This morning we left Klaipeda and drove into the pine forest of the Žemaitija National Park.
It is an area of outstanding natural beauty filled with quiet sleepy villages , dense forested areas and the occasional cow or sheep. But for forty years. deep in the forest, a few KM up a gravel road, his area hid a secret Soviet facility which had the potential to destroy western Europe, or large swaths of the United States.
Plokstine Cold War Museum as it is known as today is housed in a former ICBM nuclear launch site. The facility housed four silos which with just 22 minutes notice could prepare, route and launch missiles anywhere in Europe or the US.
Construction of the facility began just a couple of months after the the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and was completed 2 years later, eventually becoming decommissioned with the ending of the Soviet Union. In that time the technology had progressed by such a pace that the 22 minute prep time had been superseded by later model missiles and other facilities. Yet the threat of destruction that could be rained down was undiminished.
Today, the missiles have thankfully been decommissioned and most of the equipment has been removed. The structure of the facility and the empty shells of some of the larger equipment remains. We were guided through the rooms where Soviet personnel lived, maintained the base and the stood ready for an order that thankfully never came. Huge concrete covers on rails sit at ground level, beneath them lay the 30 meter deep silos where a ready to launch missile would sit.
Standing in the silo room itself is an eerie experience. I found it hard to reconcile that I was free to visit this facility, climb atop the silo covers and take photos whereas less than 30 years ago I would be shot for attempting to do so. When I think of all the real life operations and developments made by the various intelligence agencies of NATO counties to obtain what information they could about exactly this kind of place, and now we freely pass that information on to any person that comes to visit it twists my mind.
Also hard to reconcile is that at any moments life as we knew it could have been ended from such a small nondescript place such as this. The end of the Cold War came just as I was old enough to begin understanding the concept of a nuclear attack. I remember ‘Ban the Bomb’ and such on the news but it was ‘old people’ stuff that came on when the after-school cartoon and Byker Grove had finished.It was Raymond Briggs’ ‘When the Wind Blows’ that really introduced the horror to me and frankly it terrified me, I distinctly remember the instructions for what to do in the event of nuclear fallout being in the front of our telephone directory. These were there due to our proximity to the French Nuclear Power Station in Cap de la Harge, but to me anything nuclear meant a horrible death.
I only had to deal with that for a few years and for the vast majority of my lie the threat has decreased to the point where it isn’t really thought about But recently hot-headed rhetoric from the White House and North Korea about nuclear warfare makes me nervous. Perhaps for their next meeting they should come to somewhere like this and be made to watch the videos of destruction these weapons can bring before they run their mouths about who has a bigger button.
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