Chapter 35 - The End of the World
THE FIRST ATOMIC BOMB dropped on Japan had the power of 15 kilotons of TNT. That is, you would need 15,000 tons of an “ordinary” explosive like TNT to get the same bang as the new 5-ton atomic bomb. Lining up 150 railroad cars of TNT would about do it. But by 1962 the United States was testing megaton bombs, each megaton as powerful as a million tons of TNT. One 50-megaton bomb had more power than a string of railcars stretching TNT from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and halfway back.
If a new world war broke out, American plans called for 3,423 nuclear weapons to be launched—weapons that would also spread poisonous radiation through the air. Even to consider such an event was horrifying. When the new president, John F. Kennedy, was briefed about the plan, he shook his head. “And we call ourselves the human race.” Military planners hoped that such a catastrophe would never come. Surely neither side would start an atomic war if it knew the other had enough bombs to blast its own country into ruins. This idea was known as the theory of Mutual Assured Destruction—MAD for short...