 1000-foot-high towers that coordinated the movement of all our submarines in the North Atlantic, Arctic, and the Mediterranean.

Before anything else, an attack should destroy the enemy's C3 functions of "command, control and communications."
posted by LeLiLo at 7:06 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Not in the US, but when I was a kid, I lived near to the UK's VLF installation at Criggion. In my youthful fatalist cold war paranoia, I considered this a good thing...
posted by nielm at 6:20 AM on November 2, 2009


Atlanta, GA. Main communications and transport hub for the Southeast, Lockheed manufacturing facility, Ft. McPherson & Gillem (Army personnel & logistics), Dobbins ARB & Naval Air Station Atlanta. Two other airports with airstrips long enough for military use. The nuclear reactor at GaTech. We were destined to be cinders.
posted by kjs3 at 11:16 AM on November 2, 2009


I sent this post to my dad and he blogged about it for the Albuquerque Journal.

(I hope this is okay for me to post. If not feel free to delete away :))
posted by NoraReed at 3:26 PM on November 2, 2009


I've just reread through this thread, and the thing that struck me most was exactly how many of us, as kids, actually walked around being grateful for a quick death if there ever was a nuclear war.

Think about it. Eight year olds who have thought enough about death that they would be RELIEVED at a quick death or worried about a slow one.

Jesus, how did we all, as a generation, not run completely mad?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:49 AM on November 3, 2009


Because the movies showed us we'd win.
posted by Atreides at 4:21 PM on November 3, 2009


Jesus, how did we all, as a generation, not run completely mad?

There's your answer. Book of Revelations already inculcated people with a sense of doom. Nukes were just the technological expression of that well-developed cultural eschatology.
posted by telstar at 3:40 AM on November 5, 2009


Book of Revelations already inculcated people with a sense of doom. Nukes were just the technological expression of that well-developed cultural eschatology.


In point of fact, I actually read the entire book of Revelations when I was seven years old. We were on a family vacation and I took the Gideon Bible from the hotel room to read by the pool. If memory serves, I didn't get any kind of a sense of doom or forboding out of it, I just read with fascination the stories of nine-headed angels with eyes all over their bodies and thought, "this is really, really weird. I never new the Bible could get this weird."

I didn't even know about nuclear weapons for another two years, when I accidentally caught some of a late night news program about the SALT talks when we were on another family vacation. After that - well, you know how you had this clear-as-day idea of what the Monster under your bed or the Thing In Your Closet looked like? How you were afraid to go into a dark room and turn on the light because that Thing would be standing right there?

...The Thing In My Closet was a mushroom cloud. It sure as hell wasn't Revelations that did that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:49 AM on November 5, 2009


Grew up in Lincoln, NE. When my friends and I talked about nuclear strikes — especially after The Day After miniseries aired — someone would often remark, "Oh, we're in frikkin Nebraska, we're in the safest, most remote area of the country." And then we'd sigh, and have to remind them of our 50 mile proximity to Offutt AFB, home of SAC. We may have been far enough away from ground zero to escape the firestorm, but close enough for some intense radiation poisoning. Then everyone would sit in silence for a few minutes, and someone would say, "Well... hopefully it would be more like Red Dawn."

Also, in 1986-88 I lived on the Air Force Academy base while my dad was a vising professor. With NORAD, AFA, Fort Carson, Peterson AFB in Colorado Springs, I felt assured that the firestorm would make a quick end.
posted by asfuller at 11:09 AM on November 5, 2009


The first I heard my hometown, Ashtabula, Ohio, was a target was when I was reading about it on Wikipedia. Specifically:

Interesting historical industries in the area included a Rockwell International plant on Route 20 on the western side of Ashtabula that manufactured brakes for the Space Shuttle program as well as the extrusion of depleted and enriched uranium at the Reactive Metals Extrusion plant on East 21st Street, prompting FEMA to, as recently as 1990 (the year the plant ceased operations), place Ashtabula on its list of expected primary nuclear targets for the Soviet Union.

Of course, I was born in 1984 so it's possible there was widespread paranoia I just wasn't aware of. But for a city of 20,000 being a primary target is quite an accomplishment, right?
posted by palidor at 12:52 PM on November 6, 2009


Not the first time I've been late to the party, but I thought I'd share.

I grew up in Arlington, a good walk away from the Pentagon. So the books that showed the map of the Pentagon with the concentric rings around it showing the "instant vaporization / instant pulverization / instant fireballization / etc.", I could find my neighborhood.

I seem to remember we were within the range of the fireball and the subsequent total-vacuum-of-oxygen-as-everything-sucked-back-into-the-mushroom-cloud, but I could be misremembering it.
posted by Alt F4 at 5:01 PM on November 7, 2009


From page viii of the book "Uranium" by Tom Zoellner:

"Our city was supposed to have been number seven on the Soviet target list, behind Washington, D.C.; the Strategic Air Command headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska; and several other missile fields in the Great Plains."
posted by fake at 11:29 PM on November 17, 2009


I came of age, whatever that means, right around the end of the Cold War, but I distinctly remember hearing in 8th grade US History (1995-1996) that our little town in the middle of nowhere Western NY would've gotten lots of fallout from Buffalo (a 2 hour drive) and Pittsburgh(4hours) being targeted for their industrial centers.

I went to school just west of Buffalo International Airport.

I clearly remember being in elementary school in about 1970 and hearing the instructions offered by a classmate, "Put your head between your knees and kiss your ass goodbye!" I was about 8 years old when I heard this.

Believe it or not, I found it a consolation that we would be vaporized in the first strike; I really felt sorry for you suckers downwind who would die agonizing deaths from the fallout.
posted by Doohickie at 9:10 PM on November 18, 2009


« Older I would be visiting Tokyo in t...   |  Career brainstorming filter: H... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.