© Fernando Caracena, 2016
This is my scariest Halloween. People in power are treating nuclear matters so lightly that they have turned the image of a clown into a scary image. The clown's head is a nuclear fireball. Its blast is measured in megatons, not giggles.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 's Dooms Day clock currently stands at three minutes to midnight.
1984: U.S.-Soviet relations reach their iciest point in decades. Dialogue between the two superpowers virtually stops. "Every channel of communications has been constricted or shut down; every form of contact has been attenuated or cut off. And arms control negotiations have been reduced to a species of propaganda," a concerned Bulletin informs readers. The United States seems to flout the few arms control agreements in place by seeking an expansive, space-based anti-ballistic missile capability, raising worries that a new arms race will begin.
One political party has wrapped itself in Armageddon, has become death, echoing a quote from J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb when he observed the first nuclear blast: "Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds."
Our own elected officials are rattling the nuclear sabre. Meanwhile world leaders are preparing for nuclear war. Even one presidential contender pursues nuclear brinkmanship as a strategy for winning election.
What can and Individual Do?
Many people have been conditioned to feel helpless when faced with the major hazard to our life, our own foolish government. Our votes do not count. There is a lot of cheating anyway. Dead voters appear on the ballot. Voter fraud is rampant. Now anyone who makes it into the country can vote. So the individual questions himself:
"What does my vote mean?
Is it a wasted effort?
A beau geste?"
But let me say this now loudly and clearly. No nation on earth can repair the ravages of nuclear war. No number of mea culpas, apologies, condolences or sorry feelings would serve anyone faced with the destruction wrought by their own abysmal judgement. First, consider the destructive power of Nuclear Weapons
which produce blasts of destructive power measured in terms of multiples of a million tons of dynamite (Megatons), which is given the mild sounding term, "yield". Perhaps the least effect of a nuclear war would be a nuclear winter, which could result in mass starvation. There are worse hazards still, for example radioactive fallout, which would make portions of the planet dead zones and toxic for years. The least destructive potential would perhaps be the worst alternative: surgical very high altitude bursts over the center of continents that would produce very energetic pulses of electromagnetic energy--the Electro-Magentic Pulse (EMP). The Wikipedia (former reference) describes such a pulse generated by a nuclear device, as follows:
"Nuclear electromagnetic pulse (NEMP), as a result of a nuclear explosion. A variant of this is the high altitude nuclear EMP (HEMP), which produces a pulse of a much larger amplitude and different characteristics due to particle interactions with the Earth's atmosphere and subsequently the Earth's magnetic fields drive an oscillation in electric current after the original pulse from the particle and ray interactions on the atmosphere."
Lay people and politically motivated individuals may play down the threat of the NEMP threat, such as in this article.
"An EMP attack resulting from a high-altitude nuclear detonation seems a possible but not very plausible scenario. An adversary looking to carry out such an attack on the United States would need ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. The missiles either need to be capable of an intercontinental launch or have a platform that can both move within range of the U.S. homeland undetected and launch a missile...
if an adversary did want to start World War III and was not deterred by the formidable U.S. capability to respond to such an attack, the grid might not be the best target. It is not a certainty that such a detonation would cause a prolonged, widespread, and devastating power outage; indeed, some manufacturers of industrial control systems and transformers report that their equipment has been tested and proven robust to such an electromagnetic pulse. Nor is it clear that the electric grid would be the ideal target for such weapons. And for that matter, there are other, easier ways to attack the grid."
So the article plays down the plausibility of an NEMP attack on the U S during WW III, at the same time acknowledging that such an attack could do considerable damage to our creaky power grid. The big point missed here is that it leaves out the computer grid--the Internet computer infrastructure. Whereas the Internet was designed to survive a nuclear strike, our computer networks of hardware are not.
Have you ever been any place of business when the local computers blinked out? I have witnessed this occurrence three times: at the grocery store, the hardware store, and the state drivers' licence office. Each time, there was panic and chaos for the duration of the outage. Most business today operate very efficiently in the use of inventory through their own computer systems. Orders are timed for just-in-time arrival of goods to be sold. The tight scheduling, delivery, and shelving are made possible through computer technology. For example, see a mass marketer's own inventory control system.
The Most Advanced Economies rely, even take for granted, the dividend of peace. Consider how this operates in our own supermarkets:
"One of the scary factoids in circulation these days is the revelation that grocery stores hold only a three- or four-day supply of food. People wield this statistic to argue that our food system is appallingly insecure and in grave danger of failure. We’re only a few days from starvation, goes the frightening story, and we’re liable one day to find our supermarket shelves empty and the populace in panic.
To accept this forecast uncritically, though, means ignoring how complex systems work. We can scare ourselves by selectively focusing on a small piece of a larger picture and behaving as if that tiny bit were the whole story. It’s a natural tendency: Any organism interested in surviving needs to focus on what’s going wrong much more than what’s going right. But in this case, believing the tale of empty shelves may distract us from more urgent problems."
Looking at the big picture, we see that an advanced economy depends critically on three elements of our infrastructure: the power grid, computers, and electronic transactions and communication. The most robust parts of that infrastructure are its more primitive features, such as: energy, transportation, and shipping. At present, supermarkets are more concerned with saving energy costs than hardening their critical functions. They are able to do this because the advanced world operates in a very peaceful environment, and of course they take that peace for granted.
It is also clear that in a nuclear war, our opponents would want to take us out as early as possible. An NEMP would take out all the principal elements of our modern economy and leave the civilian economy completely crippled. One presumes that the modern military uses NEMP-hardened equipment, and therefore does not have the same vulnerabilities as the domestic economy. The military would survive, but it would be too overwhelmed to be able to offer aid to the starving, disconnected citizenry.
Why I take the Threat of Career Politicians Seriously
When I see the silly clowns that call themselves candidates threatening war with nuclear powers, and see doomsday clock nearing midnight, I take their loose talk as a personal threat. They threaten everything that I hold dear in life: family, friends, community, environment. They also do not respect my personal freedom. And why do they do this? Is the whole country, our habitable planet, the beautiful life all to be sacrificed to maintain their personal power? Heaven forbid! This one issue raised by a political party, joined by government and sold by the news media is as much of a threat to us as if someone were pointing powerful weapons directly at us. These are foolish, irresponsible actions and words coming from these people.