Few historical events, including the gold rush and the oil boom, did more to transform Alaska in general and Anchorage in particular than the Cold War. Never had humanity faced higher stakes, specifically the imminent possibility of all-out nuclear war. While the face-off between the Soviet Union and the United States was relatively bloodless, the machinations of the great powers were as frantic and convoluted as in any mass conflict.
In Alaska the war led to breakthroughs in all-weather construction, aviation and long-distance communication. While many of the hastily built World War II outposts scattered throughout the territory had been dismantled, the military buildup in Anchorage became permanent. With the expansion of Elmendorf Air Force Base and the establishment of Nike missile sites on all sides, Anchorage had the not-so-subtle feel of a fortress at the time of statehood.
That feeling was never more intense than during the Cuban Missile Crisis. We looked at the sky wondering whether we’d first see rockets, bombers or Red Army paratroopers. We planned to convoy to Girdwood on the rough, windy Seward Highway if it became clear that Anchorage was going to be hit. With no live network television, we kept the radio on while President John Kennedy and Soviet Premiere Nikita Khrushchev blustered toe-to-toe in public.
Sergei Khrushchev, the late premier’s son, will be in Anchorage next week to deliver the keynote address at the Cold War Conference and Nike Veterans Reunion, Sept. 4-6.
Khrushchev, a historian and college professor, is now a U.S. citizen. He’ll give his personal perspective on the conflict and the major players, President Dwight Eisenhower, Kennedy and his own father, during his talk at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 4, in Wendy Williamson Auditorium. Tickets for the talk are $15, but they are free for teachers, high school students, college students, seniors (65-over), active military and veterans if they preregister at nikesitesummit.net.
Preregistration is required for all events during the Cold War Conference, in fact, except for the tours at Kincaid Park. Deadline for registration is Friday, Aug. 29.
The conference will continue at the Captain Cook Hotel on Friday, Sept. 5, with presentations by other historians, military officials and academics. Speakers include Lt. General Russell J. Handy of the Alaska Command, former Elmendorf wing commander Col. Joe Griffith (retired) and Major General Thomas Katkus of the Alaska National Guard. These presentations start at 9 a.m. Registration is available starting at 7:30 a.m.
Former CIA employee and author Bob Wallace, who served in Alaska during the height of the Cold War, will give the luncheon address at the hotel at noon. His topic, “Spies Who Went Into the Cold,” will consider espionage in the northern latitudes during the conflict. While the Nike sites, jet fighters overhead, and White Alice network were plainly in view, the spycraft practiced in Alaska was largely invisible to the civilian population. Tickets for that will be $35 and are available at nikesitesummit.net.
From 1:30-4 p.m. on Sept. 5, free tours will take place at Kincaid Park, a former Nike base now turned into one of the city’s most popular recreation areas; one scenic spot near an old bunker is said to be particularly popular for wedding parties. Coinciding with a reunion of Nike veterans, the “Swords to Plowshares” celebration will include the dedication of a plaque honoring soldiers who manned the battery during its active years, 1959-1979.
Intriguingly, a flier for the event promises, “Attendees will learn about the soldiers’ heroism during the 1964 earthquake.” There have been recurring credible anecdotes -- but no official confirmation -- that the missiles at Kincaid were nuclear-armed and that the damage caused by the quake created circumstances for an atomic catastrophe. Perhaps this occasion will shed some light on the matter.
The veterans will also be honored at a plaque dedication at Arctic Valley Ski Lodge on Sept. 6. The ski area is adjacent to another former battery of the Nike Hercules missiles, Site Summit.
There will also be a screening of the film “Dr. Strangelove” at 8 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 5, at the Alaska Experience Theatre in the Fourth Avenue Marketplace, downtown. University of Alaska Anchorage history professor Ron Crawford will introduce the film.
The screening is being billed as “The Lighter Side of the Cold War,” a bit of a stretch if you ask me. My recollection of seeing the film in 1964 (through some kind of mix-up it was sent to the Homer Family Theater instead of the announced Jerry Lewis comedy and there were maybe 12 people in the place) is that it made me laugh, but worry at the same time. Today the jokes remain hilarious, but I still worry when I think of that film. It’s an odd mix of emotions that has not entirely gone away after 50 years.
Rasmuson residency awards announced
The Rasmuson Foundation has announced the names of four artists who will spend two months in Alaska as part of the foundation’s Artist Residency Program.
Elizabeth Emery, a printmaker and sculptor in Cleveland, Ohio, plans to execute a drawing a day over her two-month stay at the Bunnell Street Arts Center in Homer with the ultimate goal of creating a community print project.
John W. Love, Jr., an interdisciplinary artist in Charlotte, North Carolina, said he has no “preconceived outcome” from his time at the Anchorage Museum.
Ati Maier, a visual artist and sculptor in Brooklyn, New York, will involve herself with a project involving Alaska Native artists at the Native Art Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
New York City playwright Dipika Guha hopes to use “the silence and nature of Sitka” to work on a play and beginning work on a book for a musical during her residency at the Island Institute.
The goal of the Artist Residency Program is to expose Alaskans to new creative work by Lower 48 artists and expose the artists to Alaska perspectives. In addition to the four out-of-state artists being brought up for 60-day residencies in Alaska, four Alaskans will be sent to art organizations in the Lower 48. Those names will be announced soon.
Fairbanks artist wins Hugo Award
We recently wrote about Sarah Webb, an illustrator from Fairbanks, who received honors as one of this year’s L. Ron Hubbard Illustrators of the Future during a gala in Los Angeles. On Aug. 17, it was announced that she had received the Best Fan Artist prize at the Hugo Awards ceremony during the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention in London. The Alaskan artist is currently in her sophomore year at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Other Hugo Awards presented this year include Ann Leckie’s “Ancillary Justice” for Best Novel; “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu for Best Short Story; and “Gravity” and “Game of Thrones” for Best Dramatic Presentations (long and short forms, respectively).
Literary award deadline approaches
The deadline for submitting an application for one of this year’s Alaska Literary Awards, which come with a prize of $5,000, is 9:59 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 2. The contest is open to any Alaska writer over the age of 18 who is not a full-time student. Apply online at callforentry.org and search for "Alaska Literary Awards." I found it a little confusing when I tried to enter, but you should click on the “Apply to this call” button at the top of the page.
And, no, I couldn’t enter after all. There were categories for fiction, nonfiction playwriting, screenwriting and poetry, but not for hack newspaper journalism. Apparently the quality of one’s work is the primary criteria.