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March 25, 2015 7:47 AM   Subscribe

What would happen if an 800-kiloton nuclear warhead detonated above midtown Manhattan? [via realfuture]
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates (183 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
good thing no one would ever consider doing such a thing to other human beings.
posted by dorian at 7:53 AM on March 25, 2015 [11 favorites]


If memory serves me correctly, articles like this (not to mention various documentary films) were a staple of growing up during the Cold War. While no one was exactly sure what would happen during the Trinity test, since then the effect of nuclear weapons has become a well studied and well understood phenomenon.
posted by Gelatin at 7:54 AM on March 25, 2015 [10 favorites]


If memory serves me correctly, articles like this (not to mention various documentary films were a staple of growing up during the Cold War.

Yup - you wanna know why Gen-X seemed so moody and emo?

It's because shit like THIS was part of the background radiation of OUR CHILDHOODS.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:55 AM on March 25, 2015 [111 favorites]


And there are 700 of those warheads in the Russian arsenal, along with God knows how many in ours.
posted by alloneword at 7:56 AM on March 25, 2015


Why stick with just New York? Use NUKEMAP and nuke your own hometown! You can pick anything from Fat Man and Little Boy (15 & 20 Kiloton) onwards or party down with the 100 Megaton "Tsar Bomba" from the USSR.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:57 AM on March 25, 2015 [15 favorites]


Midtown would actually be saved by the protective wall of Chase branches and Duane Reade stores.
posted by dr_dank at 7:58 AM on March 25, 2015 [10 favorites]


the effect of nuclear weapons has become a well studied and well understood phenomenon

While it may be true that physicists and those in fields of safety/response clearly understand the effects of a nuclear detonation over a city, I'd venture to guess that most people still imagine the aftermath of a nuclear blast to approximate what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Obviously that's not what would happen if larger bombs were used.

Anyway, happy Hump Day!
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:59 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was expecting a map.

People think Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the two times people used nukes. Every nuclear explosion from 1945 to 1988
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:59 AM on March 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


There, thermal radiation would melt and warp aluminum surfaces, ignite the tires of autos, and turn exposed skin to charcoal,

This is why you should ALWAYS be wearing sunscreen, even if it's overcast.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:00 AM on March 25, 2015 [13 favorites]


It's because shit like THIS was part of the background radiation of OUR CHILDHOODS.

I see what you did there.

One of the reasons I have such contempt for the panic over terrorism is that no terrorists are capable of unleashing the kind of destruction that would have resulted from a nuclear exchange between the US and the Soviet Union. Even if terrorist were able to detonate a nuclear weapon in a city, horrible as that might be, it'd be one city. A nuclear war would have been everywhere -- no aid or rescue coming from everywhere -- not to mention the jolly thought of nuclear winter finishing off the survivors.

I grew up in a largeish city and was certain that, should it happen, I'd never survive the initial blast. I'm genuinely surprised, at times, I lived to see the year 2000, and more so that the specter of a massive nuclear exchange seems to be a thing of the past.
posted by Gelatin at 8:01 AM on March 25, 2015 [46 favorites]


If memory serves me correctly, articles like this (not to mention various documentary films) were a staple of growing up during the Cold War.

I remember seeing a detailed feature like this for Atlanta, back in the 80's - possibly inspired by Jonathon Schell's The Fate Of The Earth, but fear of nuclear war was pretty high at that time in general
posted by thelonius at 8:02 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Obviously that's not what would happen if larger bombs were used.

And the Soviets tended to favor larger yield warheads to compensate for their less accurate missiles. According to this list, 800KT appears to fall roughly in the middle of Soviet ICBM capability (it doesn't seem to mention SLBMs), with a number of ICBMs packing 550KT devices and others having yields in the megaton range, not to mention the multiplier effect if MIRVs were deployed on a single target. .
posted by Gelatin at 8:09 AM on March 25, 2015


If memory serves me correctly, articles like this (not to mention various documentary films were a staple of growing up during the Cold War.

Prosperity and Fear. Sums up the Cold War in the United States quite nicely.
Civil Defense officials in the 1950s and '60s designated hundreds of thousands of sites across the country as shelters. They were basement areas of schools and other large buildings, stocked with water and canned food – and they were considered a crucial way of limiting the damage posed by nuclear war.

Shelters – both those in public buildings and in people's backyards – became a staple of civil defense drills, public service announcements, articles in Life magazine and Popular Mechanics and even the occasional pop song.

Black-and-yellow signs are still outside many buildings, but the shelters are no longer active. It's not clear exactly when the federal fallout shelter program began and ended. The agency that sponsored it was formally terminated in 1979.
256 images of Fallout Shelter signs on buildings can be seen here.
posted by zarq at 8:11 AM on March 25, 2015 [7 favorites]


party down with the 100 Megaton "Tsar Bomba" from the USSR.

Here's the best way I can describe a 100 megaton blast.

The entire city of Chicago -- every single block -- smashed and burned.

All of Chicagoland -- every suburb, all the way to Wisconsin, lots of NW Indiana -- burned.

If you're in Milwaukee and you're outside when the bomb goes off, you've got a real chance of getting 2nd degree burns from it.
posted by eriko at 8:14 AM on March 25, 2015 [14 favorites]


Because I was a carefree and lighthearted kid, I know I read something similar to this when I was younger. I already had nuclear war dreams fairly often growing up -- thanks, Reagan! -- and it's still pure nightmare fuel. Falken's grimly cheerful plan from "WarGames" definitely resonated in my ten-year-old mind:

"Oh it's alright, I've planned ahead. We're just three miles from a primary target. A millisecond of brilliant light and we're vaporized. Much more fortunate than the millions who will wander sightless through the smoldering aftermath. We’ll be spared the horror of survival."
posted by informavore at 8:15 AM on March 25, 2015 [28 favorites]


While it may be true that physicists and those in fields of safety/response clearly understand the effects of a nuclear detonation over a city

Not to mention those of us who played role playing games like Twilight: 2000.

Fun fact: I first learned of FEMA -- which inherited the functions of Civil Defense -- thru one of T2000's sourcebooks, well before 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina made the agency famous.
posted by Gelatin at 8:15 AM on March 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


The stuff about firestorms reminds me of Dan Carlin's Logical Insanity episode of Hardcore History; it's two and a half hours, but it makes a very compelling case that nuclear weapons aren't necessarily "worse" than the firebombing techniques that had previously been used in warfare. (His ultimate point, of course, is not that nuclear war is peachy, but that humanity was already tending toward the horrifyingly violent by the time nukes appeared.)

Anyway, the REALLY interesting part of that episode, to me, was the idea some folks were kicking around when aeronautics first got started - that any use of aircraft in war would be considered a crime against humanity. It's kind of a shame humans didn't pursue that line of thought while we had the chance.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:18 AM on March 25, 2015 [25 favorites]


The first comment is beautiful:


Avatar
David Szabo
4 days ago
What earthling,s failed to realise that everytime we set of a nuke it distorts time and space a einstein rosen affect like a mirror a opisite is realised in space time.Elecron,s work in the same way a HEISENBERG BRIDGE AFFECT HAS BRODCASTED OUR PRESENCE IN OUR GALATIC NEIBORORHOOD WE ARE HERE,it,s not that we have not bin noticed mankind was contacted many many times in it,s history the Q is what are they planning fore us and imagine the not so friendly ones that exit out there
0 Reply

posted by johnnydummkopf at 8:19 AM on March 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


What would happen if an 800-kiloton nuclear warhead detonated above midtown Manhattan?

The answer is, "Invade an unrelated country," according to a former president.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:19 AM on March 25, 2015 [33 favorites]


Coincidentally, my lovely wife and I recently watched the great documentary The Atomic Cafe, which is a skillfully assembled montage of Cold War-era film clips -- with no additional dialogue or narration -- that details the horror and paranoia of the early nuclear age.

My fifteen year old daughter sat down to watch it with us, and while there's lot of initial humor in how over-the-top some of the propaganda is -- "Duck and Cover" is always good for a chuckle, even and uncomfortable one -- she soon found it disturbing enough to quit watching.
posted by Gelatin at 8:20 AM on March 25, 2015 [10 favorites]


Tell 'em, Egon.

It would be ... bad.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:20 AM on March 25, 2015 [14 favorites]


Whenever there is a thread like this, I'm always amazed that people comment as if the threat of nuclear war was a thing of the past. Every one of us has missiles pointed at us right now.
posted by spudsilo at 8:23 AM on March 25, 2015 [18 favorites]


no terrorists are capable of unleashing the kind of destruction...

A limited exchange might be worse. You'd have this sort of slow motion nuclear war where the players keep pushing up the stakes. Boom, there goes that city. Oh yeah? Boom, Boom, there goes two cities. Then a short conventional struggle augmented by tactical nukes until one side either has to use the big boomers or lose. Boom. Now it's the other side winning the conventional war. But here come the allies! Boom. Now the U.N. and China gets involved because all the damn fallout is drifting all over other countries.

Yeah. Could be very ugly.

The nice thing about a full nuclear exchange is it's quick. Like ripping off a band-aid.
I mean, yeah, it's horrible, but even more nightmarish when your realize the PLUS side of it is you don't have irradiated refugees draining your resources spreading fear and infection or irradiated livestock spreading pestilance, etc.

I don't know why the hell we haven't gotten rid of the things.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:24 AM on March 25, 2015 [12 favorites]


Civil Defense officials in the 1950s and '60s designated hundreds of thousands of sites across the country as shelters. They were basement areas of schools and other large buildings, stocked with water and canned food – and they were considered a crucial way of limiting the damage posed by nuclear war.

And they were considered an excellent way to provide nightmare fuel to a young Rock Steady every day of elementary school.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:28 AM on March 25, 2015 [9 favorites]


For the curious, you should watch The War Game by Peter Watkins. It portrays the effects in a very effective way.
posted by njohnson23 at 8:28 AM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


All of us Gen X'ers got to see first hand what would happen because of the TV movie "The Day After."

As a kid I lived a considerable distance from any major cities which meant we'd be safe if the Russians dropped the bomb. Except that we lived right down the road from Central Command and a GE manufacturing plant that made nuclear triggers. I remember going to bed at night and wondering if I'd be woken up to nuclear winds burning my neighborhood down.

Yeah, the 80's sucked.
posted by photoslob at 8:29 AM on March 25, 2015 [23 favorites]


You'd finally be able to get low-cost housing in the city?
posted by happyroach at 8:29 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


I read these bits with skepticism:

A ball of superheated air would form, initially expanding outward at millions of miles per hour. ... After one second, the fireball would be roughly a mile in diameter.

Okay, one second to expand a radius to a half a mile is 1800 miles per hour, not millions of mph.

Wind speed at this distance would be 70 to 100 miles per hour. Buildings of heavy construction would suffer little structural damage, but all exterior windows would be shattered, and non-supporting interior walls and doors would be severely damaged or blown down.

70 to 100 mile per hour winds are not going to break every exterior window and would do little to nothing to interior walls.

Methinks this article is pulling numbers and events out of its ass.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:31 AM on March 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


Blessed are those who are quickly incinerated and don't have to suffer radiation or societal collapse.

I went to junior school quite near to an RAF base, and remember vividly my teacher cheerily telling the class that it wouldn't matter if there was a war since none of us would ever know anything about it. Quite something for a small child to be told by a person in authority that a quick death would be a blessing.
posted by sobarel at 8:31 AM on March 25, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'll be honest, I'm currently sitting smack in between the White House and the Capitol (and spend most of my waking hours in this spot), and my worst nuclear fear is that I'll be at home in the suburbs when one of the less competently armed-to-the-teeth countries nails us. Getting vaporized has always sounded so much better than being in the 2nd- to 3rd-degree burn zone. Or in the immediate fallout area. But it's good to have some concrete details to layer onto the fear. Why yes, I did read a lot of morbid post-nuclear-apocalypse lit as a kid, why do you ask?

Also, after playing around with the map a bit, it seems like Mount Weather is really on the cusp of not being quite far enough away, if bombs get any bigger. That's quite a thought.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 8:32 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


With our current surveillance ability, wouldn't we be able to rapidly respond to an inter-continental missile? What actually would be the likelihood that a non-North American state could launch a successful nuclear attack on America?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 8:32 AM on March 25, 2015


1950's redux. This was my childhood...
posted by jim in austin at 8:34 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


As a kid I lived a considerable distance from any major cities which meant we'd be safe if the Russians dropped the bomb.

In which case 1983's Testament or the 1959 classic On the Beach might be more applicable.
posted by Gelatin at 8:35 AM on March 25, 2015 [8 favorites]


70 to 100 mile per hour winds are not going to break every exterior window and would do little to nothing to interior walls.

My understanding is that the blast wave and not the speed of the winds is what would wreck infrastructure.
posted by zarq at 8:37 AM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Speaking of Dan Carlin, I recall him talking about one of the suggested designs for what is now known as “The Football”, i.e., the device with which nuclear weapons can be launched. The design called for a necessary component to be placed within the body cavity of a volunteer, who would follow the president always. Should the president wish to push the button, she or he would be required to personally kill and open this companion in order to retrieve the required component to arm the device.

If you would kill faceless millions, you would first have to kill this one familiar person.

(I see your The Day After, and raise you Threads).
posted by bouvin at 8:37 AM on March 25, 2015 [73 favorites]


Cruise missiles are way scarier than an ICBM since there's not the 10-15 minute warning with them.

As to anti-ICBM defenses, I'm not sure if the US has that capability. I've read about prototypes but nothing that's ever been widely implemented. Also, with the fall of the Soviet Union much has been dismantled.
posted by johnnydummkopf at 8:37 AM on March 25, 2015




My understanding is that the blast wave and not the speed of the winds is what would wreck infrastructure.

On top of that, since the heat and pressure wave create a partial vacuum, there'd be a second wave of wind as air rushes back toward the detonation site -- drawn additionally by the rising fireball, of course, and memorably illustrated by this test footage of a stand of trees in a nuclear blase -- that would put added stress on already damaged structures.
posted by Gelatin at 8:41 AM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Thanks Cold War. I grew up happy knowing that I lived within a few miles of a very likely nuclear target and that if it happened, I would be vaporized quickly instead of living in the aftermath.

We also had a leader who thought that this was funny.
posted by plinth at 8:42 AM on March 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


And there are 700 of those warheads in the Russian arsenal, along with God knows how many in ours.

Like that? None, really. US missile warheads top out at ~500KT and your basic one is more like 350KT. Googling, there are maybe 650 B83 bombs that go up to 1200KT, but delivering a gravity bomb is not going to be the most fun way to nuke someplace. A 350KT explosion will still ruin your day if you're within a couple-few miles of it.

Nuclear weapons are interesting if obviously horrifying. So we're going to set off what amounts to a boosted Nagasaki bomb, but we don't really give a shit about that. We just want sufficiently hellish conditions to smack this thing we put next to the Nagasaki bomb so fucking hard that it starts fusing. And, while that's fun and all, really we don't care very much about the fusion explosion. What we really want to do is spray such an unholy shitload of neutrons at the missile's casing that it starts fissioning too. Even more than most weapons, there's something especially chilling about the idea of using a Nagasaki bomb as not even the trigger, but the trigger to the trigger to the thing we really care about.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:42 AM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Quite something for a small child to be told by a person in authority that a quick death would be a blessing.

Just in case that wasn't enough, Threads (1984) made that point abundantly clear.
posted by Gelatin at 8:43 AM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


With our current surveillance ability, wouldn't we be able to rapidly respond to an inter-continental missile?

If by respond you mean launch a counterstrike, then yes, but nobody has any real way to stop an incoming attack once it's been launched, unless it's like, maybe, the North Koreans with one rickety ICBM. Probably not even then.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:44 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Day After and Threads were rough viewing, but when I saw When the Wind Blows I spent the rest of the weekend rocking back and forth in a catatonic little ball. *shudders*
posted by informavore at 8:49 AM on March 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


If you haven't seen it, add When the Wind Blows to your watchlist of 1980's nuclear war nightmare-inducing horror shows.
posted by marxchivist at 8:49 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


All of Chicagoland -- every suburb, all the way to Wisconsin, lots of NW Indiana -- burned.

and if you're a hundred miles away and just happen to be looking in that direction when the blast happens, you'll go instantly blind.

that any use of aircraft in war would be considered a crime against humanity. It's kind of a shame humans didn't pursue that line of thought while we had the chance.

war itself is a crime against humanity. That's my takeaway from World War Two and how it ended. Once the atom got split, the notion of taking violence to its limit has meant that we go past all limits. So we're left with the concept of limited war or, as a friend put it, The Third World War. Not World War Three (no, that's the end of us all) but the perpetual war that is fought mostly by proxy in the so-called Third World.

I can't help but feel that all so-called terrorist action is direct fallout from this war.
posted by philip-random at 8:49 AM on March 25, 2015 [18 favorites]


Blessed are those who are quickly incinerated and don't have to suffer radiation or societal collapse.

I know I've mentioned it here before but having your fourth grade teacher tell the class if a bomb drops, she is "going up on the roof to watch because [she] doesn't want to live through that" is pretty much THE MOST HORRIFIC THING you can say to impressionable children. 30+ years later it is still indelibly impressed...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:51 AM on March 25, 2015 [24 favorites]




Yes, but would the Mets still play?
posted by jonmc at 8:53 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


GOD DAMN YOUR EYES SOMEONE HAD TO MENTION THREADS AND WHEN THE WIND BLOWS NOW YOU CAN JUST ROCK ME TO SLEEP TONIGHT

Black-and-yellow signs are still outside many buildings, but the shelters are no longer active. It's not clear exactly when the federal fallout shelter program began and ended. The agency that sponsored it was formally terminated in 1979.

One of the more "interesting" conversations I've had started when my Irish friend, who was here visiting the U.S. for the first time back in 1998, spotted one of those "fallout shelter" signs on the wall of a municipal building and asked "what's that for?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:55 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Relevant: John Varley, The Manhattan Phone Book (Abridged).

Read it, it only takes five minutes.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:56 AM on March 25, 2015 [37 favorites]


What would happen if an 800-kiloton nuclear warhead detonated above midtown Manhattan?

The "west coast is best coast" argument is definitively settled.
posted by Monochrome at 8:56 AM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Ink spots on the ground would be all that's left.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 9:02 AM on March 25, 2015


The cover of the classic Midnight Oil album Red Sails in the Sunset depicted the result if (or when, as it felt in the early 80s) this happened to Sydney
posted by Flashman at 9:13 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Methinks this article is pulling numbers and events out of its ass.
Well, yeah, it's unclear. I presume they're conflating the light and heat speed of the explosion with air speed or shockwave transmission. But the hyperbole - while I wholeheartedly agree does a disservice to the topic in its imprecision and attempt to overstate the effects - doesn't, in fact, overstate the -damage- of the effects

70 to 100 mile per hour winds are not going to break every exterior window and would do little to nothing to interior walls.

My understanding is that the blast wave and not the speed of the winds is what would wreck infrastructure.


Yeah, it's not *that* the wind is blowing. It's *what* the wind is blowing

...like flaming, radioactive debris sucked up into the stem of the blast and rained helter skelter at hundreds of miles an hour.

There is (as noted above) a difference between the shock wave from the blast and the blast wind. You get an initial shockwave and shrapnel carried by the initial blast. Then a vacuum from the compression of the air at the center of the blast and air rusing back to fill the void. Which means shrapnel comes from both sides. And eventuallty from above too.
Nifty stuff.
Here you can see the effect, bomb air goes out, bomb air comes in. Messy.

So the wind does do less damage further out. But the blast can still rain chunks of stuff on you from the center of the blast.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:13 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


jonmc: Yes, but would the Mets still play?

They're the only ones left. A carrier was sent from Norfork to pick the Yankees up for free.
posted by dr_dank at 9:18 AM on March 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


Here you can see the effect, bomb air goes out, bomb air comes in.

...but not before the paint on each of those houses burns off prior to the shock wave hitting.
posted by Gelatin at 9:18 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Anyway, the REALLY interesting part of that episode, to me, was the idea some folks were kicking around when aeronautics first got started - that any use of aircraft in war would be considered a crime against humanity.

They used to say the same thing about crossbows. History shows, time and time again, that people just aren't going to pass up a chance at having the baddest weapon on the block, no matter who complains.
posted by Edgewise at 9:18 AM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


One of the things that I didn't really understand until recently, and never quite came across in those Cold War descriptions of nuclear war, is that it wouldn't just be one bomb per city. It would be many bombs, for each major city, probably going off every few minutes; sometimes in rapid succession and sometimes with time in between. Probably over the course of hours.

I doubt there would be very much standing in a place like Manhattan. What the first bomb didn't take out, the next half-dozen probably would, as you'd have shock waves not just hitting structures from one direction but from many, over and over.

Exactly how many warheads were (and still are) designated purely for the destruction of populated areas and everyone living there, as opposed to military installations and such, is impossible to know for sure—to this day, the Russian and American targeting plans are pretty closely-guarded secrets—but it's almost certainly more than a few.

Oh, and depending on who you believe, the Soviets also planned to polish off any American or Western European survivors with a few loads of smallpox. Just, you know, for good measure.

Sweet dreams.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:21 AM on March 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


> > A ball of superheated air would form, initially expanding outward at millions of miles per hour. ... After one second, the fireball would be roughly a mile in diameter.

> Okay, one second to expand a radius to a half a mile is 1800 miles per hour, not millions of mph.

That's assuming a constant speed but in fact the outward surface of the explosion would be decelerating very rapidly - the amount of air the bomb has to displace increases as the square of the radius of the explosion.

This well-known image shows that after one millisecond the explosion has expanded to aboat 20m, which translates to 72,000 kilometers an hour in the first 1ms, as opposed to 3000km/hr in the first second.

I wasn't able to find out the speed in the first microsecond of the explosion, but a speed of millions of kilometers (or miles - the difference in this case is not so important) an hour is absolutely not inconsistent with the information we have.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:22 AM on March 25, 2015 [15 favorites]


Reading the link in this FPP, thinking back to how The Day After scared the crap out of a young wolf, and recalling the horror I felt when first I read The Manhattan Phone Book (Abridged), I think one of the most frightening facts of life in the Nuclear Age is that, at this very moment, there are political leaders, military leaders, and terrorist leaders who get goddamn hard-ons imagining unleashing this kind of hell on their fellow humans.

Sometimes I think young John Connor's quote from T2 pretty much nails it: "We're not gonna make it, are we? People, I mean" he says to the T-800 as they watch two little kids playing with guns and fighting.
posted by lord_wolf at 9:30 AM on March 25, 2015 [19 favorites]


One of the nice things about living in the greater DC area is that I know I'll be wiped out in the first wave of bombs. No scavenging for rats and cockroaches in the nuclear rubble for me!

(Part of me still longs for one of these though.)
posted by longdaysjourney at 9:30 AM on March 25, 2015


I think this thread needs some comforting words from everyone's favorite neighbor.
posted by radwolf76 at 9:35 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Anybody not wearing 2 million sunblock is gonna have a real bad day, get it?!"
posted by entropicamericana at 9:35 AM on March 25, 2015 [9 favorites]


Ugh, every time one of these "Lets contemplate the effects of nuclear weapons" posts shows up I wonder why its here. What are we going to DO about it, Mefites? Because while we don't really need to do something about every topic that hits the front page, these posts are always filled with people relating how they spent their childhoods filled with powerless dread over the possibility of nuclear war. And as spudsilo points out, this isn't even a problem which has been solved. I don't want my children to live with this fear, or worse the fulfillment of this fear.

Our arsenal and the other arsenals around the world whose existence is justified by ours, just as we justify ours by theirs, are a threat to humanity, and an invitation to other countries to join the nuclear club.

Have we all sent a letter to our Congresspeople lately telling them we want nuclear disarmament? Are we all going to talk to the candidates (in our favorite party if we live in a competitive district, or in the dominant party if we live in a "safe" district) as they campaign in the upcoming primaries and tell them we'll support the ones who will support nuclear disarmament?

Because, honestly, the reason we have to live in fear of these weapons is that when we bother to think about them at all, we just give a shudder of dread and maybe post some minor complaint about our dread, and then move on.

And really, for the most part, all of the above discussion also applies to global warming.

Here's the letter I'm sending to my Congresspeople:
Dear (congressperson),

I'm writing to urge you to support nuclear disarmament. There is no valid justification for maintaining a huge arsenal of weapons whose use would be a catastrophe far greater than any in history. Please work to decrease the size of our nuclear arsenal and support negotiations with other nuclear states to reduce the size of theirs.

Thank you very much for your attention to this issue.

Your constituent,

Reverend John
posted by Reverend John at 9:36 AM on March 25, 2015 [18 favorites]


With our current surveillance ability, wouldn't we be able to rapidly respond to an inter-continental missile?

Sorry to have to break this to you. But our current surveillance efforts are now fully targeting non conformist Americans.
posted by notreally at 9:38 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


these posts are always filled with people relating how they spent their childhoods filled with powerless dread over the possibility of nuclear war

Sometimes the only thing we can do is share our fear and somehow keep living anyway.

Also, no way is anyone in the US Government with any power going to do anything to reduce the nuclear arsenal.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:38 AM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Ugh, every time one of these "Lets contemplate the effects of nuclear weapons" posts shows up I wonder why its here.

Because I found it interesting and thought others would, too.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 9:40 AM on March 25, 2015 [10 favorites]


> With our current surveillance ability, wouldn't we be able to rapidly respond to an inter-continental missile? What actually would be the likelihood that a non-North American state could launch a successful nuclear attack on America?

Well.

Theoretically, the USA should be able to nearly perfectly respond to dozens or likely even a couple of hundred simultaneous incoming ICBMs. Only an all-out attack by the "Soviets" would have been able to overwhelm the US's defenses.

But NORAD are the people "tasked" with doing this. One of their other "tasks" is and always has been preventing planes from being used as weapons against the cities of America. They were tested on that "task" about fifteen years ago, and got zero out of four - and no one lost their job over that, indeed, everyone was promoted, and AFAIK there hasn't been the major shakeup a zero out of four score and bodies littering the streets would generally provoke.

And NORAD has never been battle-tested against one ICBM.

Also, I imagine that the complete lack of imagination which dominates the US military has hit them too. If I today were a hostile foreign power wanting to bomb the US, I wouldn't use a ballistic missile. Instead, I'd have a lot of cheap drone-like devices which travelled relatively slowly and had relatively small bombs, and lots of smarts - for example, the ability to flow extremely low or even land at certain points, and transponder spoofing. Or... well, why give bad people my good ideas? :-( Let's stop here.

So who knows what would happen?

If I were watching this as a hyper-realistic game that two people were playing, I'd bet on the attacker being able to pop at least a couple of cities before being caught. The defender has grown complacent and has previously made repeated, unforced errors.

You know, perhaps the great thing about the Internet is not all these stupid, resource wasting-devices and websites we have - perhaps it's that it has moved a lot of technically-minded people away from creating devices of warfare and into pure information processing - some small portion of which is used for warfare, but we're still much better off than when the ICBM was a significant force in driving our technical cutting edge...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:42 AM on March 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


Just in case that wasn't enough, Threads (1984) made that point abundantly clear.

Yes. Or to be blunt.

The lucky died fast. The unlucky died slow. The really fucking unlucky survived.

There are many reasons I will always live in a city. This is one of them.
posted by eriko at 9:42 AM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


it wouldn't just be one bomb per city

Yes, very much this. Back in the day, this was an occasional "over a beer" conversation among people: one bomb or many? And where? Some of the speculative targets in the Twin Cities back then included the near west metro suburbs (Honeywell still made bomb parts there, back then), Fridley (defense industries and railyards), the airport, or even Snelling and University in Saint Paul, if you wanted to drop one big bomb that would flatten a lot of things. But also, any given lock and dam on the Mississippi could be a strategic target if you had missiles to spare, any airport of any size, any railyard or major freeway interchange.

I remember in the mid-to-late 80s, one of our local TV stations (Channel 11, if I remember right) did a local news segment on what would happen to Minneapolis/Saint Paul in a nuclear war. Their scenario was based on three bombs: one on downtown Minneapolis, one on the State Capitol in Saint Paul, one on the main airport. If you were in the quiet, peaceable Midway or Highland Park areas of Saint Paul, you were getting triple-fried. (Also, since that's where Charles Schulz grew up, that meant you were triple-nuking Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Snoopy, and so on. That was not included in the segment, though.)
posted by gimonca at 9:42 AM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Don't worry. We, and our children, are facing the Ogre's Choice no matter how we slice it.
posted by Existential Dread at 9:42 AM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


"Back then" in this context is early to mid 1980s.
posted by gimonca at 9:43 AM on March 25, 2015


feckless fecal fear mongering: "Also, no way is anyone in the US Government with any power going to do anything to reduce the nuclear arsenal."

Not if we don't tell them to. Not if we don't vote for ones who will. What have *you* done? What have *WE* done. And yes, again, ditto for global warming.

You all excuse me if I'm having an "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" moment for existential dread. Or don't excuse me. Come join me.
posted by Reverend John at 9:44 AM on March 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


Back in the '80s some Cold War-era documents were declassified or something and it was revealed that my relatively small hometown of Sarnia, Ontario was fairly high up the list of expected Canadian targets in the event of all-out nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia, due to all the chemical plants and oil refineries. This became a morbid source of pride amongst a lot of kids my age.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:45 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


feckless fecal fear mongering: "Also, no way is anyone in the US Government with any power going to do anything to reduce the nuclear arsenal."

"the American nuclear stockpile peaked in volume in 1966 and has been dramatically reduced since then."
posted by Chrysostom at 9:46 AM on March 25, 2015 [7 favorites]


> Ugh, every time one of these "Lets contemplate the effects of nuclear weapons" posts shows up I wonder why its here.

Because I found it interesting and thought others would, too.


Yeah, I mean just because everyone ignores Generation X's experience as a rule it doesn't mean you have to ignore our testimony about everything.

Because, honestly, the reason we have to live in fear of these weapons is that when we bother to think about them at all, we just give a shudder of dread and maybe post some minor complaint about our dread, and then move on.

Or maybe people are also writing their congresspersons, but they just don't feel like they need to declare that fact in the thread so they can prove what a good boy they are or anything.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:46 AM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


I meant to type eliminate and oopsied it. Sorry.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:48 AM on March 25, 2015


Yeah, I forgot "The Day After" - that's probably what put this into awareness in the 80's, more than a mere book.

it wouldn't just be one bomb per city

I think the article I was thinking of was counting on 4 or 5 for Atlanta, to disable it as a communications and transportation hub. So, the airport, downtown, Robbins AFB, maybe Midtown, maybe one over Ft. McPherson (which has closed, I am told) on the South Side.
posted by thelonius at 9:48 AM on March 25, 2015


Also, no way is anyone in the US Government with any power going to do anything to reduce the nuclear arsenal.

And what if they did? I'm sorry if my Cold War, A-bomb paranoia pessimism is showing thru, but the US unilaterally disarming is absolutely no guarantee that the horror of nuclear war wouldn't be unleashed on us or someone else.

In fact, I have come to believe that Mutually Assured Destruction (along with the occasional unsung hero like Stanislav Petrov) is what kept it from happening, all these years -- go ahead, watch the clips in The Atomic Cafe of all those Senators advocating nuking Russia, so cocky before the Soviets detonated their own bomb, and tell it wouldn't have happened.

As War Games pointed out back in 1983, the only way to win is not to play.

Getting rid of all nuclear weapons would be wonderful, and it's worth noting that the US and Russia have indeed been reducing their stockpiles, but the specter of nuclear destruction involves much more than one nation.
posted by Gelatin at 9:48 AM on March 25, 2015 [7 favorites]


What would happen if an 800-kiloton nuclear warhead detonated above midtown Manhattan?

There would be a 100% reduction in the rat population for about 16 days.
posted by srboisvert at 9:49 AM on March 25, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'd write my Congressman, but I'm not rich so he won't care.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:49 AM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't understand the worry in this thread about a nation-state overtly nuking the US. A terrorist group that gets a weapon, sure, but nations are generally sensitive to the US's deterrent. Which is the primary defense against nuclear attack - NORAD surely could track any plausible number of attacks, but that doesn't mean preventing the attack, but responding swiftly and overwhelmingly.

Who would launch one, and why? China doesn't want to, Russia doesn't want to, Israel doesn't want to, India doesn't want to, etc. North Korea maybe could have a reason to attack, but the North Korean leadership wouldn't survive retaliation better than anyone else.

Nuclear weapons are terrible, but we have more or less stepped back from the Cold War brink of exchanging thousands of warheads. Go humanity! We would rather not set most of ourselves on fire.
posted by The Gaffer at 9:54 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Living near Colorado Springs in the 80's, War Games scared the hell out of me. I was pretty sure that, in the event of a nuclear attack, the Soviets would want to point some extra missiles at NORAD. Maybe the mountains would protect me, but then again maybe not.

And then I read Battlefield Earth (hey, I was 11), which is all about a post-apocalyptic future set in the Rocky Mountains...

My favorite song at the time was "Walking In Your Footsteps," which is about how humans are going the way of the dinosaur.

In a way, it was kind of exciting, growing up under the threat of complete human extinction, but falling stars made me nervous, not to mention world leaders. Terrorists, by comparison, don't scare me at all.
posted by swift at 9:59 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yes, but would the Mets still play?

Yes, and still have a losing season (better than the Astros, though)
posted by Renoroc at 10:03 AM on March 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


the world hasn't had a war to match (or supercede) WW2 in the intervening seventy years because of nukes. Because of the kind of horror being shared in this thread.

If anything has ever given me an ounce of faith in humanity, it's this fact. For all our evils and stupidities, we haven't been evil and stupid enough to go that one step beyond the conflagration that ended with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Yet.

And that's a perpetual Yet. As I recall reading once, the half-life of all our weaponized (and other) uranium means that we're looking at 50,000 years of mandated military-level diligence ... just to manage the stuff.
posted by philip-random at 10:05 AM on March 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


I don't understand the worry in this thread about a nation-state overtly nuking the US.

Because throughout the Cold War, some persisted in the dangerous idea that a nuclear war might be survivable, even winnable. As was pointed out upthread, Ronald Reagan even joked about it. Have you ever watched Doctor Strangelove? Sure that kind of "I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed" thinking was a joke, but it wasn't a very far-fetched one. The wonderful science fiction novel A Canticle for Liebowitz, which opens in a monastery some 600 years after a nuclear war destroys civilization, has the start of the war shrouded in legend, but said specifically attributes it to the idea that a surprise attack just might work.

As I said, in some way, the sheer number of missiles both the US and Soviets had -- in particular on submarines, which could not be guaranteed to be taken out by a surprise attack -- as horrifying as they were, probably did much to diminish the idea that any first strike could catch the other side napping enough to avoid a devastating response. I guess it doesn't say much for us as a species that we created the MAD concept, but at least we let deterrence work in this case. So far, anyway.
posted by Gelatin at 10:05 AM on March 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


There were people in the military advocating use of nuclear weapons in the Vietnam War, I have heard.
posted by thelonius at 10:08 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


and if you're a hundred miles away and just happen to be looking in that direction when the blast happens, you'll go instantly blind.

"pillar of salt"
posted by Sys Rq at 10:08 AM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'd be more terrified of one accidentally going off during transport. There are bunches of stories about them falling out of jets carrying them, or those jets malfunctioning and going down.

"On a January night in 1961, a U.S. Air Force bomber broke in half while flying over eastern North Carolina. From the belly of the B-52 fell two bombs -- two nuclear bombs that hit the ground near the city of Goldsboro."
posted by gucci mane at 10:12 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


"pillar of salt"

of all my uncles kooky theories, the idea that Lot's wife was killed in a (alien created) nuclear blast was my favorite.
posted by Dr. Twist at 10:13 AM on March 25, 2015 [7 favorites]


I don't understand the worry in this thread about a nation-state overtly nuking the US.

As the corporations gradually take over governments, one might worry if the controlled use of nuclear weapons would applied to optimize profit-taking in some future business venture.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:13 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, when I run a hundred yard dash I usually start out at two million miles per hour for my first microsecond (3 feet) and then slow down thereafter. (In other words, still bullshit. You don't talk about millions of miles per hour for a microsecond.)
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:18 AM on March 25, 2015


Yes, but would the Mets still play?

Why start now?
posted by zarq at 10:19 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


There were people in the military advocating use of nuclear weapons in the Vietnam War, I have heard.

There's little doubt that they were at least considered for use during the Korean War.
posted by Gelatin at 10:20 AM on March 25, 2015


The Post: What would happen if an 800-kiloton nuclear warhead detonated above midtown Manhattan?

The Comment: I'm sorry if my Cold War, A-bomb paranoia pessimism is showing thru...

The Irony.
posted by zarq at 10:21 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


"As I said, in some way, the sheer number of missiles both the US and Soviets had -- in particular on submarines, which could not be guaranteed to be taken out by a surprise attack -- as horrifying as they were, probably did much to diminish the idea that any first strike could catch the other side napping enough to avoid a devastating response. I guess it doesn't say much for us as a species that we created the MAD concept, but at least we let deterrence work in this case. So far, anyway."

Probably, nothing - that is exactly why the nuke-launching subs exist and, as you note, MAD worked. All the mechanisms (the red phone, the fact that destruction is in fact mutually assured, the fact that everyone knows about that, etc.) that made it work are still in place. It's implausible that that US will nuke Russia now that decades have passed since they were our enemy and therefore their guard is down; this in turn means they have no reason to try a first strike. No other state has any chance, even with fantastical optimism, of attacking the US overwhelmingly enough to prevent a massive retaliation, so there's literally no country on earth that could benefit from attacking the US with a nuclear weapon.

"As the corporations gradually take over governments, one might worry if the controlled use of nuclear weapons would applied to optimize profit-taking in some future business venture."

I'm as anticapitalist as the next fellow, but I am about 80% sure Walmart will not suborn Pakistan into nuking Manhatten, the better to sell bottled water to the survivors. Nay, not even to create a panic as part of some byzantine plot.
posted by The Gaffer at 10:22 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Theoretically, the USA should be able to nearly perfectly respond to dozens or likely even a couple of hundred simultaneous incoming ICBMs.

Huh? I guess if we were to spend a shitload of resources and build thousands upon thousands of interceptors, that might be theoretically possible, but shooting down incoming ICBMs is really hard. Particularly if you don't shoot them down with nuclear weapons yourself, which is what the older US and Soviet ABM shield systems did.

There's been a pretty large amount of time and effort spent developing ABM technology and, even taking into account the horrendous inefficiencies of the military-industrial complex when it comes to doing anything other than moving money from public to private hands, it's not clear that defensive anti-missile technology could have or will stay ahead of offensive missile technology on a sustainable basis. In other words, if we had spent a few billion dollars in the 80s building an ABM shield we might well have gotten something working against missiles of that era, but any adversary capable of building an ICBM would have easily added decoys or other features to defeat it, and it would have been a wasted investment.

There is an operational system (called GDM), which uses non-nuclear kinetic interceptors to intercept inbound missiles in space. The success rate is not especially good; I've heard it stated that right now, with about ~30 interceptors, we probably have a good shot of intercepting a single incoming missile. The entire system is only designed to scale to intercept a few dozen, to my understanding. It's not a "protect us from the Soviets" system, but more of a "protect us from the [North Koreans|Pakistanis|Iranians|terrorists with control of a single silo]" type system.

The Soviets built, and the Russians have maintained, a limited-area defense system around Moscow, called A-135. I've never seen much written about its possible effectiveness, although it could be—given that they've been working at the task with less interruption for longer, and frankly their military-industrial complex has tended to have better returns on investment than the US's for the money spent—better than a US system, potentially. But even that system doesn't really seem like a plausible defense against a large-scale attack, and I have always thought that it was positioned more as a defense against a government-decapitation strike (external or as part of a coup) than a viable nuclear-war survival strategy.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:22 AM on March 25, 2015 [8 favorites]


Yeah, when I run a hundred yard dash I usually start out at two million miles per hour for my first microsecond (3 feet) and then slow down thereafter. (In other words, still bullshit. You don't talk about millions of miles per hour for a microsecond.)


thanks for providing such a spirited bullshit detection service. I'm sure that a publication aimed at people in the nuclear weapons expert community makes mistakes like this all the time.
posted by Dr. Twist at 10:24 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd be more terrified of one accidentally going off during transport. There are bunches of stories about them falling out of jets carrying them, or those jets malfunctioning and going down.

Nuclear weapons are complicated devices, need to be carefully fused in order to detonate and are armed only shortly before deployment for exactly that reason. It's true that there have been several incidents of nuclear weapons involved in air crashes, but the risks primarily are the conventional explosives going off and/or scattering of radioactive material. A nuclear explosion due to a transportation accident is unlikely. Frankly, the risk of oil trains derailing and catching fire is much greater.
posted by Gelatin at 10:24 AM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


As desirable as total nuclear disarmament might be, those who advocate for it are fools if they don't craft a compelling counter-argument to the incredibly simple pro-nuke argument:

The existence of nukes mean our enemies can within hours not only defeat but erase our nation. There is no effective counter. Therefore the only deterrent is to have the ability to do the same unto them in response to attack.

Those who argue that maintaining the United States' nuclear arsenal is "unjustifiable" are making a moral argument that will never convince the military and political leadership of a global power, nor will it convince anyone who believes that the world contains nation states who seek to dominate or at least manipulate the US in their own interests. The entire international order rests on the concept of national sovereignty, and the only way to defend that sovereignty is to possess nukes. This lesson has been driven home time and again in international politics: look at how differently the US treats North Korea to other rogue dictatorships. The same logic drove Israel's decision to obtain nuclear weapons, it's the logic that drove India and Pakistan to obtain nuclear capabilities, and it in large part explains why the UN Security Council's permanent five remain the same despite the relative decline of the UK and France.

It's pernicious, terrible logic that might destroy all that humanity has built but to try and fight it with moralism and horror stories just doesn't seem like a winning strategy to me.

Successful disarmament depends on persuading peoples and governments that the costs of deterrence outweigh the benefits, not that nukes are bad.
posted by Wretch729 at 10:26 AM on March 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


> Back in the '80s some Cold War-era documents were declassified or something and it was revealed that my relatively small hometown of Sarnia, Ontario was fairly high up the list of expected Canadian targets...

Ask Metafilter: Was your town a [rumored] Cold War missile target?
posted by ardgedee at 10:28 AM on March 25, 2015


Related to my point about an accidental nuclear detonation, the North Koreans tried to test a nuclear weapon, and despite exploding it on purpose, the result was apparently a fizzle. A nuclear explosion from a plane crash isn't very likely.
posted by Gelatin at 10:29 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't know why the hell we haven't gotten rid of the things.

well if you have a better idea for a mass killing machine i'd like hear it
posted by sourwookie at 10:30 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


General LeMay, the model for George C. Scott's character (Buck Turgidson) in Dr. Strangelove, was the vice presidential candidate of George C. Wallace. (edited to add: Wallace got 46 electoral votes).

These stances were overshadowed by Wallace's running mate, retired Air Force general Curtis LeMay, who implied he would use nuclear weapons to win the war. (Wikipedia)

When LeMay was asked if nuclear weapons were necessary to win the war in Vietnam, he responded, "We can win this war without nuclear weapons." However, he then added, "But I have to say, we have a phobia about nuclear weapons. I think there may be times when it would be most efficient to use nuclear weapons."

During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, LeMay clashed again with U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Defense Secretary McNamara, arguing that he should be allowed to bomb nuclear missile sites in Cuba. (Previous two paragraphs, Wikipedia)
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:33 AM on March 25, 2015


The entire international order rests on the concept of national sovereignty, and the only way to defend that sovereignty is to possess nukes.

Among the unintended consequences of the second Iraq War is to make that point all the more obvious. Of Iran, North Korea and Iraq, it's the country that didn't -- obviously didn't -- have a nuclear program that got invaded.
posted by Gelatin at 10:33 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


The success rate is not especially good; I've heard it stated that right now, with about ~30 interceptors, we probably have a good shot of intercepting a single incoming missile.

I think even that is running towards the optimistic side. The GDM has roughly a 50% success rate in tests, and given the way that ABM tests have historically been set up as "strapped chickens" with artificially favorable conditions to secure continued funding, I think there's really very little reason to believe that the system would be effective for anything in the chaotic conditions of a real-world attack.

It has been very effective as a means of transferring $40 billion to Boeing, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman, though.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 10:39 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


By the way, this 2004 NYT article comparing Dr. Strangelove to what is actually known about 60s nuclear strategy has a lot of gems in it.

Daniel Ellsberg, who later leaked the Pentagon Papers, was a RAND analyst and a consultant at the Defense Department when he and a mid-level official took off work one afternoon in 1964 to see the film [Strangelove]. Mr. Ellsberg recently recalled that as they left the theater, he turned to his colleague and said, "That was a documentary!"
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:47 AM on March 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


The success rate is not especially good; I've heard it stated that right now, with about ~30 interceptors, we probably have a good shot of intercepting a single incoming missile.

Even if we accepted a 30-interceptor-to-1-warhead kill ratio, which might work if, say, North Korea decided to court national destruction by launching a single ICBM at the West Coast, it's plainly obvious that one would then need to deploy 30 interceptors -- with all the associated cost -- for every potential incoming warhead.

On top of that, it's trivially easy, and cheap, to include decoys, each of which would require 30 more interceptors to be constructed. There's little confidence that any ABM system wouldn't simply be overwhelmed. (Either that or, if the system actually were effective, it'd create a risk that hostile nations might be tempted to use their nukes before they became useless.)

On top of that, a main reason I've always opposed an antimissile system is the likelihood of creating the mindset that a nuclear war would then be winnable. Anti-missile systems basically don't work, but even if they did, they'd make nuclear war more, not less, likely.
posted by Gelatin at 10:49 AM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


> Yeah, when I run a hundred yard dash I usually start out at two million miles per hour for my first microsecond (3 feet) and then slow down thereafter. (In other words, still bullshit. You don't talk about millions of miles per hour for a microsecond.)


thanks for providing such a spirited bullshit detection service. I'm sure that a publication aimed at people in the nuclear weapons expert community makes mistakes like this all the time.



There's an expression I'm trying to remember when reading the debate about the speed of a blast - something about deck chairs and the Titanic. I'm sure it'll come to me in a moment.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:53 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you haven't seen it, add When the Wind Blows to your watchlist of 1980's nuclear war nightmare-inducing horror shows.
This Winter, from the people who brought you The Snowman...

The 80s were a bit fucked up.
posted by fullerine at 10:58 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


entropicamericana: "I'd write my Congressman, but I'm not rich so he won't care."

Maybe not, but what have you got to lose? Besides, he probably still wants your vote, and if he doesn't his opponent in the primaries might.

Also, while I kept my argument brief in my letter to my Congressperson, obviously the solution isn't as simple instantaneous unilateral disarmament. Nevertheless, we shouldn't let the difficulty of disarmament keep us from having it as a goal or shun intermediate steps which would take us from our current position of having thousands of active warheads on all sides ready for use on short notice to having smaller arsenals in less threatening configurations which could then in turn help eventually clear a path for total or near-total worldwide disarmament.

We can get to a place well short of total disarmament where there are few or no enemies who "can within hours not only defeat but erase our nation". Then we can discuss the logic of why *any* nation would need nuclear weapons and working towards a situation where they wouldn't.

But in order to do that we need to stand up as a society and tell our democratically elected leaders that this is something we want them to do. If we don't, then we get the status quo, until the day that deterrence fails.
posted by Reverend John at 11:06 AM on March 25, 2015


(I see your The Day After, and raise you Threads).

My parents didn't want me to watch The Day After. I did anyway. They were right.

But reading this thread made me aware of Threads, and as luck would have it I had some time on my hands not long thereafter and gave it a watch.

I had a nuclear war nightmare that very night. It was quite vivid and left me unsettled and tired the next day. People wishing me a cheerful "good morning!" at work don't know how close they came to being seized by the lapels and frantically asked "Do you realize how close we came to complete and utter destruction? DO YOU?"

Thanks Metafilter!
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:14 AM on March 25, 2015 [8 favorites]



There's little doubt that they were at least considered for use during the Korean War.


Which war reportedly inspired the neutron bomb.
posted by BWA at 11:14 AM on March 25, 2015


Time to revive Megatons To Megawatts, which turned twenty thousand Soviet warheads into carbon-free fuel and a reduced chance of nuclear war. It never fails to shock and annoy me that so few people know that such a cool thing was going on for twenty years. Burn 'em all, cut carbon emissions, and kill the coal industry in one shot.
posted by sonascope at 11:24 AM on March 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


On top of that, a main reason I've always opposed an antimissile system is the likelihood of creating the mindset that a nuclear war would then be winnable. Anti-missile systems basically don't work, but even if they did, they'd make nuclear war more, not less, likely.

Yep. Nuclear weapons become less of a talking stick when you claim you can neutralize them, and become more of something you'd have to actually use instead of just have in order to illustrate whatever point you are making about your ability to destroy the world.

Yup - you wanna know why Gen-X seemed so moody and emo?

This is another reason why I get pissed off when I get included as Gen-X. Born in the late 70s and I never saw any of those scary we're-all-gonna-die-in-a-nuclear-holocaust movies or shows that everyone and Douglas Coupland says shaped the generation. Kids like me at that point had Red Dawn and Rocky IV; not sure why you're gonna show them Threads or The Day After when they're 6 or 7 years old. The whole nuclear war thing didn't make any sense to me at all, even as a child. The worst it ever got was a kid on the playground saying "Russia has a bomb so big it could destroy the whole world!" and you'd all say "that's stupid, why would they want to do that? They'll kill themselves too", which is pretty much in a nutshell the reasoning behind MAD which as ludicrous as it is did sort of work. I digress. I was emo and moody in the 90s because I was a teenager in the suburbs, not because of the threat of nuclear war.
posted by Hoopo at 11:24 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


So it's not really Gen-X's -- actually, the Bomb is the cause of Boomer angst.

One of the nice things about living in the greater DC area is that I know I'll be wiped out

For a little while in the 80s you could see Keith Sonnemann's "Last DC painting" in the Hirshhorn, as you came up the escalator.
posted by Rash at 11:48 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes, I was never more relaxed about nuclear war than when I lived in Manhattan. I wasn't so sure the Texas suburbs I grew up in were close enough for the painless instant death, but NYC? On everybody's "must bomb" list. My only fear was that maybe I might survive in a subway tunnel by mistake and then have to wait for the radiation sickness to get me, or stave to death/die of injuries in a collapsed tunnel. Or drown.

Now that we're back in Texas, I just try not to think about it too much.
posted by emjaybee at 11:52 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


This "what if" question has a long history at all levels from secret government research down to mass media publications. Probably the best ongoing series about this topic is at Ptak Science books. For example:

NYC as an Atomic Ground Zero, 1945

H-Bomb Wipes out Brooklyn. And Chicago. And New York.

Reporting the Hiroshima Bomb the Day After, 7 August 1945. AND The First Map of NYC A-Bombed

Hiroshima Firestorm Map, 6 August 1945

Note on an Illustrated Gazetteer of Nuclear Mega-Death

One Hiroshima for Every 6K People: a Map of the Effects of a 20,000 Megaton Attack on the U.S., 1963

Virtuosic Apocalypticism: Maps and Charts of Nuclear Exchange, 1964

Less-than-Optimum Oblivion: Measuring the Bad Side of Advanced Nuclear Exchange, 1956

Atomurbia: Responding to Atomic Threat by Moving Everyone Everywhere. 1946

I could go on and on citing his links. This has been one of John Ptak's ongoing research themes, I don't know how he digs up some of this stuff, but he has everything from formerly top secret RAND research reports to scans of comic books. He should edit this stuff and publish it as a book, he'd get a Pulitzer.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:17 PM on March 25, 2015 [9 favorites]


The "west coast is best coast" argument is definitively settled.

No, there would still be people arguing that the New York ruins would be far more stylish and smarter, with a better selection of broiled rat-and-cockroach kabobs. Also the glow-in-the-dark ruins of the West Coast are kind of flakey.
posted by happyroach at 12:22 PM on March 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


This is another reason why I get pissed off when I get included as Gen-X. Born in the late 70s and I never saw any of those scary we're-all-gonna-die-in-a-nuclear-holocaust movies or shows that everyone and Douglas Coupland says shaped the generation. Kids like me at that point had Red Dawn and Rocky IV; not sure why you're gonna show them Threads or The Day After when they're 6 or 7 years old. The whole nuclear war thing didn't make any sense to me at all, even as a child. The worst it ever got was a kid on the playground saying "Russia has a bomb so big it could destroy the whole world!" and you'd all say "that's stupid, why would they want to do that? They'll kill themselves too", which is pretty much in a nutshell the reasoning behind MAD which as ludicrous as it is did sort of work. I digress. I was emo and moody in the 90s because I was a teenager in the suburbs, not because of the threat of nuclear war.

I was born in 1974 and "we're all going to die in a nuclear war" culture definitely persisted in my town through the eighties and indeed unto about 1991 - when there was that brief shining moment after the USSR broke up but before everything recrystallized when we were going to have a "peace dividend". I gave a speech in sophomore speech class about how we could spend the peace dividend, actually, and I had a pie chart.

My brother was born in 1978 and I remember us talking about nuclear war when we were both pretty young.

I surmise that the degree to which the mid- and late- Gen X cohort was subject to late Cold War propaganda probably varied a lot by location.
posted by Frowner at 12:33 PM on March 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think there may be times when it would be most efficient to use nuclear weapons.

The guy wasn't really wrong. I mean, I think this every time I clean the cat litter box.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:36 PM on March 25, 2015


I think this every time I clean the cat litter box.

... from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.
posted by radwolf76 at 12:40 PM on March 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


I was born in 1974 and "we're all going to die in a nuclear war" culture definitely persisted in my town through the eighties

I was born in 1967. No baby boomer, me, but as my comments in this thread indicate, I'm no stranger to Cold War A-bomb paranoia.
posted by Gelatin at 12:41 PM on March 25, 2015


Sarah Connor's nightmare still haunts me.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 12:46 PM on March 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


Not to brag or anything, but I just got a really nice apartment in the fire zone.
posted by sexyrobot at 12:54 PM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


No, there would still be people arguing that the New York ruins would be far more stylish and smarter

"I was into the smoking ruins way before they got popular and you could just see them anywhere."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:11 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm sure someone has already made a nuclear apocalypse playlist.

1999 by Prince
99 Luft Balloons
Two Tribes
...Oh wait, it's right here.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:13 PM on March 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


with a better selection of broiled rat-and-cockroach kabobs

Sage infused, locally foraged, lovingly hand shaved rattus norvegicus atomicus complemented by an exquisitely spiced, butter-drenched side of periplaneta nuclearensii americana , freshly harvested this morning from the exotic depths of the former Union Square subway station.
posted by zarq at 1:33 PM on March 25, 2015 [7 favorites]


...Oh wait, it's right here

That's a lot of post-punk/new wave nuclear nightmare right there. This is basically what I listened to in highschool. Though, I would have to add Mothers Talk by TFF.
posted by Sophie1 at 1:34 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sarah Connor's nightmare still haunts me.

I'd been having that same nightmare myself for two years before the movie came out. The one and only panic attack I've ever had in my life came when I was watching T2 in the theater and suddenly it was all HI LET'S DRAG THE IMAGES OUT OF THE DARKEST RECESSES OF YOUR BRAIN AND PROJECT THEM UP ON A 50-FOOT SCREEN WITH THE VOLUME CRANKED UP TO ELEVEN ON A THX SOUND SYSTEM.

I climbed over five people's laps and and ran out to the lobby and collapsed onto a bench in a catatonic state for about 20 minutes. For another two years afterward, whenever friends were showing it on the VCR at their houses that'd usually be the point where I "suddenly" had to go get a soda in the kitchen.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:35 PM on March 25, 2015 [10 favorites]


So what happens if you live on the other side of a hill in the 3-9 mile possible survival zone? It seems reasonable to assume that the ignition of fires would be somewhat less than 100% coverage, at least immediately, prior to when the winds start getting sucked back towards the detonation. The direct line-of-sight radiation problems would be mitigated, I would guess. The blast wave might be mitigated somewhat, as well, although I would guess it would sweep around most geographic forms.

Also, morbid curiosity, but I would also like to understand the short- and long-term effects of radioactive fallout in the vicinity. Just in case I'm one of the living who envies the dead.
posted by Existential Dread at 1:49 PM on March 25, 2015


I have trauma from living through the 80s (from stuff like the Day After, though also the shoulder pads). Fairly often I look around me and wonder how the fuck we survived the Cold War.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:56 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes, but New York has both the Avengers and the X-Men so I am not worried
posted by rosswald at 1:59 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


That was an appallingly emotionless, edited version of Sarah's nightmare, even more horrible because it edited out the full horror of the original.

That was one of the most iconic film scenes ever made, it might even have changed the course of history, the film came out right as the START I and START II treaties were being negotiated and enacted. So it deserves to be seen as originally released.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:10 PM on March 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


Heck, if you really want a good, prolonged scare skip the cheesy nuclear war movies and go straight for Schlosser's Command and Control. It's really a true miracle there was never an unauthorized detonation.

That book kept me up at night, for sure. Do read it--a nice crash course in MAD and other theories, weapons design and technology, procurement issues, training issues, and armed forces infighting that almost staggers imagination.

Not sure that any book published that year had a better final paragraph.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 2:22 PM on March 25, 2015


...Oh wait, it's right here.

needs more Apocalypse in 9/8
posted by philip-random at 2:39 PM on March 25, 2015


(In other words, still bullshit. You don't talk about millions of miles per hour for a microsecond.)

Unless maybe you're discussing shock waves in dissipative media.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:06 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I recommend Fail-Safe, the 1964 Sydney Lumet film—overshadowed by Dr. Strangelove—that deals specifically with nuclear warfare: IMDB.
posted by flippant at 3:07 PM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Use NUKEMAP and nuke your own hometown!

When I was a kid there was a shareware program: I swear maybe it was in BASIC as I have some recollection of hacking it. It did pretty much the same thing with in-program CGA renders of a map and the p a i n f u l l y s l o w redrawing of each concentric circle as the "blast" circulated out.

The end result was pretty much the same as NUKEMAP but something about how slow, relentless and meticulous made it. It'd pause and give you some fun stats about each of the blast zones and their effects. You had time to think about it.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 3:11 PM on March 25, 2015


Recommended, in addition to Command & Control:

Richard Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly
Fred Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon
posted by Chrysostom at 3:14 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


What would happen if an 800-kiloton nuclear warhead detonated above midtown Manhattan?

Probably somebody would say "Only in New York!" and then another bunch of people would complain that the cronut place was closed.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:24 PM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


I recommend Fail-Safe, the 1964 Sydney Lumet film—overshadowed by Dr. Strangelove—that deals specifically with nuclear warfare

Watch them both! They're pretty much the same movie, except for the fact that one is straight and the other is satirical. (The striking similarity resulted in lawsuits not only over the films but also the respective novels on which they were based; in both instances, Fail-Safe was the ripoff.)
posted by Sys Rq at 3:24 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


No love for The Manhattan Project?

Still has the best defusing-the-bomb sequence in movies, IMO.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:28 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I recently stumbled across this awesome piece of paranoia inducement which inspired me to check into what the advice is for people in the LA area in a nuclear attack. The near total lack of substantial information is a sobering reminder of how vulnerable we are. There aren't even really basements here, let alone fallout shelters. Find a tall building or a view, face into the sunset, and close your eyes, I guess.

On another note, while I totally agree that the current generation of anti-missile systems is largely a joke, let's not totally discount the march of progress. The Navy is bringing railguns online and while right now they're being spoken of as replacements for battleship guns, their precision and range of "over one hundred miles" potentially makes things interesting in the arena of missile defense as well. Installations of railguns in strategic locations could act as missile screens in a similar manner to how anti-aircraft worked in WW2 and it's possible that within a few generations of the technology the range would be so great that they could be stationed within the US. This would of course be massively destabilizing, but as with nuclear weapons themselves, once you know that technologies such as this are possible, there is basically no way you can justify not doing everything to build them before "the other guy" can.
posted by feloniousmonk at 3:29 PM on March 25, 2015


"The Day After" was well-timed. Here a quick reminder of what was going on, day by day, in late 1983:

Sep 1: Korean Air 007 shot down
Sep 26: Stanislav Petrov event averting Soviet nuclear response to false alarm (not publicly known at the time)
Oct 19: US invades Grenada
Oct 22: Massive anti-nuke protests in Britain, Germany
Oct 23: U.S. Marine barracks attacked in Beirut
Oct 29: Massive anti-nuke protest in the Hague
Nov 2: Able Archer NATO exercises and associated war scare
Nov 20: "The Day After" broadcast
Dec 11: Women's protest surrounds Greenham Common in Britain

"Threads" was being produced at about the same time, it would be broadcast for the first time in September 84.

"Testament" actually had a theatrical release on November 4, 1983, also in the thick of these events, many people would see it on PBS in 1984.
posted by gimonca at 3:31 PM on March 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


This is another reason why I get pissed off when I get included as Gen-X. Born in the late 70s and I never saw any of those scary we're-all-gonna-die-in-a-nuclear-holocaust movies or shows that everyone and Douglas Coupland says shaped the generation.

Wait, you want to be a millennial?
posted by pullayup at 3:32 PM on March 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


The Manhattan Project had a serious case of The Wrong Ending. It was quite good, but the garage door opening into sunlight after they defuse the bomb always struck me as utterly unrealistic.

After seeing the movie I read that the director had considered ending it with the bomb going off and killing everyone, and I thought that would have made for a much better conclusion.
posted by localroger at 3:32 PM on March 25, 2015


Just the mention of all the music and movies in this thread is giving me a rerun of my teenaged dread of the bombs. Semi-related: I was living in England during the period gimonica listed events from and had another girl in my school challenge me to a fight over the CND/Greenham Common disarmament camp.
posted by immlass at 3:36 PM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


No love for The Manhattan Project?

holy crap I had forgotten how much I loved that movie as a kid.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:38 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hey, charlie don't surf, sorry about that. That's what happens when I don't watch the whole link before posting on my phone. This is the full unedited scene.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 3:39 PM on March 25, 2015




Okay, even just the first 90seconds of that Australian alert broadcast test was too much for me, but I just discovered someone favorited a comment I made in an earlier thread like this - where I posted a link to a video of puppies and duckies to cheer people up; to whoever recently favorited that, THANK YOU.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:59 PM on March 25, 2015


Data point: born 1967, childhood in remote northern BC, terrified throughout the 70s. The day fighter jets passed over my elementary school was particularly frightening; I was sure war had started. Used to ponder whether we were so remote that wilderness survival might be possible, or if it would be better to be at ground zero. Concluded that zero would be better, but what can you do about that at age ten?

The eighties were far less frightening by comparison. Except for the threat of AIDS and parachute pants.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:00 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


This reminds me: I need to get a battery operated radio and a proper watch. I refuse to spend the first few days after the nuclear holocaust winding a coil and reading the time from a stick in the ground (which of cause would be useless as the sky will be clouded with dust and fallout).

I will still execute my plan of sailing to Guernsey even though, not being a nine year old anymore, I realise sailing is probably harder that I first thought.
posted by popcassady at 5:08 PM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


You'll never know what a great service I've provided you if you take my advice and never watch Threads. I hope you never find out.

That is unless you enjoy waking up in a cold sweat at 2:13 AM, curling up into a ball and trying unsuccessfully to rock yourself back to sleep. If that's the case, go for it.
posted by double block and bleed at 5:43 PM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


As far as I know, the Russian's still have a doomsday weapon system active... PLUS in the event of a surprise attack, systems exist to allow pretty much any officer to launch any handy nukes.

I believe that there are probably a few nukes already planted in the US, controlled by the Russians... just waiting to be set off in the event of war.

Don't ever watch Threads unless you enjoy nightmares.
posted by MikeWarot at 6:21 PM on March 25, 2015


Gelatin: " It's true that there have been several incidents of nuclear weapons involved in air crashes, but the risks primarily are the conventional explosives going off and/or scattering of radioactive material. A nuclear explosion due to a transportation accident is unlikely."

That's been a bit of good luck; there have been close detonations during transport:
A USAF B-52 bomber caught fire and exploded in midair due to a major leak in a wing fuel cell 12 miles (19 km) north of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. Five crewmen parachuted to safety, but three died—two in the aircraft and one on landing. The incident released the bomber's two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs. Three of the four arming devices on one of the bombs activated, causing it to carry out many of the steps needed to arm itself, such as the charging of the firing capacitors and, critically, the deployment of a 100-foot (30 m) diameter retardation parachute. The parachute allowed the bomb to hit the ground with little damage. The fourth arming device — the pilot's safe/arm switch — was not activated preventing detonation.
and
A B-47 bomber crashed into a nuclear weapons storage facility at the Lakenheath Air Base in Suffolk, England, during a training exercise. The nuclear weapons storage facility, known as an "igloo," contained three Mark 6 bombs. Preliminary exams by bomb disposal officers said it was a miracle that one Mark 6 with exposed detonators sheared didn't explode
Plus incidents where live missiles/bombs were accidentally flown live:
Just after 9 a.m. on Aug. 29, a group of U.S. airmen entered a sod-covered bunker on North Dakota's Minot Air Force Base with orders to collect a set of unarmed cruise missiles bound for a weapons graveyard. They quickly pulled out a dozen cylinders, all of which appeared identical from a cursory glance, and hauled them along Bomber Boulevard to a waiting B-52 bomber.

The airmen attached the gray missiles to the plane's wings, six on each side. After eyeballing the missiles on the right side, a flight officer signed a manifest that listed a dozen unarmed AGM-129 missiles. The officer did not notice that the six on the left contained nuclear warheads, each with the destructive power of up to 10 Hiroshima bombs.

That detail would escape notice for an astounding 36 hours, during which the missiles were flown across the country to a Louisiana air base that had no idea nuclear warheads were coming.
And of course between them the US and Soviets have lost dozens of partially or fully operational nuclear weapons (torpedoes, missiles, or bombs).
posted by Mitheral at 7:08 PM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


lupus_yonderboy: I wasn't able to find out the speed in the first microsecond of the explosion

It looks like the bomb is still reacting/detonating through the first few microseconds. So during that first microsecond, the “speed” is of the x-ray photons traveling through the atmosphere and heating it into a plasma faster than it can move out of the way or form a real shockwave yet. So: one microsecond after detonation there's a sphere 300 meters in radius around the nuke that's just starting to move outward at the speed of its nascent shockwave but is growing outward at the speed of light in air. (Somewhere in there the x-rays get spread out enough that their energy flux is too low to ionize the air and I think that's the first outer surface of the fireball. I don't know when/where exactly that happens but it'll be different for every type of bomb.)

gimonica: Back in the day, this was an occasional "over a beer" conversation among people: one bomb or many? And where?

I recently saw a map of where the U.S. had been predicting nukes would target in Minnesota. I remember seeing two covering the bulk of the Cities, and a third one down where it might have been targeting Prairie Island (a nuclear power plant) or Hastings (a lock and damn and hydroelectric power plant). There were also nukes targeting Duluth and St. Cloud, Camp Ripley (a National Guard base), and what looked like Grand Rapids—I can only assume to interfere with the iron mines.
posted by traveler_ at 8:03 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Look at this glorious future that capitalism has wrought. We might burn, but we'll burn instantly with no pain unless we are on the ass end of the blast. Surely this is the most efficient use of human capital.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:22 PM on March 25, 2015


I believe that there are probably a few nukes already planted in the US, controlled by the Russians... just waiting to be set off in the event of war.

Oh hell no. There is literally no need for that in a world where nuclear submarines exist. Seriously, step off the conspiracy escalator.

Moreover, let's say you have the capability to do this. It's risky. It could get found. It would point back directly to you.

Do you really want to be the Russian leader that gets caught with his pants down? Remember, every member of your inner circle wants your job, is gunning for your job, is a ruthless sonofabitch angling for your job (if not, he wouldn't be capable of being in your inner circle to begin with). They're waiting for to screw up. Hell, they'll help you screw up in the most embarrassing way possible. And again, you live in a world where unstoppable nuclear submarines already exist!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:04 PM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]




progress = how many people can be erased with as little effort as possible
progress = how many people's labor can be exploited with as little effort as possible

hahaha just kidding
posted by nikoniko at 1:05 AM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I believe that there are probably a few nukes already planted in the US, controlled by the Russians... just waiting to be set off in the event of war.

Do you have any citations for this? This is hilariously crazy-sounding, considering the technical and industrial factors at play.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:42 AM on March 26, 2015


That's been a bit of good luck; there have been close detonations during transport

See, I tend to view those citations as confirmation that a nuclear detonation due to a plane crash is unlikely. The redundant systems that were designed to prevent a nuclear explosion did in fact work.

But it makes sense, really. Even during WWII bombs were designed to explode only when they were dropped (although of course enemy fire or plane crashes could do it too; as I said, the high explosive component of a nuclear weapon could explode, too, but that's different from a nuclear detonation).

I believe that there are probably a few nukes already planted in the US, controlled by the Russians... just waiting to be set off in the event of war.

I doubt that very much. A nuclear weapon planted in the US -- or anywhere else, really -- would inherently be outside command and control. A planted bomb could be found, especially because it would require some kind of crew -- deployed on foreign soil, mind -- to look after it, or worse yet stolen and / or sold, for the same reason. The cost / benefit equation just doesn't make sense.
posted by Gelatin at 4:58 AM on March 26, 2015


No love for The Manhattan Project?

I'll see your Threads, Day After, Manhattan Project and go all in on Damnation Alley.

"In an post-apocalyptic world, a group of survivors travel and find other settlements in huge custom designed all terrain vehicles."

They sure do.

Youtube here.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:25 AM on March 26, 2015


Gelatin: "although of course enemy fire or plane crashes could do it too; as I said, the high explosive component of a nuclear weapon could explode, too, but that's different from a nuclear detonation"

True. And that has happened repeatedly usually resulting in fairly impressive craters and occasionally upwards of a 100 pounds of enriched uranium and/or smaller amounts of plutonium being spread over a wide area. EG: The 1950 Rivière-du-Loup B-50 nuclear weapon loss incident or the Palomares incident
posted by Mitheral at 7:09 AM on March 26, 2015


Yes. We agree that conventional explosion and/or scattering of radioactive material is an obvious risk of flying nuclear bombs around, as it's happened. A plane crash resulting in nuclear detonation, not so much.
posted by Gelatin at 7:18 AM on March 26, 2015


I believe that there are probably a few nukes already planted in the US, controlled by the Russians... just waiting to be set off in the event of war.

Someone else made the exact same claim recently about Israel hiding nuclear weapons in Mecca and Medina. It's fatuous. The only people who would do that are people who have no ability to launch nuclear weapons. Cite or GTFO, basically.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:48 AM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


And, really, it'd be way, way easier just to plant Russian people in places where there are already American nukes and fudge with them.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:57 AM on March 26, 2015


Yeah, nukes can't really be 'planted' for a lot of reasons, the main one probably being 'shelf life'. Nukes aren't like regular bombs, because they're well, nuclear. The fissionable material in them has a half-life and decays over time and thus has to be removed and replenished periodically. This is why they tend to be installed in a whole like, facility. Planting a bomb in a foreign country would require that you keep bringing new fission products over the border...eventually you're going to get caught.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:34 AM on March 26, 2015


You'll never know what a great service I've provided you if you take my advice and never watch Threads. I hope you never find out.

That is unless you enjoy waking up in a cold sweat at 2:13 AM, curling up into a ball and trying unsuccessfully to rock yourself back to sleep. If that's the case, go for it.


I made the mistake of watching this before bed last night. I haven't had nightmares like that since I was a kid growing up in the Cold War.

I didn't know it was possible to make The Day After look goddamn sugar coated but Threads sure managed to do so.
posted by barchan at 11:06 AM on March 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


I made the mistake of watching this before bed last night. I haven't had nightmares like that since I was a kid growing up in the Cold War.

I didn't know it was possible to make The Day After look goddamn sugar coated but Threads sure managed to do so.


Yep.

Ye were forwarned.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:50 AM on March 26, 2015


If you want something that is queasy-sad (and in its own way I feel like it's more haunting than Threads) you might look at Raymond Briggs's graphic novel When The Wind Blows.

Apropos of nothing at all, I wonder what would have happened in the eighties if there hadn't been such a ramping up of the Cold War along with the AIDS crisis. So many good people worked so hard just to fucking get the word out that nuclear was is not a survivable event and people with AIDS aren't monsters....what could have been done if those people weren't just doing basic "let's not all die/kill each other"-level activism?
posted by Frowner at 11:51 AM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you want something that is queasy-sad (and in its own way I feel like it's more haunting than Threads) you might look at Raymond Briggs's graphic novel When The Wind Blows.

Nope nope nope.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:57 PM on March 26, 2015


This ties in nicely with the recent nervio thread- sometimes my baby daughter is so cute I just want to flatten 100 square miles in a fire hurricane.
posted by Jpfed at 2:42 PM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


barchan: "I didn't know it was possible to make The Day After look goddamn sugar coated but Threads sure managed to do so."

I'm sorry. I tried to warn you.

Frowner: "If you want something that is queasy-sad (and in its own way I feel like it's more haunting than Threads) you might look at Raymond Briggs's graphic novel When The Wind Blows."

I can safely say without a trace of sarcasm that I would sooner go to Cambodia and eat a giant spider than do that.
posted by double block and bleed at 2:28 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think y'all are maybe being a bit skittish about the horror here.

I loved The Day After and Threads. Did they give me nightmares? Absolutely. Is the last scene of Threads (BAYBEEE COOMING) seared into my brain forever? Yep. Do I long for brain cleanser to take these images out of my memory?

Not on your life.

This is the world we live in, the world men made. In living memory there was no such thing as outer space, no such thing as a nuclear weapon. In living memory our deepest horrors were fairy tale legends like vampires. But even vampires could never annihilate a city of a million people in a few seconds. And that isn't a legend, it's a thing that really exists, that men made.

We have also learned in the last century that the Universe is an incredibly vast, violent, cruel, and capricious place. I am with Werner Herzog in accepting that the common character of the Universe is not harmony but hostility, chaos, and murder. I don't like it that that is the case -- I don't think Werner does either -- but I would rather be clear eyed and realistic than stupid about it.

The story of the use and (mostly) misuse of atomic energy is a very human story. It is a power we shouldn't ever have had and don't know how to use. Our ancestors created fables about that kind of power but in our time we have made such power real, and we are making those fables real. Real people are performing heroic feats of invention and engineering, real people are making heroic sacrifices of unprecedented depth, real people have suffered in ways our ancestors could hardly have imagined, unless perhaps they witnessed the death of Pompeii.

The ability to shatter a city like that in seconds used to belong only to the gods. We in our modern glory have seized it for ourselves. I think it is fair to say that in a certain sense that makes us, or at least some of us, like gods.

Time-travel to 1899 and try to tell someone a fable about pressing a button and killing a hundred million people, and watch them laugh. Even Jules Verne and H.G. Wells didn't see that coming. Yet a few crazy people decided that needed to be possible in the aftermath of WWII and people who probably should have known better made it real.

We need to see things like The Day After and Threads. We need to understand that these things aren't fiction, they are attempts to depict reality, a reality that some people would argue is inevitable because no technology has ever gone completely unused and we spent a crapload of money and effort making the technology to make those movies documentaries.

The nightmare is not the thing you have after you watch the movie. The real nightmare is the thing in which you are watching the movie.
posted by localroger at 3:06 PM on March 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Time-travel to 1899 and try to tell someone a fable about pressing a button and killing a hundred million people, and watch them laugh. Even Jules Verne and H.G. Wells didn't see that coming.

During WW1 a lot of writers had apocalyptic future scenarios where whole countries where wiped out in hours by mustard gas bombs, it's even a plot detail in Brave New World that the threat of these bombs keeps everyone in line.
posted by The Whelk at 3:25 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


One of the best books on this is War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination. We've been obsessed with the ability to destroy on a godly scale for ages--everything from the Steam Man of the plains that wipes out Native Americans to electric weapons defeating the "Yellow Peril" to the Reagan administration's SDI fantasies.

And again, reiterating the need to read Command and Control--it covers A LOT of the ground discussed here, including leaving atomic land mines in Eastern Europe and the difficulties thereof as well as the insanity that was the Davy Crockett man-portable nuke. Not even getting into the number of times we've nearly blown up parts of our own country in training accidents or mishap. Schlosser makes a pretty good case about how even basic safety precautions for nuclear weapons were ignored for years.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 4:08 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


how even basic safety precautions for nuclear weapons were ignored for years.

My favoritist example of this is that, upon the introduction of PALs to keep nukes from being misused without a code, LeMay and his minions made sure all the PAL codes were set to 00000000. For $REASONS of course.
posted by localroger at 8:51 PM on March 28, 2015


During WW1 a lot of writers had apocalyptic future scenarios

The thing is, mustard gas was the worst thing they could imagine, and it would take a truly impossible amount of mustard gas to do what one hydrogen bomb can do. The mustard gas might kill a million people, if you devoted your entire industrial infrastructure to delivering it by surprise, but it would not also destroy all the buildings, smash all the records, and salt the earth with poisons that remain for generations.

In fact we have those fantasies in part to blame for the fact that nuclear weapons exist, because H.G. Wells did imagine them, but he imagined that they would make the idea of war so horrible that it would make war unthinkable and set the world free. He lived, unfortunately, long enough to see how atomic bombs were actually used and that he was wrong on that score.

But more than a few of the people who worked on the actual Manhattan Project were persuaded by him or by that line of logic.
posted by localroger at 9:00 PM on March 28, 2015


I hear you, Localroger, but I think with several of us you're talking to people for whom this kind of imagery almost kind of WAS the fairytale monster of our very childhoods, because we discovered the existence of this stuff at a time when we also didn't have the mental sophistication to know it was a weapon that would be used at the end of a long geopolitical process. All we knew was that these really big bombs that could kill everyone in he world, and because we were eight or so, we thought they could go off at any minute.

I didn't see THE DAY AFTER until I was 13, but I'd seen other things before then, when I was 9, and that absolutely terrified me. You know how you sort of KNOW as a kid what the monster in your closet looks like, and how you're afraid to turn on the light sometimes because then you'd actually see it? I can remember, absolutely clearly, a couple of occasions where I was afraid to turn on the light because I was afraid the mushroom cloud in my closet would get me. I knew it was irrational, yeah, but that absolutely was still my childhood conception of what The Boogeyman was - a me-sized mushroom cloud that would zap me.

There is NO danger of my forgetting about the danger of nuclear weapons. Trust me. in trying to avoid watching these films, I'm not trying to pretend nukes don't exist - I'm trying to keep the frightened nine-year-old that still lives inside me from taking me over.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:35 AM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


My parents didn't let me see The Day After; I didn't watch it until college, long after I had become (to the limited extent possible for a suburban teenager) active in anti-nuclear politics.

Admittedly, my sainted freshman global studies high school teacher Mr. Jarvis (to whom I would probably credit about 1/3 of my entire adult politics and who was a fantastic human being who deserves many medals) did show us a documentary about the effects of the bomb in Japan, so that probably had its effects.

But whoa, you didn't need to see that stuff to pick up on the theme of nuclear war. I was a very, very sheltered child who was not allowed much contact with mainstream media or the news, and it was still a pervasive theme in my childhood. (Although Jane Langton's children's book The Fragile Flag (which I read when a little old for it) also did what it was written to do.) I was about as frightened of nuclear war growing up as any fairly securely housed, reasonably bright child was likely to be - that is, when I thought about it, which I tried not to do.

I can't even remember where I got much information about nuclear war, but I know that I knew about it in relative depth by the time I was nine or ten at the latest. Bloom County cartoons maybe? Old Doonesbury?
posted by Frowner at 6:56 AM on March 29, 2015


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