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Posts Tagged ‘nuclear war’

On reflection, the Covid years haven’t bothered me much. I worked through the first year, which helped retain some semblance of normality. The second year, I retired into it, and the restrictions were irksome for a time, but the local area provided sufficient diversion as things eased, and I’ve enjoyed walking, exploring Bowland and the Dales with the camera. Covid’s still around, of course, but that story has moved on, and no one’s really talking about it any more.

There are some who haven’t been so lucky. Even if you’ve avoided catching it, certain types have been plunged by fear of Covid, and by media reporting of it into an anxiety-induced agoraphobia. While others are out shopping and pubbing, the anxious ones are still shirking company. Supermarkets, pubs, and restaurants, are still a long way away off for them. We, who are inching ourselves back into some semblance of normality, need to be mindful of that.

I’ve not been without a touch of neuroticism over Covid myself. I remember now I helped pull a woman from the river, after she’d fallen in. She was freezing cold, and really struggling to get out, and I had to get a good grip, so to speak, all of which was against the very strict rules on personal contact with strangers at the time. I worried about that for days afterwards, worried about the health of the others I’d involved in the rescue, all this while it later transpired our leaders were having “bring your own booze parties”. I feel terribly foolish that I even thought about it, now.

While we hear much less about Covid, other things have rushed to fill the void. To whit, the mainstream media seem to be ratcheting up for war against a nuclear armed state. So I’m thinking about nuclear war, and it’s a long time since I did that.

I remember my father was with the Royal Observer Corps (ROC). They had a bunker up near Brindle, part of a network that covered the UK. They were there to monitor nuclear bursts, and levels of radiation. Coupled with the weather forecasts, the aim was to give HMG some element of planning around the ensuing catastrophe. He took me to see it once. Its weird concrete protuberances frightened me. It was like a ready-made grave for the duty team who would be incarcerated in it. The ROC was disbanded long before the end of the Cold War. There is no defence, no contingency, no survival, and it’s dangerous to suggest otherwise.

The bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were relatively small, compared with the weapons we have now. It would take very few to reduce the UK to an uninhabitable wasteland. We seem to have forgotten this. The danger subsided for a time, but it’s growing again, and we need to resist the media of usual suspects and their crass headlines, with a different, and more nuanced narrative. In such febrile times, the last thing we need is the equivalent of a banal Twitter spat pushing things over the edge.

But since there is nothing I can do about it, I tell myself to chill out, to read novels, watch movies – preferably without guns, or bombs, or ‘f’ words in them – and to dream dreams, as if there was no suffering in the world. Of course, there is immense suffering, but, in the long ago, we were aware of only manageable doses of it. Now we drown in it. It pours from our devices with every bleeping notification – an endless symphony of sorrowful songs, and the human psyche is only capable of so much compassion before we lose our minds.

I saw a recent interview with the former general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbchev. He spoke of the urgency of nuclear disarmament, because he says the kind of people willing to use them are still around. It was a sobering analysis. We came ever so close, during the Cuban missile crisis. It was only doubt in the mind of one Soviet officer, and his persuasiveness, that prevented the commander of his submarine from launching a nuclear torpedo against a US warship. They thought they were under attack, that world war three had started, and they should let loose Armageddon. But it was a misunderstanding, a hair’s breadth thing, so the story goes. But in a parallel dimension, the decision went the other way, and the earth is a barren cinder.

The west has been living in a blip of relative peace and security, perhaps since the later 1980s, since Gorbachev’s glasnost, and the formal ending of the Cold War. Since then, there have been good times, boom times. We have tanned our skins on the beaches of credit-card opulence, driven our SUVs with attitude up the rear end of those we see as lesser beings. But there is something in us also that seeks the periodic red-mist of war. I remember the newspapers egging on the invasion of Iraq. It seemed an easy thing to do and, given the might of the forces unleashed, it was. What came next was the disaster so many humanitarians predicted.

Thus, I pine for a more sober approach to our present predicament, for a wiser take on the inflammatory headlines of the media with its calls for even more dogs of war to be let loose than are already in the running. As if by way of reply, my phone pings with news, of today’s horrors, and what are we going to do about it? Phones were so much better in the olden days, when all you could do with them was ring people up and say hello.

We should limit our intake, do you think? Impossible, you might say. But there’s only so much we can stand. At the very least we should not be so browbeaten we are ashamed to sing, dance, and make merry, or at least switch off and read some lighter material. It does not make us bad people. What’s more important is we remain level-headed, that we might then see through the fog, as far as we possibly can, that we make sure the wasteland of our world remains in another dimension of space and time, and is never visited upon this one.

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nuclear burst.jpgDear potential leader,

Why should I vote for you if you’re cagey about whether you would ever contemplate pressing the red button to launch our nuclear weapons against another state that’s already launched its nuclear missiles against us?

You mean, you want me to launch first?

Em,… no, that’s not exactly British – I mean, more in self defence,… like.

Well, clearly my friend you misunderstand the nature of nuclear warfare, against which, I assure you, there is no such thing as self defence. If another state has launched its nuclear missiles at us, I have already failed you,  because we are already dead.

Regardless of your faith in technology, I assure you, even now, in this age of wonders, there is no missile that can  intercept those incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles. They are the fastest things imaginable, faster even than an impact prone asteroid, and just as deadly. We are, therefore, already dead, horribly dead, and I have failed you miserably, abominably, in my responsibility as a politician, and a statesman and as a leader.

I should have stopped it. I’m sorry, but that is the reality of nuclear war.

Yes, admittedly, before we die, there is probably still time to press that red button, and to thereby ensure the deaths of millions of people in retaliation for our own demise – and all right you say, but they’re just Johnny foreigner, and don’t count for much – but still that is not self defence, by any description. That is Mutually Assured Destruction, or MAD as we used to call it in the old days.

It’s like a game of bluff, I suppose. We each have all these terrible weapons perfectly capable of destroying each other many times over. So it boils down to a game of poker. I bluff, saying to the world I am perfectly prepared to use our nukes, as does the other side. But implicit in this argument is the assumption the other side won’t dare to launch first, because they know they’ll die as well, because sure as hell we’ll launch ours, not in defence, but in revenge.

Revenge?

Yes. That’s a different spin for sure, but it’s what it boils down to. Nuclear war is complicated, but also very simple: we all die.

So you want me to pay lip service to the MADness game and say I will press the button, even if I won’t, because there’s this argument that MADness prevented the nuclear holocaust that was imminent any time between 1950 and 1989. But why should I? What use is there in revenge? I don’t believe there’s anything useful or worthy in revenge.

So,.. we died. But at least we killed the other lot as well. Doesn’t sound so grand when you put it like that , does it?

It seems to me previous generations understood the business of nuclear war better than we do now, certainly better than the angry old white men who read the Daily Mail. Instead read Nevil Chute’s “On the Beach” (1957) if you want a compelling account from a fiction writer and an engineer who knew the maths, and the technology better than any one, even by today’s standards, at least judging by the right wing populist rhetoric. There is no surviving a nuclear war. Ironically, it is the younger generation who seem to understand this better than their parents.

Talk of red buttons and who will press them is fatuous. The guy who says he wouldn’t press it under any circumstances is by far the more interesting and forward thinking. His is the world I want to live in. It’s a struggle of the imagination, and a courageous one, but one worth fighting for.

And he gets my vote.

 

 

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