US intended to destroy civilian populations in enemy cities during Cold War according to declassified target list

The document was prepared in the summer of 1956 and made available this week

First came Moscow and Leningrad, with more than 300 targeted sites or Designated Ground Zeros (DGZs), in those two cities alone. 

Then there was Warsaw and Beijing, and an astonishing 1,200 other cities.

This was the list of targets drawn up “systematic destruction” by US nuclear strikes at the height of the Cold War for nuclear strikes, and declassified more than fifty years later.

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The targets included civilian populations and airfields

The list reveals that the priority for any operation launched by the US was airfields and installations, as they wanted to be able to destroy any chance the Soviet Union had of itself attacking America.

But included in each city are specific areas - a detail that to this day remains classified - that the US intended to target because of their dense human populations. This tactic was apparently at odds with international rules of war that prohibit specific targeting of civilians.

The 700-page document, Strategic Air Command (SAC) Atomic Weapons Requirements Study for 1959, was produced in the summer of 1956 and made available this week by the National Security Archive, located at George Washington University in Washington DC.

At the time the document was prepared, General Curtis LeMay was Commander-in-chief of the Strategic Air Command.

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General Curtis LeMay was Commander-in-chief of the Strategic Air Command when the target list was prepared

Scholars who published the document said they believed it was the most comprehensive Cold War nuclear target list ever to be made public.

“One of the most interesting things is the amount of minute detail,” senior analyst William Burr told The Independent.

“The priority was installations. But there were also target areas of human population. We still don’t know precisely where….But it is chilling.”

The document says that the nuclear bombing operations would expose nearby civilians and “friendly forces and people” to high levels of deadly radioactive fallout.  

Moreover, the authors developed a plan for the “systematic destruction” of Soviet bloc urban-industrial targets that specifically and explicitly targeted “population” in all cities, including Beijing, Moscow, Leningrad, East Berlin, and Warsaw.  

Mr Burr wrote in a press release that the prioritisation of Soviet air power was based on the apparent immediate threat that Soviet bombers posed to the continental United States and to US forces in Europe and East Asia”

“The report’s detailed introduction explained that the priority given to air power targets dictated the surface bursting of high-yield thermonuclear weapons to destroy priority targets, including airbases in Eastern Europe,” he said.

“That tactic would produce large amounts of radioactive fallout compared to bursting weapons in the air.  According to the study, “the requirement to win the Air Battle is paramount to all other considerations”.”

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