Cookies   I display ads to cover the expenses. See the privacy policy for more information. You can keep or reject the ads.

Video thumbnail
The shortest route between Russia and the United States is over the north pole.
So if the Cold War had ever become Hot, the bombs would have been going straight over here.
This is Tuktoyaktuk, on the Arctic Ocean, in the Canadian Northwest Territories.
And that behind me with the domes
was once the military's DEW Line: the Distant Early Warning Line.
Or at least, part of it.
The DEW Line was built in the 1950s:
57 radar bases ranging all the way from the Aleutian Islands to Greenland.
They looked to the sky around the clock,
and if any aircraft showed up on radar that weren't supposed to be there:
well, there was a chance that those were Soviet bombers carrying nuclear weapons
to North American targets,
and the governments would have somewhere between an hour and four hours
to scramble some sort of response.
Construction of the DEW Line was an enormous operation.
Thousands and thousands of people had to be transported to the Arctic,
provided with food and housing and the hundreds of thousands of tons of
equipment and supplies that they'd need to build the Line.
But the military is good at logistics,
or at least, the vast number of civilian contractors they hired were.
All the bases were completed in just two and a half years,
and North America was prepared for Soviet attack,
at the cost of around half a billion dollars from the two governments.
There were other costs too, less financial:
for a lot of the folks that lived near the DEW Line sites,
the sudden influx of people and equipment destroyed their way of life;
although that's a story that I am not qualified to tell.
The construction also contaminated a lot of the local environment:
standards then weren't what they are now,
and the cleanup is still going on.
And for all that, the DEW Line lasted about five years until it was obsolete.
Because shortly after it was completed, both the Soviet Union and the United States
started to put their nuclear warheads not on aircraft, but on intercontinental ballistic missiles.
They didn't eight or nine hours of flight over the pole, instead
the first wave of attack would come from rockets that would take half an hour
and go literally over the top of the DEW Line.
Half of these stations were shut down a few years later.
The rest of the Line, including this station here,
well, they played a role in air defense.
If they weren't here, then the Soviet Union could have theoretically still sent bombers over the pole.
But they weren't the shield that North America hoped that they would be.
US President Eisenhower, in his memoirs,
said that military technology... well, "if it works, it's obsolete".
The DEW Line kept running, though, at least until the 90s,
when a more modern system was constructed.
Now, this site is part of the North Warning System,
part of a modern radar defence around the whole continent
that can detect basically anything inbound at any altitude.
Which is why I'm not allowed near it.
Governments on this side of the pole want to be sure: the Cold War might be over,
but just in case, they'd better keep watching.