The United States Air Force rapidly worked to develop and build a nuclear ballistic missile in the late 1950s and early 1960s, which the nation believed would be the decisive factor in winning an anticipated war with the Soviet Union, determining the fate of the world. Less than four years after the missiles were operational, the world faced a clash between the two powers – the Cuban Missile Crisis.
This power struggle and the personal stories of the missileers who served during the Cold War is the synopsis of a Rogers State University professor’s recently published book. Dr. David Bath, assistant professor in the history and political science department, published Assured Destruction: Building the Ballistic Missile Culture of the U.S. Air Force. This topic began as a dissertation for his PhD.
“Missileers are the most powerful people in the world. They can launch up to fifty nuclear missiles carrying several warheads each, and at the same time, they are the least powerful people as they have no authority to decide if or when the missiles are launched,” Bath said.
Bath’s early career in the United States Air Force as a missile launch officer enabled him to lean on his own personal experiences while conducting research for the publication. In his research for the book, Bath spoke with several missileers from the Association of Air Force Missileers who served during the late 1950s and early 1960s. He also utilized documents from the National Archives, the Air Force Historical Research Agency and the Eisenhower Presidential Archives.
In addition, he found several papers from Air University, the U.S. Air and Space Force’s center for professional military education. These provided great insight on working with missiles in the early years. Much of the information was still classified.
“In my research, I found a lot of political intrigue, both at the national level and within the military services, as intercontinental ballistic missiles were being developed and placed into operation,” Bath said. “This was a story that had never been told and I thought people would be interested in knowing it.”
With excellent reviews from other university professors and historians, this book is a must read for history buffs. The plans for his next book are in motion and the topic will be the creation of the U.S. intelligence community.
“Following my time as a missile launch officer, I worked in intelligence. Many people believe that the intelligence community was designed to be the most efficient, most effective organization possible,” Bath said. “However, it was pieced together as problems arose. It is a jumble of organizations, mostly falling under the Department of Defense, that work primarily because of the outstanding people who do the job. It is time to tell their story.”
Transitioning from a military career to a teaching career was an easy decision for Bath. He began teaching at RSU in 2018.
“I realized that my greatest joy came from helping the young airmen succeed. For that reason, I decided to begin teaching,” Bath said. “Although I enjoy teaching almost every class, I really appreciate the opportunity to teach the U.S. history courses as I am able to show students who may not have had a good experience in previous history classes how history can be interesting and apply to them.”
RSU’s history and political science department offers several associate and bachelor’s degrees to students with multiple opportunities for degree specialization. The institution was the first university in Oklahoma to offer a degree in military history.
Assured Destruction: Building the Ballistic Missile Culture of the U.S. Air Force is available at the Stratton Taylor Library.