Ether 2 Overkill

The Bomb was the Cold War’s defining weapon. Beyond its brute firepower, the Bomb possessed the singular ability to transform the enemy's matter into energy. While burning had been a common means of disposing of humans since prehistory, vaporizing them so that nothing would be left behind was unprecedented. At Hiroshima, for the first time, people would be turned into pure energy, leaving only an occasional shadow recording the force of the blast behind. After the Bomb, matter’s permanence would no longer be assured.

The Bomb became ever bigger and ever more numerous to assure not just destruction, but complete overkill. Overkill evolved into Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), a guarantee that the surplus of nuclear exchange would thoroughly destroy both sides. By the 1970s it was rumored that the Soviet Union had deployed a Cobalt Bomb, a doomsday weapon capable of extinguishing all life on earth, in East Berlin. In the final stage of the Cold War the Neutron Bomb made it possible to preserve more objects while killing more people.

The massive buildup of the Bomb, easily the most expensive undertaking in human history, was a proliferation of objects precisely at the time when they became obsolete.

Both sides developed computers in order to wage simulations of nuclear battles. In the computer, the destructive potential of the warheads could be measured and adjusted. Militaries came to rely on the results of these tests as not just “scenario plans” but as victories and defeats themselves. The results justified the continued expansion of nuclear programs: a defeat in the computer was necessary to argue for funds that would allow real tactical superiority.

Fictions and plausible truths regarding the strength of the enemy became more valuable than actual figures that could be verified. Both the bomber gap and missile gap between the superpowers were falsified by the Soviets but were endorsed by the US military. Recent research even suggests that the United States could have launched a satellite prior to Sputnik – we did, after all, have Von Braun – but it was to our advantage to be defeated. By losing that round of the space race, the US could claim the necessity of escalating proliferation to unprecedented levels.