This came up. I swiped left.
Actually, I screenshotted the bally thing first and then swiped left, thinking the picture might be used in a write up. Essentially, the reasons I dismissed the newsflash without having read it mirror the reasons I decided to screenshot the newsflash for this piece; first, because it’s Trump (difficult to take seriously, easy to write about); second, because none of us have experienced a nuclear blast (difficult to relate to, and thus easy to write about); and third, because, if nukes were to fly, it would actually be pretty bloody awful (unimaginable even, and therefore easy to write about). Unimaginable? Well, not quite. We are quite capable of imagining the day of fire and fury itself – it’s the day after that that we struggle with. What would life be like after a nuclear exchange? I suppose we don’t need to think about it too much though, not really. It would be irrational to fear something that would instantly destroy so much. Far more rational that we’d be terrified of cancer, say, than of a nuclear apocalypse. The thought that you suffer your own slow annihilation while the world goes peacefully on outside, is a thought far harder to stomach.
But maybe we should be a little scared. After all, a totally world destroying nuclear exchange is no guarantee. With Trump pressing the button, it’s more likely that we’d make a flop of apocalypse and, following on from our failed suicide attempt, have to learn to live with the scars for the rest of our days. If it is to be a botched affair, Trump is the most likely cause. At least with Raegan we knew he’d go all in on Armageddon. “Fire and Fury.” Even for Trump it’s dangerously bombastic. Keep in mind, though, that back in 2013, back in the days when he was only on one TV channel, Trump tweeted: “Be prepared, there is a small chance that our horrendous leadership could unknowingly lead us into World War III.” While there’s a good chance he is ignorant of all aspects of nuclear policy, it seems to me this tweet is evidence of a man not totally ignorant, evidence of a man currently enthralled by the policy of brinkmanship, a policy which, he’s discovering, also has the beneficial side-effect of diverting the media away from his domestic let-downs. He’s coming to like the idea of being a foreign policy president. Some trouble in Venezuela, what? An about-turn on Afghanistan, what?
As someone who is travelling west as I write, someone travelling to the west coast, to San Fransisco and then up to Vancouver; one cannot help wondering how far a nuclear blast radius extends to? And how long does it take to succumb to radiation poisoning? Most of us know very little about such things. Did you know that thick clothing offers protection from the flash burns, because the flash is so brief? I didn’t. Or that white clothes reflect thermal radiation, and black absorb it? I didn’t. Not until I read Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control, a spellbinding and breathless history that reminds us of all of history’s unnamed: the Bob Peurifoys and the Jeff Kennedys of the world, who drop nuclear safety warnings and scoop up after dropped wrenches in missile silos; and the Ronald Snyders and David Livingstones of the world also, who – I shall not say unnecessarily – die protecting us.
Little Boy, the nuclear bomb which destroyed Hiroshima in 1945, did not explode at all. Little Boy held a very small amount of fissile material – 0.7 gram of uranium. Of this amount, 98.62% was blown apart before it could become supercritical. The remaining 1.38% did fission and created temperatures of 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit at ground zero. The blast, which occurred at approximately 1,900 feet over ground zero, killed 80,000 people.
“I had never seen such a horrifying sight as those five shivering boys. Blood was pouring in streams from deep cuts all over their bodies, mingling with their perspiration, and their skin was burned deep red, like the colour of cooked lobsters. At first it seemed, strangely, that their burned and lacerated backs and chests were growing green grass! Then I saw that hundreds of blades of sharp grass had been driven deep into their flesh, evidently by the force of the blast.”
– Tsutomu Yamaguchi
[ Hiroshima: First-Hand Accounts, ed. Adrian Weale ]
The nukes of today are thousands of times the blast power of that. If you’re unfortunate enough not to be blasted, then a slow and far more painful death by delayed fallout awaits. We are, I’m afraid, like so many before us, for it.
Friedrich Kutsky, known as ‘Mac’,
a lawyer’s son who worked
with Russian military intelligence
and sent them warning England
wouldn’t fight over Czechoslovakia,
was pushed off a grain freighter
in Lake Superior by an NKVD man
disguised as an elevator mechanic;
Manfred Lowenherz, ‘Tom’ to their circle
of University Marxist, helped organise
the destruction of the POUM
in Barcelona (Orwell had heard of
but never met him) and was himself
arrested in Moscow three weeks
after Catalonia surrendered: he is presumed to have died in prison;
Frank Marshall, called ‘The Englander’
because of his unlikely name, went
straight to the Comintern Headquarters
and survived the show trials of ’36
and ’37, only to disappear from his flat
on the evening of the Molotov/Ribbentrop
Pact: his name is mentioned often
in the few authentic papers which
survived from Yezhov’s office:
The Szymanowski brothers, Andrew
and Jerzy, led a Soviet expedition
to Zemyla and authenticated
the reports of nickel deposits –
both were murdered when their boat
was strafed by an unknown plane
on an expedition in Bering Strait:
the MVD uses more than ice-picks
was said in Moscow in 1940;
lastly Willy Marx; alias Oskar Odin
‘Old Grandad’ to the group, jumped
in front of a Viennese tram the day
before the Anschluss, with plans for
Hitler’s assassination in his shoes –
no one knows which Party organisation
ordered his death.
Six middle-class boys from a racially-
mixed Galician town, three of them Jews,
and only one with a widow at a New England
College. Their story will not be told.
by Peter Porter.