April 7 2012
I recently visited a formerly top secret Soviet submarine base that was dug into a mountain to hide it from prying eyes, spy planes or a bomb attack. It is in southern Crimea in the little town of Balaklava on the Black Sea in Ukraine–formerly Soviet territory. (Read more here.)

Much has changed since the Soviet demise. The base is now a museum for tourists to wander though (for $2) and see the exhibits of torpedoes, under water mines, submarine models, secret document vaults, patriotic photos and medals.

But the tunnel is the real show-stopper. Its walls are several feet thick of solid cement protected from outside intrusion by huge bomb-proof cement and steel doors two feet in thickness. The huge tunnel curves around 45º in a quarter circle shape from water ingress to water egress, The height is about 20 feet above water level, enough to allow a sub to surface for supplies and armaments. (more photos)

As a ‘guy thing’ it is impressive, macho, muscular. The place is enormously strong and well protected. It will be there for a thousand years–as a ghost.

But as militarily, structurally and engineeringly impressive as it is, the greater impact is the fact that it is here at all. It was built during the cold war during Stalinist rule and given high priority and large amounts of money. This vaulted and complex project was built during the same time–1957 to 1961–when great numbers of the Soviet population were enduring hunger, deprivation, persecution and turmoil–not long after Stalin had starved countless people to death by collectivizing private farms and demanded unreasonably high quotas from farmers.

This is the most daunting aspect of  ‘Object 825 GТС’ (the name of the base)–the price of paranoid peace purchased at the price of fear regardless of the cost in human suffering; weapons of mass destruction had priority over human welfare.

It is too simple to use these words to describe such a weapon of dangerous abomination and a moral corruption of civilized values; too easy to pass it off as an evil of the past, as an artifact of the Cold War.

But such expensive arms as this tunnel are not just a souvenir of history, they are very much a current reality as today’s governments still lavish billions of dollars, euros, rubles and yuan on today’s versions of weapons of mass destruction.

For most of us, such expenses are abstract, unseen as the costs are quietly folded into the national debt leaving schools, blighted neighborhoods, welfare facilities, financial regulators all short changed and health care in disarray. Extremely expensive weapons that will never be used rob a society of its core human values.

We should all walk through the wasted arms fields and tunnels of discarded military installations and star-wars fantasy factories to see and touch the cost of peace that is still being purchased at the price of fear.

Richard Ammon