Cold War

October 4, 1957 – Soviets Launch Sputnik 1

Sputnik 1

 

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union upped the ante in the Space Race with the successful launch of Sputnik 1, the first Earth-orbiting artificial satellite.  Blasted through the atmosphere from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard a two-stage R-7 rocket, Sputnik 1 was a 23-inch diameter, 184 pound, aluminum-magnesium-titanium sheathed sphere with two whip-like antennae.  Powered by silver-zinc batteries, it entered a low, elliptical orbit emitting a radio signal which could be received on Earth by both Soviet scientists and the curious (and highly-alarmed) American public.  Sputnik traveled 18,000 miles per hour, completing an Earth-orbit every 96 minutes.  Radio transmissions continued for 22 days, until transmitter batteries were exhausted.  The history-making satellite spent 3 months in orbit, traveling a total of 37 million miles, before burning up in atmospheric reentry on January 4, 1958.

While not able to conduct as many experiments as the Soviets had initially hoped, Sputnik was able to gather information during its three-month run concerning the density of the Earth’s upper atmosphere, radio-signal distribution in the ionosphere, and meteoroid detection by penetration of the satellite’s outer hull.

The successful launch of an artificial satellite was one of the primary goals of the International Geophysical Year (IGY), inaugurated on July 1, 1957.  The Soviets had first proposed developing such a satellite on May 27, 1954, and President Dwight Eisenhower announced on July 29, 1955 that the United States would send their own version of the technological achievement into space during the IGY.  But Sputnik took America and its government by surprise.  Americans now had to take Soviet scientific abilities much more seriously.  A sense of vulnerability to attack led to panic reactions by the public, as they listened in to Sputnik’s ominous “beep-beep” when it passed directly overhead.  The US government responded with renewed commitment to scientific and technological research, and military and educational program revamping and investment.  ICBMs, missile defense systems, and satellites were all placed on a developmental fast-track.  After several failed attempts, the United States’ first successful launch of its own artificial satellite, Explorer 1, occurred on January 31, 1958.

Numerous references to Sputnik in movies, television shows, and pop songs have made the term part of the American cultural landscape.  Replicas and models of the satellite can be found at the United Nations, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, and the Science Museum in London.

Image Credit: NASA

September 13, 1957 – The Kalmikoffs Win in Buffalo

Dastardly Ivan and Karol at work.

On September 13, 1957, Ivan and Karol Kalmikoff defeated Vic Christy and Sammy Berg in a National Wrestling Alliance event at Buffalo Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo, New York.  The Kalmikoffs tag team – a team of fictitious Soviet brothers consisting of Ivan (Edward Bruce, native son of Detroit, Michigan), and Karol (Karol Piwoworczyk, hailing from Tulsa, Oklahoma) – were very successful in the mid-50s, having begun their sweaty grappling career in 1953 in Amarillo, Texas.  Two other “brothers” participated occasionally: Nikita (Nikita Mulkovich) and Stan or Igor (Eric Pomeroy).

Populated by wild characters with quirky gimmicks, partly athletic event but wholly staged entertainment, professional wrestling featured clearly defined heroes and villains who episodically portrayed the alternating triumph of the forces of good or evil in (and frequently out) of a canvas-floored ring.  What great fun – and how vicariously cathartic – to boo the Communist Red menace Kalmikoffs while the Cold War raged.

Television fueled the popularity of professional wrestling as each of the major networks broadcast the colorful, inexpensive-to-produce matches.  As a result, the ’50s became the “Golden Age” for the pseudo-sport.

Image Credit: Online World of Wrestling

August 21, 1957 – The Russians Launch the R-7

August 21, 1957 Launch of the R-7

On August 21, 1957, the Soviet Union carried out the first successful test launch of their prototype intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the R-7.  The two-stage, 112-foot-long, oxygen- and kerosene-fueled rocket blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and carried a dummy warhead 3500 miles.  The Soviets described the R-7 as a “super long-distance intercontinental multistage ballistic rocket.”  It was the “super long-distance” part that alarmed the United States, and the world at large, during the Cold War era of the 1950s.  Russian R-7 ICBMs were intended ultimately to be “tipped” with nuclear devices – weapons – capable of delivering the equivalent of almost 3 megatons of TNT.

At this time, the United States’ ICBM program was producing nothing but “spectacular failures.”  Initially, each branch of the armed services worked independently and in competition with one another to develop an American ICBM.  The success of the R-7, a version of which was used in October to launch the Sputnik satellite, redoubled the efforts of American scientists and military to win the Race to Space and prevent the spread of International Communism.  In the late fifties, the Atlas program began to make significant progress toward parity with the Russians.  In July of 1959, the first fully-operational Atlas ICBM lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Image Credit: RKK Energia & russianspaceweb.com

August 18, 1957 – “The Next World War Will Be Decided in a Matter of Hours”

 

On August 18, 1957, the New York Times ran a commentary by military editor Hanson W. Baldwin covering the recent military budget negotiations in Congress. In his article, Hanson extensively quoted the Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Clarence Cannon, D-Missouri. Cannon, a fiscal conservative, argued for defense budget cuts:

“The next world war will be decided in a matter of hours. There will be a period of mopping up and taking over but the war will be decisively fought on one afternoon or less. . . . The Army is no longer of any use in war except in occupying territory taken from the air and in enforcing martial law. . . . Could the Navy protect us? Ridiculous! . . . The imminence of war is receding. An age of nuclear stalemate is dawning.”

Baldwin had his response ready, measured and authoritative. A Pulitzer prize-winning reporter and author of scores of books on military and defense issues, Baldwin graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, reported from the South Pacific, North Africa and Europe during World War II, and was now in his twentieth year as the Times’ military editor.

“The picture drawn by Mr. Cannon is black-and-white and hence fallacious. Nuclear weapons alone are not sufficient. We cannot provide security solely by big bombers and bigger bombs. . . . The threat of nuclear bombardment may deter world wars but it obviously has not deterred small wars. . . .

“The problem of United States – or world – security in the nuclear age is as complex as the technology that is supposed to be its servant. It is, in the first place, a political and psychological problem, the problem of the nature of man; it is only secondarily a military problem. As long as men want things that other men have, as long as men quarrel, as long as they are aggressive, just so long will there be conflict in all the broad interpretations of the word.”

Image Credit: Library of Congress, U.S. Army

August 13, 1957 – Syria Ousts American Diplomats

Afif al-Bizreh

Syrian Army Chief of Staff Afif Al-Bizreh, assassination target

On August 13, 1957, the government of Syria expelled three American Embassy officials, Vice Consul Francis J. Jeton, Second Secretary Howard E. Stone, and Army Attaché Colonel Robert W. Molloy.  The previous day, Syria had announced their discovery of an undercover plot by the United States to assassinate top government officials and overthrow their regime.  Jeton, Stone, and Molloy, they alleged, had contacted dissident members of the Syrian military and offered money in exchange for their assistance, including purging leading loyalist officers in the Syrian army.  They had also allegedly promised the US would block Israeli aggression, settle the Arab-Israeli conflict, end the arms race in the Middle East, and provide substantial unconditional economic aid.

Syrian Director of Intelligence Abd al-Hamid al-Sarraj, assassination target

Following the Suez Crisis in 1956, when Egypt’s attempt to nationalize the Suez Canal led to an invasion by Britain, France, and Israel, and hard on the heels of the USSR’s invasion of Hungary, President Eisenhower promulgated his Eisenhower Doctrine in January of 1957.  The Doctrine, in an effort to halt the spread of communism, offered American military and economic aid to nations in the Middle East who wanted help to resist the advances of nations dominated by “international communism.”  Developments in the Middle East had led President Eisenhower to fear that Syria was becoming a Soviet “outpost,” an escalation of the Cold War, and had acted accordingly.  Internal government reports informed Eisenhower that Syria was “more inclined to accept Soviet influence than any other country” in the Middle East and that “the Soviets are making Syria the focal point for arms distribution and other activities.”  He believed the Syrian government was dominated by a radical, pro-Soviet faction, that direct Soviet control was imminent, and ordered the CIA to execute Operation Wappen, spearheaded by Jeton, Stone, and Molloy.

On the day following the expulsion of the three embassy officials, Eisenhower responded by denying U.S. participation in an anti-Syrian government plot and expelling the Syrian Ambassador and his second secretary.  The American ambassador to Syria, home on leave, would remain in the United States.  Did the Eisenhower administration order Operation Wappen?  In The United States and Arab Nationalism: The Syrian Case, 1953-1960, author Bonnie F. Saunders states, “Other documentary evidence indicates almost certain State Department knowledge of the plot and perhaps its cooperation with the CIA in perpetrating it.”  From Encroachment to Involvement: A Documentary Study of Soviet Policy in the Middle East, 1945-1973, offers the same conclusion by author Yaacov Ro’i.  “The fact of the establishment and maintenance of secret contacts by the American Embassy in Damascus with a number of Syrian military personnel as well as with political dissident groups, with the possibility in mind of overthrowing the regime, seems proven.”

Image Credits: syrianhistory.com

August 6, 1957 – The USSR and Syria Reach an Agreement

 

Syrian Defense Minister Khalid al-Azm with Chief of Staff Afif al-Bizreh, 1957

On August 6, 1957, a Syrian delegation led by Minister of State and National Defense Khalid al-Azm and a Soviet delegation led by Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers Iosif Kuzmin reached an economic (and possibly military) aid agreement.  According to The United States and Arab Nationalism: The Syrian Case, 1953-1960, by Bonnie F. Saunders, the agreement included $570 million in Soviet bloc credits for weapons which Syria would pay for with future grain production.  President Eisenhower and the United States’ government were deeply concerned about the increasing influence of the USSR on the Arab nation.  “The Soviet Union had already given Syria about $60 million worth of military aid in 1956,” Saunders writes.  “Early in 1957, rumors about even greater Soviet military penetration into Syria circulated in London and Washington.  Supposedly, hundreds of Soviet technicians and military personnel were busy setting up and manning Soviet air and naval bases in Syria.  The Soviet Union was ostensibly providing the Syrian army with huge numbers of new Soviet weapons, furnishing the Syrian air force with two dozen sophisticated MiG jets and Soviet trainers, and creating a small Syrian navy armed with Soviet-built ships.”

A joint communique regarding the agreement was published on August 6, 1957, according to From Encroachment to Involvement: A Documentary Study of Soviet Policy in the Middle East, 1945-1973, by Yaacov Ro’i. Ro’i reprints the communique, signed by Azm and Kuzmin,  in his book.  It stressed the friendly, frank exchange between the delegations, the sympathy of the USSR for Syria’s efforts to escape colonialism, and the desire of the USSR to participate in the economic development of the Arab nation.  The USSR promised support in the areas of railroad and road construction, irrigation, hydroelectric stations, geological prospecting, research, and industrial plants.  The Soviets would supply specialists, equipment and materials.  Credit would be granted to Syria, in an amount to be determined, “without any conditions of a political or analogous nature, on a basis of equality and reciprocal economic advantage, of non-interference in internal affairs and complete respect for the national dignity and sovereignty of the Syrian Republic.”  The Soviet Union hoped to purchase grain, cotton, and other commodities, and both countries believed the amount of potential trade between the nations had yet to be fully exploited.  According to the communique, delegation visits and discussions would continue.

Image Credit: syrianhistory.com

Vintage 1957 – Vintage 2018

Two questions to ponder:

How is life in America significantly different than it was in 1957? How is it significantly the same?

First, a significant difference: our political climate in 2018 is hyper-polarized. Politicians and pundits pride themselves on their strongly-held views, whether liberal or conservative. They stress their unwillingness to compromise, seeing it as a matter of integrity and dedication to principle. Voters use litmus-test issues to guide their choice of candidates. Tendencies for media outlets to lean left or right have led to charges of “fake news” and growing distrust in reportage in general.

In 1957, President Eisenhower was serving his second term, having been elected in 1952 on a deliberately moderate ticket. He promised to “get things done” by working cooperatively with those in his party and across the aisle. Strong anti-Communist Richard Nixon was added to the ticket as Vice President in a token nod to the more conservative side of the Republican party. Eisenhower did not particularly like Nixon nor seek his input. The memory and record of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, was still widely respected by the public. Americans counted on the news – think Walter Cronkite – for fair and impartial information.

Next, a significant similarity: advances in technology were both eagerly welcomed and deeply feared. Today, new Apple products and other high-tech gear are embraced quickly. Brand loyalty and identification create communities of adherents. Social media, online banking, self-driving cars, drones, video-streaming, and fitness trackers all have a following. And yet, we are wary of what might happen with our digital footprint if bad actors gain access. How safe are we? Who is listening and watching and what will they do with what they learn?

In 1957, Americans were also eager adopters of new high-tech products. Food industry innovation responded to the consumer desire for convenience foods. New packaged products included Minute Rice, canned tuna, Jif peanut butter, and Tang. New cold-processing technology made frozen dinners, fruit and vegetables, waffles, and turkeys ready to purchase year-round. Developments in the space program were counting down to putting a man in orbit. Television broadcasting expanded into almost every living room and kitchens began humming with appliances. And yet, it was the Atomic Age of nuclear weapons – and there was no putting the genie back in the bottle. More powerful bombs were being developed and tested and stockpiles were growing. The Soviet Union was a direct Cold War threat, looming over the Artic pole. The potential for incoming ICBMs had everyone practicing “duck and cover”.

Would the Americans of 1957 be surprised that we haven’t found a way to better cooperate politically? Would they also be surprised that we still haven’t better resolved our love-fear relationship with science and technology?

Image Credits: Swanson; Apple