We are hiding from the nuclear threat behind a brick wall of hope
In the midst of the worst warfighting in Europe in 80 years, an unhinged megalomaniac orders his massive nuclear forces on “high alert”
Should I be worried?
The American President, when asked Monday whether we should be worried about a nuclear war breaking out, said simply: “No.”
And Matthew Bunn, former nuclear adviser to President Bill Clinton, told Vox, “There is virtually no chance nuclear weapons are going to be used in the Ukraine situation…”
Ok now I’m worried…
Because we know, of course, that this kind of talk by experts virtually guarantees it will happen. We call it talking away the job and right now everybody is doing it
We are using bits of information and misinformation from random conversations, posts and tweets to construct elaborate rationalizations in our mind. We are hiding behind our brick walls of hope to deny this vision of doom.
But it must be asked: what exactly does it look like behind that brick wall?
It looks like widespread, pervasive, and enduring devastation
If Putin launches a nuke, the likeliest scenario would be a tactical strike--a low-yield battlefield warhead, with an explosive power of tens of kilotons, several times that of the weapons used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
An airborne detonation would produce a fireball that would wipe out infrastructure and life within a radius of several kilometers, spreading radiation across a vast affected area
Is anybody ready for this…?
Here in the US, the federal government once had the lead in preparing the nation for this existential threat
In 1950, the National Security Resources Board issued the Blue Book, a 162-page “bible” that guided Civil Defense planning for the next forty years. Civil Defense had several parts, including an education program, evacuation planning, and an emergency alert system. It also included continuity of government planning that led to the first emergency operation centers in the basements of many city halls.
People around in the 1950s and early ‘60s remember the Civil Defense education program: “There was a turtle by the name of Bert, and Bert the turtle was very alert; when danger threatened him he never got hurt, he knew just what to do...He'd duck! And cover!” And those of us who watched too much television as kids can recite the test script from the Emergency Broadcast System.
But the federal government’s heart was never in the job. Complacency plagued nearly every aspect of Civil Defense in the decades after its creation.
Congress never came close to meeting budget requests for a program that bounced between departments and underwent nearly a dozen name changes and agency affiliations before eventually becoming the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 1979 and, after yet another organizational reshuffling, finally ending up with the Department of Homeland Security in 2003.
In the years since, despite increasing concern in the intelligence community, at the White House, and among the public, planning for the nuclear threat has been fractured, haphazard, and ineffective.
The biggest problem is between our ears
“The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” —Albert Einstein
Another legacy of the Cold War is that brick wall of hope between our daily lives and our fear of the nuclear threat.
The bad news is that among the greatest deniers of this threat is our own government. Because they are human, that brick wall prevents the people we rely on from preparing the nation for it.
During the Cold War, our preparations were understandably superficial. Why should we prepare to do something that we will never have to do (since we will all be gone)?
But that was then, and this is now. Back then, we were all sure to die. Today we know that many will die, but almost all will live. Back then it was pointless to prepare for those who were sure to die. Today it is essential that we prepare for the nearly all of us who are sure to survive.
Of course we will continue to hope that Putin steps back from the brink, that it doesn’t happen. At the same time, we know that it will happen, somewhere and someday. And, when it does, we will have our collective moment of truth.
It will be in this moment that we will be filled with regret, mostly for the things that we didn’t do to prepare. Things like mobilizing the nation to prepare for a catastrophic disaster. Although it may sound boring, if done ahead of time, boring things like that can increase our options. They can even save our country.
So, the question remains: “What should we do now?”
There aren’t two answers to that question; there can be only one.
We must get ready.
Image(s) used under license from Shutterstock.com