Today I peered deep into the bowels of nuclear abyss.
I was born in the Cold War, a child of the eighties, and I distinctly remember watching the joyous destruction of East and West Germans as they tore down their hated Berlin Wall. I was an impressionable seven years old and the imagine of one teenage boy with the German flag painted on his face as he took a sledgehammer to concrete burns in my memory.
So to stand deep underground, leaning over the edge of an empty missile silo that once held a nuclear weapon ready for launch into Paris or London or some NATO base, was beyond amazing – it was surreal. Once upon a time I would have been arrested as a spy just for setting foot in the nearby town.
Plokstine Missile Base is now a museum, tucked into an obscure forested corner of Lithuania. Once part of the Soviet Union (although with great reluctance), Lithuania was a logical choice for a top-secret nuclear missile base aimed at the West. Constructed in 1962, at the height of the nuclear arms race, the base burrowed into the earth, no more than a grassy mound and four domed caps, a pitted road of concrete and grass leading away into the trees. But below ground lurked four missiles, always at the ready.
My guide, Martynas, grew up in nearby Plunge, a small town where the local Lithuanians never dreamed of the nuclear threat on their doorstep. As Martynas explained, “My grandmother lived 5 kilometer away from there and she not know it was there. She know something military (nearby), but not how dangerous.” The base was decommissioned and the missiles disassembled in 1979, a result of the first SALT Treaty for nuclear disarmament between the United States and Soviet Union.
We ducked through heavy metal doors, descended down in tunnels, and wandered room once only open to the soldiers stationed here. Russian signs, commands and warnings, tattoo the heavy concrete walls and harsh lights blink and buzz in the corridors. It’s a lot like a submarine in feel, only roomier. To launch a missile took two people with two keys to avoid the possibility of a lone person going rogue and starting a war without authorization.
Random equipment and debris still litters the surrounding woods, blanketed by the brush and shadows. Martynas found some old Soviet field phones while gathering mushrooms. Today the phones are on display in the museum, which he pointed out with giddy pride.
It’s a bit odd, really, to tour a site once sinister and dangerous to my country, now hollowed out and ringing with the sounds of children’s laughter, a backpacking toting summer camp that hiked off into the sunlight for a picnic lunch.
How quickly our present becomes our history. I wonder what buildings, equipment, and everyday objects will become the museums and artifacts of tomorrow.