Speeding by annihilation

ICBM Missile Silo, Central Montana - 012813

When you zip around eastern and central Montana (and much of North Dakota) you see these places.  The are about an acre of fenced in concrete, asphalt, and a few electronic devices.  They are scattered all over the landscape and often have cattle around them quietly grazing.  Under that bit of concrete though lies the potential death of millions of people.  It is the ultimate potential energy device humanity has every created, the intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, just waiting to become kinetic.

I grew up in the 70's and 80's with these all around me.  As kids, my brother and I would play a game counting the number of missile silos we would pass while on family trips.  Mom and dad didn't say anything about our game, but by the look on their faces we could tell it was not a game to them.

In junior high and high school, we watched movies like The Day After that chronicled the aftermath of the nuclear holocaust.  We read Alas, Babylon.  We were told that if WW3 started, we would be some of the first to know as we would watch the missiles rise out of the earth and go into space to come back down on the USSR.  We also knew that we would have about 20 minutes to live before we would burn up in a flash.

Once after school, a few of us talked about what we would do if we saw the missiles launch.  A few with teenage bravado and hormones exclaimed a desire to die not virgins, so they would go find their girlfriends to spend those last minutes with.  A few said they would race home to family and spend time with them. I just got sad because I knew my home was thirty minutes away and I would die alone.  Whenever I heard a sonic boom (a monthly or even weekly occurrence), I would worry for an instant that a missile had launched and gone super sonic on its one-way trip over the arctic.  I would close my eyes and say a soft, mumbled prayer, "Please. Not this time."

In 2011 I took a long road trip around Montana.   On the third to last day in that state, I started to come down with a nasty cold.  I could only do a couple hundred miles of driving before I needed to rest.  I was sad because I knew I would be sick on the day I would drive my favorite road in Montana, Highway 200 between Great Falls and Missoula.

I love that road because it tickles my fetish for geological boundaries.  It is where the Great Plains runs head on into the Rocky Mountains.  It is my favorite place in the world.  That day though, I was feverish and wanting to both enjoy the beauty and just get to Butte and a warm bed.

About forty minutes west of Great Falls, I saw the deja vu-inducing missile silo site.  I quickly grabbed my camera and shot five images as I sped by at 70 mph.  I wasn't sure if I was allowed to take those photos, so I made it a quick pass.  After I set my camera down, all of those high school memories from a time when our enemy was the USSR came flooding back.  I suddenly felt both lonely in the car and nostalgic for Montana.  I looked in my rear view mirror at the quickly receding silo and and whispered in a horse voice to it, "Please.  Not this time."


  1. This really takes me back! I share so many of these memories and can still taste that "chewing on tin foil" tang in the back of my mouth when I'd awake from vivid nightmares of watching those missiles launch death into a bright blue Montana sky. Years later, I ended up married to the Air Force and stationed in Cheyenne, WY at an ICBM base ... I've seen the inside of sites that make the ones in your photo look tiny and harmless. The immense dread, however, is the same ... Armageddon is ominous, regardless of degree. Oddly, I'm a little nostalgic for the times when we were afraid of something so colossal & impersonal ... when we practiced crouching under our desks for an incoming nuke instead of training for active shooter in the school. My children don't understand how real the nuclear precipice was back then, especially to those of us with silos on the back 40 ... but then again, we could never have imagined a world where we had to worry about truck bombs full of fertilizer on main street and jihadists lighting their shoes afire on our family vacation flights!

    1. Hey partner!! Thanks for your comment. You are one person I know who experienced this as well.

      You are right. Our enemies have changed. Back then, death would be massive, global, and impersonal. It was all or nothing. We all live or we all die. With the fall of the USSR, it looks like we chose living.

      Now our foes kill us up close and much more personally. Whether it is the scenarios of school shooters, underwear bombers, or the terrorist flying a plane into a building, the death is small, concentrated and more of a death by a thousand cuts threat.

      I am not sure which is worse, the living with a constant fear of global and mutual annihilation or a fear of always checking who sits around you on mass transportation. I am glad I am not the only one with those memories from a time of living for years at the brink.


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