Dr. Strangelove is Back!

The Navy wants to electrify the Hill Country with 3000 square miles of buried antenna beaming through the earth to nuclear submarines.

located along the buried cables for emergency use (i.e. in case of a nuclear attack when commercial power sources have been destroyed). Operation of Sanguine will be on a continuous basis. The Navy expects Sanguine to use 20 to 30 million watts of power, which can be compared to the average amount of power needed to run a town of 20,000 inhabitants.

The first serious criticism of Sanguine’s feasibility was made by University of Wisconsin professors Alwyn Scott and Michael McClintock, and Professor Albert Biggs of the University of Kansas. They said it would take approximately two hours to send a simple 12-letter message by Sanguine and that such a time lag would make the system worthless. They also claimed that the system could be easily jammed and that thunderstorms or the explosion of hydrogen bombs would block it with interference.

A National Academy of Sciences Ad Hoc Panel on Sanguine was formed to investigate these charges. The panel consisted of five distinguished scientists in the field of electromagnetics and concluded in a report issued in April, 1972, that “the results of the test transmissions made so far…strongly suggest that the Sanguine system contemplated by the Navy would work substantially as they anticipate.” However, the panel was careful to explain that their report was not conclusive and referred only to the technical aspects of Sanguine. The panel did not address itself to the environmental or economic implications of the proposed system and warned that “the implications of a major design error would be serious.”

“The panel does not comment on the desirability of a Sanguine system, nor on its feasibility in the economic or political sense,” the report said. The scientists did not consider questions on ecological effects, buried pipe corrosion, electric currents induced into long wires and metal fences, mitigation of telephone, radio and TV interference, site-selection criteria, or alternative ways of solving the operational problem for which Sanguine was proposed.

One of the panel members, Dr. Charles Harrison, an applied physicist at the Atomic Energy Commission’s Sandia Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, resigned in protest a week before the report was made public. In a separate report, Harrison claimed the Navy was trying to railroad Sanguine through Congress and filed a separate report stating “there is considerable evidence that Sanguine will not work as an efficient means of communicating with U.S. submarines worldwide. If it does work, it may take 100 times more power than the Navy estimates and cost billions instead of the Navy’s estimated $750 million.”

Harrison’s report was reviewed by Dr. Ronald King, a professor of applied physics at Harvard University, who concurred with his findings.

Sen. Gaylor Nelson, D-Wisc., said that if Dr. Harrison is correct “Sanguine would require the construction of at least six of the largest power generators ever built in the United States, and this much power dispersed into the Sanguine antenna could turn northern Wisconsin into an environmental no-man’s land.”

THE INITIAL PLANNING FOR SANGUINE took place between 1958 and 1963 during some of the peak years of the Cold War. It was “better to be dead than red,” and you could always find a bumper sticker to remind you of this fact. The John Birch Society had its heyday, and successful Birchers managed to get Mark Twain expelled from high school English courses. The Russians had sent up their first Sputnik and apparently shot ahead of us in the “race for space.” Vice President Richard M. Nixon became the man who could stand up to Khrushchev, and billboards allover the country showed him with his finger in Khrushchev’s face.

Then came the Cuban Missile Crisis. Nuclear war seemed imminent and those who could afford it were seriously considering building bomb shelters, stocking up on canned foods and doing anything else that might be necessary to survive the impending catastrophe. It may all seem far removed from the situation today, with Brezhnev and Nixon arm-in-arm, but Sanguine was conceived in the political atmosphere of those tense and fearful years.

However, Sanguine did not surface in the public eye until 1969. Plans to build the system in Wisconsin were announced July 1, 1968, but not until a year later did the public become aware of it. A Governor’s Ad Hoc Committee to Evaluate Sanguine Problems was set up immediately in response to public interest. The chairman of the Committee was Dr. Robert M. Bock, dean of the Graduate School of the University of Wisconsin. In a telephone interview he explained the Navy’s initial silence.

“The Navy did not advertise before the fact; they advertised when a citizen’s group found out about it and generated the first publicity,” Bock said. “The Navy’s strategy was obviously to move in a series of steps, each one of which looked relatively harmless, but when taken together would put Sanguine at a point of no-return. In other words, they could’ve moved ahead to a point where they had made enough commitments and gone far enough where they could use the argument that ‘well, you can’t waste all that investment.’”

One fear Bock expressed was that Sanguine, although promoted as a relatively low power system, might, when the Navy had gone far enough, be increased greatly in power with the argument that “it doesn’t work, but we’ve got too much invested in it now turn back.” If this occurred it would probably be necessary to build a huge power plant to fuel Sanguine. One has only to look at what has happened in recent years to the Four Corners region of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah to understand why this is of such crucial concern. The Four Corners region was once noted for its beautiful clear skies and was a place where astronomers would go to study the heavens. Because of an immense electrical power plant that was built there in 1969, it is now one of most polluted areas of the country.

But one shouldn’t jump to conclusions. The Navy insists that Sanguine will not be built unless it can be made environmentally compatible. Still one should


More Texas Monthly

Loading, please wait...

Most Read

  • Viewed
  • Past:
  • 1 week