HARRINGTON: Nuclear destruction is no joking matter


Photo by Wikimedia

For 20 long minutes this past week, nuclear destruction was potentially on our doorstep. An alert lit up phones across Hawaii reading, “THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” The image went viral on Twitter within minutes. There was tweet after tweet of concerned Hawaiians fearing for their lives.

However, mixed in with these fears were memes and jokes about the ballistic missile threat, which were made before the alarm was revealed as a mistake. This 30-minute period perfectly sums up modern societal views of nuclear weaponry as something abstract and far-fetched despite its terrifying destructive capabilities.

Imagine the alternative to the false alarm. The reality of an intercontinental ballistic missile being fired at the United States is a deeply disturbing one. There are missile defense systems in place, but if those systems failed, scores of people would die instantaneously in the first strike of a horrible war.

Retaliation would take millions of lives on the Korean Peninsula and whatever remains of both parties would be locked in a hellish entanglement. Yet, when this vision was a real possibility, some people’s first instinct was to post about it online. When the threat was over, these posts shifted to how ridiculous the whole situation was.

With President Donald Trump constantly poking the metaphorical bear that is Kim Jong Un and the North Korean government, Americans are in denial over the reality of nuclear warfare. The conclusion of the Cold War did not end the potential for nuclear annihilation, it merely postponed it. Each update on the North Korean missile program is met with mockery, either about how powerful we are or how unsuccessful each test was. But each report has indicated they are getting closer to being able to reach the entirety of the United States.

When Cuba was being armed in the 1960s by the Soviets, the Americans and Russians were prepared to engage one another in what would later be known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

During this tense time, my grandmother asked my grandfather what to do in the event of nuclear war. They were living in military housing in an area of San Francisco that would likely be targeted in a Soviet launched attack. His answer is haunting to this day: “Nothing.”

The citizens of both countries knew what they were facing. They also knew they were powerless to stop it. Nothing but the judgment of their leaders could save them.

Fast-forward to today. As a society, we have ignored the threat of nuclear armageddon by trusting in the concept of mutually assured destruction. People across the world reassure themselves that no country would ever be reckless enough to use a nuclear weapon for fear of retaliation. However, take a long look at who controls these weapons of mass destruction.

The relationship between the U.S. and North Korea is far from stable, and by any definition of the word, are Jong Un or Trump rational? The reality of nuclear war is the same as it was in 1962, no matter how many memes are made about it.

None of this is to say Americans should live in constant fear. The era of duck-and-cover drills should rightfully stay in the past. What should return to the public consciousness are the disarmament protests of the 1960s and ’70s. America settled following Reagan-era nuclear policy, which in reality did little to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world.

America, along with many nations around the globe, has enough destructive capabilities to turn this world into a cinder. No matter how certain the public is the nuclear option won’t be used, no option is safer than total disarmament. This isn’t a matter of stopping a war, it’s a matter of preventing extinction.

Hopefully, the alert that a ballistic missile is headed for our shores will never be sent again. Regardless, we need to take the threat of nuclear warfare seriously and do everything we can to prevent it. The searing light and heat of a nuclear bomb will be much less entertaining when it’s vaporizing cities and decimating populations than it is in morbid online jokes.

If the day ever comes when the terrible power of these weapons is unleashed, the last thing on anyone’s mind should be posting. However, perhaps it would be fitting that the human race will joke about its own destruction.