Tuesday, May 15, 2018

America Had A $6 Billion Secret Pyramid For Three Days

Looking back, the Cold War seems like a terribly strange time in America's history. Any time your country enters into an official stance of Mutually Assured Destruction, you know you're living in a weird world. I still have memories of TV shows being interrupted with "tests of the emergency broadcast system," which presumably would give us instructions on what to do in the event of a nuclear exchange. I don't miss them. And yet, I kind of miss Red Dawn and Rocky IV. 

If the Cold War inspired any industries, it was the bomb shelter business. Can you imagine actually having to invest in surviving nuclear war? That has to be surreal. But it was also the business of the government to find ways to protect us from that ever being necessary, at the same time as it sought bigger and better ways to destroy its enemies. And that pursuit led to one of the strangest projects you'll see on American soil.

If you thought North Dakota was nothing other than boring and flat, you're only mostlycorrect. In the northeast corner of the state, just south of the Canadian border, the landscape gets interesting.

The flat, uniform prairie gives way to a large concrete pyramid jutting into the sky. It's the sort of thing that has no business being on the prairie. So why don't more people know about this thing? Let's just say it wasn't the government's finest moment.

Construction on the pyramid began in 1970, in a world still feeling the effects of the Cuban Missile Crisis and deep in the grip of the Vietnam War. 

Staring down a major nuclear threat from the Soviet Union, as well as an increasing threat from China, the U.S. wanted to develop a system to shoot down nuclear missiles before they reached American soil. Which seems like an admirable goal, right? That was the whole point of the pyramid – it would be the first in a series of anti-ballistic missile installations, and it would be located near Nekoma, North Dakota, population 49.

North Dakota seems like an odd spot to put an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) site – you would think they would put it near a slightly larger center that could handle the population necessary to run it – but there was a good reason to place it in remote location.

The Dakotas have more than just agriculture – they're also the heartland of America's Minutemen nuclear missiles. If it ever came to that, the US would need those missile silos to be operational. A nearby ABM site could protect them.

So, after five years and $6 billion, the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex was finally complete. Yet, just days after it became fully operational, Congress ordered it shut down.

So what went wrong?

First, there were a few practical problems that somebody probably should have thought of sooner.

For one thing, any approaching Soviet missiles would be coming from the north, over Canada, meaning America would have to detonate nuclear material over friendly territory. What's more, nobody was convinced the ABM system would even work. 

Second, while the pyramid was under construction, the US and the Soviets signed the SALT Treaty. The treaty limited both American and Soviet forces from building more than one ABM site.

By the time the treaty had been signed and ratified, the pyramid was already 85 percent complete, and it would become the only one ever to be operational. For something America spent $6 billion on, the pyramid had a lot of strikes against it.

So Congress decided to cut its losses and shut the pyramid down. 

The silos were filled with concrete and welded shut, contractors stripped the interior of any valuables, personnel were re-assigned, and the tunnels were allowed to fill with water.

For a time, the pyramid served as a minor tourist attraction. Then, in 2012, the federal government auctioned it off, selling it to a nearby group of Hutterites, a pacifist, reclusive religious sect, for $530,000.

So if you want to visit America's $6 billion pyramid, you'll have to do it from afar.


Author: verified_user