The irrational fear of Soviet invasion gripped our country for over 35 years. That fear led to the upper echelons of authority making decisions, which would create a feeling of near hysteria throughout the public. Americans feared that the Soviets were planning some nuclear attacks on the States, and were frightened by the thought that the Soviets might have a lead in the arms race. The words ?race? and ?gap? came to be used everyday when referring to anything the Soviets created, and Americans felt that the ?gap? which kept America on top of the arms ?race? needed to remain a ?gap?. With our submarines constantly finding new ways to tap into Soviet intelligence, it seemed that America did, in fact, have the upper hand. This could have cause some to feel confidence instead of fear; however, this did not come to be so. The whole nation, from the very head of government to the bottom rungs of society, feared the Soviets. Was this fear justified? What caused such intense fear? This is what this paper will explore. We will use the movie Dr. Strangelove and the book Blind Man?s Bluff to look at why it could have been justified and also at the reasons for why such fear came into being.
We begin by analyzing why the irrational fear was justified. The movie Dr. Strangelove shows almost every aspect of Cold War mentality in the United States during that period. What amazes me is that the film was shown at all during that time, what with all the blacklisting and censoring that was happening. Newspapers, film, and books were being censored left and right; however, Dr. Strangelove tapped into society?s fear of our printed material being used against us. The Russian ambassador in the film claims that they learned of America?s development of a doomsday machine in the New York Times. Although this would seem highly unlikely, in Blind Man?s Bluff, there are references to stories, which were in fact leaked out to the Times. The first reference is on page 194: ?On October 9, 1969, the New York Times ran a front-page story headlined ?New Soviet Subs Noisier Than Expected.?? The second reference is on page 273, when the NYT ran a five-column, three line headline: ?CIA Salvage Ship Brought up Part of Soviet Sub Lost in 1968, Failed to Raise Atom Missiles.? These newspaper headlines were what Americans were reading everyday, leading to the fear that Soviets might have the one-up on warfare vehicles, or that they would salvage those missiles and use them against America.
Also, if Americans could read so freely about what was happening with the military, the Russians could very easily be reading the same thing. Once again, the fear that Russians would use this knowledge against us was widespread. There were reports that the Soviet Union was racing to build its own atomic bombs, and there seemed no doubt that the Soviets were ?out to make a grab for world dominance.? (Sontag, 5) ?This was the atmosphere of mistrust that gave birth to the Central Intelligence Agency and plunged its agents into an immediate duel with Soviet spies. This was the era of fear that inspired the West to once again join forces, now as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. And all of this was the inspiration for the blind man?s challenge, the call for submariners in windowless cylinders to dive deep into a new role that would help the nation fend off this menace.? (Sontag, 6) So we see that the fear was not only ever present, but justified.
Sherry Sontag?s book is a goldmine when it comes to understanding why the U.S. felt so afraid of the Soviets. ?The Soviets had been developing missiles at a phenomenal rate ever since they were forced to back down during the Cuban Missile Crisis.? (Sontag, 93) This was common knowledge throughout the world. However, the U.S. was coming up with questions in their minds about what the possibilities were if the Soviets were in fact advancing in their technology. ?Was it possible that, just six years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Soviets were positioned to launch a first strike with little or no warning? If the subs were as silent and deadly as they seemed, then at the very least, the Soviets would have matched the United States in creating a second-strike capability, a way to punch back if all their land missiles and bombers were destroyed? (Sontag, 173)
There were many other things that Naval Intelligence was able to find out about the Soviets, driving the fear of Soviet attack even deeper into America?s heart. For instance, they found that the Soviets had placed their Delta ballistic missiles out of reach of the U.S., but just a straight shot away from Washington D.C. (Sontag, 295) When this occurred, naval leaders began to be confused as to what the Soviets were planning. ?American planners had believed that the Soviet Navy was bent on challenging the United States on the high seas?Now it seemed that the Soviets might be doing a strategic about-face and, in the process, knocking over a cornerstone of U.S. nuclear strategy.? (Sontag, 296) And of course, lack of knowledge often causes immense fear.
We?ve looked at just how scared the Americans were of the Soviets. But one must take pause to look at what we were doing to combat that fear. One must look at what the Soviets might have been feeling in order to understand their actions. When the Cold War began, it was the fear of communism that swept the U.S. as opposed to the fear of Russia. It wasn?t until Russia started attacking neighboring countries and instilling Soviet governments that American fear of Russia itself came about. Russia felt justified in these takeovers because they needed to feel protected from the ruthless capitalism of the west. The first thing America did was to try and infiltrate Russian intelligence with spies. Russia combated that with sending her own spies. America had to find a way to infiltrate Russian intelligence in a way never before used.
?It was that need for stealth that, more than anything, convinced intelligence officials that submarines could be the next logical step in the creation of an eavesdropping network that would circle the Soviet Union? (Sontag, 9) America was coming up with new submarines, taken from German models, which were quieter, safer, and technologically advanced, and using them to sneak into Soviet waters. Some submariners were daredevils who risked not only their crew?s lives, but the national security, some argued. One in particular went straight into the Okhotsk Sea to find and tap Soviet telephone cables no one was sure even existed. However, the Navy would do almost anything to try to beat the Russian threat. The cables were finally found and tapped, and a store of information brought up out of the deep, frigid waters of Okhotsk. America felt it now had the upper-hand on the Soviet Union. However, all it took was one man in the NSA to leak information out to the Soviets. It seemed that no one could ever be safe from Soviet infiltration.
?This was eavesdropping. What the hell were they doing crawling into the Soviet Union?s backyard and tapping a military cable in peacetime? Why were they risking their lives for a mission they were all sure the United States would never acknowledge? Why were they riding a boat with a captain who had made it clear that his hand was on the self-destruct button? Why were they riding a boat that could disappear with a workd to their families of how or why? Once it began, there was no stopping it. Fear, anger, concern, poured across the table? What once struck them as exciting and daring now seemed just plain illegal and dangerous.? (Sontag, 251)
In the same way, in the movie Dr. Strangelove, when the Russians first built the doomsday machine, they felt it to be exciting and daring, keeping up with a ?doomsday gap?, but when it came down to their own safety and realization that the whole world would be destroyed, the originally idea struck them as absurd and dangerous.
This is what happens in societies. People start out very zealous about a cause, then end up taking in to consideration what they were actually doing, and re-think their motivations. They begin to re-think all the fear they felt, all the confusion, and the rush for being number one. And once they re-think it, newer historians crop up who almost ridicule the fear that the previous generation felt. In fact, the generations themselves look back and feel somewhat ridiculous in their choices. This is when they begin to tell their stories to today?s historians, and it changes from ?justified fear of the reds? to ?irrational fear leading to irrational decisions.?
Sontag, Sherry “Blind Man’s Bluff” HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1998