Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Able-Archer Incident

When the Able-Archer Incident took place, I attended Hanau American High School, in what was then, West Germany...

Hanau is located in the German State (Lander) of Hesse, just East of Frankfurt. It is believed to be the birthplace of the Brothers Grimm.

On Monday, November 7, 1983, during the annual Reforger military exercises, the initial launching of a microwave communications system for its first ever trial by the US Military caused the old analog communications to fall silent. The East Germans, as well as the USSR, mistook this to be an impending attack.....

What the world did not know, then, was the East Germans and Soviets interpreted the sudden, and unprecedented silence of their old analog communications network, to be a prelude to a tactical nuclear strike, followed by a NATO invasion.

In the USSR, the last personal friend and colleague of Lenin and Trotsky, ever: Yuri Andropov, was in charge. He was too old to the keep food in his mouth, as many Russians would later remark.

Thus the security state across the wall was, in reality, being run by a small group of clerks, who were facing facts about running out of leaders whom would be strong enough to present the unifying image of leadership, as well as unite the political elements within, to successfully confront the ever-weakening internal vitality of the Union, itself. 

And, most importantly, they were staring at the inevitable realization of Andropov's death.

The question of whom they would need to name as his successor loomed over them, as each day, the inevitable eventuality of his passing grew closer, and increasingly, more likely; in terms of probability. The Soviet system was at arguably the most difficult crossroads of it's seventy year existence.

And, that crossroads would be near-catastrophically stressed by the Russian analysis of the Able-Archer effect: NATO's sudden, and conspicuously total radio silence, and the shocking conclusion which that silence conveyed. 

That silence furtively compelled their painful certitude that an attack, and then an invasion of the USSR by NATO, would soon follow.

Barely two months before, the Soviet Union had shot down a South Korean airliner that had accidentally strayed into their airspace. I recall seeing my sister and her friend, Barbie, at the crosswalk next to the bar we partied at. She had a look on her face of true fear as she told me about KAL flight 007. That fear entered me, too.

All of NATO Europe went into a condition of extreme alert, which persisted until after the Spring of the New Year. Then, on Monday, September 26, 1983, a malfunction in the Soviet Distant Early Warning System falsely indicated that a NATO first strike was indeed, inbound. 

Soviet Lt Col Sergei Petrov was credited for defying the launch order protocol, and the tensions from East to West and back only magnified in that event.
The 269 passengers and crew were all killed on KAL Flight 007, which, unknown to us, actually did violate Soviet airspace on September 1, 1983

Watching all of this, nerves freying, was future Gen Secretary and Supreme Soviet, Mikhail Gorbachev, who's post would eventually combine the office of the Supreme Soviet with the office of the Premiere (Gen Secretary of the Communist Party) because there wasn't anyone left to lead. And, he would need this much power to wrest control of the country away from the the small group of insiders that were actually pulling the strings of the two premiers that preceded Gorbachev.

In the West, we expected Gorbachev to take over after Andropov, however, one last hardliner stood in the way: as tossed there by the clerks who didn't wish to give up power. 

Gorbachev's position as a reformer was not yet as clarified, but he was already on the radar as most likely to succeed Andropov, and following the reign of Andropov's successor, Konstantin Chernenko, which, like Andropov's reign, would be forgettably brief, Gorbachev would eventually eliminate the opposition to his authority by consolidating the power of both offices, which he then used to inspire a thaw to the simmering mutual contempt of the Cold War... before another misinterpretation of an insignificant event inspired the dreadful consequences of a world-destroying missile exchange.

Unbeknownst to my family, my friends, my teachers: all of the events of November 7 played out while we lived our lives under a certainty that we could very easily perish with our European friends, and for some reason, they hated us for that....
Protests, such as these, were frequent, and added to the Anti-American sentiment

On Monday, November 7, 1983, a bomb threat called-in from the civilian community caused the school emergency bell to ring, and we were all told to leave, and go past the gate. The rumors were that we would probably need to be sent home for the day. 

Me, Ivan Ristic, who was and is my Jugoslavijan (now Serbian) friend, Roy and John Revels, my friends from North Carolina, and Micah Curtiss, another friend, we all stood outside the fence. Being inclined to skip, we started to leave when Oakley McCechearn, Vice Principal, snagged me from behind to the shock of the other guys, who did not see him approach, either. As he ordered us back into the school, the now levelled Hanau High School, little did any of us know, that at that moment, right then: the order to launch a first strike tactical nuclear attack had already been signed by Andropov.
Case Ryan (RJan) was the Soviet response mechanism that was signed by Andropov, and activated November 7, 1983. Case Ryan acknowledged a pre-emptive nuclear assault was the only defense from a NATO first strike. 

The facts are, we should've all been dead; if it were not for a weak link in the Soviet Bomber Command, as the order to launch the strikes fell to one Soviet Sergeant. In defying his orders, he cited that any launch protocol for such a strike must first have satellite confirmation of inbound first strike actions coming from the NATO side. It was a doctrine diametrically opposing the emergency nature, thus, the entire premise for Case Rjan.

He was disobeying direct orders: but he saved my life, my friends' lives, and whether or not you know it, he saved yours, too.

As we were prodded back into the classroom, that day, as aware of the Cold War as we were, the proximity to expulsion from school seemed so much more real... Temporarily, it was more real. Anyway, that fear seemed to drown out the notion that we were really that close to "the end". The topic that dominated our conversations at that day, and time, was the now legendary Pop Rock 2 Festival, in Dortmund. We were going! December 18, 1983! And, we were going to get there and back, alive.

The Able-Archer Incident is considered the closest to nuclear war that the world ever came, or would come. And it remains that on November 7, 1983, a world was alive, a world that wasn't exactly privy to the danger it was truly experiencing.

In DC, that same day, a bombing of the US Senate building changed protocols, and remains one of the worst lapses in security in the US, until that time. 

But, the fact is, we have learned nothing from the Abel-Archer Incident. We have a president that counts the illegal horrors we accomplished in Iraq as, " of the dumbest things this country ever did..."
But is about to repeat that atrocity against Iran, whose alliance with Russia, and China, as well as others, is certain to spell the same Holocaust that we escaped on that cold, sunny November Monday.

In Germany, life went on. We would not learn the full effect of Abel-Archer until well into the New Year, with some details hidden until the USSR collapsed in 1991. They have reformed their ways, and they have repaired their mistakes, no more is their system truly adversarial to ours.

But, we have not evolved from that paranoid, war mongering nation; that antagonist which was created in David Rockefeller's image, by destroying the system made by our Founding Fathers.... We are the nation who badly needs to engage reformation, and we are a problem for the world. We need to fix this! 

And, if Trump attacks Iran, which all signs say he will: we may never get that chance.

But, in 1983 we had our lives extended by one Russian soldier, and his awareness that war mongers within the Politburo had ignored Soviet Law, just like attacking Iran is ignoring International Law.

Stairwell in my old building, ruins of it, anyway...

With 1984, Reagan's Pershing 2 program, which technically defied the SALT-2 Treaty, limiting long range missiles, was complete. The way that his administration did it was clever, they simply called a long range system a "short to mid range" system, thus was SALT 2 compliant....

Even our NATO allies didn't buy that, though, as the nations of Germany, as well as Italy and Scandinavia, were all outfitted with Pershing-2s beginning in 1983; sometimes, over the vehement protest of both politicians, and the public.

The song, "99 Red Balloons" was about the arming of Europe with this "illegal" weapon, an act which provoked the civilian populations of Europe, and caused a stressed relationship with them.  By summer, 1983, that stress had become hatred. 

Bombings occurred that you can't locate on WikiPedia: such as the Red Brigades bombing of our Officer's Club in March of 1984. It was right next door, and pieces of it were in our front yard. Nobody died, but Hanau became more frequently a necessary trip for the cameras and reporters of AFN, the US Television Network.

Anyone from Germany, during the 70's and 80's, will recall Ann Mulligan. I bumped into her once, in Frankfurt, at a PX where I was buying a soda and waiting on a shuttle bus to take me back to Hanau. I asked for her autograph, and she rudely rebuked me. The cashier told me, "Don't take it personally: she is pregnant, plus, she can't go anywhere and not be recognized!"

I saw my friends talking on tv a lot, back then....

And, as Trump begins his countdown for Iran, all I can say is, "We were here....and we did our job. If this man cannot respect that which we endured and were consigned to endure, then truly: we have failed to relate what it is like to be cooked in a crucible of unnecessary and unparalleled violence. Just the potential of which showed in how wild we are, how estranged from our civilian families we are, and how we still laugh at death." 

Because we know, firsthand, what it is like to face losing those things in a choice, however justified, or not, that resolves itself in the hands of others.

From left to right: Rick Montgomery, Wendy Drummond, and Me, August, 83

Ivan and my first gig by our band, Vengeance, was played, was torn down two years ago.
From left to right: John Revels, (RIP), my quasi brother in law, my sister's boyfriend, Rick Montgomery, my sister, Wendy Drummond, Roy Revels, and lastly, me. Hanau, Summer, 1983
Photos by Volker Oneiroid, Wendy Drummond, and Google Chrome 

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