Thursday, January 18, 2018

Are You Worried About The Bomb? I Am.

If the debacle of last Saturday’s nuke attack alert false alarm in Hawaii had happened a week earlier, we’d have been on the way to the airport to fly back to the Northwest. Makes me think about what I’d have felt in the 38-minute interval before the alert was rescinded.

Some of us are old enough to have grown up in the shadow of nuclear annihilation. I remember in 9th grade assembling in school in Hawaii to be told about how Russian ships were sailing towards US ships blocking Cuba and that we should be prepared for a possible nuclear war.

That was October 1962 and what we lived through was subsequently called the Cuban Missile Crisis. It didn’t lead to nuclear war but led to decades of nuclear arsenal buildup and policies like “mutually assured destruction.” But fear and anger are what I felt during the crisis.

Fear of dying or even surviving after a nuclear explosion. The only images I had were terrible images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the survivors. And anger, deep anger, that people far away were deciding whether I, a 15-year old, would live or die. (There was a lot more fear and anger a few years later when people far away were deciding whether young men would live or die in Vietnam.)

Of course, in Hawaii no one died last Saturday and the best thing that can be said about the screw up is that it showed we aren’t ready for nuclear war. Now they’ve fixed the alert procedure so that one person can’t screw it up. But they’re going to have to figure out how the state and feds and military coordinate if there is a real nuke alert.

I wrote to friends and family to make sure they were OK after their bad Saturday morning and everyone was fine although shaken up. The biggest irritation wasn’t the mistake but the inordinate amount of time it took to recall the alert. One colleague responded: “Anyone who knows anything about PR emergency would have said ‘Get out in front of this story immediately.’ That is either the head of Civil Defense or the Governor of the State should have been in front of cameras explaining what happened. To just put out a text message that it was a ‘mistake as people changed shifts’ was simply not good enough.”

I’m sure the alert procedures will be improved and tested and found to be adequate. But I worry about Trump and Kim Jong Un and China and Pakistan and India and Israel with fingers on their proverbial nuke “buttons.” And some terror group wanting to make a name for itself with its little “dirty” nuke bomb. And I worry that, like most anthropogenic disasters, the screw up will be human error, technological malfunctions or a sad and deadly combination.

Maybe if an alert is “for real” we will have 15 or so minutes to prepare. But for what? My cousin described her feelings as “so is this how it is going to end?” After discussing what had happened on Saturday with others and watching the local news, she described what seemed to be a tendency for young people to be more upset and panicked than older people. “I thought about it and decided that it is because they have their lives to live. We seniors have lived our lives... It would be awful to have it end so abruptly in such a violent way, but we have lived our lives,” she wrote. “It seems to me that in as much as we all need to voice our thoughts about the idiocy of the administration in DC at this time, the young need to really fight because it is they who will have to live with the consequences of the actions of the idiot in the White House.”

I think I still have enough fear and anger to go another couple of rounds but really, it’s a fight for the young. Fight for it, save it, protect it— it’s your world.

--Mike Sato


“Survival kit contents check. In them you'll find: one forty-five caliber automatic; two boxes of ammunition; four days' concentrated emergency rations; one drug issue containing antibiotics, morphine, vitamin pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills; one miniature combination Russian phrase book and Bible; one hundred dollars in rubles; one hundred dollars in gold; nine packs of chewing gum; one issue of prophylactics; three lipsticks; three pair of nylon stockings. Shoot, a fella' could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff.” -- Maj. T.J. "King" Kong in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

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