The Really Angry Bear Who Almost Upset the World

As this gem appears to have little if any local coverage whilst topping the list of our truly closest encounters, I’d like to explore it now and see if anyone in the community has memories or knowledge of this exciting chapter in history.

One of my favorite pastimes has to be pretending that ‘man’ hasn’t come as close as he has to setting this Garden of Eden ablaze, returning it to its former self of one giant cinder cone that only the smallest rodents underground survive. The itchy-trigger-fingers of sociopathic generals (immortalized in such films as How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) illustrate the kind of antics that happened right over the hill from here one fateful evening.

Duluth (or Hermantown for those of you wanting some distance) has the dubious distinction of playing part in one of these infamous ‘close-calls.’ It involves a pernicious black bear we’ll call Bobby, who, while making a terrible ruckus climbing on ‘the wrong fence,’ becomes mistaken for the Russian invasion that launches World War III from your backyard. Turns out our old friend was perhaps chasing a rabbit, or maybe just felt like climbing a fence?  We’ll never know. But some of our more insightful readers will respectfully point out it wasn’t actually Bobby who nearly destroyed the world, but rather the folly of mankind — which is profound.

Moreover, it would appear the wires to cancel the attack, being improperly installed hence ineffective, were what nearly ended your life, or led to its not beginning. And if not for our lone unnamed hero driving his jeep across that tarmac near Kenosha one dark October night many years ago, flashing his lights to miraculously prevent the bombers from lifting off toward Russia, none of us would be having this conversation right now.

Machine Age Chronicle does a good job with some of the details, but I’m sure there’s more to be learned from those who were there.


The Big E

about 6 years ago

The Lacrosse Tribune had the best article I've seen on this episode.  What I've read emphasizes that the Cuban crisis was the only time in the Cold War that the Air Force actually authorized interceptor fighters to take off with live nuclear-armed anti-aircraft rockets on board.  And here we are at the absolute peak of anxiety in the crisis with a couple of pilots who a) know there's a dire threat; b) know they have for the first time been issued nuclear weapons; c) can't imagine in those circumstances that anybody would horse around with a drill or something....   

Chances are the pilots would have taken off, found nothing of moment, and landed without incident--but one never knows.


about 6 years ago

Thanks Big E.  My dad did maintenance on one of the missile systems for four years in order to avoid being jungle-shot in Vietnam. I know this sounds like a cliche to you kids nowadays, but back then, it was reality for many, unless you wanted to be ostracized from your town and family, an option only a few of the bravest chose.  The Germans understood this which is why they sent whole towns of boys who knew each other to fight together.  Acts of cowardice would be fewer, and your desire to defend your friends greater.  It's the nuances of war many don't understand. The intricacies of the game. Easy to hate war, harder to understand the hows and whys.

So he was in charge of everything from changing the oil, to executing the launch sequence codes. He said the day he got there and met the guys who were hands-on during the height of the crisis, waiting for orders to launch, he could see the look in their eyes of how close we'd come. The 'Duluth incident' is just one, among many...

The Big E

about 6 years ago

The 'Duluth incident' is just one, among many...

On that point, see Eric Schlosser's brilliant book Command and Control, which while it neglects the Duluth incident, explores a great many other episodes of disaster and dysfunction in the Cold War nuclear forces.


about 6 years ago

Paul Hellyer, world's highest ranking belieber, says E.T. would shoot down any ICBMs, so I guess there was never anything to worry about.  Questions or thoughts? 

Paul Lundgren

about 5 years ago

I had forgotten, but it turns out this subject did come up on PDD once before, ten years ago. 

How Duluth almost started WWIII

(Comments to the super-old PDD posts are gone because PDD was on a crappy publishing platform back then.)


about 4 years ago

Correction to my previous statement for prosperity. As systems manager, he was in charge of everything short of entering the launch sequence codes, which was performed by two entirely separate individuals whose sole purpose was just that, keeping and entering the codes, working as a team presumably so that if one of them defected or went crazy, an errant missile strike would be less likely.  

You can actually tour the site through one of Anthony Bourdain's travel episodes. It's now a museum/ 400 million dollar monument to man's stupidity.

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