Even if the populations of the US or Russia are annihilated in a nuclear apocalypse, the governments responsible for the devastation plan to fight on from vast, underground bunkers. Now, the public can peer inside the secretive complexes thanks to the efforts of arms control analysts who reconstructed these bunkers inside Minecraft.
The mistaken missile alert that sent people scurrying for cover in Hawaii last week revealed just how poorly prepared the US government is to protect the public during a nuclear attack. The government’s plans for protecting itself from a rain of thermonuclear fire are much more detailed. Using satellite images, declassified information, and a good amount of guesswork, analysts at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (or MIIS) reconstructed two underground complexes: the Pentagon’s site in Pennsylvania and a bunker built by the Russian government outside Moscow.
The reconstructions are set in the low-resolution world of Minecraft to lighten the very real, and very depressing, topic of nuclear annihilation, says Jeffrey Lewis, who led the effort from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at MIIS. The aim is to draw attention to the tension between how the government downplays the risk of nuclear war and how it actually prepares for it, Lewis says. “What the bunker model shows you is that the risk of nuclear war is real enough that the United States and Russia spend billions of dollars preparing to stash away their leadership.” (Players can find an article about the bunkers and instructions for virtually accessing them posted on the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s site.)
Working with defense journalist Adam Rawnsley, the CNS team created a trailer video of the bunker reconstructions.
The 650-acre Raven Rock complex is the alternative Pentagon where top defense officials plan to flee during a nuclear attack. Also known as Site R, it’s located on the Pennsylvania side of the border with Maryland — close to the presidential retreat Camp David. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, a diagram of the site has been “floating around online,” Lewis says. The team based their reconstruction on that diagram and details in journalist Garrett Graff’s book Raven Rock: The Story of the US Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself — While the Rest of Us Die. Using satellite images and topography, the team located the entrances to the site and figured out the size of the mountain above it.
The team also modeled the Kosvinsky underground command facility outside of Moscow, Russia. This, too, was based on satellite images and details gleaned from declassified CIA reports. For both complexes — but especially the Russian one — the team had to use their imaginations to fill in the gaps, Lewis says. “There’s an enormous amount of guesswork. In no way, shape, or form did we make anything that we think is perfect,” he says.
There are also a few Easter eggs, including an interplanetary wormhole from the science-fiction franchise Stargate in one of the bunkers and a pen of especially virulent zombies. “But the important thing is that we wanted people to get a sense for the scale — and we think that’s probably about right,” Lewis says. The point is to remind people that as long as nuclear weapons exist, they pose a threat. “It all goes back to focusing on the changing US and Russian nuclear posture,” Lewis says. “We imagine that things are very different from the Cold War, but the bunkers suggest the opposite — they suggest that they’re exactly the same.”