In 1951 Collier's magazine devoted an entire issue to reporting an imagined version of World War III. The magazine followed every detail of the conflict from the first attack to the eventual occupation of Russia by the United Nations.
Collier's recruited some of the nation's best-known writers and journalists to provide articles. These included Edward R. Murrow, Robert Sherwood, Lowell Thomas, J.B. Priestley, Margaret Chase Smith, Philip Wylie and Walter Winchell, among numerous other celebrity authors. To increase the sense of reality, even the magazine's cartoons—some of which were provided by famed World War II cartoonist Bill Mauldin—and many of its advertisements were geared to reflect the "reality" of the imaginary war.
All of this was assembled under the direction of legendary Collier's editor, Cornelius Ryan—the genius behind the seminal Collier's space symposium and later the author of The Longest Day (1959).
Even the magazine's obligatory short stories were romances set in the world of World War III. Collier's also enlisted some of the country's top illustrators to provide the visual documentation—some of which was uncannily realistic, and some outright disturbing. Not the least of these were Chesley Bonestell's renderings of Moscow, Washington and New York during and after a nuclear bombing. The latter illustrations are disturbingly reminiscent of news photos from 9/11.
According to Collier's, this is how World War III played out...
An attempted assassination of Yugoslavian Marshal Tito on May 10, 1952 triggers a Moscow-planned uprising in that country. Red Army troops accompanied by troops from the Soviet satellite states of Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary invade Yugoslavia. While President Truman condemns this "Kremlin inspired" action, Stalin says it is "an internal matter" and that the invasion is in fact "the will of the Yugoslav people." Defying Truman, Moscow refuses to withdraw its troops.
The United Nations joins the U.S. in declaring war on the Soviet Union. A preemptive saturation bombing of Russia with nuclear weapons begins immediately. Needless to say, the coalition forces avoid bombing major cities and instead focus on military targets, such as factories, oil and steel refineries, and nuclear installations.
The Soviets retaliate with a nuclear-armed air force that outnumbers UN planes five to three. They attack Germany, the Baltic states the Middle East. UN troops are forced to retreat on all fronts, including a catastrophic evacuation from Korea and Japan.
While Communist cells throughout Western world begin a campaign of sabotage and open attacks, such as the detonation of a bomb in New York's Grand Central Station, Stalin's son, aviator General Vassily Stalin, is captured and made a prisoner of war.
The Red Army invades North America when it lands in Alaska and immediately occupies territory. Meanwhile, the Soviets drop atomic bombs on London and other coalition capitals. Atomic bombs also fall on Detroit, New York and Washington, DC.
The U.S. is bombed again the following year when Chicago, New York, Washington and Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Norfolk and other US cities are nuked by missiles fired from Soviet submarines. The UN finally begins to make some progress, however, and after a successful Christmas Day nuclear attack on the Red Army, UN air forces finally dominate the air over the European battle fronts.
After warning the Russian people of an imminent nuclear attack, US planes drop atomic bombs on the Kremlin.
Shortly afterward, a suicide attack by 10,000 troops in the Ural Mountains destroys Russia's remaining stockpile of nuclear weapons.
The UN follows up by providing arms to resistance fighters in Russia and its satellite nations. Red troops begin to lose ground to the guerrillas. Civil uprisings occur throughout the Soviet Union. A UN offensive begins on all fronts as Soviet resistance finally begins to collapse. Eventually, the Red Army collapses as UN troops begin to occupy major cities and regions in not only the satellite states but Russia as well.
Stalin "disappears" at the beginning of the following year. Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria, the ruthless overseer of Russia's nuclear arms program, is proclaimed the new Premier.
The war effectively ends in 1955 as the Soviet Union disintegrates and Moscow is occupied by UN forces.
The magazine follows up this victory with articles such as "We Worship GOD Again," by Oksana Kasenkina (a Russian schoolteacher who had leaped from the third floor of the Soviet Consulate in NY in a bid for freedom) and "The Women of Russia." The latter is accompanied by an illustration of Moscow's vast Dynamo Stadium, filled with "fashion-starved Moscow women for their first style show."
The final articles focus on the rebuilding of Russia in "A New Russia," by economist Stuart Chase, and "Free Men at Work," by labor union leader Walter Reuther, and the renaissance of culture in a report on a Moscow production of "Guys and Dolls" and the opening day of the 1960 Moscow Olympics, signaling "world brotherhood and good will."