For about sixty years I have lived with the impression that we are all within no more than 15 minutes of nuclear annihilation and nothing has changed that — I mean you just kind of learn to live with it. And of course there could be any kind of natural calamity but a man-made one it would seem could be controlled save for accidents.
It’s just that having someone who seems irrational as president of the United States throwing out slightly-veiled threats (or not really veiled) of nuclear retaliation (or even pre-emption) is unnerving.
My first realization of how close we all are to what is often referred to as nuclear Armageddon (last battle before life on earth ends) came about 1960 during the Cold War stand-off between the old USSR and the U.S. At this time fallout shelters were all the rage (like there would be anything left when you peeped your head up out of the hole).
I remember attending a PTA meeting in the evening after school with my folks. I was in sixth grade as I recall. The movie showed the bursting of the atom bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan and the devastation of both structures and human life it produced.
I had grown up in the 50s on a diet of war movies where we were the good guys and the Japs and Germans the bad guys. And at the time of WWII, which happened just before I was born, that was essentially true.
It was a shock to me to learn that we, the U.S., had been the first (and so far only) nation to ever use nuclear bombs.
Had the Cold War turned into a hot one it would not have been long — about 15 minutes — and life as we have known it would not exist — that is my understanding. And even if there is more to it or somehow life would survive we all know it would be hell.
And what about the 15 minutes? Maybe it would be 20 or 30, but at that little time, what difference does it make?
The fear has been that a nuclear war would break out more likely as the result of an accident or misunderstanding than a deliberate act.
And as we know, during the Cold War neither the East nor West really wanted nuclear war, and despite bluster from the likes of Nikita Khrushchev (and I used to fear him), it appears the leaders of the two nuclear-armed super powers at the time were not bonkers and that is what saved us. Yeah there was worry about Richard Nixon in his final days but the story is that staffers agreed to prevent him from carrying out the unthinkable.
Today many more nations have nuclear-weapon capability and a launch anywhere anytime could trigger not just disaster in a certain region but world wide both because of the resulting nuclear fallout and the likely chain reactions from the various players on the world stage (not unlike the break out of WWI).
And of course we now have the looneytune who is Kim Jong-un of the belligerent state of North Korea — although in some ways he may be crazy like a Fox. I mean we know that he is using the nuclear threat as a way to get the powers that be to stand up and take notice of him and to force or blackmail the U.S. to both recognize him as legitimate and to even assist him.
But it is our own strange and scary actor, President Trump, I am worried about.
As many news reports and commentaries, especially in the last day or so, have noted, he has a split personality. One said there is the rally trump and the teleprompter trump, a kind of Jekyll and Hyde if you will. The one bullies and threatens and delivers harangues to crowds of his faithful and the other speaks in more measured and conciliatory and structured (well to a degree) form. In the end, though, you don’t know where he is coming from or what is really on his mind or what the message is.
And yet within 15 minutes more or less he could wipe out the planet — and he can be volatile we know.
We cannot do anything about the other actors of the world, not directly, but I think Trump needs to be removed from office for our own safety (and I am talking in a non-violent and legal manner).
I saw a report on PBS News last night, an interview with a professor who was said to be an expert on the subject, and he offered scant assurance that there are checks and balances within the nuclear missile launch procedures on our side.
While there is a requirement down the line that two people have to take actions together at various points in the process, at the top, where the actual order would be given, it is only the president who can make the final decision — no two-man rule there.
The professor suggested that in a true crisis there would be time for those under the president, both civilian and military, to talk him out of an unwise or un-called for nuclear launch. But 15 or 20 minutes, I don’t see that as likely. Yeah like everyone is standing in the same room wide awake 24 hours per day?
And could the president in a fit of pique — like if Kim Jong questioned his manhood — launch an attack?
The way I heard it, this professor suggested that those under the president would likely not go along with that — but it is murky as to what legal authority or means they would have to stop it.
And I mean there could be all kinds of scenarios and the president might seem agitated but there could be a real threat — an ICBM coming from North Korea or a report that one was about to be launched — what then?
Or it could be intel suggests North Korea is making moves on the ground that signal it is preparing for imminent attack. So the president decides enough is enough, we’ll just wipe them off the face of the earth — never mind that such would likely trigger launches against us from Russia and China.
Now some underlings could countermand the order, except they have no explicit authority to do so, except the rule that one is not obligated to obey an illegal order. But would the order be illegal? And there is always the catch 22 in that one. After the fact a court can decide it was not illegal after all (of course in nuclear Armageddon that might be of little concern).
We are still 15 minutes away from human-caused obliteration. What we can’t change, so be it. But what we can, we need to.
We’d all be a lot safer without Trump.
Even if he would never order an attack (unless it was the only option), his bellicose nature, his tendency to insult anyone and everyone, even the leaders of the political party that put him in the White House (well I guess that could be read both ways) presents and existential threat to us and the world.
Here is a link to the PBS story to which I referred: