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After visiting the Fred Whipple Observatory, an institution devoted to expanding our understanding and knowledge, seeking to find others in the universe and make a connection with them, exploring the origins of life and from whence we originated, we visited a very different sort of organization, one with more of a mission, of, well, obliterating not only our existence, but essentially that of the earth itself, the U.S. Military Titan II Missile Museum.

I know what you’re thinking, “A peace-loving hippie such as yourself found your way to visit the vessel designed to end our existence?” but it was on the way back to the hotel after our visit to the Observatory, so we thought, “Oh, what the hell.” Actually, that was more of my husband’s thought. To be honest, I would have been just as happy never setting foot on the grounds.

Such as it was, I went along and avoided grappling with all the questions that spring to mind when the military proudly touts the missile’s power of nine megatons, cumulatively more than every bomb ever dropped. We learned that currently China has 350 nuclear missiles pointed at us and we have 450 pointed at them, plus a bunch more aimed at Russia and vice versa. Yippee!

Did these missiles really keep us safe during the Cold War? Is it all absolutely necessary to prevent another devastating world conflict? Civilized such as we like to think that we are, is there really no better way? Are we so limited in our imaginations and our evolution that the best strategy we can devise to prevent conflict is not just mutually-assured destruction, but destruction of all that ever lived, all the beautiful evolution of millions of years, one infinitesimally small tweak at a time…until US…all our own struggles to advance to what is unquestionably the best time to ever live in human history, all gone in an instant because of one nut job?

When you consider all the billions of dollars that go into something like the Titan II, research and construction, maintenance, employment guarding the damned thing, you can’t help but feel a little disgust. The irony grabs you that forty years ago we could create an object that unleashes a power comparable to that of the sun, yet somehow better solar technology to harness the sun’s power to meet our energy demands eludes us. Hmm. It’s remarkable what we figure out when we invest the money for research. One can’t help but wonder what greater good all the war machine money could have created?

Ah yes, but my friend, I’m sure you’ll counter that the money spent bought peace and what greater good is there than that?

This is why, like I mentioned earlier, I chose to not think about these questions. Usually, I like to solve these problems, come to some definitive conclusion, form an opinion, but instead, during the introductory movie portion of the tour, I fell asleep. Once the lights were out, I thought I’d rest my eyes for just a moment and off I went into the world between wakefulness and sleep, telling myself to wake up so that I could gather lots of important facts for this blog entry. My sleepiness was more powerful though, in a way that can’t be measured in megatons, and I rested until our guide turned on the lights again twenty minutes later and sent us out into the yard to visit the missile of evil.

I was more concerned anyway with our first tour guide. He appeared to be a stroke victim and his vulnerability broke my heart. I wanted to jump up from my seat and give him a hug. It’s much easier when you can sit in judgment of others, see them as brain-washed military mind-collateral if you will, than when you see their humanity and frailty. I really didn’t want to like or warm-up to anything about this excursion.

Anyway, off we went for a fun hour of discussing the power of the Titan II and how mutually-assured destruction is still a realistic threat. Perhaps because we had just visited one of the most fascinating, complicated, beautiful, and awe-inspiring manifestations of modern science, the tour of the Titan wasn’t especially intellectually stimulating. I suppose it was interesting to know from where the origins of our last breath would have emanated.

In the command center that controlled the missile’s release, there is an oddly light-hearted part of the tour. Two visitors are asked to play commander, volunteering to sit in the seats to the key, pretending to launch the missile to start World War III.

I tend to hang back on tours so that I can get better pictures as the rest of the crowd files out ahead of me. As usual, I was standing in the back of the room away from most of the other visitors. Nearby was a young twenty-something with two cameras around his neck who was likewise hanging back during the tour to get better pictures. Just as the two volunteers played along and turned the key to launch the missile, just as I was feeling like the whole thing was rather unsettling, the young photographer beside me farted. Not a little fart either. A good one, complete with odor. You can’t make this stuff up. There was enough noise in the rest of the room that I doubt many other people heard it, but I did, and I thought it a fabulous and fitting punctuation to end the tour. I would have thanked the young man if I didn’t think he would have been embarrassed. The tour was mostly over except for one quick view from the bottom of the missile silo, so the rest of my energy was devoted to containing the megaton laughter that was trying to burst forth from me.

Our last stop was the gift shop, which again, seemed inappropriately light-hearted given that the Titan 2 was a rather serious object designed to erase all of human and geologic history. There are all sorts of t-shirts, mugs, and diamond shaped signs reading things like “Dead-End.” I’m not sure if they were meant to be humorous or inspire power in a “shock and awe” sort of way. If they were supposed to be funny, the humor was lost on me and hardly comparable to a good fart after pretending to start the next world war.

My pictures of the excursion
Titan Museum Brochure
Arizona Traveler Description
Pima County Attractions
Strategic Air Command

May 2008