Around the same time our “Stable Genius” leader was tweeting about the size of his “nuclear button” like he was a high school freshman, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that they are going to hold a session on January 16th about teaching federal, state, and local first responders how to “prepare for a nuclear detonation”. Both Guam and Hawaii have been more focused on nuclear threats in recent weeks and months, as both places are likely within the range of ballistic missiles from North Korea.
I remember the last time we as a society really worried about nuclear war, back in the early 1980s. And frankly, we should have been worried, as we had several close calls in the fall of 1983. Fear of a nuclear war had risen so much in the early 1980s that the made-for-television film The Day After was broadcast for the first time on November 20th, 1983. A lot of people watched that movie, and my understanding is that it had one of the largest, if not THE largest, audiences for a TV movie ever. The movie really horrified people with its depiction of what nuclear weapons could do and what the immediate aftereffects would be like for survivors. Supposedly it even scared the bejeesus out of President Ronald Reagan, pushing him towards a more conciliatory approach to the Soviet Union, especially in the glasnost period under Gorbachev. Certainly the film prompted a lot of discussion, as nothing like it had ever been seen on TV before.
Now, the likelihood of us having some sort of nuclear exchange with North Korea is still (hopefully) pretty slim, at least as long as there is anyone with sense between “President” Trump and the nuclear football.
Boston, being on the opposite coast from North Korea, would probably not be a target for them anyway, especially while their nuclear arsenal is limited to a dozen or so warheads. That makes me feel a little bit better, at least in terms of personal danger, but of course North Korea still hitting American bases, territories, and a handful of other targets (like perhaps Washington D.C. or New York) would be horrific. We as a country could almost certainly survive such an exchange (although it could do a horrendous amount of damage), but North Korea would most likely NOT survive a nuclear exchange with us. But were we to have a nuclear exchange with the Chinese or the Russians, it would be a different story, depending on the type of exchange.
I imagine most people are familiar with the term MAD, or mutual assured destruction. It was the basis of nuclear deterrence for most of the Cold War. The idea was that neither side would do anything rash and attack the other with nuclear weapons because the other side would still have enough nuclear weapons left unscathed to not only initiate a retaliatory second strike, but to ensure that second strike could still be devastating (possibly including what is known in some circles as a counter-recovery strike). It’s a bit like two people with pistols at each others’ heads, where the first one shoots and the second one jerks the trigger as they die, killing the first one anyway. Another way of looking at it was described by Carl Sagan:
“Imagine a room awash in gasoline, and there are two implacable enemies in that room. One of them has nine thousand matches, the other seven thousand matches. Each of them is concerned about who’s ahead, who’s stronger.”
If your sense of morbid curiosity gets the best of you, feel free to try out the online tool known as Nukemap to see what effects a nuclear weapon would have on the location of your choice. For an unclassified modeler, it is quite impressive, incorporating all sorts of criteria, even giving casualty estimates. It will even map fallout for you.
I guess what I am trying to say is this: please please please do not wish for a nuclear exchange with anyone, even North Korea. I know a lot of people who like to thump their chests and feel macho are probably thinking we could come out on top, and we would, but at quite a cost. And it just isn’t worth it.
If only someone could make our President understand that.