In Portland, we sometimes joke about the constant siege of our city by throngs of invading hipsters and Californians who would like nothing more than to destroy our way of life and litter in our parks.
But now as we prepare to enter a new world, with renewed Cold War tensions and attendant perils, jokes about invasions suddenly aren't so funny. In a world so fraught geopolitically, we must always remain on alert. Hostile foreign superpowers lurk on the other side of an ocean, a mere 5,000 miles away. In the event of an attack by enemy ground forces, what measures will we have to defend our homes and parks?
In 1971, someone passed Oregon Gov. Tom McCall an intercepted memo from high-ranking officials at the Kremlin. The memo detailed strategies and positions for a full-scale offensive of the American West Coast, starting with Red troops deployed at the mouth of the Columbia River, not far from Astoria. Astoria would fall quickly, and all lines of communication shut off. From there, it would be just three days' march to Portland City Hall. It was taken for granted by the Soviet Ministry of Defence that Portland would not be well-defended, and its location would prove strategically important as a foothold in the American territory.
Disturbed by the message, and with little faith in the federal government's will to protect this remote outpost, McCall heard proposals from scientists and engineers about many kinds of fortifications and large-scale force multipliers that could be quickly and discreetly erected. In September 1972, he signed off on a proposal led by Portland scientist Marvin Mafron, best known as the inventor of the wood-burning bus.
McCall allocated $990 million from the Governor's Discretionary Fund to break ground on a state-of-the-art facility in The Dalles, where Mafron and Multnomah Institute of Technology physicists would build and house the weapon. Mafron described it as an "infrasonic cannon" capable of firing continuous bursts of ultra-loud, long-tailed sound waves for days at a time. The frequency of the sound waves would be below the threshold for human hearing, yet contain enough energy to vibrate the contents of the human body. This persistent rattling would lead to belching, gas, abdominal convulsions and, ultimately, self-defecation.
Three years later, and after an additional $786 million in public grants, Mafron and the MIT physicists invited everyone to a huge gala dinner to celebrate the weapon, which jokesters took to calling "the poop ray," with guest of honor McCall and stars, including Jack Nicholson and Eartha Kitt, in attendance.
That evening, the powerful weapon was demonstrated. After McCall pressed the ceremonial red button, the roof of a nearby building parted in the middle, and all watched in awe as the cannon rose through the opening. The cannon was pointed west, and the low-wave frequency began issuing into the icy waters of the Columbia. En route to Portland, the sound waves gathered energy, passing through amplifiers.
For those concerned—either about a Red invasion or accidental or intentional misuse of the weapon—the answer is yes, the infrasonic cannon is still fully operational. In the event of a Red invasion, the order to activate the weapon will be issued by Portland's mayor. I have it on good authority that shortly after he was sworn in, Ted Wheeler met with Charlie Hales and was briefed on protocols for the weapon and received custodianship of the launch codes.