The Greenbrier Bunker

Yesterday Kish and I took the “Bunker Tour” at The Greenbrier.  It was a fascinating 90 minutes.

One of the blast doors to The Bunker

For those not familiar with the story, during the Cold War America decided to build an extensive fallout shelter for the legislative branch of government for use in the event that bombers from the Soviet Union dropped nuclear bombs on Washington, D.C.  The concept was that after the Soviet bombers took off, members of Congress (and one trusted aide each) could be transported to the secure facility before the bombs fell and then would be safe to conduct the legislative business of the country for 60 days. The Bunker came on-line in 1962 — just in time for the Cuban Missile Crisis — and continued to operate as The Bunker until its existence was exposed in 1992.

The Greenbrier was selected as the site because it was close enough to Washington, D.C. to allow for evacuation and the facility could be constructed in secret under the cover story that The Greenbrier was building a new wing — which is what happened.  In fact, some of the parts of the Bunker — including the office space and the chambers where the Houses of Congress would meet — were hidden in plain sight and were routinely used by the public as an exhibit hall and a theatre.  Those areas could have been secured by a huge nuclear blast door that was kept hidden behind garish wallpaper.

The rest of the bunker, which is now used as a highly secure data storage area by Fortune 500 companies, featured bunk bed dormitories, offices, kitchens, a radiation shower, redundant power and water systems, an incinerator, a medical facility, communications areas, and storage areas where food and medicine sufficient to keep more than 1000 people fed and healthy for 60 days was kept.

Although the idea of The Bunker presupposed a horrific nuclear bomb exchange, there was something naively optimistic about the whole concept.  The notion that our legislators would faithfully keep debating and legislating for 60 days, living cheerfully in military fatigues, eating C-rations, and sleeping communally in bunk beds while the nuclear winds raged outside is hard to understand now.   Did they really think that, when they emerged, our country could continue as even a semblance of its former self — and that, if it could, the Members of Congress who led us to nuclear holocaust should be the ones to then lead the American survivors of the nuclear conflagration?

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