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The Cold War was a crazy time: We went into battle against the duplicitous penguins and the mighty polar bears; the great walrus hordes and the brutal whale armada; the seal assassins and the alba-

What?

The Cold War was a time of geopolitical tension between two world superpowers, mostly involving political maneuvering and veiled threats? That sounds really boring. Let's talk about the best way to kill a penguin with your bare hands instead. First, grasp just above and below the beak, then apply a twi-

What's that? You say the five craziest stories we've ever heard -- stories about shadow governments, sci-fi ice fortresses and nuclear obliteration -- are all from the Cold War? OK, we're listening ... for now.

5
The Underground Nuclear Ice City

Sometimes history is just a little bit weirder than science fiction. Here's a fact: The United States of America used to have a small underground city in the North Pole called Camp Century. Also, it looked a lot like the rebel base on Hoth, which always gets you points when Cracked is keeping score.

US Army via Defensetech
"We already ate our Tauntauns."

Camp Century began life in 1959 as a scientific outpost located hundreds of feet beneath a Greenland iceberg. From the surface, it looked like nothing more than an ominous snow-covered pyramid. But below, it was gigantic: The base was powered by an underground nuclear reactor, and at one point boasted a staff of 200. It was a veritable city, complete with a gym, a chapel, a library, hobby shops and even a friggin' movie theater. Although why you'd watch movies down there when you were already living a better plot than half of them is beyond us.

But as with all awesome things, the military soon snatched it away from science and started using it to try and blow stuff up. It's all explained in this very real and clearly unbiased military-funded documentary.

US Army Defensetech
"Basically, we took all of that sciency nonsense out and replaced it with missiles. Ice missiles."

Let's reiterate what we've got so far, just so it sticks: The United States had a 200-person nuclear-powered outpost located beneath the ice of the North Pole, where one of their primary objectives was to drill as deep into the unforgiving, ancient ice as possible. If that's not the start to one hell of a horror movie, we don't know what is.

After the military takeover, Camp Century was converted into a giant ice-bound missile silo. The goal was to store approximately 600 nuclear missiles in the base, giving the U.S. a nice, neighborly little nuclear bungalow right next to Soviet Russia. Luckily for Russia (and the unmutated faces of your loved ones), technical problems led to the whole mission being scrapped. Because maintaining the tunnels was a constant chore (they had to remove 120 tons of ice every month just to stay uncrushed), the whole site collapsed within the decade.

US Army Defensetech
It's fit only for Hobbits now.

So no, you can't go there and play the world's most awesome game of hide and seek. This was all just a big cocktease, and we're really sorry.

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4
Italian Freemasons Chose the President of the United States

Vincenzo Pinto / Getty

Propaganda Due, or P2, was a Freemason lodge described by journalists as a "shadow government." Their goal started out as fighting communism in Italy, but don't worry: That's just their noble origin story. They turn entertainingly villainous as shit in just a few sentences.

P2 had a litany of powerful members in their ranks, including Silvio Berlusconi, or as you may know him, the freaking former prime minister of Italy. This isn't some accusation by conspiracy theorists and Internet vigilantes or anything -- Berlusconi was found guilty of lying about his membership in P2 by a court of law, and has openly acknowledged the fact since.

Vincenzo Pinto / Getty
Through what we can only assume was a series of sweeping hand gestures.

Let's not forget that whole "shadow" aspect of the thing: We say that because the only real data anybody has on P2 comes from an Italian investigation conducted in 1981, which confirmed that the group had managed to infiltrate not only the parliament, but the military and press as well. The investigators also tied P2 to assassinations, kidnappings and arms deals. A list of roughly 1,000 members was compiled, most of them prominent politicians. It's a good start to a supervillain organization, if you ask us. But where's their big hook? Where's their grand act of impressive influence that proves that they control the world with an iron fist? Or, being Italian, some tasteful leather gloves and a purple ascot?

Well, how about the time they chose the president of the United States of America?

It all started with Billy Carter, Jimmy Carter's hilariously oafish brother, accepting a $220,000 loan from Libya. Libya was generally considered to be a landmass full of pretty sketchy dudes at the time, if not straight up enemies of the nation. The scandal was clearly enormous, but short attention spans aren't a recent invention: Since it happened months before the election, by the time November came around, most people had forgotten about it.

ISC Archives / Getty
Billy Carter, seen here as a living stereotype.

P2 wanted Reagan to win (look at those shrewd eyes, that glorious, razor-sharp haircut; can you blame them?), so they reached out to a few key journalistic contacts at The New Republic to plant another story come election time. They wrote that not only had Libya given Billy another $50,000, but that Billy had recently met with the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is considered a terrorist group by the United States to this day. And all this just two weeks before the election. Billy and everybody else involved denied it (the Senate investigation years later would confirm that it never happened), but the damage was done. Reagan won in all but six states, and likely all because of an Italian "shadow government" pulling their sinister strings behind the scenes.

The numbers speak for themselves:

Gallup
And they sound a lot like Mario.

You can see plenty of gentle dips and slopes there for both major candidates -- that's just how elections work. But look there, at the end: the two weeks after the story was planted. Reagan friggin' skyrockets! It's the sharpest, fastest movement in the entire graph. Although to be fair, that's not saying much when Carter is involved: Nobody ever accused Carter of being exciting. Dude even looks like a human turtle.

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3
The 100 Nuclear Missiles Left in Cuba ... AFTER the Cuban Missile Crisis

Everyone who's passed freshman history knows the story of the Cuban missile crisis. Since that might not include you, and certainly doesn't include us, here's a recap that we just looked up and pretended to understand: Cuba was afraid that the U.S. was going to invade (which, in fairness to them, we had already done), so they asked Russia to install nukes across their country to launch against the U.S. if we ever attacked. Russia was thrilled to oblige. The U.S., not particularly keen on mass annihilation, was less so. We blockaded the nukes, and at the appropriately dramatic last minute, Russia and the U.S. worked out a deal where Russia would pull the missiles out of Cuba if we withdrew ours from Turkey and Italy.

Underwood Archives / Getty
We got to keep our Florida missiles, though, which is all that keeps the crocodiles under control.

What you didn't know was that we didn't actually intercept all those missiles. After the Cuban missile crisis was officially "over," Russia still had 100 nuclear missiles in Cuba. Since the U.S. didn't know about them, and therefore hadn't technically included those hundred in the deal, the USSR decided that they could legally "give" them to Cuba. But when the Russian higher-ups visited Cuba to figure out the details, they quickly realized that Castro was balls-out-of-the-underwear crazy. During those first negotiations, Cuba had been left out completely. And, since they suffer from the nation equivalent of Short Man Syndrome, they were furious at the slight.

The Russians decided that if the missiles were left in Cuba, it would almost definitely lead to World War III. So they did what politicians do best: lie ridiculously. They told Castro that there was an unpublished Russian law that made it illegal to give missiles to Cuba permanently -- our legal department says it's a variant of the "never promise crazy a baby" statute -- and the Cuban missile crisis was averted.

For realsies this time.

Keystone-France / Getty
"We promise not to kill everything and everyone if you promise not to kill everything and everyone."

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2
France's Private War Against ... Hippies?

AFP / Getty

In 1985, the French government had a problem: They wanted to irradiate the fuck out of some delicate ecosystems, but stupid "Greenpeace" was using stupid "boats" to stupid "protest" for the stupid "sanctity of life and the environment." Psh ... hippies, right? What's worse, the site was a French colony that was already thinking of rebelling, and the French didn't want to show any signs of weakness, lest they incur the dreaded wrath of ... the French. So they did what any reasonable country would do: They decided to blow up the Rainbow Warrior, which, from the name, you've already gone ahead and assumed was a love boat full of hippies, to scare/distract Greenpeace long enough for them to conduct the nuclear tests.

Patrick Riviere / Getty
"We tried infecting their sheets with pubic lice, but no one seemed to notice."

The mission was called Operation Satanique -- a name that should probably tip you off to the fact that you might be the crazy bad guys in this situation. When the Rainbow Warrior docked in New Zealand to do some tactical chillaxing, Operation Satanique was a go. The plan was to scare all of the crew off the boat with a small bomb, then, when they had evacuated, a second, larger bomb would actually sink the boat. It all went perfectly!

Except for everything.

AFP / Getty
"I love it when a plan fails in every conceivable fashion."

The crew of the Rainbow Warrior returned after the first bomb went off to check out the damage, not assuming that lightning could strike twice. And you know what they say about "assuming" things ... it blows up boats in New Zealand. So when the second bomb went off, it actually hurt some folks, and killed Fernando Pereira, a photographer.

The French started frantically pulling agents from New Zealand, seeing as how their whole "ruin a hippie's boat party" plan had suddenly turned into "multinational murder and terrorism." But two French spies involved in the operation were detained and interrogated. The truth came out soon after, because, shockingly, you just can't seem to trust the fortitude of a French spy. The aftermath was about what you'd expect: France's president publicly apologized, the defense minister resigned in disgrace, they paid a shit-ton of cash to Greenpeace and France halted their horrific testing ...

For like 10 years. Then they went back and blew the holy shit out of the place anyway. Hey, what did you expect from the guys who brainstormed "Operation Satanic"?

Getty Images / Stringer
"We wanted to call it Operation Boatfuck, but that just sounded crude."

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1
The Secret, Private Armies That Ran Europe

AFP / Getty

After World War II, the U.S. had some problems: lots of dead folks, countries and borders torn apart, most of Europe ground into a very civilized kind of pudding and the USSR knocking on the door to come raid the fridge. So the U.S. came up with a plan they called Operation Gladio: It basically installed a secret military that would unofficially operate all across Europe, with the singular goal of combating communism. Because it wouldn't be a very good secret army if we knew all about them, facts are pretty limited, but it's not a whackjob theory: Their existence has been confirmed, and the network has been associated with such high-stakes super-evil as attempted pope assassination, large scale bombings and kidnappings of several high-level government officials. They were willing to do anything to fight communism -- murder, extortion, even becoming communists, if that's what it took.

Getty
"I'll shoot myself in the head, then in the dick. I don't even goddamn care."

Again, it turns out that the Italian branch was a particularly active group (the folks did produce Machiavelli and Assassin's Creed; we all shouldn't act so surprised). An entirely different president of Italy, Francesco Cossiga, was involved in this ominous anti-communism secret society -- hey, all the cool presidents were doing it, what was he supposed to say? "No, but thanks so much for asking, nutbar shadow military group?"

It probably wouldn't have been a smart move. See, the reason we don't know more about them, even years after the end of the Cold War, is simple: crazy, crazy murders.

When another Italian president, Aldo Moro, wanted to allow communists to run for office, he was suddenly kidnapped and eventually executed. His body was found in the trunk of a car parked next to an ancient gladiatorial site. A "gladio" is a type of ancient Roman short sword, often used by participants in arena combat. When a former colonel of Gladio operations in Switzerland wrote a letter to the government stating that he was ready to "reveal the whole truth," he was found dead in his home a month later. He was stabbed to death with his own bayonet, a series of mysterious characters written on his chest that couldn't be deciphered.

Hulton Archive / Getty
Dead president in the back of a van? Bond villains are more subtle.

Now, admittedly, that's not concrete evidence of Gladio's direct involvement or anything. It's just a few brutal, worrying events that spin a web of mystery and fear that keeps further investigations at bay.

Who on Earth could benefit from something like that?



For more reasons we're fortunate we survived the Cold War, check out Nuke the Moon: 5 Certifiably Insane Cold War Projects. Or learn about 6 Real World Spy Gadgets Straight Out of the Movies.

If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out If Fictional Locations Got Reviewed on Yelp.

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