Nuclear war would be the end of human civilization. How stupid are we?
World War Three; an apocalyptic spasm of global violence that could imperil the future of the species that created it.
Humanity is obsessed with armageddon, of course; it underlies many of our world religions, informs much of our international relations and has inspired many of our greatest works of art.
But if the bell should toll for our species, what will be our undoing?
Nothing has been better at killing humans than humans themselves, and nuclear war is the clichéd formula for how the world ends: A small misunderstanding suddenly sends fleets of nuclear-tipped missiles hurtling into the world’s major cities, and survivors manage to linger a generation or two in the hyper-polluted planet that remains. The 1983 song 99 Luftballons, for instance, imagined an innocent cloud of balloons ending the world by accidentally triggering early warning sensors. Chillingly, the song wasn’t far off from a real life event: A 1995 incident in which Russia misinterpreted a Norwegian research rocket as an incoming nuclear strike.
To really enshroud the world in nuclear winter, however, the earth would need a massive, all-out thermonuclear war — a scenario that has become dramatically less likely since the end of the hair-trigger Cold War. A full-scale conflict with North Korea, for instance, would imperil the survival of cities and countries, but not the continuance of the human race. Still, mathematicians warn that accidents are possible and become much likelier during periods of crisis. “A significant fraction of the total (nuclear war) risk during the last 50 years occurred during the 13 days of the Cuban missile crisis—a period that constituted just 0.07% of that time period,” reads a 2008 paper on the phenomenon.
The nuclear winter chapter of history began in the late 1970s, when a group of scientists—entered the nuclear arms fray. These weren’t nuclear physicists or weapons experts: they studied the atmospheres of Earth and other planets, including dust storms on Mars and clouds on Venus.
In 1980, paleontologist Luis Alvarez and his physicist father Walter presented evidence that an asteroid had hit Earth at the end of the Cretaceous Period. They argued that the impact had thrown so much dust and debris into the air that Earth was blanketed in shadow for an extended period, long enough to wipe out the last of the non-bird dinosaurs. If true, this hypothesis showed a way that a catastrophe in one location could have long-term effects on the entire planet.
If the United States managed to disable the Soviet arsenal and launch its own preemptive nuclear strike (or vice versa), they wrote, the whole world would suffer the consequences:
When combined with the prompt destruction from nuclear blast, fires, and fallout and the later enhancement of solar ultraviolet radiation due to ozone depletion, long-term exposure to cold, dark, and radioactivity could pose a serious threat to human survivors and to other species … The possibility of the extinction of Homo sapiens cannot be excluded.
The nuclear winter paper was accepted for publication in the journal Science, where it was destined to reach millions of scientists and influence decades of future research. Known colloquially by the acronym “TTAPS” after its authors’ last names, the academic article would be published on December 23, 1983.
The world would be bruised but not destroyed by a long shot…
A little analysis with the actual facts you will see that all nations would survive. Less than 10% of the world population would die with full economic recovery in 10 years.
Having done some serious homework on this subject I have come to realize that people are happy not knowing the truth and assuming the worst. Hardly anyone makes an effort to understand the real implications and instead they latch onto hype as their only truth.
Fear and sensationalism sells and if you hear it enough you start to believe it without any need for a basis in fact. Between the endless sensational news stories and Hollywood epic dramas we have abandoned any critical thinking and logic for a fictional vision of the apocalypse when in truth a real analysis says otherwise.
An All Out Nuclear War Between the USA and Russia (the only two that really matter in total destructive force and the only two who are likely to go at it.)
The war wouldn’t be noticeable in the vast majority of the world as less than 1/2 of a percent of earth’s landmass would be involved. While the damage caused by nuclear weapons is indeed severe the idea of an apocalypse is greatly exaggerated by the press and perpetuated by people who react without making any effort to actually understand.
A few things to consider…
- The world’s nuclear arsenals are a small fraction of what they were in the 1980’s. Over 50,000 nuclear weapons have been dismantled and another 7000 are waiting for dismantling in total between the USA and Russia.
- USA and Russia have less than 2000 warheads each that are considered strategic weapons on high alert. These weapons are much smaller in yield than what they were in the 1980’s. Multi megaton weapons are obsolete and no longer deemed useful militarily. This is the result of higher accuracy delivery systems and the use of ground penetrating warheads which are 30 times more destructive than a surface burst so larger yields are no longer necessary.
- In a war scenario, not all strategic weapons will be used. Perhaps 2/3 in an all out war first strike, the rest would be held in reserve.
- Both the USA and Russia have policies of not targeting civilians and due the number of weapons available and an oversupply of military targets, what weapons that would be used would all be targeted on military assets. You cannot win a war by bombing civilians. It did not work when the Germans did that to Britain and it did not work when Britain (and to a lesser extent the USA – but the USA tried to limit bombing to military targets …..just not very accurately delivered) tried it on the Germans, It did not work when the USA bombed Japan (it wasn’t the atomic bomb that ended the war it was the USSR declaring war on Japan and attacking Japanese forces in Manchuria), it has not worked in places like Vietnam, or the middle east. You win wars by taking out your opponents ability to make war not by targeting its civilians. Both Russia and the USA have agreed in the event of war, not to target civilians and not to target things like civilian nuclear power plants. The details are available if you are motivated to find the truth.
- Airburst leave little radiation … almost zero.
- Ground bursts and earth penetrating rounds leave radiation that after 2–3 weeks is safe to linger and after a few months is back to background radiation levels. The bikini Atoll, which took a lot of dirty bombs, has a lower radiation reading today then what you would read from the granite rocks found in NYC’s central park and it is also less than 1/2 the background radiation that the city of Denver gets from natural sources. Modern nuclear weapons are designed to minimize the longer lasting radioactive side effects. The Chernobyl accident released almost the same amount of radiation as all the above ground nuclear weapons testing in history, over 500 bombs. Chernobyl, while severe, it wasn’t the end of the world or even a long lasting regional effect. The press blows everything out of proportion because terror and tragedy sells.
- Nuclear weapons destruction will be concentrated in military strategic targets. Most of the country will remain un-touched, there just isn’t enough bombs to rein wholesale destruction across the country … do the math. If Russia launched 1300 weapons and each weapon had a destructive diameter of 10 miles, so average 100 square miles per bomb, that equals 130,000 square miles. Now targeting assets requires at least 2 warheads sent to a target… at least. So divide that area in half. So 65,000 square miles. The USA is 3.7 million square miles. That means that the total area of destruction in the USA in an all out nuclear war is 1.7% of the USA land area. That’s it! Take it a step further and realize that most of that destruction will be targeting strategic assets in remote locations … we put them there on purpose.
- Mutually Assured Destruction does not exist in 2017. MAD is a relic of the 1980’s, we no longer have the assets and neither does Russia to assure anyones complete destruction.
- Nuclear winter calculations were based upon bombs greater than 1 megaton and cities with heavy loading of flammable materials. Neither exist today. Modern cities are significantly below the minimum loading of necessary flammable materials required to start massive firestorms, the premise of the theory.
Notes on the history of civilian targeting
The view in 2016 from military law attorneys is that countervalue targeting is illegal under the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC). That was not always the case. In the late 1940s, the U.S. did not have a declaratory nuclear doctrine. In the event of war, military leaders assumed that the few bombs in the nuclear inventory would be used against a small number of enemy cities as they were at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 1948 the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) expanded the Hiroshima concept into a war plan for a single strategic air strike against major Soviet cities. It was argued that this would deter Moscow from starting a war for fear of the terrible destruction that American reprisals would inflict on the USSR.
In 1949 the Soviet Union exploded its first nuclear weapon. The emerging nuclear arsenal of the USSR raised an overriding new requirement for U.S. doctrine. Although the JCS continued to plan for an attack against Soviet cities, destroying enemy nuclear weapons became the priority for American nuclear forces and remains so to this day. At the same time, U.S. leaders seriously debated whether to wage a preventive war in order to destroy Soviet nuclear forces before they could be used. In 1950, President Truman rejected preventive war as inconsistent with American values.
During the Kennedy administration, the Secretary of Defense McNamara developed plans that limited the U.S. nuclear attacks to only one or two of the three traditional categories of targets: nuclear forces, other military, and urban-industrial. Under the revised declaratory doctrine, known as the “no cities” or “city hostage” doctrine, U.S. forces would first, in the event of Soviet aggression, strike military targets (categories one and two) and simultaneously threaten next to hit cities (category three targets), in order to deter Moscow from retaliating against American population centers. The “no-cities” doctrine represented a shift away from massive retaliation and towards a more calibrated response to Soviet aggression. Indeed, this increased targeting flexibility was adopted by NATO in 1967 when it formally approved the declaratory doctrine of flexible response. Under this declaratory doctrine, which remains in force today,
During the early 1960s, deterrence was discussed in countervalue terms. For example, Jerome Wiesner, science adviser to President John F. Kennedy and President Lyndon B. Johnson, testified before Congress that the U.S. could establish deterrence based on a threat to destroy six of the 10 largest Soviet cities. However, by the mid-1980s, U.S. officials began to publicly explain that the U.S. did not target civilian populations and instead targeted Soviet military assets, including nuclear forces.
The committee notes that although some scenarios show substantial nuclear-radiation-induced fatalities, military operational guidance is to attack targets in ways to minimize collateral effects. Calculated numbers of fatalities to be expected from an attack on an HDBT might be reduced by operational planning and employment tactics. Assuming that other strategic considerations permit, the operational commander could warn of a nuclear attack on an HDBT or could time such an attack to take advantage of wind conditions that would reduce expected casualties from acute and latent effects of fallout by factors of up to 100, assuming that the wind conditions were known well enough and were stable and that defenses against the attack could not be mobilized. However, a nuclear weapon burst in a densely populated urban environment will always result in a large number of casualties
After the Korean War the U.S. Army’s revised the field manual on the law of land warfare introduced a new statement that expressed as doctrine the growing importance of intention. The revised 1956 manual said, “It is a generally recognized rule of international law that civilians must not be made the object of attack directed exclusively against them.” Previous army manuals had left this rule unexpressed. As a subculture, military professionals may have placed even more emphasis on their intentions not to harm noncombatants even in the face of widespread civilian deaths. While the sources make it difficult to assess the personal sentiments of officers and soldiers about civilian casualties during the Korean War, it is not hard to believe that many in private did not want to think of themselves as waging war against defenseless civilians.
Current OPLAN 8010 Current attack plans Integrate nuclear and conventional weapons to minimize civilian casualties. The Bush administration’s Nuclear Posture Review ordered the military to integrate nuclear and conventional weapons into the strike plans, some of these “New Triad” targeting strategies began to look more like countervalue than counterforce targeting except that strikes in cities no longer needed to be nuclear
Yes many will die and it will be ugly and very messy but we will live on. It isn’t going to be the end of the world or even this nation if it ever happens.
If you would like to challenge these assertions, do so on my comprehensive answer on this subject which also includes all the cited references to the above text which did not come over with the copy. . All opinions are welcome and factual data is greatly appreciated.
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