For an idea of where the end of the world might start, visit the Titan II Missile Museum in Sahuarita, Az.
The site is a former missile silo, complete with a disarmed Titan II still intact, 35 feet below ground in a steel-and-concrete-reinforced bunker.
It is a sobering reminder of the destructive power of man and how MAD — as in Mutually Assured Destruction — those Cold War days were.
I was born two years after the Cuban missile crisis and did not grow up with those “duck-and-cover” films about what to do if a thermonuclear bomb went off.
But I do recall drills where we gathered in the hallways in school and sat with our backs to the wall.
And I remember distinctly the school basement and many of the basements of the Bronx apartment buildings in my neighborhood displaying the three upside-down yellow triangles against a black circle that indicated the location of a fallout shelter.
I remember not knowing what a fallout shelter was but it was clear it was something important and official.
Fast-forward to when I was in high school and college and Ronald Reagan was president. It felt like we were on the brink of nuclear war as we (America) and our longtime nemesis, the USSR, were locked in an arms race that would have no winner.
This was a time when nuclear war was brought vividly to life with the 1983 television movie “The Day After.” It was also a time when I read nuclear holocaust books like “On the Beach” and “Hiroshima.”
It was after the breakup of the USSR that I felt some of that threat recede. But the visit to the museum brought those chilling thoughts right back.
And this was certainly no Hollywood set.
The artifacts included consoles with buttons, dials and lights and stenciled signs warning that certain areas were “no lone zones,” meaning it was mandatory that two airmen (or women) be present to ensure that someone was always watching out for the other person.
The museum’s website paints a picture of the mission:
“The Titan II was capable of launching from its underground silo in 58 seconds and could deliver a nine-megaton thermonuclear warhead to its target more than 6,300 miles (10,000 km) away in less than 30 minutes.
“For more than two decades, 54 Titan II missile complexes across the United States stood ‘on alert’ 24 hours a day, seven days a week, heightening the threat of nuclear war or preventing Armageddon, depending upon your point of view.”
While the museum tour guides preached strength through deterrence a bit too much for my liking, there was no denying the impressive engineering and discipline that went into building and maintaining silos like these across the country.
Still, it was unsettling to consider one of these missiles being used, much less dozens. Thinking today about rogue nations test-firing missiles or building an arsenal is even more unsettling.
When we left the museum, we drove 20 miles to the San Xavier Mission Church Del Bac, which was built in the 1700s. It boasts of being the oldest intact European structure in Arizona and continues its mission of ministering to the needs of its parishioners.
Maybe I can draw comfort in that a 300-year-old church continues its mission of charity, while the silo’s mission of war has been retired.