The Big Chill – A Flash Back to the Cold War at the Titan Missile Museum, Green Valley, AZ

Posted on January 16, 2015


images (2)Not all of the “good old days” were all that great – in fact, I remember long stretches of life in the 1950’s and 60’s that were downright scary.

A friend’s family built a bomb shelter in their back yard, and while I don’t remember doing “duck and cover” drills in my school, we certainly were well-aware of the meaning of the Berlin Wall. Then there were those weekly tests of the Emergency Broadcast System and the periodic ear-piercing sound of air raid siren checks…and of course, the Space Race. These were the hallmarks of the “Cold War” era.

After World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies began a decades-long struggle for supremacy.

The two superpowers continually antagonized each other through political maneuvering, military coalitions, espionage and propaganda, arms buildups, shouting and shoe-banging.

images (3)It is generally agreed the Cold War extended from 1947 to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. However, it was the Bay of Pigs crisis in 1962 that forced us all to confront the fact that global melt-down might be only a moment away.

Communists-controlled ballistic missiles just 90 miles off the coast of Florida? That was chilling.

Though Nikita Khrushchev backed down and removed the Cuban missiles, the buildup of arms capable of turning the world to toast at the touch of a button continued.

The United States touted their intercontinental missile installations as necessary to maintain “Peace through Deterrence” –based on an assumption that if both the Soviet Union and the United States had the capability to blow each other up, neither nation would push their Big Red Buttons.

On our side, there were 54 Titan II nuclear installations in the United States, including site 571-7 in Arizona, south of Tucson. Today, this site is the only one left, following a 1984 arms reduction agreement treaty with the Soviet Union.Titan_Missile_Museum_silo_view

By treaty, all of the others had to be destroyed. This one, which closed in 1982, was allowed by the Soviets to survive as a museum, allowing tourists to experience what it was like to be inside the control center of such a fear-inducing structure.

FullSizeRender (15)The tour of this installation included a trek below ground to the missile control room, where our guide explained the routines of those stationed there 24/7.

His demonstration of the operation and purpose of the banks of museum-like equipment controlling these horrific weapons vividly illustrated just how far technology has advanced since the days of this installation’s active service. Punch-tape readers, toggle switches, analog dials, push buttons in an array of colors – not a computer monitor or touch pad in sight.

We also saw an actual unarmed Titan II missile nestled on its launch pad, and toured installation features above ground.

It was interesting, but it brought back some scary memories – which, I guess, was the whole idea.

Posted in: Travel - Arizona