In a 1956 study for the Strategic Air Command (SAC), a newly declassified document reveals that the US intended to carry out nuclear strikes against the most densely populated parts of the Soviet bloc, singling out “population” centers in addition to military targets.
The 700-page document placed a priority on military installations, but also planned the “systematic destruction” of the Soviet bloc’s industrial capability by targeting “areas of human population,” including Beijing, Moscow, Leningrad, East Berlin, and Warsaw.
That may sound like a limited plan, but all-told there were some 1,200 cities to be targeted with nuclear strikes specifically to try to kill as many people as possible. Cities like Moscow and Leningrad, which also had military or government targets, were to be hit dozens of times.
International law explicitly forbids intentionally targeting civilian populations in time of war, but the US appears to have thrown that out the window with the SAC study, envisioning a wholesale slaughter of much of the planet’s population as a specific military goal.
The study ultimately concluded that early airstrikes would center on air bases primarily, trying to prevent Soviet retaliation as much as possible, and that it would quickly expand to “basic industries,” aiming to eliminate the ability of the Soviets to fight, and then finally expanding to places whose lone value was that a lot of people lived there.
Later studies eliminated Moscow from the list of targets, believing that it was important to leave someone to negotiate with in the event of trading nuclear fire.