2008.09.03 What Happens When Superpower Defense Really Fail

This was published at 911blogger.com on Sept. 3 2008.

Eleven years ago yesterday the trial against Matthias Rust began in Moscow. A few months earlier, on May 28, 1987, the 19-year-old German had landed his single-engine Cessna about 100 meters from Red Square. There are still unanswered questions about how this amateur pilot was able to penetrate what Bill Keller of the New York Times called “the world’s most vaunted air defenses” (NYT, June 7, 1987).

There is no question, though, about the aftermath:

With surprising speed and openness, Defense Minister Sergei L. Sokolov, 75, was retired. The commander of the air defense system, Marshal Aleksandr I. Koldunov, was sacked with a harsh rebuke from the ruling Politburo. Other senior military figures were expected to be removed more quietly.

Tom LeCompte wrote in Air & Space Magazine, July 1, 2005:

According to William E. Odom, former director of the National Security Agency and author of The Collapse of the Soviet Military, Rust’s flight damaged the reputation of the vast Soviet military and enabled Gorbachev to remove the staunchest opponents to his reforms. Within days of Rust’s landing, the Soviet defense minister and the Soviet air defense chief were sacked. In a matter of weeks, hundreds of other officers were fired or replaced—from the country’s most revered war heroes to scores of lesser officers. It was the biggest turnover in the Soviet military command since Stalin’s bloody purges of the 1930s.

More important than the replacement of specific individuals, analyst John Pike says, was the change Rust’s flight precipitated in the public’s perception of the military. The myth of Soviet military superiority had been punctured, and with it the almost religious reverence the public had held for its armed forces.

For decades, Soviet citizens had been led to believe “the West was poised to destroy them…that if they let their guard down for an instant that they would be obliterated,” says Pike. It was this thinking that helped perpetuate the cold war. Rust’s flight proved otherwise: The Soviet Union could suffer a breach without being destroyed by external forces. Ultimately, of course, it would be internal forces that would do the job.

We need only compare this to what happened in the US after 9/11 to see the obvious. Even if 19 aeronautically challenged Arabs with box cutters directed by a cave-dweller (though a rich one) in Afghanistan were actually able to penetrate what is certainly at least the second “ world’s most vaunted air defenses,” not once but three times in two cities, striking the heart of the financial district and the military command and killing three thousand people (not to mention myriad other technological feats such as turning skyscrapers into dust, even without hitting them, and disintegrating upon impact with virtually no trace, never before witnessed in the history of the world) -- even if this actually did happen the way we are told, heads would have rolled, to put it mildly. But no heads rolled after 9/11. No one was fired, no one was rebuked. Instead we got the Patriot Acts, Homeland Security, torture, preemptive perpetual war on terror, etc.