In 2017, I visited New York City for the first time, and while we were there we visited the ‘Submarine Growler – The Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum’. One of the main attractions of this exhibition was, in fact, a decommissioned nuclear cruise missile submarine known as the USS Growler (SSG-577).
This unusual conventional, diesel-electric submarine was developed by the US Navy in the early 1950s created to carry the Regulus I Cruise Missile, which also was on display proudly and visibly atop the Growler. This particular submarine was only one of a pair, as the US decided to instead develop the Polaris missile program.
Until I visited this submarine, nuclear missiles and nuclear submarines had only been something I had seen online or within books. Something I read about. It was jarring to see for the first time, with my own eyes, the very real (although decommissioned and outdated) nuclear deterrence which still patrols our seas.
On the tour, the guide proudly recited the American history of nuclear weapons and their role within the Cold War and ‘overcoming’ the Soviet Union. We were shown smiling photographs of the submarine crew standing outside of the ‘Missile Check Out’ sector and the ‘Torpedo Room’. Outside of the submarine, an information board told us that the submarine was developed to ‘defer the Soviet Union from launching an attack on America’. Within the submarine, the information boards also told us that the missiles kept within the submarine were ‘for defense’.
It was interesting to me to still see the policy of deterrence displayed and advocated within a public space, and a public nuclear submarine no less. The proud displays of US nuclear missiles contrasted with previous ‘nuclear’ exhibitions I have seen in Britain – which were usually those within bunkers or discussed the legacy of peace or fear.
Overall, it was an interesting and enlightening experience which anyone interested in America’s nuclear and Cold War history should visit if they are ever in New York. I guess overall the most startling aspect of visiting the submarine was the thought of standing within a nuclear submarine, capable of holding 4 missiles, which was now docked in one of the most populated cities and has become a tourist site. Although I know that the submarine and the displayed missiles have long been decommissioned and are safe for public viewing, I can’t help shaking the feeling of anxiety of being so close to one of the world’s most powerful weapons in such an enclosed tourist space.