Fort Bragg’s 18th Airborne Corps to launch atomic age Twitter novel this week
By RACHAEL RILEY | The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer | Published: July 12, 2020
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Previously classified military documents about how the Army sought relevance during the atomic age will be part of a Twitter series novel released daily this week.
From Monday through Friday, the 18th Airborne Corps will tell the story of the Army’s Atomic Age on its official Twitter account, @18airbornecorps.
“The Atomic Age: A Twitter Novel” tells about how the Army transformed from a World War II force to a technologically adept force designed for protecting the homeland against potential nuclear aggression between 1953 and 1961.
“This was a time of uneasy transition for our Army,” said Col. Joe Buccino, a spokesman and historian for the 18th Airborne Corps. “The 18th Airborne Corps had the unique mission of responding to a nuclear-devastated American city and rebuilding society after a Soviet nuclear strike on the homeland.”
Buccino said the series took about eight months to create and is “the world’s first Twitter novel,” which will be broken into Twitter threads this week.
Each day, the Corps will release two new chapters of the novel at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Buccino said the series tells the story of the Army’s reorganization under President Eisenhower and Gen. Matthew Ridgway, who was chief of staff of the Army at the time.
“Some of it’s so bizarre it’s almost humorous,” Buccino said. “It’s a very interesting snapshot about how the Army tried to seek relevance in this sort of terrifying moment when the risks and threat of a nuclear apocalypse hung over the Department of Defense and Pentagon all the time.”
Buccino said some of the information comes from documents that previously were classified and later were released to the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center.
“We combed through archives from the 1950s, looking at war plans, packing lists, statements from the joint chief of staff, statements from Ridgway that were previously classified, and testimony to the senate Armed Services Committee,” Buccino said.
Three books served as primary sources, and military historians provided advice for the series.
They include Erik Villard, the digital military historian at the Center for Military History, and Brian McAllister Linn, author of “Elvis’s Army: Cold War GIs and the Atomic Battlefield.”
Retired Col. John A. Bonin, a historian and past professor of U.S. Army Concepts and Doctrine at the U.S. Army War College, advised Buccino in the development of the series.
Bonin said the Army was the greatest one in the world in 1945, after helping defeat three major enemies in six theaters of operation.
The Air Force was not yet its own separate service — that occurred in 1947.
Demobilizing after World War II, Bonin said the Army tripled in size between 1950 and 1951, during the Korean War.
Yet once Eisenhower was elected, he wanted to reduce the budget and to rely more on nuclear weapons, turning over the long-range missile from the Army to the Air Force and encouraging Navy submarine launchers, Bonin said.
Though the Army had a presence in Europe and was prepared to fight smaller-scale contingencies, Bonin said it grappled with being relevant during the changes.
The Army developed smaller, tactical nuclear weapons. Some divisions were known as pentomic divisions, with attempts to distribute down to battalion levels to be faster and more mobile.
“What’s interesting is that everything the Army did to try to regain its World War II prominence failed,” Bonin said. “These are some very strange stories, and people are going to have fun with this series.”
Specific to the Corps and Fort Bragg was the Corps’ mission starting in 1956 to be prepared if a major American city became a nuclear strike target.
At the time, the Corps was given its designation in the mid 1950s to late 1960s as a response force for the Strategic Army Corps to be prepared at a higher level of readiness than the rest of the Army, Buccino said
“In fact, STRAC relied on a lot of weird things that never fully developed,” he said. “An example was individual self-propelled helicopters, similar to the ‘Jetsons,’ that would have soldiers fly across the battlefield.”
Another Fort Bragg tie, Buccino said, was that most of its leadership in the Corps and the 82nd Airborne Division were critical of Eisenhower’s “New Look Era” philosophy that would have shrunk the size of the Army.
The philosophy would invest in more nuclear warheads and long-range, strategic bombers for the Navy or the Air Force, but would reduce Army training and equipment, Buccino said.
From 1956 to 1957, Buccino said Fort Bragg was an epicenter of public affairs, with distinguished visitors, politicians and media brought in for training events he described as “scripted shows” to showcase new equipment.
“The message was ‘The Army does all this cool stuff and has all this cutting edge technology and you need to continue to fund the Army to support it during the atomic age,’ ” he said.
Buccino said retired Command Sgt. Maj. Rock Merritt, who was in the Army during the period, and another veteran have validated and remembered research and documents found in archives.
After months of research, edits and rough drafts, Buccino said the series was crowdsourced in advance to active-duty military Twitter users, including Maj. Gen. Patrick Donahoe, incoming commander for the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Ga., who has more than 10,000 Twitter followers.
Donahoe described the series as “educating everyone on military history.”
“What I’ve been struck by is how the team’s research brings to life the Army grappling with a technological revolution — the dawn of the atomic age — and the question of how it impacts ground combat,” he said. “The Army makes a bold decision to fundamentally alter its organizations and structure to answer the atomic challenge; and, of course, in a few short years, the Army will abandon these efforts and reforms.”
Sgt. Maj. Michael Noggle, public affairs sergeant major for the Corps, said it’s an important story often overlooked.
“This period, the New Look Era, is rich with lessons for our Army today,” Noggle said. “We mine those lessons and present them throughout the series”