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Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government's Secret Plan to Save Itself--While the Rest of Us Die Hardcover – May 2, 2017
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“Comically macabre . . . A thorough investigation of Washington’s longstanding efforts to maintain order in the face of catastrophe. In exploring the incredible lengths (and depths) that successive administrations have gone to in planning for the aftermath of a nuclear assault, Graff deftly weaves a tale of secrecy and paranoia. . . . Raven Rock is at heart a history of the Cold War and an exploration of its lasting effects on American politics. Graff’s portrait of that era is more Dr. Strangelove than James Bond.” —New York Times Book Review
“Raven Rock is gripping from page one. Brilliantly sourced and reported with exquisite detail, Garrett Graff’s new book is terrifying, outrageous, and illuminating.” —Annie Jacobsen, author of Area 51 and Phenomena
“You may think you have some idea of how the United States prepared for nuclear war, but you will be shocked, appalled, amazed, fascinated, darkly amused, and just plain gob-smacked by what Garrett Graff has dug up. Deeply researched and lucidly written, Raven Rock is a haunting, compelling journey into the past—with disturbing meaning for the future.” —Evan Thomas, author of Ike’s Bluff and Being Nixon
“In this spellbinding narrative, Graff reveals the top secret plans the government has for its own survival and asks the reader to consider a nightmarish scenario. Crammed with new revelations—from the locations of secret bunkers hidden in the nation’s small towns and dense woods to the ever-changing presidential evacuation plan—Graff carefully considers what would happen if the unthinkable occurred. I could not put it down.” —Kate Andersen Brower, author of The Residence and First Women
“Garrett Graff has given us a colorful and frightening account of the American government’s plans for doomsday, and the secret bunkers where official could go to save themselves. These early plans still have their counterparts today, and they reveal a lot about how warfighting doctrine evolved. Read it and be fascinated—and a little scared.” —Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs and Einstein
“Equal parts thriller, sober history, and tragic comedy, Garrett Graff’s Raven Rock is an indispensable volume for anyone seeking to understand how the Cold War and the specter of nuclear annihilation shaped the world. Graff is a meticulous researcher and truly gifted storyteller. Readers will find themselves mesmerized by his careful and fast-paced examination of our government’s top-secret plans to survive a nuclear attack while the rest of us are turned to ash.” —Del Quentin Wilber, author of Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan
“A detailed exploration of the United States’ doomsday prepping during the Cold War . . . Graff, a former editor of Washingtonian and Politico magazines, covers every technicality of the construction of underground bunkers and secret command posts, every war game and exercise, every debate over presidential succession planning and continuity of government, every accident that left us verging on nuclear war. . . . But if there is anything that Raven Rock proves with grim certitude, it is that we have little idea how events would have unfolded in a superpower nuclear conflict, and that technological limits, human emotion and enemy tactics can render the most painstaking and complex arrangements irrelevant, obsolete, or simply obscene.” —Carlos Lozada, The Washington Post
“In a new book exploring United States officials’ detailed doomsday plans during the Cold War, writer and historian Garrett Graff presents a look at how nuclear disaster preparation shaped the modern world. . . . Through his research, Graff reveals how ineffective plans for nuclear disaster actually are when put into action. The problem with org charts and instructions? Humans.” —Time magazine
“An encyclopedic chronicle of how the American government, for more than sixty years, has prepared for nuclear attack, most notably with bunkers underground and inside mountains to shelter government officials and other personnel—men and women who could retaliate against the enemy with nuclear weapons and begin to rebuild society. Raven Rock contains everything one could possibly want to know about these seemingly still-continuing measures to confront Armageddon.” —The Wall Street Journal
“There are details in Raven Rock that read like they’ve been ripped from the pages of a pulp spy novel. The book, written by national security expert Garrett M. Graff, takes us inside the bunkers cut into granite mountainsides and dug under an elite country club. He brings us deep beneath the White House on 9/11 and into the cockpit of an airplane that doesn’t officially exist. As you make your way through Raven Rock, it’s easy to forget that all this elaborate high-tech doomsday infrastructure is actually real. . . . Raven Rock, which should have been a Cold War history, now feels especially timely, hitting bookstores right as a President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un’s on-again, off-again relationship pushes us ever closer to nuclear holocaust.” —Vice
About the Author
Garrett M. Graff, a magazine journalist and historian, has spent more than a dozen years covering politics, technology, and national security. He’s written for publications from Wired to The New York Times, and served as the editor of two of Washington’s most prestigious magazines, Washingtonian and POLITICO Magazine. His books include The Threat Matrix: The FBI War in the Age of Global Terror and The First Campaign: Globalization, the Web, and the Race for the White House.
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The title is telling. At the beginning of the Cold War, there were plans in place to save large population centers through evacuations. But as nuclear weapons grew in size and strength, these efforts were largely abandoned. The government, particularly the Executive Branch, was widely acknowledged to be the only entity that could possibly survive a nuclear exchange with the USSR and govern what was left of the country.
Graff’s book is detailed, knowledgeable, and for those of us who lived during the Cold War, frightening in the sense of how close we came to nuclear war through accidents, computer malfunctions, and faculty communications. At times only luck saved us from Armageddon.
Most of the book is what you would call 'popular history.' But the final chapter might just be one of the best accounts of the September 11th attacks I have read. Dick Cheney as the right man at the right time. Imagine that!
The book could have used one more pass by the editor as in places it repeats the same information.
The advent of nuclear weapons also brought concerns of how to maintain a government during and after a nuclear attack. For a lack of a better term, this is called “continuity of government” or COG. Before nuclear weapons, it was virtually impossible to destroy a complete government in one attack. After nuclear weapons, this is an all to possible scenario!
Ravenrock is an account of how the US Government planned for COG from President Truman to near present times. Much of the near term planning is classified and unavailable to the authors. But still there are clues of what exists.
The sad fact is this: “Americans and their politicians believe hiding from a threat is cowardice.” The was seen during 9/11 when President Bush was at school in Florida, whisked away to Air Force One, forced to fly in holding patterns over the Caribbean, landing at Barksdale AFB, and the directed to Offutt AFB, despite his objects and his desire to return to the White House, while people in Washington tried to understand what had happened to the United States. Afterwards, a number of people accused him of cowardice. This greatly impairs the ability of planners for COG.
In Ravenrock, of the 1950’s we see plans to ferret key people in government away to various underground bunkers while leaving their families. This proved infeasible for politicians and their families alike. So plans were changed to provide for families. But even these did not provide satisfaction, to the point where key politicians would not evacuate. Rather, the would send subordinates during the exercises and in certain real situations to the bunkers.
Then, there was the issue of transportation. At first, the plan depended on traveling the roads about Washington, DC. But have you ever tried to get somewhere quickly in Washington, DC, particularly at 4:30 PM? In a nuclear attack, the thought initially was that you had 15 minutes!
After trying to move President Eisenhower to Camp David, it was quickly found a better solution was necessary. At first a “bubble dome” helicopter from the Army was used. But after the first flight, when the President suffer severe heat exhaustion and dehydration from the heat in the helicopter, this had to be changed. After some deliberation, a Marine helicopter proved satisfactory. This was how the Marines got the helicopter services for the President which they retain to the present day.
Clearly, the transportation difficulties still persist to this day for various other personages. Washington, DC, is not an easy place to escape from.
We see the development of Air Force One in its various forms and the alternate command posts, both aerial and bunker based. Communications posed special problems requiring the coalition of various communications corporations in the planning for COG. We see the development of NORAD in Cheyenne Mountain and the advent of NORAD tracking Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.
And so, Ravenrock traces the billions of dollars spent on COG operations, the attempts to find feasible governmental operations, the exercise and failures of the plans, and what actually happened during several crises where the COG plans were potentially in effect.
So where does Ravenrock leave us?
Since there is security classification tied to most of the COG plans and operations, we can only surmise an answer from real events where COG operations were exercised, the most recent being 9/11. What we found was a reluctance of American Leaders to exercise their duties under the current plan. For example, the Secretary of Defense was assisting in immediate evacuations from the Pentagon and was incommunicado for a lengthy period of time rather than performing assigned duties! Despite movement orders for the principals, they sent subordinates. Most of the people did not know of the plans and those that did apparently with some exceptions did not follow their instructions!
Thus, we are left to conclude that in a real emergency, much of the COG planning would be for naught: ad hoc decisions would be made. If a real nuclear attack hit Washington, DC, regardless of warning times, be they short or be they long, the US Government would be effectively decapitated, mainly because plans have been insufficiently exercised and plans would not be executed in full.
No one knows what the future will bring but we are left with President Eisenhower’s words:
“The President said that, of course, his imagination as to the horrors of a third world war might be overdeveloped, but he believed that every single nation, including the United States, which entered into this war as a free nation would come out of it as a dictatorship,” wrote Deputy Executive Secretary Everett Gleason in the meeting minutes. “This would be the price of survival.”