In October 2015, I completed my commitment to send Obama 100 peace letters. I had already written 99 of my promised 100 letters for nuclear disarmament back in 2013. It took until this year to present the 100th letter in Washington D.C. in the form of my vinyl-wrapped peace car. The dots on the car show how many nuclear weapons there are in the world, color-coded by country:
I started out on October 6, with $10 a sister peace activist gave me for gas:
And hit the road:
First stop: Missoula, Montana where I stayed with a Quaker and found a peace center:
My new Quaker friend gave me the local scoop on nuclear weapons - Montana has an active missile field with 200 underground silos!!!! A few hundred miles out of my way and I could drive right through them. Into the body of the beast!
So I went a-lookin for missiles. I drove about halfway through this missile field looking for silos, scanning as I drove. But I didn't see nary a missile. I stopped in the town of Stanford to ask someone where the missiles were!
I found this Forest Service office in the sweet little town:
I went into the Forest Service office and asked, "Where are the missile silos??"
"Why they are underground! You passed one just on the outskirts of town and there is another two miles outside of town."
"How does it feel to be living at ground zero?"
"Well, we'll just be vaporized - we won't have to deal with what you'll have to deal with..."
I went looking for the underground missile and couldn't for the life of me find it. I went back to the Forest Service for more specific directions. And then found this:
That was it???
Oh wait, on one side it is hidden and protected by this powerful wall of straw! Yes folks, a house of straw.
Now that I knew what to look for I began seeing underground silos everywhere:
Missile with cows:
Missile artfully framed with barbed wire:
I thought for sure someone would come after me for taking these pictures. There has to be some surveillance - right? I kept sending these photos to my friend so if my phone was confiscated, the picture would be saved. But no. No one stopped me. Even as I drove into this "manned" missile compound with an underground launch center:
I drove away quick but no one seemed to be coming after me.
This launch center was just across the way from a petroleum-filled train!
Liquified petroleum gas(I caught up with the train later):
It was a profound experience to get so close to an armed nuclear weapon. Terrifyingly real. These weapons are Minuteman IIIs and are armed with 170 Kiloton warheads. That is more than ten times the firepower of the bomb that leveled Hiroshima (15 Kilotons). For more info see: Minuteman III.
My sweet Quaker host not only told me about the missile silos but also about a museum in South Dakota that had a retired underground launch facility you could visit. I again veered out of my way to continue this rendezvous with evil.
I raced across South Dakota hoping to get one of the first-come-first-served passes for a free tour of the underground launch center. And unfortunately they had just given away the last one. So I contented myself with the somewhat lame temporary exhibits...
...and the oddest assortments of gifts in the giftshop:
The woman who worked at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site found it in her heart to slip me in the day's tour. She said to head over to the decommissioned launch center and I was thrilled but somber about the significance of visiting a place where two people could have pushed a button to kill millions and maybe start a war to end humanity.
Here's what I saw on the tour:
An earnest park service worker by a mural in the bunker:
Bedroom for high level personnel:
Misspelling on the menu preserved for posterity:
A map of the launch control center (shouldn't this be classified since there are 450 active missiles and launch control centers still active in the United States?).
The Park Service worker proudly showed the very thick rebar that was used in the concrete to house the missiles. Does it make you feel secure?
And the wire that links the launch centers to the missile in silos they can launch. Impressive?
When we went down the elevator shaft there was this sign:
Seems reasonable that two people should be involved in the decision to destroy cities...Two seats for the two "missileers." They are kept apart so one person could not turn both the keys that are required to launch the missiles.
Is this the telephone that would carry the call to launch?
Here is where the secret launch codes were kept:
Here are the two locks to release the nuclear missiles:
I felt like I was down the throat of the beast of hubris and violence.
After the tour I visited one more site that was part of the missile museum. A pretend missile in a decommissioned silo:
After visiting all three missile museum sites I went back to the kind woman who let me attend the tour, and gave her a jar of homemade jam in thanks. And continued on my way to Washington, D.C.
To be continued in subsequent blog posts.