How to summarize Cold War Surveillence

While I was working with Anson Bilger over several years on pre-fab housing and the Bilger Monorail, one day he told me a pretty good story.

I had written a two page synopsis of an industrial manufacturing proposal. He read it. He said he liked it. And then he said, “Reminds of a labor of love I began in the 1940s…”

Anson tells a story about shrinking the complex into the simple.

“I was asked to Washington D.C. to deliver my DEW line radar concept to a General of the Chiefs of Staff. Humbled, I knew I would need time to write a good report. I left home a day early after I gathered up my little Remington typewriter and searched for some sheets of paper. Paper was rationed during the war and in short supply so I found only two legal size sheets.

When I arrived in Washington, I rented a small hotel room, with a small bed, a chair and, I’ll never forget, one coat hook on the door. I put the typwriter on the bed, pulled up the chair and started drafting my ideas on one sheet. I was proud to get the story on one side of the other piece of paper and down about half the back side. I carefully folded the sheet and placed it in my coat pocket.

The next morning an olive green Army Chevy arrived to pick me up. We drove up a long driveway to a large house with white columns and wide front steps, and blackout curtains. There were many military folks getting out of Chevy’s, jeeps and limos. I sheepishly followed the Colonel accompanying me.

The Colonel greeted a couple officers and then parked me along a wall inside and asked if I could give him my report to show to the General.

After a few minutes he came up to me and asked, “The General is pretty busy. Could you rewrite this onto half a page?!” And that’s how I learned to write a business plan.

What was the DEW line?

map of DEW lineA continuous radar line above the arctic circle, from far western Alaska to eastern Canada and Greenland.

There are many people today that have never heard of the DEW line and a few more that have heard of it but still don’t know what it is, or was.

The DEW line — Distant Early Warning line — was a series of radar stations built above the Arctic Circle during the early years of the Cold War.

The DEW line was a deterrent.
After WW II was over the United States, and what in those days was the USSR, were becoming belligerent with each other. Over succeeding years, this became the Cold War. The Cold War, in essence, was both sides intimating “You use the atom bomb on us, we’ll use the atom bomb on you,” keeping everyone continually on their toes. Either or both sides could have done just that, calling it a peace policy of ‘mutual assured destruction’.

Artic DEW line radarBlind from the North
In that era the blind side of the United States was from the North. If an enemy came at us from that direction we might not be able to detect them soon enough to defend ourselves. The polar north in those days was very desolate with no lookout stations covering this vast territory.

An early warning plan swung into action February 15, 1954, when President Eisenhower signed the bill approving the construction of the radar domes, a low altitude radar mast and huge radio cones to send warning alerts toward the mainland.

The Distant Early Warning (DEW) line was born

  • 25,000 people had a direct hand in building the DEW Line.
  • Everything in and out of the Ice Cap was flown in the C130.
  • Reportedly, it was the most expensive single military project up to that time.