On March 7, 1968, The United States was within seconds of being hit by a nuclear blast 100 times more destructive than the A-bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. Over 500,000 people would have died immediately in Hawaii, and radiation would have made most of the Hawaiian Islands uninhabitable for decades. This is not the plot of a fiction thriller. It really happened, and is documented in Red Star Rogue by Kenneth Sewell and Clint Richmond.
Red Star Rogue was first published in 2005, yet most people today have not heard of the book or the incident it documents. This is probably since Red Star Rogue covers a topic most of us do not want to think about. We desperately want to believe that the threat of nuclear war is just a part of history, and that the U.S. was never in any real danger of a nuclear strike.
Red Star Rogue contends that on March 7, 1968 the Soviet submarine K-129 surfaced 360 miles from Honolulu and prepared a nuclear missile for launch. Who exactly authorized the strike remains a mystery. The authors state that it must have been fanatical political elements very high up in the Soviet Union. Only a handful of people would have had access to the launch codes. This group thought that a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States could actually be won by the Soviets. They believed that Americans were to weak to accept massive losses, while the Soviet people would make that sacrifice.
It is a frighting story, but how much of Red Star Rogue is true and how much is pure speculation on the part of the authors? It is a fact that on March 7, 1968 a Soviet submarine equipped with nuclear missiles sank off Hawaii. We also know that was operating hundreds of miles away from where the Soviet Navy thought it was. The mere fact that the Soviet Union did not know where one of its nuclear-equipped subs was, is frighting by itself.
It is a fact that The Soviet Union accused the U.S. submarine Swordfish of deliberately ramming and sinking K-129. A few months later, the American submarine Scorpion was lost in the Atlantic while observing a Soviet navel exercise. Most American military experts believe the Soviets sank the USS Scorpion in retaliation for the loss of K-129.
However, Red Star Rogue contends that K-129 sank because a fail-safe mechanism on the missile blew up when the sub tried to launch a nuclear strike against the United States without all the proper codes. It is a fascinating theory and the authors present compelling arguments and documentation for this scenario.
The one problem with the book, however, is that the authors do not emphasize enough that this is a theory not a fact. They do not give enough weight to the many other possible ways the Soviet sub may have been lost. It is a very real possibility that the U.S. Navy actually did sink the Soviet sub for daring to get too close to Hawaii.
However, regardless of what really happened to K-129, Red Star Rogue is a fascinating and frighting read. The Soviet Union is gone, and the Cold War never turned into the nuclear annihilation that people feared. However, it is quite possible that the U.S. was much closer to nuclear war that its citizens were ever told.