It was fifteen days before the East-West Summit in Paris. The mission’s code word was Grand Slam. Its purpose was to overfly the Soviet Union, photographing targets including the ICBM sites at the Baikonur Cosmodrome and Plesetsk Cosmodrome, then land at Bodø in Norway. It was May 1st.
However, Russia was on Red-Alert, they expected the fly over. Lieutenant General of the Air Force Yevgeniy Savitskiy ordered the air-unit commanders "to attack the violator by all alert flights located in the area of foreign plane's course, and to ram if necessary". A surface to air missile brought it down.
At first the Americans tried to cover up, the Russians called them out. The president at the time, president Eisenhower, had said at the beginning of his presidency that he would use the atomic bomb if necessary, and tension was high. At the Four Powers Summit, which ended the second day, Nikita Khrushchev rescinded his invitation to Eisenhower to visit Russia, and the summit ended. The American pilot was released less than two years later.
Such was the Cold War, an era of brinkmanship, an era of everyone being constantly ready for air raids. When the sirens went off, Time Square could be evacuated in two minutes. From The Cuban Missile Crises to the explosion of the H-Bomb Shrimp, it was one fear of annihilation of the planet after another.
However, the bombs were never used. Although the war was called a cold one, many died in the far reaches of the globe. It was a massive mistake. A “century of man slaughter and mind slaughter.” It was a crime. Fear, greed, and misunderstanding, built massive surveillance states, and caused useless wars and weapons races. The Cold War was not quite over when Richard Nixon took the presidency, in fact, even in Ronald Regan’s time it would still go on, but not with the same vigor and fear. But there was still time, before the War began to slow down, for one more episode to take place.
Andrew C. Abbott