The other night, in the middle of a long thread about John Wayne and the #AtomicAgeArmy, I mentioned that the US developed thermonuclear weapons.
@CONELRAD6401240 Conelrad posted this morning that #TDIH was the first national test of the alert system.
And also this morning, @NYTimesWordplay’s crossword featured H-Bomb as an answer. (Not a spoiler since it was this morning - get it together people.)
Before we get into Hollywood Squares, the King of Rock ‘N Roll, and that time we set Greenland on fire, we need to do a little science roundup.
I glossed over fission to fusion weapons in the John Wayne thread, but I think for this 1 it’s important to understand some basics. “Fission” refers to splitting, as in, “splitting the atom”. Fission bombs, like ones used in WWII, have a “yield limit” –they can only be SO BOOM.
For fission bombs, this is probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 kilotons (KT), which about what the Ivy King test in November of 1952 put out.
“Fusion” refers to bringing things together, and in nuclear weapons terms, is completely misleading, as Prof. Richard Muller explains in his excellent book, “Physics For Future Presidents.”
Anyway, the point is, unlike fission weapons, with fusion weapons there is theoretically no yield limit to the boom (there is a practical one, about 6 MT it’s hypothesized).
For the massive retaliation doctrine, this was awesome. For most, it was terrifying.
The concept of a thermonuclear weapon was theorized by Edward Teller based off an idea of Enrico Fermi in 1941 in the early days of the Manhattan Project, but wasn’t pursued because it was too theoretical. This changed after the Soviet’s Joe-1 test. President Truman greenlit it.
While the secretive nature of nuclear weapons research and conflicting testimonies (and egos) make it tough to nail down exactly “who did what when,” I think it’s safe to say if not for Polish-born physicist Stanislaw Ulam, the H-bomb concept would have taken longer to prove.
But like I said….hard to know for sure.
(Sidenote to the sidenote: there was a landmark court case in the late 70’s concerning all this, when the @ENERGY tried to keep The Progressive, a Wisconsin based magazine, from publishing an article about it.)
Anyway, thermonuclear weapons are super more double powerful than fission bombs, and due to their use of deuterium, were dubbed “hydrogen bombs”, shortened in the zietgiest into “H-bombs” after hydrogen’s atomic symbol.
While “thermonuclear weapon” is a mouthful, “H-bomb” rolls off the tongue, which made writing songs about it easier.
Dickie Thompson was a left handed jazz guitarist who became a sought after session player in the early days of rock ‘n roll. He penned a tune about what life after a nuclear attack might look like, and, because it was the 1950s, it was focused on being the sole surviving male.
“Thirteen Woman And One Man” didn’t take off, but it got some traction and a record producer named Milt Gabler heard it, changed a few of the lyrics, and thought it would be a great debut single for an act he had just got signed to Decca Records in 1954.
(I’m purposefully obscuring Milt’s contribution to the music industry and our nation’s common culture, and in the process short-changing how instrumental he was, plus not even mentioning that his nephew is @BillyCrystal, but it’s called a THREAD CUZ I’m WEAVING A TALE)
Studio time is a precious thing in the days of actual wax and literal tracks (right @rezzyredhonky?), so most of the focus was spent on the “A” side. It took so long for the band to get a good take, there was only 10 minutes left in the recording session – enough for two takes.
The first take for the B-side went well on the surface, which was good, because studio’s next client, Sammy Davis Jr, was there, waiting. But on playback, the vocal was low. Take 2 had to fire all on cylinders.
In 1954, “Thirteen Women (And Only One Man In Town)” was released and was a modest hit. “Last night I was dreaming
Dreamed about the H-bomb
Well, the bomb went off
And I was caught
I was the only man underground
There was a 13 women
And only 1 man in town”
You can guess how the rest goes. ("He fixes the cable?")
However, in 1955, a film adaptation of a novel called BLACKBOARD JUNGLE was released, and made history not just for its cast, but for its rock ‘n roll soundtrack, including the B-side of “Thirteen Women (And Only One Man In Town), a 12-bar ditty called “Rock Around The Clock”.
Arguably THE most recognizable and well-known (even today) the cultural impact of “Rock Around The Clock” cannot be understated. Moderately successful before, now Bill Haley And His Comets were the hottest thing around.
In October of 1955, while on tour, Bill played a few shows with a trio out of Memphis, fronted by a skinny kid originally from Mississippi with dyed brown hair.
That kid got drafted in 1958 to serve in the #AtomicAgeArmy.
Of course, by then, he was the most famous guy not named Dwight D. Eisenhower in the United States.
While Elvis could have pulled strings and got a post in Special Services, he decided to trade his ego for whatever Uncle Sam wanted to dish out. After basic training, he was assigned to Tank School ( @TomHeartsTanks, shout out for reminding me) and then joined the 3rd Armored Div
SEE THERE IS AN @18airbornecorps CONNECTION CUZ THE 3RD ARMORED WAS UNDER YOU IN SUMMER 1944!!!! (Thanks @motheroftanks!)
Honestly as much as I am an iconoclast, I gotta give it up to Elvis. Dude not just did his time, he donated his pay, got TVs for the barracks, and even bought everyone in his unit an extra set of utilities. His pal Bill Haley even visited him while playing for the troops.
(He also got turned on to speed by his sergeant) BUT ANYWAY
The fact that the biggest pop star in the United States was drafted and sent overseas was a gigantic cultural event. I mean, imagine if Justin Beiber was sent to Afghanistan. No seriously, @CAFinUS, can that still happen? I mean I'm just asking.
It was such a huge thing, that there was a BROADWAY MUSICAL ABOUT IT.
BYE BYE BIRDIE was a smash hit, about a pop star who got drafted and was going to “kiss one last All-American girl” before going off to serve his country. The cast included Dick Van Dyke, Paul Lynde, and Susan Watson as “the All-American girl.”
By the time Elvis had returned to the US and civilian life, they were already making a movie out of BYE BYE BIRDIE. Many of the original cast reprised their state roles, including Dick Van Dyke and confirmed bachelor Paul Lynde.
One actress that didn’t jump with the roles to the silver screen was Susan Watson. Instead, the role of Kim MacAfee would be played by Swedish born Ann-Margret (also a very influential figure in the shaping of my psyche, jussayin).
I mean, Ann-Margret was literally billed as the female Elvis, even recording some of his songs, and here she is in one of the most iconic moments of film, like it was in Mad Men FFS, lamenting the drafting of “Conrad Birdie”.
It was a huge hit. Duh.
So much so that Hollywood wanted to amplify Ann-Margret’s earning power, and put out a version of Thirteen Women….called Thirteen Men.
As discussed, the Air Force in the Atomic Age was the premiere force. Its long-range bombers, before the advent of ICBMs and submarine launched MIRVs, was THE power projection arm of the United States.
Woe to our enemy, as our allies sheltered under the blanket of our protection.
Well, until we bombed Spain and set Greenland on fire.
Operation CHROME DOME (1960-68) was a key part of America’s “second strike” plan. Strategic Air Command made sure that there was always a nuke carrying bombing force of B-52s loitering near the top of the world in case they had to go blow the hell out of the USSR.
Look, any @USAF mission is inherently risky. I mean, even me, a dumb civilian, got stranded an extra day at Andrews whilst on a @CivilAirPatrol mission. But when a B-52 suffered an accident during refueling over North Carolina and crashed after releasing two armed Mk 39 nukes...
I think that’s more than a mishap.
And then there’s the time we bombed Spain, accidentally, but let me skip that one for now to talk about the end of CHROME DOME. The United States Air Force set a sheet of ice on fire in Greenland for Pete’s sake.
On Jan. 21, 1968, a B-52 carrying 4 Mk 28 thermonuclear bombs caught fire and the crew had to bail out. The aircraft crashed almost 8 miles from Thule Air Force Base on Greenland. The conventional explosives went off in the crash, spreading radioactive material in a “dirty bomb”.
This type of fallout led to the end of the CHROME DOME missions, because the political fallout was also big.
Prior to this, in 1966, a B-52 suffered a mishap whilst refueling, resulting in the destruction and loss of a Stratotanker and its crew, just off the coast of Spain. The aircraft was carrying 4 Mk 28 thermonuclear bombs on a CHROME DOME mission.
in the breakup of the aircraft over the Mediterranean. Three of the 4 bombs landed near the fishing village of Palomares.
Two of the bombs’ conventional explosives detonated on impact, spreading a “dirty bomb” effect. A third, landing in the soft mud of a river, didn’t blow, and was recovered intact. A metal plate was also found, which indicated that the 4th bomb’s drag chute deployed.
This meant that the 4th bomb drifted out over the Mediterranean Sea. A local fisherman, Francisco Simó Orts, said he saw a splashdown in the sea. Using that info, a MASSIVE recovery operation was launched.
Fun fact – the fisherman, Francisco Simó Orts, sued the US government for salvage rights after the recovery, and according to the @archerfxx, paid out more than $20 million.
The Thule fire so soon after the Palomares incident which was so OMG world wide news killed the CHROME DOME missions and had the ancillary effect of giving Hollywood a lot of fodder for TV shows.
One of these was I SPY, a late 60s hit starring Robert Culp and Bill Cosby (I Know.)
The 10th episode of the 2ndd season was directly influenced by the Palomares incident, and titled “One Of Our Bombs Is Missing.”
It was written by Barry Oringer, a veteran behind the scenes TV name who would later help flesh out the script for a ground-breaking(?) video game called Night Trap
In the early 1990s, technology had advanced to the point where computer games could have actual real live persons acting out scenes in them. Night Trap was a slasher type game where the player had to control the security system of a house to prevent a vampire from murdering girls
The live action scenes caused a bit of a fuss, and Senator Joe Lieberman led a charge to ban it (sidenote to the sidenote of the sidenote OMG I have such stories to tell about Joe Lieberman, DMs are open my friends)
But I digress. The incidents of OMG YOU LOST A THERMONUCLEAR BOMB led the government to scrap the CHROME DOME missions. The progress of technology led to the nuclear triad which meant that we were not just reliant on only one delivery system in case of nuclear war.
And that’s all folks.
For more about NIGHT TRAP, check out the @getplayedpod episode about this game, which OMG I didn't even start to talk about Dana Plato:
If you dig rock 'n roll history, think about doing @UofR's awesome online classes with @JohnCovach.
Stay gold, Pony Boy.
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