I’d burn up into a million pieces

19 11 2012

I’ve mentioned my nuclear nightmares, haven’t I?

I had them fairly regularly as a teen and young adult, and they still pop up occasionally, but for the most part they’ve slipped out of my unconscious and lodge mainly in a side aisle on the fifth floor of memory.

Then Robert Farley at Lawyers, Guns & Money linked to the fascinating NUKEMAP by Alex Wellerstein, and that memory box popped open.

It’s so easy to use! Simply drag the target to your preferred neighborhood or type in a city, select a nuke from a dropdown list, and fire away!

I’m mostly not worried about nukes in New York, but since I do occasionally wonder what would happen if a terrorist exploded one in Manhattan, I decided to detonate a relatively small and crude device (10kt) in the Financial District.

The effects would be felt up to Little Italy and Chinatown and would reach Governor’s Island and Brooklyn Heights, but that’s it.

Not until the bomb reaches 300 kilotons would it hit my neighborhood, and then only with thermal radiation (which, it must be said, could set off a firestorm).

The biggest bomb? A hundred megaton “Tsar Bomba”, the largest Soviet bomb designed (although never tested). That would take out all five boroughs, over half of Long Island, large chunks of New Jersey, and even a bit of Connecticut.

Why mention this, and with such good cheer? Honestly, it’s cool, in a ghastly sort of way.

And it’s so remote. I remember when it wasn’t, when I had a real, hmm, if not fear, then a kind of resignation, that the world would end in a hail of missiles; now, I am no longer resigned to that end (tho’ don’t worry: there are many ways for the world to end!), and the fear is tamed. The nukes are, if not in cages, at least no longer MADly menacing the landscape.

Of course, then I watched the clip of The Day After Farley posted, and my cheer drained away. Guess I’ll have to nuke another city to get my mojo back.


Every man, every man for himself

16 12 2010

I grew up with nuclear dreams.

Nightmares, actually: Watching as the bombs rained down, fleeing from bombs, living after the bombs fell, wondering how long before we were all gone.

I know that in real life that ‘bombs’ are unlikely—in most places, a single bomb would be enough—but these were nightmares, not journal articles. In real life, I studied nuclear history, nuclear weapons, nuclear tactics. I learned about throw-weights and multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) and ICBMs and SLBMs, tactical ‘backpack’ nukes, yields, and blast radii. I was drawn and horrified, thrilled and terrified at the technologies and policies that could end it all.

I was also convinced that any attempt to survive nuclear war was foolish, a waste of money, and, most damningly, likely to lower the threshold of MADness. Since deterrence was found in this balance of terror, any attempt to diminish that terror with songs of survivability was, itself, mad.

As regards all-out nuclear war, I think that assessment holds.

But what of smaller-scale nuclear war, of terrorist tactical nukes? The world won’t end if one or two or three bombs are exploded (see: the world after the Trinity test, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the numerous test explosions since 1945), so why not try to increase survivability?

Somewhat to my surprise, then, I am not opposed to federal guides on how to live after a nuclear explosion.

The New York Times notes that the Obama administration, following steps taken by the Bush administration, is distributing information on how to survive a nuclear bomb. This information is based on models which, unexpectedly, showed that casualties could be greatly reduced simply by taking shelter immediately after the blast, thereby reducing exposure to radioactive fallout.

Physicist Brooke Buddemeier spoke at a recent conference:

If people in Los Angeles a mile or more from ground zero of an attack took no shelter, Mr. Buddemeier said, there would be 285,000 casualties from fallout in that region.

Taking shelter in a place with minimal protection, like a car, would cut that figure to 125,000 deaths or injuries, he said. A shallow basement would further reduce it to 45,000 casualties. And the core of a big office building or an underground garage would provide the best shelter of all.

“We’d have no significant exposures,” Mr. Buddemeier told the conference, and thus virtually no casualties from fallout.

This is not nothing.

Government at all levels in the US is unreliable: it may come through in prevention before and care after, but, then again, maybe not. And, as these guides note, even a fully enabled government may not be able to respond immediately after.

For better and for worse, the government is telling us, we’re on our own. For better and for worse, we have to take care of ourselves.

Walking in your footsteps

26 04 2009

REM’s It’s the end of the world as we know it or Lou Reed’s Fly into the sun (opening lyric: I would not run from the holocaust/I would not run from the bomb) are the more obvious titles to a meditation on the apocalypse, but what the hell, we here at AbsurdBeats like to mix it up once in awhile.

Where was I? Ah yes, little blue-green planet goes boom, death, devastation, et cetera, et cetera. It’s a great theme for books, and I have a particular weakness for B-grade movies about an imminently-imperiled or just-toasted Earth. I’ve also had my share of nuclear nightmares, and the movie 28 Days Later added zombies into the nighttime bad-dream rotation.

As a general matter, however, I don’t much worry about the end of the world. Oh, I’m not really joking when I tell my students that I’m glad I’ll likely be dead before the environment collapses, and I won’t be suprised (though I will of course be shocked) if a dirty bomb is lobbed into some urban center. And yes, I keep my eyes open to the damage microbes can do (thank you, Laurie Garrett, for that), and am not uninterested in reports of a nasty strain of swine flu flying around.

Still. If the world ends, it ends. It’s sad to think that we as a species would have blown our chance (and the chances of our fellow creatures) to have figured out how to join the universe, and that in ending ourselves we probably will have destroyed the evidence—the art, architecture, music, literature—that we were more than just violent and greedy idiots.

But this is a detached sadness: if we’re gone, there’ll be no one around to mourn or regret. Death is sad for survivors, not the dead themselves.

C. recently posted on her ‘go’ bag, a pack to which she’s been adding what she’d need to survive if she had to get the hell out of the city. It’s not a bad idea, and given my predilection for preparedness, I should probably put a pack together as well.

But, as I noted in a comment to her post, I have no desire to survive a truly world-ending event. To tramp down ash-laden roads, as do the father and son in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, in search of some place beyond the fire? Forget it. Or to wait around a few days or weeks or even months for my skin to fall off? Pass. Maybe one shouldn’t go gently into that good night, but when the world ends, so do the good nights.

What of disasters which simply alter, but don’t end, the world? Rod Dreher at Crunchy Con isn’t exactly waving a ‘The end is near!’ sign, but he’s mighty interested in those who do. Sharon Astyk (at Casaubon’s Book) similarly waives any claim to apocalyptic thinking, but she’s preparing, nonetheless. Gather ye rosebuds (and corn and whatnot) while ye may, because the times they are a-changin’.

I dunno. I tend to skim those pieces on how This Time! we’re gonna be thrown back to the farm, what with this modern way of life collapsing under its own decadent, alienated ways and all. Neither Dreher nor Astyk is a particular fan of modernity, and each seeks a return to a less individualistic, more communal way of life. It’s not that I’m accusing either of actively wishing for The Big One, but they do sense opportunity in a series of little earthquakes.

I’m more po-mo than pre-mo, and have had my own arguments with modern theorists and my own criticisms of modern life. But it’s also the milieu of my life, and that of my friends and family, and we have been shaped by this modern world. Yes, I think there’s got to be a better way to live—but until I come up with that better way, for all of the inhabitants of this little blue-green orb, I’m not about to cheer the end of this fucked-up, violent, compromised, weird old world.

And if things change drastically? Well, that happens, periodically. Unless we do manage to blow ourselves to smithereens, we’ll manage with what comes next.

That’s what we do.