1
   

We were *that* close ...

 
 
nimh
 
Reply Fri 21 May, 2004 08:00 pm
Somehow hard to imagine, from today's perspective ... but I remember all too well how me and my classmates, we pretty much assumed there was a fifty-fifty chance the world would come to an end before we'd get the chance to die a natural death ... our fear was real.

Looking back, its now easy to see how Reagan's decision to multiply military spending in the early eighties helped force the Soviet Union's economy, unable to keep up, to erode and fracture - to the point where Gorbachev, pragmatic as he was, realised systemic change was in order. Part of the credit for the Soviet empire's demise (though not quite as large a part as some would have it) therefore goes to the Reagan's administration shrewd strategy on this - if that's what it was.

But how easy it is to forget what gamble it was - and how high the stakes were. We did skirt serious danger here - global destruction-type danger, that is, the kind Osama can only daydream about.

Quote:
Soviet officer honored for averting nuclear war
Colonel ignored mistaken alarm signaling U.S. missile attack


The Associated Press
Updated: 3:00 p.m. ET May 21, 2004

MOSCOW - A retired Soviet military officer was honored Friday for averting a potential nuclear war in 1983 by ignoring an alarm that said the United States had launched a ballistic missile, a U.S.-based peace association said on its Web site.

The officer, Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov, was in charge of the Soviet Union's early warning system when the system wrongly signaled the launch of a U.S. Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile in September 1983.

Petrov had to decide within 20 minutes whether the report was accurate and whether he should launch missiles in retaliation, the magazine Vlast reported in 1998.

At the time of the incident, tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union were high. The Soviet military had recently shot down a Korean Air Lines jet that strayed over Soviet airspace, killing all 269 people on board, including a member of the U.S. Congress.

Petrov decided that the alarm was false and did not launch a retaliatory strike.

The article said Petrov suffered severe stress after the incident and spent several months in hospitals before being discharged from the military.

Friday, the San-Francisco-based Association of World Citizens, a worldwide organization promoting peace, presented Petrov with the World Citizen Award and launched a campaign to raise $1,000 for the Russian, who receives only a meager pension.

"All the 20 years that passed since that moment, I didn't believe I had done something extraordinary. I was simply doing my job, and I did it well," Petrov said on Russia's NTV television.
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littlek
 
  1  
Reply Fri 21 May, 2004 08:01 pm
Mmmm, the cold war. I wonder how it'll look from a couple more decades into the future.
0 Replies
 
dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Fri 21 May, 2004 08:16 pm
Yep - I heard about that one a while ago.

Some fella.
0 Replies
 
msolga
 
  1  
Reply Fri 21 May, 2004 08:20 pm
A hero!
0 Replies
 
farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Fri 21 May, 2004 08:49 pm
Damn thing probably didnt work. The Russians had to light a fuse to get em off the ground.
I heard that, during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, they did launch an IRBM and it failed to ignite.. I have never had this story verified. I was in 6th grade and we had all kinds "desk -ercizes" wherein we were told that, if we get under our desk when the flash occured, we would miraculously be saved by the bomb proof materials that they made school desks outta. I think they were foolin with us.
0 Replies
 
Tobruk
 
  1  
Reply Fri 21 May, 2004 08:55 pm
Were the desks made out of dirt? Very Happy
0 Replies
 
msolga
 
  1  
Reply Fri 21 May, 2004 08:57 pm
farmerman wrote:
... if we get under our desk when the flash occured, we would miraculously be saved by the bomb proof materials that they made school desks outta. I think they were foolin with us.


Laughing We were so innocent then.
0 Replies
 
Asherman
 
  1  
Reply Fri 21 May, 2004 11:01 pm
Actually the strategy followed by the United States during the Cold War originated in 1948. In a major policy statement in one of the earliest National Security documents (sorry, I've forgotten the number), the following policies were adopted:

1. Avoid direct confrontation with the USSR, especially any confrontation that might spark open direct conflict between the two countries. The rational was that the stakes of cataclysmic atomic warfare were too high to justify most risks. As the Cold War progressed the understanding of nuclear war increased dramatically, as did the technological skills to build and use such weapons. The USSR always believed that they could fight a nuclear war, and emerge triumphant; whistling past the graveyard. Hermann Kahn's seminal works, thinking the Unthinkable, and On Thermonuclear War, brought a high degree of sophistication to high ranking military and political strategic leaders. By the end of the seventh decade, few top thinkers still believed that even the worst-case scenario would mean the end of humanity, but the political cost of even publicly saying that a nuclear exchange WAS Thinkable kept most folks silent.

2. The US would resist the expansion of Communism wherever it threatened. Unless otherwise unavoidable, the US would oppose the communist expansion through the use of clients, rather than by the direct use of US military forces. When DPRK came south, the US was instrumental in getting the UN to sanction a multinational force to expel the DPRK from South Korea. US forces on the ground were pushed back to the Pusan Perimeter while reinforcements were gathered and political policies formed. The Inchon Landing flanked the DPRK, and the tide was turned. The US Army proceeded north along the west side of the mountain chain that runs the length of the peninsula. The Marines landed in the north and pushed northwest. Both groups were closing in on the Chinese border, and the PRC became increasingly nervous that the DPRK was finished. PRC "volunteers" came south and overwhelmed US forces. The Army was very badly mauled and forced to retreat south of the old DMZ. The Marines struggled to withdraw in order from the Chosan Reservoir, and eventually were taken off the beaches by the USN. An armistice was arranged along the stabilized DMZ, and everyone thought that peace would be arranged quickly statis quo bellum. Wrong, but that's hind-sight. At the time we thought that the Communist advance was halted, and that made the policy seem right.

Communist advances in eastern and southeastern Europe were a problem, but defeated on the ground by local partisans funded and supported by the US. India and southeastern Asia were politically targeted by the USSR, whose efforts were mostly confined to financial and military subsidies. The Arab countries tended to be targeted, and be susceptible to USSR overtures because the West was supporting Israel. The British and American interests in Iraq and Iran counterbalanced the soviet moves. Of course, the Soviets claimed that they were only counterbalancing the West's political efforts in those areas. In Castro, the Communists had a major victory in the Western hemisphere, and made a lot of us paranoid. Though the Communists worked hard at subverting South America, they were much less successful. The US tended to support the governments in power, even though most of them were really despicable, merely to check Communist efforts to pull off another Cuba. Africa was another field of battle on the periphery where the US and USSR carried on covert operations trying to outflank one another.

Of course, Vietnam was the most infamous campaign in the long, long Cold War. That conflict taught us a large number of lessons. It was the first modern conflict to be decided not on the battlefield, but far away in front of televisions all across the US. We defeated the Communist forces in virtually every battle, but could not convince the American public of the necessity of our effort. The Communists manipulated the media much more successfully than the US leadership. Vietnam also revealed a number of weaknesses in our military structure and doctrines; and it spelled the end of the draft.

Oh what a mess the 20th century was! In each of these Cold War campaigns the two sides struggled to win clients to their ranks. The undecided watched and judged who was likely to emerge the victor in the overall struggle. every time the USSR was able to convince folks that they were "winning" the Cold War they made life more difficult for the
West. Our leaving Vietnam convinced a lot of folks in the third world that the US could not be relied upon to "stay the course", and that the USSR was a better bet.

3. The most important part of the strategy adopted was to pit our strongest assets against the weakest link in the USSR; our economy against theirs. The idea was that by avoiding all-out war and extending the struggle for marginal gains in areas distant from the "hair-triggers" along the Iron Curtain, we would draw out the battle for supramacy. The cost of maintaining the struggle and a credible military/industrial complex favored the US, and the West. We had emerged from WWII undamaged and economically stronger than any other group in the world. The Soviet Union had suffered great economic losses during the war, and Communist policies were dragging their economy into ever deeper problems. In short we could afford to outspend the USSR in the Cold War, and at the same time our economy would get stronger as theirs faltered.

This strategy was adopted during the Truman Administration and was followed with little change by the Republicans. JFK, appealing to the youth of America who were impatient with the "dullness" and "do nothing" policies, got elected in a landslide of idealism. JFK still basically followed the strategy, but was drawn into risky action in attempting to satisfy the idealistic tenor of the times. The Cuban Missile Crisis was the very thing that our strategy was supposed to avoid, but the best laid plans o'mice and men aft gang aglee. Johnson, a truly tragic figure, wanted nothing so much as to pursue his Great Society dream, but was caught like the tar-baby in Vietnam. McNamara and the so-called bright boys demonstrated that they were less competent at running a military action than the military commanders themselves. By the time Nixon had entered the White House, the 1948 strategy was almost forgotten. Ford and Carter were so busy trying to restore American confidence in government that they could do little but try to stay off of the ropes as our enemies scored point after point. regan did turn things around when he returned to the 1948 strategy, and it worked.

We won the Cold War, but the victory came so quickly and completely that no one had really any effective plan for the post-war period. Many wanted to virtually scrap our military forces, and military strength and budgets were slashed. With the end of the covert actions that were so central to the Cold War, Americans especially wanted be quit of dealing with the shadow world where betrayal, greed, and lies were just part of the game. Humint was virtually eliminated as we came more and more to rely on technical intelligence, electronic eavesdropping, and satellite surveillance. We're good, but none of that can make up for the loss of having an agent deep within the policy making ranks of our opponents.

While we were congratulating ourselves on the end of the Cold War, most overlooked what was happening. The old clients of the USSR no longer were receiving money, arms, and support. That was good, but at the same time they were now free to act however they wanted with no restraining hand in Moscow. Moscow didn't want to risk nuclear war, but radical leftist cadres had no such fear. In fact the more they pushed the more convinced they became that the US and the West would not, could not, directly engage them. Terrorist operations began almost at the same moment that the USSR became a dead-issue, and they have grown in audacity ever since. The actual numbers of terrorist attacks hasn't increased all that much, but their use of the media has gotten much more sophisticated. At the same time, a large number of Americans are still deeply suspicious of our elected government, and the most professional military force the world has ever known.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Sat 22 May, 2004 08:25 am
Thank you for your contribution, Asherman.

I have to take issue with one element in it, though, just because it's, imho, a bit of a canard that keeps cropping up on posts around here: namely, that "military strength and budgets were slashed" after the end of the Cold War.

In fact, they merely stabilised. The budget was gradually reduced by less than 10% after the Soviet Union had dissolved and the extremely costly Gulf War was over. Hardly a case of "virtually scrapping our military forces" - and even that needs to be seen in perspective. After all, the reduction by less than 10% meant that throughout the 1990s, military budgets were still two to three times as high as they had been throughout most of the Cold War, all the way up to Reagan.

Consider what this meant for the relative power of the US military compared to that of any other country - or all the other countries combined. Under Reagan, US military spending boomed but was still outdone by that of the Soviets. Under Clinton however, the US military budget was almost four times that of any of its nearest rivals. In fact, world military spending, in 1995-1996, was down 40% from the 1987 peak level. US military spending, in the same period, was down only 6%. I don't see how that implies that American military strength was "slashed".

(Got my numbers from from http://www.missouri.edu/~polswww/papers/pp011106.pdf - looked them up back in April 2003 a propos another discussion here. Vivid graphs that go with them are at http://home.wanadoo.nl/anepiphany/images/us_military_expenditure.gif and http://home.wanadoo.nl/anepiphany/images/us_military_expenditure2.gif - I resized them from the original back then in order to fit the A2K window.)
0 Replies
 
Asherman
 
  1  
Reply Sat 22 May, 2004 09:55 am
Nimh,

Your numbers are correct, and the fault lies with my trying to cram too much into a single sentence. Here's the culprit, "Many wanted to virtually scrap our military forces, and military strength and budgets were slashed". I stand by the first part of the sentence; many then would have liked to do a "Jefferson" on our military. The last clause isn't clear, though it seems to be at first glance. There are two parts mentioned there that were "slashed".

Military strength levels were slashed. The overall size of the military shrank in terms of manpower. Many slots go unfilled, and existing troops have been taking up the slack. The number of naval ships has decreased, and we now have fewer armored divisions. For over half of the 20th century the United States tried to maintain readiness to fight two full scale engagements at one time, presumably one in the Pacific and another in Europe. We now talk about fighting full scale in one theater while conducting a holding action in the second. If we are fully committed in Southeast Asia, then we cannot bring our full might to bear in the western Pacific.

This situation has resulted from reduced budgets. The Navy would surely like to have another carrier, a new generation of destroyers, and greater lift capacity. I don't believe any military branches would continue operating with unfilled slots, or with limited reserves if given their choice.

This certainly seems to contradict the truth that dollar budgets haven't decreased to pre-Cold War levels. Why?

There are several reasons. The military has been shifting it's doctrinal center of gravity away from the "heavy division" concept to a one requiring a lighter, faster and more lethal force capable of more effectively targeting. The new doctrine has less need of heavy armor and long-range artillery, but relies much more heavily on air assault and intelligent weaponry. Iron bombs are relatively cheap, but are so ineffective that you have to use a whole lot of them and be willing to accept high collateral damage. Single long-range munitions that can target a single window in a particular building are never cheap, though unintended casualties are reduced and our soldiers are at much less risk. Integration of forces, a cornerstone of combined operations, is also a very expensive proposition. Today's military requires a lot of computing power to bring the battlefield into focus so that commanders can direct their assets quickly and effectively as needed. We can put literally thousands of elements into a small area at a given time, but that is only possible by having a high degree of control over each element. Elements might be manned aircraft, missiles, men (both units from various services, and occasionally individual soldiers), vehicles, ships, surveillance and assessment assets, and even rounds. All come together in a highly focused time/place to induce shock and overwhelming superiority. The equipment necessary for these sorts of operations (which BTW are more likely to predominate within the foreseeable future) eats up a whole lot of dollars.

In addition to those necessary costs of adopting a more intelligent doctrine to address the likely challenges, we are still spending bundles of cash that are much less needed from a military standpoint. The military would love to close many of its smaller and less efficient bases, but no congressman is ever going to willingly lose his bit of pork barrel. Some bases have been closed, but it was an uphill battle and the local effects on the economy have been mixed. Another sponge has been the inertia of past spending programs and doctrinal holdouts. We sank some big bucks into programs that are no longer fit either the existing doctrine, or the needs, as many top strategists define them. The Centurion is a pretty good example. US artillery lacked the long-range heavy punch that might be needed in a Fulda Gap type engagement, so we invested heavily in developing the piece. It grew in expense, and in size/weight until it became almost impossible to secure and move. Today's doctrine calls for a shoot and scoot approach; race to a point, let the computer calculate the targeting info, set-up, fire a salvo, and be gone within the shortest time possible to avoid counter-battery fire. Instead of a behemoth "Paris Gun" we need a light piece that can be moved by a helicopter, and operated by a small crew of minimally trained soldiers. There are still advocates for dumping more into the Centurion program. We have advocates for aircraft that could blow the budget, and might never fly in combat. The Navy and congress loves nuclear submarines and large carriers, both budget breakers, but there aren't many advocates for the lift ships needed to move vital equipment to a deployed division. The Navy would really like that new generation of destroyers, but so far there just isn't any money for them. Those who supply the military have good reason to support the large programs to develop and supply our forces with the kind of stuff needed twenty years ago … high profit, low risk of loss.

When the military shifted to an all-volunteer force of long-term professional soldiers, the costs per man increased. When I was in the military, a monthly paycheck of a couple of hundred dollars was sufficient. Draftees work cheap. Now, the military has to attract individuals in the open market, and today's military no longer wants those who are marginal. Today we want the brightest, best motivated and disciplined troops available. We offer pretty good pay, though the benefit package isn't great, and opportunity to get a good education while developing skills and serving the country. As long as young people felt that they could get all the goodies without risking Harms Way, enough good material volunteered to keep the military at least minimally staffed. Now we hear some few complaining that they don't want to be deployed. In the current professional army it's a lot easier to get out for many soldiers. Even in relative peace there has been a retention problem. The private sector is willing to pay much bigger salaries than our best soldiers can earn in service. A professional military requires long service (after all we invest very heavily in developing the skills needed to make the smaller military work as needed), but many opt out after their minimum commitment. A high percentage of Academy graduates used to serve for 20-30 years, but that percentage has steadily fallen over the last 20 years. My son, who is an officer approaching 20 years service, would probably leave the service to make enough money to send his children to college if he could. Currently, many officers and enlisted personnel are frozen in place because the military cannot afford their loss at this time. We are extremely short in many military specialties that demand high levels of skill and education.

So … you are correct that budgets weren't "slashed" directly. What was "slashed" was the purchasing power of each of those dollars. The net result has been a reduction in the size of the military establishment. Three are both positive and negative aspects of the reduction in our military size.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Mon 6 Feb, 2006 10:26 am
We were *that* close, example #2:

Quote:
K-19 submariner 'saved the world', Gorbachev tells Nobel committee

By Andrew Osborn in Moscow
Published: 06 February 2006

A disgraced Soviet submarine captain played by Harrison Ford in the Hollywood thriller K-19: The Widowmaker has posthumously been put forward for the Nobel Peace Prize for averting a Chernobyl-style nuclear explosion at the height of the Cold War.

The nomination, for Captain Nikolai Zateev and the crew of K-19, is being supported by Mikhail Gorbachev, a past winner of the prize. Mr Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader, argues that the submarine crew averted what would have been an appalling nuclear accident and possibly a third world war.

Details of the accident, which took place on 4 July 1961 in the Atlantic Ocean off the Norwegian Coast, remained an embarrassing secret for the Soviet authorities for almost 30 years and were only disclosed in 1990 under Mr Gorbachev's policy of glasnost or openness.

When launched, K-19 was the first Soviet submarine to carry three nuclear ballistic missiles and was regarded as the pride of the USSR's Northern Fleet.

It had been hastily built, however, as a riposte to America's "George Washington" class of nuclear submarines, as its crew found out to their cost during an infamous exercise called Polar Circle.

Large amounts of coolant leaked from the vessel's nuclear reactor that had overheated - which, unchecked, would have led to a powerful nuclear explosion.

Captain Zateev, who died in 1998, ordered the crew to repair the leak. After about two hours, the situation was brought under control but not before many of the crew, who knew the risks they were taking, had received large doses of radiation.

Eight crew died of radiation sickness and less than 60 of the 139-strong crew survive today.

Mr Gorbachev has written to the Nobel Committee praising "the personal courage of these heroes," which, he says, "averted a thermal explosion of the reactor and a subsequent environmental disaster".

"The explosion onboard the K-19 could have been dozens of times more powerful than that at the Chernobyl power plant," he said. "At that complicated period of the Cold War ... an explosion could have been seen as a military provocation by the USSR. A response from the US and Nato could have come quickly. It is hard to imagine what this could have led to," wrote Gorbachev, who won the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in 1990. "All ... deserve to be recognised by humankind as people who did all they could to save the world."

So obscure is the incident within Russia, the result of a three decade-long cover-up, that many modern-day Russian submariners know nothing about it. Details were only disclosed in 1990 in the Communist party daily Pravda.

Instead of being thanked for what he had done Captain Zateev was considered an embarrassment by the Soviet authorities and was quietly discharged.

A disgraced Soviet submarine captain played by Harrison Ford in the Hollywood thriller K-19: The Widowmaker has posthumously been put forward for the Nobel Peace Prize for averting a Chernobyl-style nuclear explosion at the height of the Cold War.

The nomination, for Captain Nikolai Zateev and the crew of K-19, is being supported by Mikhail Gorbachev, a past winner of the prize. Mr Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader, argues that the submarine crew averted what would have been an appalling nuclear accident and possibly a third world war.

Details of the accident, which took place on 4 July 1961 in the Atlantic Ocean off the Norwegian Coast, remained an embarrassing secret for the Soviet authorities for almost 30 years and were only disclosed in 1990 under Mr Gorbachev's policy of glasnost or openness.

When launched, K-19 was the first Soviet submarine to carry three nuclear ballistic missiles and was regarded as the pride of the USSR's Northern Fleet.

It had been hastily built, however, as a riposte to America's "George Washington" class of nuclear submarines, as its crew found out to their cost during an infamous exercise called Polar Circle.

Large amounts of coolant leaked from the vessel's nuclear reactor that had overheated - which, unchecked, would have led to a powerful nuclear explosion.

Captain Zateev, who died in 1998, ordered the crew to repair the leak. After about two hours, the situation was brought under control but not before many of the crew, who knew the risks they were taking, had received large doses of radiation.
Eight crew died of radiation sickness and less than 60 of the 139-strong crew survive today.

Mr Gorbachev has written to the Nobel Committee praising "the personal courage of these heroes," which, he says, "averted a thermal explosion of the reactor and a subsequent environmental disaster".

"The explosion onboard the K-19 could have been dozens of times more powerful than that at the Chernobyl power plant," he said. "At that complicated period of the Cold War ... an explosion could have been seen as a military provocation by the USSR. A response from the US and Nato could have come quickly. It is hard to imagine what this could have led to," wrote Gorbachev, who won the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in 1990. "All ... deserve to be recognised by humankind as people who did all they could to save the world."

So obscure is the incident within Russia, the result of a three decade-long cover-up, that many modern-day Russian submariners know nothing about it. Details were only disclosed in 1990 in the Communist party daily Pravda.

Instead of being thanked for what he had done Captain Zateev was considered an embarrassment by the Soviet authorities and was quietly discharged.
0 Replies
 
Brandon9000
 
  1  
Reply Fri 17 Feb, 2006 02:45 pm
Re: We were *that* close ...
nimh wrote:
Somehow hard to imagine, from today's perspective ... ...
Quote:
Soviet officer honored for averting nuclear war
Colonel ignored mistaken alarm signaling U.S. missile attack


The Associated Press
Updated: 3:00 p.m. ET May 21, 2004

MOSCOW - A retired Soviet military officer was honored Friday for averting a potential nuclear war in 1983 by ignoring an alarm that said the United States had launched a ballistic missile, a U.S.-based peace association said on its Web site.

The officer, Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov, was in charge of the Soviet Union's early warning system when the system wrongly signaled the launch of a U.S. Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile in September 1983.

Petrov had to decide within 20 minutes whether the report was accurate and whether he should launch missiles in retaliation, the magazine Vlast reported in 1998.

At the time of the incident, tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union were high. The Soviet military had recently shot down a Korean Air Lines jet that strayed over Soviet airspace, killing all 269 people on board, including a member of the U.S. Congress.

Petrov decided that the alarm was false and did not launch a retaliatory strike.

The article said Petrov suffered severe stress after the incident and spent several months in hospitals before being discharged from the military.

Friday, the San-Francisco-based Association of World Citizens, a worldwide organization promoting peace, presented Petrov with the World Citizen Award and launched a campaign to raise $1,000 for the Russian, who receives only a meager pension.

"All the 20 years that passed since that moment, I didn't believe I had done something extraordinary. I was simply doing my job, and I did it well," Petrov said on Russia's NTV television.

Thank God someone with some sense was on duty that day.
0 Replies
 
oralloy
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Mar, 2006 05:05 am
farmerman wrote:
I was in 6th grade and we had all kinds "desk -ercizes" wherein we were told that, if we get under our desk when the flash occured, we would miraculously be saved by the bomb proof materials that they made school desks outta. I think they were foolin with us.


Duck and cover may not have made much difference if the school suffered a 30 PSI blast wave, or if it was far enough away to escape blast effects.

But if it had been in the region where all the windows shatter and the glass shards go flying into the room at high velocity, you'd be glad you ducked (especially considering that rapid medical care would not be forthcoming).
0 Replies
 
talk72000
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Mar, 2006 04:46 pm
There was also the Cuban Missile Crisis, remember?
0 Replies
 
Asherman
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Mar, 2006 05:26 pm
At the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis I was attending Southern Oregon College ... ah, dear auld Alma Mater. Our fraternity, TKE, was almost entirely made up of veterans, and we watched the old black and white television straight through. A couple of the Brothers wanted to rush and re-enlist, but we offered them a drink and talked sense into the lads. One old boy had lost a leg in service, and kept sticking a knife into his wooden appendage as the crisis unfolded. Now that was a close one, and everyone knew it.
0 Replies
 
talk72000
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Mar, 2006 08:15 pm
Er, sorry. Farmerman covered the Cuban Missile Crisis.
0 Replies
 
 

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