Nine Months Later

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It’s been close to nine months since 911.

The tons of pulverized pieces of steel, stone, and society have been almost entirely cleaned up. Plans are being made for a new WTC.

Over the next month, rather than a spurt of New Yorkers suddenly, violently going out of the world, the city is now bracing for a spurt of new New Yorkers coming into the world.

Life goes on. This is the way it should be. New Yorkers died 911; New York didn’t.

Now we are told of new threats of terror. Perhaps they will; perhaps they won’t.

But should they, the result will be the same. New Yorkers will die; New York won’t.

And if that is true for New York, how much more so is it for America?

Nuclear War: What’s In It For You?

I guess if they can make movies about it, I can talk about it a bit, too (though the post-Cold War overhaul of the plot leaves much to be desired).

It just so happens that this movie is coming out just when the possibility of nuclear attacks is a good deal higher than usual (though not for the reason you might think).

Given that, a little education is in order.

Nuclear weapons are bad. Very bad. But they’re not THAT bad.

By THAT bad, I mean “if anybody ever uses one, we’re all going to die” bad, or close to it.

If that were true, we wouldn’t be here.

Here’s a question for you: How many times has a mushroom cloud appeared over the continental United States?

a) Have you lost your mind, Ed?
b) One, the original one at Los Alamos
c) 11
d) 34
e) at least 126

The answer is E, at least 126.

“Huh?” you might ask. When did that happen? Who did it? We did it to ourselves with our aboveground nuclear tests. If you count the underground tests, it’s close to a thousand.

Did it cause some harm? Sure it did; that’s why the Americans and Russians stopped doing it. I didn’t say nuclear explosions were good for you. Just pointing out that America has already taken over a hundred nuclear hits, dished out at the rate of ten or twelve a year, and we’re still here.

Damn Yankees

First, let’s talk about the less likely of the two events, a terrorist attack on a Western city. Let’s take New York for an example.

It’s not that you can’t kill New York, at least for a while, with nukes. Decades ago in the depths of the Cold War, some Americans trying to mimic the war plans of some folks whose day job was to be ready to do just that figured out how many it would take.

Eighteen, which is seventeen more than the worst-case sum of all fears for any attack on this or any other American city.

Mind you, we’d rather pass on this. Not like we want something better than the Macy’s fireworks show this Fourth of July.

A Hiroshima-like explosion in New York would probably kill at least a million. Maybe two. That’s pretty bad. But New York has eight million people living in it.

Of course it would be horrible and make 911 look like a spring picnic. Only a madman would want such a thing.

But it is just as mad to think that the world, the country or even the city would end as a result of just one.

Nuclear weapons are certainly really bad. The inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are never going to say, “Please, sir, I want some more.”

But Hiroshima and Nagasaki didn’t die in 1945. Many people (not even most) died; the cities didn’t. There were more people living in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1960 than in 1945, never mind today.

Even some of the nuclear test facilities the United States had in the Pacific, places that got hit by hydrogen bombs a few dozen times, with over 30,000 times the explosive force of the Hiroshima bomb, can be made safe to live in again.

So if terrorists do much better than expected and take out a New York and/or Washington gets whacked, unless you’re in the vicinity, you can kiss your ass if you like, but not goodbye. 🙂

Second-Hand Smoke

Actually, I find this rather less likely you’ll see this in the news any time soon than an exchange of uranium and plutonium between the Indians and Pakistanis. Should that happen, this could well not be a matter of one or two, but likely dozens and possibly a hundred or two.

Now this will be really bad if you live in the immediate vicinity or not too far downwind. The New York Times today has an intelligence estimate of twelve million immediately killed, but that estimate is based on relatively optimistic assumptions. Assume the worst, and we’re probably talking more in the neighborhood of one hundred million dead.

That’s a lot of people.

But the world will survive that, too. You can find a realistic assessment of what this is likely to do to America here.

Again, hardly a bonus for the United States, but hardly threatening national survival or even prosperity.

They Call It Politically Correct For A Reason

None of the above is politically correct. It’s just plain old-fashioned correct.

This hardly means we should welcome, encourage, or just not mind nuclear war too much. It does mean we shouldn’t all hang ourselves and get it over with if it does happen.

What may have had considerable validity to the average person in the case of a massive U.S.-Soviet exchange of thousands and thousands of weapons doesn’t when you’re talking about a couple or a couple dozen.

In the case of a terrorist attack on a Western city, it certainly would be the worst disaster in American history, (and at least would put a crimp in my lifestyle), but the U.S. has the resources to cope with such an attack long-term (if not immediately).

India-Pakistan could be another story. This would be much more damage, many more casualties, the nations involved would be far less capable of helping themselves, and the world can only move so fast and do so much (or may not even want to do all that much).

But again, while matters would be horrible in the war zone, the world as a whole would live pretty much the way it does now.

The point of this is not, “Let’s have a nuclear war tomorrow!”

The point of this is to tell you that if it does happen as I’ve described, unless you’re in the neighborhood, you’re not too likely to be doomed.

The problem with “we’re all going to die if it ever happens,” besides the small detail that it’s simply untrue, is that while it may discourage you or your country from going all the way, it certainly doesn’t leave you in the best frame of mind should it happen, or somebody else does it.

If you think people shouldn’t talk like that, well, of course it’s not the most fun thing to do, but I think it’s more fun thinking you’ll probably live than otherwise, don’t you?

May I suggest that if, God forbid, something like this happens, you hang around a while and I don’t mean at the end of a rope. Try to be useful to those who really are in trouble.

The life you may save might be your own. 🙂

Ed

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