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trekkist

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(well, not exclusively; events from another similarly unlikely TV series are included also)
The arms race of Earth’s twentieth century began with the mechanization of warfare, saw its ultimate baptism of fire with the wartime development of the atomic bomb, went thermonuclear through the implacable opposition of two forms of government, underwent a degree of control due public revulsion, but nonetheless reached an awful pinnacle of single weapons able to destroy outright half the planet, and at least three national arsenals well-capable of obliterating all life were any one of them to be fully utilized. Comparison of historic records from the thousands of worlds a part of – or less fortunately, known to – the United Planets bequeaths the appalling lesson that most species who practice internecine warfare arrive at that selfsame Rubicon. That most survive, however, is often, upon close examination, seen to be less a matter of choices taken than mere chance events’ effects upon a given culture. Those who posit a guiding hand to life itself may speak of fate or judgment, of peoples found wanting, or vouchsafed blessings…but provable facts belie this. Of those extinct worlds whose surviving records offer any clue to what befell their inhabitants – and more importantly, those whose pre-atomic histories can to any real degree be determined – a bare handful present “evidence” of those species’ possession of what might be termed intrinsic moral flaw. Exactly three dead worlds harbored races who seemed to find war a sort of game – a test of courage, of “manliness,” in the human vernacular, not unlike the view of ancient Sparta. A half-dozen more would seem to offer indications of worlds whose mightiest nations devolved to warring dictatorships. The others, though, were not unlike humanity: divided, antagonistic, determined on individually nationalistic goals, whose pursuit by what the soldier/theoretician Clauswitz called “the continuation of Politik by other means” led to their destruction. If that is evil, so was humanity…yet we survived.
Morphologic anthropology – the application of cross-species’ cultural studies without consideration of function – might suggest a “maturing” of cultures past an era of potential self-destruction – but if there is any moral to be found in the auto-genocide of the Krell, it is that “species maturity” arrives not with some arbitrarily high level of technological accomplishment, but upon advent of a level of individual and sociological self-knowledge no species known can kid itself it yet possesses. Thus far the United Planets has not conducted warfare on an interstellar level; thus far, no species risen from the “barbarism” of pre-unification of its homeworld has fallen back into so vicious a degree of self-hate – but can we presume the former will never come to pass, or that the latter is impossible? Starships of a myriad worlds set forth armed to the teeth with the best offensive and defensive machineries their builders could devise. That part of the United Planets’ spacefleets not devoted to carriage passengers or cargo still mount such fearsome batteries of destruction, and go about their explorations fit to raise barriers of energy against their hostile employment. That the “arms race” common to most sentients stopped short of crafting weapons able to explode suns is therefore most likely the result not of deliberate restraint, but the apparent lack of a deserving enemy. We are all, the most of us, still savages, with the blood of a million savage years upon our hands, who’ve chosen, for the nonce, not to kill—today.
There are of course exceptions. The majority – perhaps not incidentally – are species whose members display little or no sexual dimorphism, or which reproduce asexually or bisexually. The obvious conclusion is that war – the branding of one’s fellow beings as “other,” open to being slain – evolved from slavery, and slavery from sexual oppression. If this is indeed so – and while it cannot be disproven, neither can it be of a certainty proven – then war, indeed violence, is literally written into the genes of such species as practice it. Defensive action – even defense by offense – is thinkable to all (short, perhaps, of innately telepathic and/or empathic beings, unknown to exist as yet, who by their very nature “could not hurt a fly”), but war as “politics” may well derive from the initial pre-historic “conquest” of the female by the male (or in some cases the reverse).
Atomic history studies do not bely this; indeed, they support it, though with few cases. On some two dozen worlds, full sexual equality predated the atomic era. On some such worlds, atomic weapons were eschewed; on none did their construction proceed to the biosphere-threatening stockpile level. Those who bear, not merely sire, children, may be observed to have refused to at a wholesale level risk their slaughter. Or rather, to have in most cases done so, for that “rule” too had its exceptions, to the point, sometimes, of devastating (thought not genocidal) atomic exchanges. If an intrinsic correlation exists betwixt female political power and turning away from species’ suicide, it must be granted that other factors – individual planetary histories, social matrices, even population levels – influence that.
And to all of that there are likewise exceptions. We know of three worlds which “passed the test” of not building planet-threatening arsenals due not to females, but “enlightened” males. Thus at last we can conclude with certainty only that most races do so; that most survive the experiment; that of those which do not, no single factor seems responsible. As wars are decided on many determinants, so too the Last War of any world comes, or does not, due many causes.
On Earth, that Armageddon did not come was a matter of chance and circumstance – but it may in also fairness be in great part due one single man.
Earth’s Second World War – World War II – won enumeration due the “Great War” of some decades before. From 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918, the world’s “Great Powers” – those nations whose size and irresistible might had led to their own such definition – fought “the” World War, called by some, while it was fought, the war to end war or the war to end all wars. That it was not to be that was in some wise predictable, and was even at the time declared by many, viz. Britain’s wartime Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s supposed comment, “This war, like the next war, is a war to end war.” It was in any case a war such as the world had not until then seen – though like many, it borrowed from techniques of prior use. The newest “Great Power,” America – whose entry into World War I broke the European combatants’ stalemate, leading to “victory” for some – had fought its own Civil War not a century before, introducing such techniques and impedimenta as trench warfare, repeating rifles, barbed wire, aerial observation, and wholesale destruction of cities. The Great War built on those innovations, leading to the spectacle of armies confined to gashes cut into the earth for miles on end, from which they could not emerge without the deaths of up to tens of thousands in days via concealed machine guns. Aerial bombing saw widespread use for the first time, as did aircrafts’ bombardment of cities. Poison gas was introduced, as were armored battlefield tractors (“tanks” the code-name that would become a common noun). Submarines torpedoed merchant and military surface ships, first piecemeal, then without restriction. Attempts at what would come to be called “genocide” (and later “ethnic cleansing”) were undertaken.
When the “war to end war” was over, some 16 million were dead, 20-odd million wounded, another seven or so million considered “missing.” Earth’s population had been some 1.8 billion at the war’s beginning; in four years three months, that total fell (of a certainty, the “missing” excluded) by some .88 percent. To put it another way, the world had been some one-tenth decimated (in one use of that term). Much of an entire generation of young European males were either killed or wounded; nearly all saw combat for much or all of the war’s duration under the most horrific circumstances. One combatant, Russia, underwent a revolution during the war, and withdrew its soldiers from the front; one of the instigators, Germany, emerged with many of its people believing they’d been “stabbed in the back” by the capitulation of their leaders to the Allied Powers’ Treaty of Versailles. Ruinous “reparations” payments – allegedly recompense for the war’s cost, in practical terms simple vengeance – were exacted upon Germany, which underwent in short order the worst economic depression in history, the value of its currency falling so sharply and rapidly that paychecks were devalued to the point of uselessness within hours of their being cashed. America too suffered its own “Great Depression,” during which antagonism towards “communism” (the governmental system of the newly-born Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the formerly Tsarist Russia) rose to a fever pitch. A naval arms race broke out amongst various of the Great Powers, of which one, the island nation of Japan, violated a “treaty” by which its navy was to be held forever numerically inferior to those of other Allied nations.
Some consideration of the Washington Naval Treaty – or the Five-Power Treaty, as it was also called – is pertinent to later examination of the nuclear arms race. America’s wartime President, Woodrow Wilson, had tendered the naval arms race with his administration’s intention to construct fifty modern battleships, and numerous smaller vessels. The U.S. Congress opposed this, favoring a return to prewar isolationism, as did the American public. By late 1921, the U.S. became privy to British plans for a conference devoted to strategic issues of the Pacific and Far East, to which then-President Harding responded by calling the Washington Naval Conference. Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes opened the conference with the dramatic words, “The way to disarm, is to disarm,” thus fostering general support for the U.S. proposals of a decade-long naval construction moratorium, with the immediate suspension of all construction of first-rate warships (“capital ships”); the scrapping of existing capital ships to produce a tonnage ratio of 5:5:3:1.75:1.75 between the U.S., Britain, Japan, France and Italy; and an ongoing tonnage limit on capital and secondary ships to maintain the same ratio. Foreign reactions were unenthusiastic. Britain would lose thereby her mastery of the seas (which she realistically could not afford), Japan be far short of the 70% U.S.-fleet navy she thought necessary to win any future war (pursuit of which would be ruinous, if not futile). France demanded a higher capital tonnage than Japan’s, but was bought off by concessions regarding cruisers and submarines. Debate over cruisers was particularly contentious, but was eventually settled. No agreement could be reached regarding limits on submarines.
Within the Imperial Japanese Navy, those supporting and opposing the treaty terms – the latter allied with ultranationalists of the Army and government – led to Japan’s 29 December 1934 declaration that it would renounce the treaty. A particularly interesting opinion was that of Vice Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, who favored the treaty due his belief the U.S. could out-produce Japan in warship construction, if it so chose, by a far greater ratio than 5:3, and that any future war between the two nations would thus require other tactics than a straightforward naval slugfest. The wisdom of Yamamoto’s beliefs would be seen in the war to come, and presaged by Japan’s expending nearly 32% of its national budget on the navy as early as 1921. By 1941 the Imperial Japanese Navy comprised 10 battleships – two the largest ever built; 10 aircraft carriers; 38 cruisers; 112 destroyers; 65 submarines and various combat auxiliaries. The U.S. Navy consisted of 17 battleships; 8 carriers; 37 cruisers; 171 destroyers; 112 submarines. Minor combat vessels numbered 153, training vessels and tenders 184, supply ships 68, transports 39, miscellaneous auxiliaries 14. On the basis of relative tonnage, Japan had upon launching its war already lost it. By 1944, U.S. fleet strengths were 23 battleships, 90 carriers, 61 cruisers, 367 destroyers, 230 submarines, and over 6000 other surface warships. The war’s last year would see five more fleet carriers, six diminutive escort or “jeep” carriers, and two additional submarines join the fleet. Yamamoto’s worst fears had been borne out.
The term “Great Power” would not survive World War II, but in those terms, what would emerge from the war as the world’s only great powers both experienced that conflict’s beginnings as a sneak attack – that launched on Russia by Germany 22 June 1941, on the U.S. by Japan December 7 of that year. The aggressors were in the first case a dictatorship, in the second an imperialist power. By dint of manpower expended, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics must be acknowledged as having won World War II for the Allies; Russia lost 23 to 24 million of its people, in toto some 13-14% of her population, as versus U.S. combat losses of some 405,000. The two soon-to-be “superpowers” had in common the experience of unprovoked assault and a determination such would never again occur – the fear of which naturally fell upon one another. Ironically, the Russian term for Americans became “imperialists,” that of the U.S. for the Russian state, dictatorship – both of which were, from the perspective even of those times, the simple truth. Russia had been ruled by tyrants throughout its history, the overthrow of the last Czar having brought a far worse tyranny into power. America had been deemed imperialist before the turn of the century by no less a critic than its own Mark Twain, who decried his nation’s annexation of the Philippines, during which he wrote The War Prayer, which from its opening lines

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers
hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun…

to the start of the prayer actual, delivered before a church filled with eager families to would-be warriors

O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded,
writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander
unfriended in the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst…

to the conclusion

“Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits.”
It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

seems all but prescient in its evocation of times to come.
America emerged from World War II intact – the only major nation so blessed. Her cities had felt no bombs, her industry had grown by leaps and bounds, her self-image as the world’s savior in the First World War been redoubled by her victory in the Second. She alone had in her arsenal not merely ships and submarines, airplanes and tanks, but the atomic bomb, two of which had erased entire cities. She (like Russia) had taken some of the finest technical minds of Nazi Germany, responsible for the world’s first jet-powered warplanes, the first true submarines, the first ballistic and ground-to-air missiles, into her bosom to wreck further wonder weapons. Her soldiers (like those of Russia) had looked into the face of evil incarnate, the crafters and operators of the hell-camps of systematic, “scientific” annihilation of (had the Nazis won) whole peoples. A half-century before, the U.S. Bureau of the Census had assayed America’s 40 Indian wars as having “cost the lives of about 19,000 white men, women and children…and the lives of about 30,000 Indians” – but America’s own birth as a nation little figured into Americans views of themselves as having freed nations. The World War, then (as later historians would term the punctuated global conflict of the 20th century), left its two major victorious combatants with a view of themselves as lately violated and heroic, both in their wartime conduct and, if called upon, the future. The next enemy would be the other; the next war could not be lost, since loss in an atomic war might mean national extinction.
If Americans were to a degree naïvely self-righteous, Russians-nee-Soviets were righteously noble and long-suffering. The reference is not in either case to leadership, which in the U.S. case was well aware of history and realpolitik, and in that of Russia, a single paranoid megalomaniac, who’d lain all but paralyzed for weeks after the “only man he trusted” launched an invasion of the Soviet Union. Joseph Stalin was by definition insane, as had been Hitler; President Truman, who’d inherited without warning the knowledge, burden and responsibility of the atomic bomb (of whose very development he’d been kept ignorant prior to his predecessor’s death), and used it on Japan, invading which would have cost, it was estimated, a million American lives alone. The U.S. alone had the bomb – but only nine of them, in 1946, in the face of a nation far-worse-bloodied, ruled by a lunatic, whose immediate goal would be pursuit of the selfsame “secret” weapon. Civilian inclination to “bring the boys home” – and to quickly and radically reduce the size of the standing American military – far exceeded that subsequent to the First World War; by 1946, the wartime fleet strength of full-sized aircraft carriers had fallen from 28 to 15, that of battleships from 23 to 10, of submarines from 232 to 85. The latter were in large part obsolete, thanks to late-war Nazi innovations; battleships were deemed so, what with the carrier’s having come into its own in World War II, and the most-recently built carriers yet maintained. But a mere nine atomic weapons – whose “obliteration” of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, four times multiplied, would mean little to a Stalin – could hardly take the place of overwhelming conventional force. Small wonder the years to come would see a buildup of the American nuclear arsenal: 50 by 1948, 170 the next year, 299 to open the 1950s, over a thousand three years later. Nineteen-forty-nine, however, would see the first Soviet atomic test explosion, opening the arms race to both sides.
The postwar arms race was to hasten and heighten all but inevitably, thanks to the postwar psychological postures of the war’s major victors – but the “war to lead to the last war,” as it might be called, was followed in short order by one of those “accidents” of societal evolution which color the histories of many species which found their way successfully past advent of atomics to a time of a unified global civilization. The first published account of the atomic bombing of Japan appeared in a major American magazine on August 31, 1946. Mail-order subscribers opened the colorful, picnic-adorned cover of The New Yorker to find the entire issue devoted to a spare, unadorned account of the experiences of six Japanese citizens, one year and five days before. Newsstand copies sold out within hours. Reprint requests flooded the magazine’s offices. Radio stations broadcast full readings in hour-long segments. The Book-of-the-Month Club rushed “Hiroshima” into print, sending free copies to all subscribers.
Journalist and wartime correspondent John Hersey had spent four weeks in Japan interviewing survivors earlier that year. Four weeks after the bombing of Nagasaki, another of his ilk had spent three weeks in that city, passing himself off as a colonel. George Weller, however, saw his work censored by American Occupation personnel, 55,000 pages of dispatches and over 100 photos being denied publication. Unsatisfied with the material authorities had allowed into print, Weller spent the next year turning what he’d seen into a work of fiction. The result was the nine-hundred-page Mugenni Hibakusha – Japanese for “infinitely atomic-bombed,” a variation on the term applied to those unfortunate hundreds who’d fled Hiroshima to Nagasaki in time to be atomi-bombed a second time. Published January of 1947, Weller’s novel was the first account outside the bounds of science fiction to describe a world-wide atomic war. Characters numbered over a hundred; locales spanned the globe from small-town America, to Paris, London, Berlin, Moscow, Tokyo, Peking, Rome, Rio de Janeiro and the Antarctic. Americans had seen the world; now they read a detailed account of the world’s being destroyed.
Like Hersey’s, Weller’s work became a sensation. Senator Joseph McCarthy (among others) denounced Weller as a “Red,” but public sentiment was on his side. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer announced production of a film, screenplay by Weller himself. A secrecy rivaling that of the Manhattan Project fell over the production of the film, of which little was made public save the director’s being Cecil B. DeMille. The movie, “Our Armageddon,” debuted on hundreds of screens December 24, 1948 – a daring, if not near-blasphemous, move on MGM’s part, but appropriate to the material. Audiences flocked to the premiere of the four-hour picture, to be shocked first by its being in black and white. The choice was brilliant, evoking wartime footage while permitting the modicum of emotional distance essential to endurance of the picture. Weller had taken the dramatic opportunity to move his seemingly-contemporary war-tale some years into the future. Brief prose descriptions of fleets of airplanes were incidental to their bombs’ effects – but when huge flying-wing jet bombers and triangular-winged jet fighter escorts roared across the screen, shapes reflecting those of experimental aircraft of the very latest newsreels, their monochrome portrayal lent the indelible impression of you-are-there reportage of a war as yet unfought.
That war’s brief dogfights and innumerable mushroom clouds closed the film’s first half, devoted to introduction of its many characters (of necessity fewer than the novel’s) and the rising tensions of a world pre-war. Audiences trembled through the intermission, or left the theatres to furiously smoke – but few fled. What would come next?—or rather (being as how so many had read the book), how would it be shown? The second half was Armageddon’s aftermath: familiar stock stills of bombed cities of World War II dissolving one by one to those same cities razed by atomic bombs, underlining and emphasizing the contrast between merely horrendous damage and outright obliteration. Next came survivors’ tales – those, that is, of those few characters from the first half who had survived. Years passed via dissolves, conditions worsening for all the world. Fallout and starvation, disease, murder over scraps of food, cannibalism, depredation, rape…then a jump-cut titled “Ten Years After.” Much was unchanged; much was worse. Twenty years after came, then 30, 50, 100—then a sudden cut to half a century (mankind re-rising), and lastly, “The New Millennium.” That last was the shock of all shocks: the start of yet another World War, its number unknown, its weapons not unlike the First’s: machine guns, zeppelins, biplanes, tanks. Filthy, tattered troops started “over the top,” with which screens froze, faded to black, illumined then in blazing, blinding letters, The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch…a third of the waters became wormwood, and many died from the water, because it was made bitter – Revelation 8:10-11.
Weller’s and DeMille’s work sparked riots Congressional hearings. Weller and DeMille were both pilloried and celebrated. Their movie played to packed houses for years. Three months into its run, Secretary of Defense James Forrestal, was asked to resign by President Truman. Forrestal was well-known; he’d been Naval Secretary since 1944, had witnessed the savage battles for the islands of Kwajalein and Iwo Jima, claiming the first flag raised there by Marines – the first time during the war American colors had been hoisted on Japanese soil – as a personal souvenir. He’d presided over the war’s closing year and the difficult early years of demobilization that followed. His successor, Louis Johnson, was publically a relative unknown; he’d been Assistant Secretary of War from 1937 to 1940, but lacked serious governmental responsibilities. Chief fundraiser for President Truman’s 1948 campaign, he was seen by many as having won his post though patronage, and known to be a strong advocate of airpower over naval forces. Truman saw him as the ideal foil for postwar defense economization, which Johnson undertook with a vengeance. July of 1948 had seen Truman’s authorization of the first of five “supercarriers,” twice the weight of the largest aircraft carriers of World War II. Keel-laying of the first, to be named United States, occurred on April 18 of the next year. Five days later, Johnson canceled the entire class on the dual grounds of fiscal economy and lack of necessity. Naval Secretary John Sullivan resigned in protest of this decision, in the face of Johnson’s claim that peace was to be henceforth maintained not through naval strength, but by dint of a fleet of enormous new bombers capable of unrefueled intercontinental flight.
On May 22, James Forrestal leapt to his death from a window of the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, leaving behind a suicide note in the form of the quotation of part of a poem from Sophocles’ tragedy. The Navy kept secret the full transcript of its official hearing, likewise the final report, making no reference to anything but the cause of death, a fall.
Allegations of paranoia, involuntary confinement and assassination were raised in the press. Bracketing the death of Forrestal were news accounts of rigged contracts pertaining to the B-36 bomber. The aircraft was arguably obsolete, its design dating to 1941, first flight delayed by the war until 1946. The largest airplane ever built, it had a wingspan of 230 feet, a range of 6000 miles, a bombload of more than 70,000 pounds – but cruised at only 230 mph, with a top speed (once two dual-jet nacelles had been added to its six piston-engined wings) of 418– a good hundred miles per hour slower than that reachable by the Nazis’ Me-262 jet fighter. April and May of 1949 saw an “anonymous document” making the rounds of official Washington, alleging collusion between Johnson, Air Force Secretary Stuart Symington and Floyd Odlum, head of Consolidated-Vultee Corporation, builder the B-36. Congressional Representative James Van Zandt demanded a full investigation, which public hearings brought quickly to light the “anonymous document” having been the product of a former Hollywood screenwriter, Cedric Worthwho held a top secret clearance as an aide to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Jack Northrup, founder and chairman of a rival aircraft corporation, testified that the recommendation to cancel his YB-49 flying wing bomber had been made in good faith and without political motive. The hearings recessed late August, with no parties held at fault. Resumption in October was to examine issues of “force unification” and national defense strategy.
The Navy had not merely lost to the Air Force; it had been found guilty in a public arena of impugning its rival service’s credibility. Its own court of inquiry, begun without days, revealed that Worth had received help – a lot of it – in composing his fictional document. Insolence, if not outright insubordination to civilian oversight had taken place. Nonetheless, the Navy closed ranks, girding its loins for the battle to come. Having lost the United States, the admirals determined not to lose their role entire. The fall of Carl Vinson’s gavel, October 5th, was followed closely a triad of Naval arguments: the Navy was being slighted as a service, to the immense benefit of Air Force; the B-36 was a substandard aircraft, incapable of the task set it; and most importantly, the Air Force strategy of an atomic “blitz” was at best a duplicitous offer of a cheap, near-bloodless (for Americans) multiplication of the razing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and at worst, the Air Force’s reworking of the last war’s “strategic bombing” into a standing attack-response policy of virtual genocide. Photos of B-36s in flight with Naval fighters flying alongside underscore the first point. The second seems inarguable in light of Louis’ cancellation of a newly-keel-laid carrier. The third is expertly met by the calm testimony of Joint Chiefs of Staff General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, who describes the origin of the “atomic blitz” policy as the result of long study by the four Joint Chiefs (then led by an admiral). War Plan TROJAN, Vandenberg maintains, is not an Air Force policy, but a national one. The Strategic Air Command answers to the Joint Chiefs, not the Air Force, in event of war conducting attacks on targets selected by them. A “blitz” is not meant to win the next war, but balance the overwhelming numbers of enemy forces (an allusion not just to Russia, but Communist China). “Is it proposed,” asks Vandenberg, “that we…maintain a standing Army…in equal man-to-man” [numbers]?”
The JCS General’s testimony might have ended the matter, but for the Senate’s hearings of May 1950. Senator Herbert Kimberly – a former captain, crippled during the sinking of the carrier Lexington in the Battle of the Coral Sea, now ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee – confronted General Curtiss LeMay, head of the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command in the most riveting televised political event until the Kennedy/Nixon debates a decade later. LeMay not only agrees with the Joint Chiefs’ policy of “massive retaliation” with atomic weapons; he seems almost eager to deliver the blow. LeMay touts SAC’s “Sunday punch” as capable, if necessary, of “killing a nation.” Some six million Americans have televisions in 1950, but of the country listens, or watches at work or in bars, as Kimberly responds, “That’s genocide, General, not war.”
“No, Senator; it’s survival,” replies LeMay – but his words fall on ears not just deaf, but ringing with the screams and whimpers of “Our Armageddon.” Naval hubris of the year before has been trumped by LeMay’s advocacy of victory at any cost. Spontaneous public protests break out in many cities, peaceful at first, then increasingly less so as frightened governors and mayors call upon police, then the National Guard—both of which forces suffer considerable “defections” to the other side. Tens of thousands of letters, uncountable numbers of phone calls deluge Congress and the White House. By the end of 1950, LeMay has been dismissed, as has Louis Johnson. The B-36 has been cancelled, SAC assigned the sole task of defense of the American homeland. Nuclear strikes will henceforth be the province of the Navy, construction of whose “supercarrier” (and another prototype of somewhat more conservative design) is to proceed. Powerful Air Force advocates in industry and Congress ensure immediate construction of the five-engined Atlas rocket, but its use as an intercontinental ballistic missile, conveying thermonuclear warheads overseas in half an hour, is shelved; Atlas is to be an orbital launch vehicle, for to secure to the Air Force the “new high ground” of space. Save Curtis LeMay, the unhappiest man in America is the late Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s former Vice-President Henry A. Wallace, 1948’s unsuccessful Progressive Party Presidential candidate. Wallace, a staunch pacifist, is (euphemistically) quoted as saying, on more than one occasion, “If that fucking movie had opened two months earlier, I’d be President today.”
Representative governments respond to the desires of their citizens—as must, to differing degrees, monarchies, oligarchies and tyrannies. America in 1950 was none of these – or rather, was for practical purposes each one of them, to various of its peoples. Negroes had the vote – on paper; but enjoyed but little access to the ballot box throughout the South (and indeed, much of the North and West). Congress was all-white and nearly all male, the judiciary, nation-wide, all but wholly both. Women’s needs and wants, as women, were barely recognized, and met with ridicule at best. Homosexuals were invisible, hated, feared, all but legally killable. The poor in general had benefited from Roosevelt’s New Deal, but the very existence of starvation in America would go unacknowledged for another decade. When a blockbuster movie and a bellicose general rendered an atomic-armed Air Force anathema, the government stuck by its guns of a nuclear strike force, simply transferring its force of ownership. Russia had the bomb, and would doubtless come to have the H-bomb. Something had to be done.
The Navy was the beneficiary. The Admirals’ Revolt had been both “humanitarian” and self-serving; the United States carriers were intended, after all, to be neither paper tigers nor one conventionally armed ones; their island-less flight decks were meant for strategic bombers, a small fleet of them: fourteen aircraft apiece, their mother-ships provisioned for eight raids each, allowing the delivery of 112 atomic weapons per carrier without resupply being necessary. Thanks to the admirals’ superb salesmanship, and the genocidal posturing of Curtis LeMay, the U.S. Navy was to be the force supreme, its budget a virtual blank check (jet interceptors being relatively cheap, the demand for space launch vehicles remaining for quite some time low, “new high ground” claims notwithstanding). The public, having won their “war on war,” relaxed. Defense of the nation was in the best hands, “power projection” where it belonged, which is to say, on carriers – the ships that won the way for the Air Force to deliver the bloodless (to G.I.s) coup de grace against Japan. Surely a homeland well-defended against attack would have no need to launch one…and ships at sea (but for their launchings, and sometime shore leaves) leave no whit the impression on the consciousness of fleets of bombers passing overhead, or even (should it have come to that, as LeMay would have had it) on eternal airborne patrol just outside Russian borders.
Pacifists and theoreticians continued to agitate and pontificate, but their words fell on fallow ground. The public was done with thoughts of war, and enjoying an unprecedented era of economic growth. America had won the Big One, and won, it seemed, a just peace for the world as well. Joe Stalin would die soon, surely, and might not a Russia unthreatened by being turned in hours into a plain of glass come to recall, again embrace, its former alliance with a would-be adversary? America, all Americans, had made a stand for peace—or if not “peace,” exactly, a less inhuman style of atomic war.
So thought the general public. Meantime, the Navy asked for – and received – sister-ships to United States, next-generation Forrestal class carriers, jet-powered seaplane bombers. Stalin did indeed die in 1953, Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s opening of the “iron curtain” due his nation’s crippling poverty following by some three years – but neither reassured America’s defense “hawks.” Russia was still the Soviet Union, a communist superpower, poor perhaps, less imperialistic in its foreign policy…but nonetheless armed with an enormous standing army, atomic and thermonuclear bombs, ballistic missiles, even, it was rumored, atomic-powered aircraft of essentially unlimited range – none of which Khrushchev gave any hint of giving up. “War between America and a ‘peaceful’ Soviet Union is less unthinkable than a World War fought between monarchs related by ties of blood,” declared a major American writer; “We must aim for peace, but maintain close watch.” Having chosen not to emplace the bullseye-targets of missile bases on its home soil, the U.S. redoubled its practice of putting them to sea instead. The first atomic submarines led to atomic subs armed with atomic-tipped missiles. Atomic-powered aircraft carriers and other surface vessels – all armed with atomic weapons – saw construction during the 1960s.
America emerged from the Second World War with the most powerful navy on Earth, and commenced within half a decade of the war’s ending to arm that navy with the most powerful of weapons. Russia, having few deep-water surface combatants, spent a decade building up its submarine force – cheaper per unit, and less liable, perhaps, to even atomic destruction, if only due the difficulty of targeting – and fast-tracked its ballistic missile program also. The first practical intermediate-range (i.e., European theatre) missiles were Soviet versions of the Nazis’ unbuilt A9/A10 – in essence a V-2 rocket mounted atop a similar but larger booster. America took little umbrage at the their late-1940s advent, leading to the bitter Continental jape that a “tactical” atomic weapon was one that exploded in Europe. When the U.S. declared publically in 1950 its intention to build missiles of intercontinental range, but to use them as launch vehicles, not warhead delivery vehicles, the Kremlin was nonplussed, if not outright disbelieving. “Only madmen spend millions on peaceful rockets” was the take of the particularly hawkish Captain Halder. But intelligence confirmation of Atlas and Titan launch pads being erected only at Cape Canaveral and Vandenburg Air Force Base – in both cases openly, and with no effort to harden the facilities against attack – Moscow realized that its adversaries were truthful. Missile bases on Russian soil would invite atomic attack, which left the Soviets following American strategy out of enlightened self-interest, if nothing more.
The high seas were therefore militarized to a degree unmatched since the advent of unrestricted submarine warfare by the Kaiser’s Kreigsmarine. If aircraft carriers and submarines were to be the conveyers of strategic weapons, both must needs be interdicted in peacetime, destroyed without delay if war broke out. Moreover, submarine-launched missiles – capable of taking flight within minutes of their targets – must be stopped. The two side’s air forces, likewise the U.S. Navy (the Soviets still having few surface warships) undertook a frantic defensive arms race, the goal that of missile interception. “Project Defender,” the American anti-ballistic-missile-missile program, became the driving force of a new industry: computers. To fire a bullet to hit a bullet (as the task of in-flight destruction of missiles was lightly described) was one thing; to aim that anti-bullet bullet, quite another. “Intercepts” of a physical nature required pinpoint accuracy, hair-trigger deployment and the lowest possible rate of error; a single miss could cost a nation an entire city. Small wonder huge expenditures were invested into high-energy lasers, whose speed-of-light beams could in theory traverse an entire zone of flight-paths until the hostile “incoming” were found and vaporized.
The air forces led in laser research, since only ground-based installations could support such weapons. However, long-duration and/or repeated fire proved elusive goals, leaving no recourse but defense installations mounting dozens of laser batteries – a ruinously expensive proposition, rejected by Congress. Defense Secretary Robert McNamera forced on both services the joint development and deployment of anti-missile missiles (or “intercepts,” as they came to be known), which decision was resisted from the start and remained controversial despite its success, what with the nationwide construction of intercept bases outside most major American cities, certain to be themselves targets of the first wave of atomic warheads in case of an attack. The Navy, meanwhile, launched specially-built ships to host their task forces’ immense intercept guidance computers – then became embroiled in its own scandal as the advent of integrated circuitry rendered those vessels obsolete. By the early 1970s, intercepts provided a supposedly impregnable shield against incoming missiles both onshore and at sea. The claimed impermeability of the “peace shield” was hotly contested, the whole concept likewise criticized on the grounds that to put faith in it raised the prospect of an atomic first strike being considered a viable option. Civilian bomb shelters, briefly popular during the 1950s and early ‘60s, became the second most common major consumer investment (cars being first). Urban civil defense fell on state and local governments, what with the massive Federal expenditures (both acknowledged and clandestine), and the professed policy of every Presidential administration that a first strike would never be undertaken, and intercepts protect the nation against a atom-age Pearl Harbor.
Meanwhile, the quest to use the seas entire as sanctuary for submarines became the goal of every nuclear-armed nation. China was the second “hostile” power to arm itself atomically; Britain had the bomb by 1952, France eight years later, but the latter’s independently-developed submarine missile force was tolerated (if not appreciated) by the U.S. But all potential global powers saw the writing of deep-submergence warcraft on the wall from 1950 onward. Atomic depth charges rendered mere submergence useless, operating depths of hundreds of feet inadequate. The relatively slow speeds of even streamlined atomic-driven submarines (e.g. USS Skipjack, 1956) would prove of no avail against atomic attack by surface vessels, let alone the “hunter/killer” type of which that sub was prototype. To survive – indeed, perhaps even to engage – the enemy, future submarines must practice “hydrodynamics” – i.e., be capable of maneuvering like aircraft: quickly, and with as little limit to operational depth as was physically achievable. Surface warships must in turn be capable of speeds far exceeding those of existing seagoing vessels, and mount equipment fit to detect submarines at any depth, and weapons able to engage those targets despite their best efforts to escape.
The first true air-cushion vehicle, or “hovercraft,” dated to 1931; but for their two-front war, and simultaneous pursuit of technological innovation on many fronts, the Nazis would have fielded combat hydrofoils. Both technologies could in theory be applied to surface ships pit against future high-speed submarines, could the attendant issue of operational noise be dealt with. The decades-long game of hounds and hare – that is to say, destroyers vs. subs – took on a new urgency with the need to interdict, if not destroy, undersea missile launchers. Such boats would be too large, it was thought, for high-speed evasion; stealthiness via reduction of operating noise, deep diving, or both was their ace in the hole. Surface vessels could mount detection gear of far greater size than even the largest hunter/killer subs, but must needs apply those means of detection despite intervening thermoclines – layers of water differing in temperature, beneath or amidst which subs could hide from sonar.
Prototype military hovercraft, surface effect ships and hydrofoils went to sea under various flags, deploying fleets of robotic submersibles to seek out enemy subs. Submarine designers explored alternative means of propulsion. The most radical was former U.S. Navy Commander F.R. “Ted” Haselton’s tandem-propeller system. Working at the Office of Naval Research’s Undersea Warfare Branch, Haselton had presented his superiors with an working 25-inch model in 1964. Fellow officers ceased calling Haselton’s office the “Rotor-Rooter Branch” upon witnessing the subsequent performance of an18-foot model. Spindle-shaped, built to operate via remote control, or under that of a cockpit-housed scuba diver, the concept demonstrator had neither rudders nor diving planes. Two rings encircled it, equidistant from prow and stern, each bearing some 18 to twenty projecting blades. Contra-rotating, the two rotors could move the model in any direction, spin it end for end, even stand it on its nose or stern, bettering the hydrodynamics even of the experimental boat Albacore, which pioneered the Skipjacks’ blimp-like hull-form. Also of interest was an outgrowth of work by physiologist Alfred W. Richardson and biomedical engineer Sujoy K. Guha, whose pursuit a means of stimulating blood flow in the human body led to their 1964 discovery that electrically charged atoms in solution, when made to move by a magnetic field, dragged the water molecules comprising the solution along with them. As a pump, this was not unprecedented; liquid-metal-cooled atomic reactors had utilized the selfsame principle. But a device without moving parts, applying motion to water electronically and without sound, was new. A popular magazine had depicted a Skipjack equipped with a pair of magnetohydrodynamic “sea engines,” but the system offered such low speeds at so high an expenditure of energy the Navy showed as little interest as it had in construction of a full-scale rotor sub. The revolutions in anti-sub technologies caused second-guessing of both dismissals – but laboratory tests alone could not conclusive proof of operational practicality. Moreover, no mere propulsive improvement – atomic power, streamlined hulls, the near-silent sea engines, the omni-maneuverability of the “windmill sub” – could be exploited to full advantage without a considerable increase in operational depth. Spherical diving bells had been lowered to depths of miles, the bathyscaphe Trieste descended to the ocean’s deepest known point – but the pressure vessel of a war-sub could not consist of conjoined spheres within a streamlined outer hull. A titanium-hulled submarine might dive to nearly a mile – but 50% of the ocean overlay the abyssal plains, two to five times as deep. As Albacore had discovered, a truly hydrodynamic high-speed sub could pass in seconds beneath its crush depth. Had the world’s contending superpowers put their faiths into a “triad” of weapons-delivery systems – silo-launched ICBMs, manned bombers and ballistic missile submarines – exploitation of the oceans’ depths might not have seemed essential, hydrodynamics been forsaken as unnecessary, “boomers” survival left reliant on silence, luck, and numbers – but Earth’s nations had made a different choice, rendering full exploitation of the oceans vital.
Two avenues of engineering seemed to offer access to depths unlimited. Forcefields were one, indeed the obvious choice – but an electromagnetic zone of repulsion sufficient to repel abyssal pressures proved unattainable. The short-run answer was glass. A fact obscure, but known to artisans, was that glass was in fact a liquid. Over centuries, glass would flow, windows becoming minutely thicker at the bottom than the top. Under pressure, glass was more resistant to breakage than when not. The principle had seen general application to undersea structures, of which a “standard model,” a geodesic half-sphere on cylindrical legs, had seen worldwide adoption. A submarine with a pressure hull of glass could in theory operate safely at any depth – but to propose such a thing for military use was unthinkable. Fortunately, full-scale proof-of-principle could be established outside the Navy’s system of procurement. Two brothers, both retired admirals, had already experimented with a glass-hulled minisub capable of reaching two-mile depths, and had for some years advocated construction of a glass-hulled prototype attack submarine, dubbed for obscure reasons Polidor. Their attempts to build their dreamboat had run afoul of both politics and industry, resulting in a decades-long lawsuit against General Dynamics, builder of the Skipjack (whose hullform copied their Polidor design’s). Deep-diving and hydrodynamics alike had lain fallow from the late fifties until 1969, when Congressman Henry Talbott MacNeil’s year-long inquiry into 1967’s loss of the Skipjack-class boat Scorpion (which hearings re-raised the issue of the 1963 death of Thresher, a modified version the selfsame class) resulted in funding of the Nelson brothers’ Polidor, and significant financial and governmental aid the construction of another, larger sub far more visibly radical in design.
Launched as USOS Seaview, the latter boat was dubbed “the amazing glass-nosed submarine” – but in fact she, like Polidor, was built entirely of glass – or more strictly, (but for her nose ports) titanium-tempered “X-hardened Herculite,” an invention of the Nelson Institute of Marine Research, a self-funded private foundation. Ostensibly – and in strictly legal terms, literally – civilian, Seaview operated independently of the Navy’s chain of command, but had as captain and crew Navy men on detached service, and carried twenty of the most advanced atomic-tipped ballistic missiles. In fact, Seaview was an immense, clandestine-in-plain-sight Naval experiment, its possible failure no risk to the high brass, its success the gateway to future Naval subs of identical composition.
It was accepted by the general public that so mighty a “scientific research” boat would carry atomic weapons, being as how much of its hull and fittings (so it was claimed) had been drawn at governmental expense from the Polaris missile fleet production line. The Nelsons were lauded as pioneering an innovation in undersea observation, not to mention the first seagoing American liquid-metal-cooled reactor since that of the second atomic submarine, Seawolf (whose balky experimental reactor had in due course been replaced by a backup built for Nautilus). It hardly hurt the Nelsons’ reputations that Seaview’s launch took place just in time for her to save the Earth entire from destruction. If any had thought it imprudent for a “civilian” sub to bear atomic arms, such concerns were laid to rest when Admiral Walter Harriman Nelson (ret.) used one – despite the efforts of the world’s navies to stop him – to extinguish the flaming Van Allen belts. The event received official acknowledgement (and too, a subtle but unmistakable rebuke of sorts) in the boat’s reclassification from USOS (United States Oceanographic Survey) to SSRN (Ship Submersible Research Nuclear). Henceforth, Seaview would be “draftable” at need for official Naval – or Federal – duties. Seaview designer Walter Nelson resigned his “oversight” duties in protest; his brother John Harriman, a former member of Naval Intelligence, bore no such issues. The younger Nelson – and ironically, a younger brother to Sterling Lee Crane (who’d resigned not in anger, but to marry W. Harriman’s secretary) – manned Seaview through many a scientific and quasi- (and a few overtly) military mission for years thereafter.
Seaview’s having fled into the Marianas Trench to escape a Skipjack’s attack (resulting in the pursuing sub’s inevitable self-destruction) did not escape attention of the world’s navies. Before the Nelsons’ prototype deep-divigng attack sub Polidor was even launched, construction of a full sister ships was authorized. Polidor went lost during its shakedown cruise, but Seaview’s own search and rescue mission exonerated John Nelson, the boat’s designer; the sub had safely dived to eight miles beneath the surface, its crew then falling prey to a saboteur’s contamination of their atmosphere. Polidor’s effectively unlimited crush depth (deeper than any ocean) left the look-alike Skipjack class and the derivative Permit attack boats (so-renamed since Thresher’s loss) as second-rate vessels at best. Retirement of those eighteen subs – let alone the 41 ballistic missile subs – was deemed fiscally imprudent, at least until hostile nations had matched the Nelsons’ hullmetal – but not to forgo a fleet of Polidors was likewise unthinkable.
Concurrent pursuit of all innovations was imprudent, if not impossible; a mixed fleet of medium and high-technology boats seemed inevitable. The Navy was, however, determined to explore every advantage of its new unlimited-depth fleet. One boat was fitted with sponsons containing larger versions of the “sea engines” previously tested by a small, conventionally-powered minisub. A full-sized manned rotor-sub was built from a pair of prows. The former experiment proved inconclusive. The MHD propulsors drew so much power from the sub’s reactor little was left beyond that needed for life-support, which meant that only a far larger sub could enjoy the advantage of a silent drive. The rotor-boat was something else entirely. The phrase “true submarine” had been used to the point of cliché already, having been applied in the West alone to the Nazis’ streamlined Type XXI U-boats, the atomic-driven Nautilus, the Skipjack and Polidor classes, and of course the Seaview. USS Marlin, however, was the real thing – capable of assuming any depth at will within minutes on a level keel, remaining there until exhaustion of its stores of food, rotating on its centerline or flashing to velocities exceeding those of any surface warship save the fastest jet-propelled hydrofoil, able even to stand on its head and ascend or descend at full speed while doing so. Marlin – named for the second-fastest ship in the sea (Sailfish being an in-service training sub) – was truly exemplary of the ultimate imaginable submarine. For all of that, she was a test-ship, experimental as Albacore, limited in her capabilities both by size and origin. Hovering vertically, or in that attitude maneuvering, was a stunt sans nose-and-tail hatches for the firing of missiles, or their stationing on the seabed. Faster and more agile than any submarine before her, Marlin was but a forerunner for the fleets to come.
Subsequent generations of submarines would boast Herculite hulls, rotor and/or “sea engine” propulsion, and be capable of subsurface “dogfights” at virtually unlimited depths. Breaching the surface while maneuvering was an error akin to a aircraft’s climbing too high, and plunging earthward; impacting the ocean floor, while potentially survivable, was likewise to be avoided. Between those extremes, subsurface combatants were the jet fighters of the seas. Foil-borne destroyers, surface-effect destroyers and frigates, and gigantic wing-in-ground-effect (WIG) antisubmarine seaplanes became the stock-in-trade of superpowers’ navies, and some few of those of lesser nations too. Heat-seeking and vibration-homing torpedoes and “implosive” warheads (whose shaped charges created an localized implosive effect via creation of a vacuum)entered service. Neutron weapons were built, but abandoned as dangerously unstable. Such innovations were not merely sword-rattling; undersea industry and commerce had begun to flower in the form of seabottom science stations, drill rigs and workers’ communities, none of which could go undefended. Too, the Seaview’s opening of the oceans’ deepest depths had brought to light a number of hostile marine organisms, from carnivorous plants to titanic whales, squid and octopi, manta rays, jellyfish and the occasional scientifically-uncatalogued benthic creature, any of whose impingement on human endeavours was unthinkable. It was in fact against such “biologics,” not hostile human agencies, that the first practical electromagnetic defense fields and high-energy lasers were fielded. Discovery of a new element, dutronium, beneath the seabed led to the latter’s being miniaturized into handheld form (albeit at such huge per-unit expense that only the crews of Seaview and a few long-range spaceships would be so armed).
Technology marched on, seeing the advent of larger bombs, missiles on the seabeds, top-secret Presidential bomb-shelters buried deep beneath the ocean floor. Peacefully – relatively peacefully; there were wars – the world went on about its business. Comparing Earth’s nuclear arms race to those of other worlds – contrasting, in particular, the results of world-wide thermonuclear wars conducted on planets that took Earth’s route of missile deployment with those on which ICBMs were emplaced in hardened silos ashore – we see little difference, at the greatest extremes, between “counterforce” strikes mounted against targets ashore or asea. Global radioactive contamination is the result in either case, and if the latter wars slew fewer outright in their first minutes, hours or days, they tended towards slaughter on much the same scales in the long run – or indeed greater, in those cases of species so unfortunate as to extinguish their oceans’ capacity to produce oxygen. “Moderate” thermonuclear exchanges, in fact, tended to be less harmful to the global biosphere if conducted against continental, not oceanic targets. Thus, while Earth’s peoples might well have felt safer than had their superpowers equipped themselves with thousands of silo-launched ICBMs, the fact is that they were not…and may well have been less safe, what with the greater temptation of mounting a counterforce attack not against an enemy’s home soil, but the “commons” of the oceans.
As has been intimated, Soviet Russia remained, despite the opening of its borders in 1956, in some wise adversarial for decades thereafter. After several near brushes with global thermonuclear war, she and America formed an alliance of sorts (the “Unified East/West Command”), jointly launching a fleet of drone submarines in 1976. Operating autonomously, the robotic armada was meant to assure retaliatory response against both powers should either launch an atomic first strike upon the other, their “fire missiles” being non-nuclear, but highly destructive what with their fuel-air warheads. Sabotage of several drones by Soviet Vice-Admiral Halder (who hoped thereby to force abandonment of the drone fleet, laying the ground for a coup, and his subsequent rule of a resurgent Soviet empire) shook the alliance, and put “defense” and offense both back into human hands. Governmental (and in the U.S., public) pressures drove the navies of both nations to explore evermore expensive programs. Soviet naval aviation had long relied on long-range bombers based onshore; a pair of small helicopter carriers had put to sea in the 1960s, but proven to be poor seaboats. Consideration was given a class of fixed-wing carrier equivalent to the U.S. Kitty Hawks, but smaller ships were deemed more cost-effective. The mixed-mode Kievs of the 1970s and ‘80s – little larger than American carriers of World War II, sharing their angled flight decks with enormous island superstructures and a weapons-littered foredecks – proved penny-wise and pound-foolish. Nineteen-ninety would see their supplementation by the first true Soviet carrier, the 1001-foot-long Admiral Kuznetsov (which bore three different names before its launching’s forth, rendering the ship forever unlucky in the eyes of its crews) – but that pair of vessels was both proceeded and followed by construction of a full half-dozen catamaran carriers, each the amalgamation of a pair of Kiev hulls (each of whose outward-veering flight decks mirrored the other). That expedient having proven successful (and considerably cheaper per unit than a single mono-hulled carrier), the Kuznetsovs were withdrawn from service, one by one, and rebuilt as trimarans, their main hulls somewhat lengthened, their outboard hulls, Kievs. The four Stalin class vessels appeared ungainly, even clumsy – but proved the finest carriers yet built.
With acquisition of its own atomic arsenal, Communist China (or the “People’s Republic,” in its own rulers’ version of Newspeakese) had become a player on the world stage as well. Less developed than its rivals, but more populous than the two combined, China – frustrated, shortly after Premier Khrushchev’s lowering of the “iron curtain,” by the withdrawal of Soviet aid in developing atomic weapons – played clandestinely at global dominance from the 1960s onward. Nineteen seventy-four saw a Chinese attempt to spark a war between the leading superpowers; two years later, the People’s Republic used a deniable patsy to attack the re-entry vessels of the Americans’ Venus expedition. A far smaller Asian nation raised the ante on the global arms race by its detonation of a “proton bomb” (a euphemistic designation for the world’s first matter/antimatter weapon) in the Arctic; suspicions that this test had been conducted by a Chinese proxy drove U.S. construction of a single warhead capable of effectively destroying half the world – which is to say, the Chinese part (the weapon’s brief loss and near-explosion led to swift abandonment of the “superbomb” option).
China built no carriers prior the twenty-first century, nor did her submarine force approach those of the other superpowers in numbers, propulsion or metallurgy until then. The first military submarines of the People’s Republic were indigenously-built copies of Soviet Project 633 boats (Western code-name Romeo), which drew their inspiration from the Nazis’ Type XXI U-boats. The necessary documentation was acquired thanks to a 1950 treaty, which agreement lapsed with Khrushchev’s opening of the Soviet Union to the West. Left to her own devices, China made considerable use of espionage, the product of which was for some time valued over native designs. The Type 035 Ming class was little more than an improved Romeo; the Qing class had near-identical hulls, but utilized hydrogen peroxide engines, as pioneered by the wartime engineer Hellmuth Walter. The latter proved dangerous (several were lost to explosions, as with the Walter boats of other nations), and both were no more than stop-gaps prior the application of atomic power. The first A-boats, the Type 091 Hans, were if anything a step backward in safety, their reactors being so poorly shielded as to shorten their crews’ lives. Chinese intelligence was thereafter directed to acquire at all costs the very latest in foreign submarine technology, and succeeded brilliantly in 1978 when the sixth Polidor, USS Pickerel, conducted an emergency blow due a reactor malfunction so close to mainland China it was captured. By 1983, the highjacked boat had been reverse-engineered into the unlimited-depth Shun and Qing classes – the former an indigenously-built copy, the latter a Polidor-type hull lengthened by the insertion amidships of a ballistic missile compartment (the same expedient that had turned a Skipjack into the first U.S. SSBN decades before).
The choice to build Qings instead of the Type 092 Xia SSBN – the first of which had been laid down in 1978, only to be cancelled – infuriated designers Pen Shilu and Huang Xuhua, who demanded permission to apply the Nelsons’ hullmetal formula to a boat of their own design. The result proved astounding, and brought an end to China’s copying of foreign concepts. It took a decade for the first Mao class boat to leave the dockyard, but its appearance in 1993 revolutionized submarine design yet again. Pressure-impervious Herculite allowed abandonment of the time-honored cylindrical planform, which the Mao dispensed of with a vengeance. Had she born an English name, she’d have been dubbed Manta. Five hundred feet long and a thousand wide, Mao resembled the Seaview’s forward hydrosurfaces, sans Seaview herself. She couldn’t match a rotor-boat’s agility, but she trebled one in speed. Moreover, she could fly. The Nelsons’ flying sub was two decades old by then – but this trans-oceanic machine was not merely atomic-powered but atomically armed. She could fire torpedoes or ballistic missiles while submerged, lasers and hypersonic cruise missiles when in flight. Her aerial velocity surpassed that of the swiftest fighters; her atomic engines could take her to the edge of space. Her hydrodynamics were superb. She made China a true superpower at last. Her enemies’ attempt to follow suit would drive their economies over a fiscal cliff.
Analysis of disunited Earth’s last arms race cannot neglect the ensuing role of that element of the U.S. military denied strategic atomic weapons. Had the U.S. Air Force been saddled not merely with continental defense, but too the construction and maintenance of successive generations of ICBMs – not to mention the contentious vying for funding of the inevitable fleets of ever-more-sophisticated jet fighters and bombers – it could hardly have afforded the conquest of space…might indeed have never seriously attempted it. As it was, the Atlas and Titan I of the late 1950s (developed concurrently lest one design proved impractical) were followed by the more powerful Saturn C-1/C-2, and a greater Saturn still. The former, initially an Army project, clustered the bodies of existing rockets of intermediate range as fuel tanks for its first stage, atop which were placed, in turn, a Titan, a custom-built hydrogen/oxygen second stage, and later, an atomic-powered upper stage, lit off at altitude, capable of sending heavy unmanned payloads to other planets. The latter was the result of a forward-looking (if not indeed fantastic) late-‘50s Air Force procurement order of a rocket engine of one and half million pounds thrust. The resulting booster expanded upon the Atlas’ “one-and-a-half stage” principle, placing four F-1 motors in a “skirt,” jettisoned at altitude to return to earth (or sea, actually) for reuse, the single-engined main stage then continuing, like that of Atlas, bodily into orbit. With its Saturn C-5 (-3 and -4 remained unbuilt), the Air Force had the capability to loft payloads of up to 50,000 pounds.
The Navy had its own plans, of course. The 1960s saw manned moonflights, thanks largely to the U.S. lead in space, but involving crews of several nations. The “new high ground” was secured, a quarter-million miles of it (including of all things an Army base upon the moon). But President Kennedy had called space “this new ocean” – and the Navy, taking him at his word, meant to sail it. Not quite clandestinely – but not openly line-itemed in its budget either – the Navy had built its first “ship of space.” The term was appropriate; the five-hundred-foot Sea Dragon was constructed in a shipyard, towed from it by submarine (the Navy’s largest, 1956’s Triton), fueled by means an aircraft carrier (whose reactor split seawater into hydrogen and oxygen), launched mid-ocean, to send a million pounds aloft. That payload was 75 feet in diameter, to a Saturn C-5’s thirty-three. Twenty such Saturns could loft the modules necessary to a pair of manned interplanetary spacecraft – but a single Sea Dragon could orbit two such ships in flight-ready form, or place one directly onto an interplanetary trajectory. The Air Force could keep its merely cislunar-high ground; the Navy was full-ready to delve the seas of space.
Behind the scenes – deep, deep behind the curtains of various governments’ most clandestine security agencies – was the real point to what seemed the oneupsmanship of rival services’ boys with toys. Since the 1940s, Russia and America alike had known what other nations but suspected – that humanity was only one of the cosmos’ sentient species. How many others might exist, and how close the nearest was, remained unknown – but not for long. The first moon landing of 1964 brought two shocks to the world’s attention: the first, that two men and a woman had reached the moon a century before; the second, that they’d found it home to Selenites. That those insectile beings had fallen prey to Earthly viruses was of no account before the fact that a solar system of which a single dual-world element could harbor two abodes of life might well have other inhabited worlds. Both services meant to assay those possible antagonists’ potential homes as quickly as was practical. By dint its larger “black” budget, superior gamesmanship, and the skin of its technological teeth, the Navy won that space race. In 1975, a pair of two-manned spaceships rode a Sea Dragon to Venus. Their missions successful, both returned (one entry glider fell to enemy action, but of the Terrestrial, not alien, sort). Venus was (as robot probes had accurately, but unsatisfyingly, reported) a lifeless hellhole. But what of Mars? And beyond that world lay the gas giants, of which Jupiter, at least, radiated more heat than that solar, suggesting the possibility of a zone of (Earthly) habitable temperature (if not pressure) in its dense and noxious atmosphere. Efforts to leave the solar system were in full swing, driven by a threat not sentient but electromagnetic – but beings near to Earth might aid or hinder humanity’s interstellar aspirations.
First contact between humans and aliens cannot be dated. Professor Cavour’s 19th century lunar expedition became belatedly a matter of public record (remaining unknown at the time due the disastrous second launch of the antigravitational sphere), but history and myths alike hint at far earlier encounters with extraterrestrials. Indeed, certain peculiar fossils and geologic formations suggest Earth was visited prior the advent of man. As to contacts known to some government or another, all were held in darkest secrecy for reasons near as numerous as individual human motivation. “National security” was a catchall long before the phrase’s invention, “reverse engineering” the flipside of human creativity as long ago as the first interaction of civilizations. The first known alien attacks on Earth date to the early 1970s; Seaview alone thwarted at least a dozen (and several from unknown sentient indigenous species). Prior to that, the U.S. government had clandestinely maintained a stance of cautious nonaggression technologies against which overt resistance was seen as futile (which did not however prevent feverish and ongoing efforts to attain the capability to engage the sort of spacecraft as had crashed at Roswell, New Mexico in 1947). The United Nations, however, had a far different response to the 1970s discovery that a particular race of aliens was harvesting human organs, and proceeded in short order – and with American assistance – to establish the Supreme Headquarters Alien Defense Organization. Based in England, SHADO orbited a number of deep-space radar antennae and radio relays, all under the control of a sophisticated robotic Space Intruder Detector satellite in low Earth orbit; established a small moonbase in the Mare Imbrium for the launch and control of nuclear-armed manned interceptors, its crew rotated by means a revolutionary air-launched shuttle; and maintained a worldwide fleet of caterpillar-tracked “mobiles” and submarine-launched jet fighters – and remained, incredibly, unknown to the general public (thanks to SHADO’s base of operations being a movie studio, and its funds and equipment being obtained through a front agency, the International Astrophysical Commission). Two years of skirmishes were followed by a massive aerial and space battle, which resulted in the destruction of dozens of enemy spacecraft, after which the aliens apparently withdrew.
 

trekkist

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Sorry about the formatting issues at the start of the previous; unclear why they didn't persist throughout the cut & pasted MS Word original -- to which the following is the LAST paragraph:

Formation of the multi-national SHADO (which exempted only, due their professed disinterest, the Red Chinese) and a decade-odd-long series of attacks on Earth by various alien races kept the bi-lateral arms race from expanding into space, save for the various countries’ constellations of reconnaissance and early-warning satellites. It was not a united Earth, but for the most part a peaceful one, which saw Russia a signatory to 1981’s International Lunar Finance Commission. The next year saw completion of Centauri Spacedock, a massive lunar-orbiting space station, from which construction of Moonbase Alpha was begun. A veritable small town in the crater Plato, Alpha was intended as a science and research facility, but played host in the mid to late nineties of the massive results of global nuclear disarmament – the relocation of radioactive wastes and fissionables to storage casks on the far side of the moon. The location and means of storage had been well-studied and agreed to by all – by the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. On September 13, 1999, the waste dumps suffered a series of catastrophic sequential explosions, accelerating the moon to well over solar escape velocity. Satellite and moonbase alike quickly exceeded the range of existing spaceships, the moon itself then mysteriously disappearing after its passage beyond the Oort cloud. Centauri Spacedock had also been destroyed or lost, leaving humanity alone, stripped of all space infrastructure save that of low Earth orbit. A myriad military and political crisis would take place before true global unity won humanity the stars – but none as near the edge as those of the 20th century. The Rubicon of the Atomic Age had been survived.
 

overscan (PaulMM)

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I don't think this post is in the correct forum. This section is for "what if" scenarios with some basis in fact, not science fiction.
 

trekkist

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Well…it's a real-world-based rationalization (incorporating considerable historical fact) of a number of SF-based timelines, which seems like "alternative history" to me. But I won't argue the point if a Mod wants to close or delete it.
 
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