When a Nuclear Attack Becomes More Probable

sejil-2

Last week’s post about the release of Wolfram Alpha and a chance discovery of an excellent series of New Scientist articles about the internet prompted me to raise some tangential concerns. The one question that raised the radiation level in my built-in Geiger counter was Question #8: “Could we shut the internet down?” The answer was still a resounding “No.” Cyber-assaults couldn’t do it alone. It would take something short of a full-blown war, to destroy the underground cables and all the servers all over the world, not to mention all the communication satellites and transmitters floating about. It’s implied that nuclear warheads would do the trick, albeit thoroughly.

Needless to say, the mere idea of an impending nuclear attack is troublesome. A full-scale nuclear war may be a thing of the past and no longer be realistic. Superpowers stand to lose more than they could win. However, there are various terrorist organizations constantly scheming on how to best unleash the genie, some of them plotting in our own backyard. Then in plain view, there are the rogue nation-states who just want a piece of the action, the so-called “Axis of Evil” that Dubya and the Neocons preached about (minus the red herring that was Iraq). Last week, Iran publicly released information about its test-launch of a ballistic missile. Then aptly enough, on Memorial Day, North Korea successfully detonated its second nuke within three years, done partly as an act of defiance to internal and external pressures by an ailing despot whose days are likely numbered.

Here’s a supposed video footage of the underwater nuclear test in North Korea. A 4.7 magnitude earthquake was detected by the US Geological Survey, and placed at approximately 45 miles away from Kimchaek, North Korea.

Countries around their immediate corridors are nervous. If that doesn’t shake you up, then read on.

Nuclear Blast Bravo

Let me take you back on a short trip down Memory Lane. As you all (or should) know, the first atomic bomb, code-named “Trinity,” was successfully detonated at the White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico. The first wartime use was at Hiroshima, Japan (yield: 20 kilotons, roughly the same as the recent North Korean test bomb). From then on until the time the Soviet Union collapsed, we had been living in the shadow of nuclear war. This was the age of the Cold War. Most of you born after that era don’t realize how large that shadow loomed. In the 1950’s, mock nuclear attack drills were common in schools, both in the US and the USSR. Any given superpower had invested in fallout shelters. [Here are some curiosities that remain today.] Even in the Philippines, the sound of jets screaming overhead was enough to make a 10-year old nervous. Until the early 1990’s, the US retained a presence in the Philippines with two bases, Clark Air Force Base and Subic Bay Naval Base that had bullseyes marked all over them. Soviet bombers flirted dangerously close to our airspace, which was not lost on some of us. During those times, children developed a precociousness that was unconsciously defined by what would now be called the Nuclear Era. My friends in the Fifth and Sixth grade would chatter on about what would happen if our quiet, rural area was hit by a nuclear blast. Then we’d go on and move on with our lives, perhaps more appreciative of what little they had then.

Since the 1990’s, people have become vastly desensitized. Sci-fi movies and cartoons routinely show how nuclear warheads are used against aliens with super-advanced technology, sometimes to no effect. They have done us a great disservice by not reminding how dangerous nukes can be to us puny humans. As a product of the Nuclear Era, I have made it part of my mission in Life to educate as many people as possible as to what a nuke attack entails. Here’s a sample of what would happen: Imagine one of Russia’s 5,000 active warheads cutting loose and somehow making it to L.A. [Note: Currently, we have no active quarrels with this state, I’m only using them as an example.] A typical nuclear warhead has a hydrogen fusion-type bomb, with a yield of anywhere from 10-50 Megatons of explosives (1 Megaton = 1,000,000 tons of TNT). One megaton would destroy around 80 square miles; multiply that by ten, and Los Angeles may cease to exist.

skin_radiation

What happens, physically? First of all, you would see it and feel it coming first – but you won’t hear it at all (light travels faster than sound). You’ll feel yourself incinerated from the inside out, along with all your surroundings. Lucky, if that’s you, because death comes swiftly and you won’t have a a milli-second to think about it. But if you’re an observer a few thousand miles away, the first thing you’ll feel is something close to a concussion; all of that air that’s been displaced has to go somewhere. The resulting compression would give you internal bleeding. If you look directly at the glare, the burst of gamma-radiation photons would sear through your eyes and blind you. Death will probably come for you in a few short months or years, if not days. This scenario was best captured in the 1983 movie The Day After, made at the height of the Cold War.

For all the sentimentality that reigned in the 1980’s, it could still be argued that the entertainment industry as a whole was sensitive to the ills of the world around it, as shown in such causes as Live Aid (to fight hunger) and the Nuclear Disarmament Movement (for world peace, and a nuclear-free world). Back then, perhaps we were more directly in touch with the issues of the day. It could have been because after seeing all that was going on, we were acutely aware of our mortality.  Doing good was a way to assure ourselves that we could still make a difference in this huge and complex world.

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The internet and all the frills that go with it have gone a long way towards furthering information and education.  But alas, to the Old-Timers’ dismay, it has also done more to serve the narcissistic needs of a consumer-driven society, enamored with material objects and a self-absorbed culture. The products of the recent generation are not encouraging. They are stuck in their own little worlds, willing to be seduced by the false promises of security, creature comforts, and bright shiny objects that feed the purses of business interests.  There has been no true Evil or Cause to unite them into doing something truly great, and I’m not counting the artificial wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, generated by the greedy neocons.

An all-out nuclear exchange could change all that. Remember War Games? In the quasi-war thriller, the supercomputer WOPR tallies out all the possible nuclear scenarios, and draws the conclusion that there was no positive outcome to be had from any of them. That’s not going to stop a rampaging nuclear dictator with nothing to lose. If that, then why shouldn’t any superpower take rightful action? Vladimir Putin and his cronies were ruthless enough to send a huge force of tanks and troops to crush pesky rebels in Chechnya and Georgia. China has also been known to be barbaric in dealing with uprisings. If Kim Jong Il was stupid enough to do tests closer to the Mongolian border, I wouldn’t put it past either the Chinese or the Russians to solve problems the brute force way.

Mideast Lebanon Ashoura

In Iran, there may be less of a chance of that occurring, as the population tends to be more pragmatic (although anti-Zionist). However, the porous and asymmetric nature of the never-ending conflicts in the Middle East lay the odds that some terrorist organization or another would try and do more than just take rocket potshots at Israel. Forget al-Qaeda; they’re on the run. What should worry Israel, America and the rest of the world is Hezbollah. With each conflict they incite with Israel, they only grow more emboldened to try more attacks. The next attack they incite may have rockets that have enough low-yield nuclear warheads to cause enough death and destruction and make Israel reel. The Israelites live with this possibility, each and every day. The question is: Does the rest of the World see this as well?

We have moved significantly from the age of  containment, when “Mutually-Assured Destruction” all but guaranteed an uneasy truce, to a more uncertain stage in the Nuclear Landscape. Until the 1990’s, nuclear weapons were concentrated in the so-called “Nuclear Club”: US, Russia, China, Great Britain, and France. It has since expanded to include India, Pakistan and Israel. Now North Korea and Iran (possibly) are crashing the party. It’s only a matter of time before everyone else gets to join this club, now growing at a frightening rate. The bigger concern is how stable are these governments? When you realize that Pakistan, one of the latest entrants in the game, has been in a state of unrest with the Taliban and al-Qaeda at its borders, then you will appreciate just how much more complex our world has become.

That complexity is inching us closer to a large-scale nuclear exchange, one minute, one hotbed at a time. So with President Obama’s current worries of Iran and North Korea, he must now keep in mind that Pakistan is a bed of instability, and that certain terrorist organizations around the world are less than six degrees of separation with a rogue state… that has a nuke. Possibly.

nuclear-blast

Countless doomsayers and pundits across the globe have already mentioned the Unthinkable Idea in the past. This post is hardly anything new in that sense.  However, when the world’s most-renowned investor, Warren Buffett makes a bold statement about a nuclear attack here in America, we must take pause and realize the gravity of our current state of affairs. Stay tuned to these developments. Look around you. Be mindful of all that’s happening. When all these little hotbeds erupt all at once – we’ll find out sure enough if the Internet can be shut down completely or not. But while we are armed with our electronic global connections, we can to reach out to everyone on this planet and feel their collective pulse. Because the whole survival and success of the species is at stake. That in itself should give us a greater sense of urgency, more than enough of a reason to wake up and use the rest of our good instincts. We’ll need them – not the bright shiny toys given to distract us – to be proactive and reclaim this World and guide it away from a destructive path.

Copyright Anabasius 2009

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