What We Worry About
Life can seem like an endless series of worries. From the trivial worries about bad weather cancelling our dinner plans to the serious worries about putting food on the table.
With this backdrop, it can seem like we’re worrying too much. The 24 hour news cycle and slacktivism (where a like, share, or tweet counts as activism) relentlessly remind us about the real tragedies of our world. A mass shooting in America, an increasingly violent military coup in Myanmar, and deadlier variants of COVID.
As important as those worries are, there is one we actually don’t worry enough about – nuclear weapons.
Sticks and Stones
There are more than 10,000 nuclear warheads in the world, possessed by an estimated number of nine countries. These warheads combined have the ability to kill millions instantaneously and affects billions if deployed strategically. It’s so powerful that it’s a potential cause for human extinction. (1)
Humanity has already witnessed two uses of nuclear weapons in warfare. At Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in August of 1945.
From movies and TV shows, we have become desensitized to fiery explosions, but nuclear weapons cause destruction at a different level. When Hiroshima was bombed about 70,000 people vanished instantly. Burned, disintegrated, vaporized. 70,000 people going about their lives and the next second they are gone. Their clothing and skin ignited into flames.
Here’s how one survivor described it:
they all had skin blackened by burns. . . . They had no hair because their hair was burned, and at a glance you couldn’t tell whether you were looking at them from in front or in back. . . .(2)
And on top of this horror, there were another 70,000 people that died within five years because of radiation poisoning. They suffered from hair loss, bleeding gums, loss of energy and high fevers.
Today, it seems unlikely that nuclear weapons could ever be deployed. But how many of us thought we would be affected by a global pandemic? One that has infected more than 200 million and killed 4.2 million people (as of August 2021). Did we think this pandemic would happen in our lifetimes? We weren’t ready for it.
And the track record surrounding nuclear weapons isn’t great either.
In 1961, Major Tulloch took off his B-52 bomber from Goldsboro, North Carolina as part of a routine flight. However the B-52 started to face some problems. There was a leak in its fuel tank, so Major Tulloch was ordered to fly back to base at Goldsboro. On his way back, the leak started to ruin the structural integrity of the plane, causing Major Tulloch to lose control and the plane to dive. Five crew members were able to eject themselves at 9,000 feet. The other three couldn’t eject and died in the crash.
However, that routine flight of the B-52 was also loaded with two nuclear bombs. Each bomb was 300 times more powerful than the ones used in Hiroshima.(3)
They didn’t detonate. But as the bomb disposal expert put it: it was damn close.
One of the bombs fell into a field in an upright position because its parachute was caught by a tree. The only thing that prevented it from detonating was that one out of the four “safe/arm” switches was not armed. “The failure of two wires to cross” spared North Carolina and the rest of the American East Coast from nuclear devastation.
For the other nuclear bomb, it was only discovered days after the accident. It was stuck underneath layers of mud and only when they were extracting it did they find out that it was armed. But again, they were saved. This time it was because the bomb was too damaged to be detonated.
Now, even if you don’t live in America, this near miss should be a call to action. Nuclear weapons are a threat to humanity, whether your home country has nuclear weapons or not. Their use will affect all of us. Our global food supply, earth’s ecosystem, and our shared peace.
If the near miss described above seemed like an event that happened too far in the past, understand that America continues to keep its nuclear weapons on standby. Right now, its nuclear weapons sit in underground silos, constantly manned, ready to launch, 24/7 and 365 days a year. This never ending high alert status can spark nuclear war because of a false alarm. (4)
Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us. – John F. Kennedy