And now, as Korea tensions escalate and threats continue on both sides, we find that the South Korean Defense Minister proposes that the United States return tactical nuclear weapons to the Korean peninsula.
I suppose his reasoning (unreasoning in my view) is that if the United States strikes North Korea’s nuclear capacity with conventional weapons and the North retaliates by hitting Seoul with any kind of weapon, then the U S nukes are ready to rock from closer range. Why, it’s the Boy Scout’s motto: Be Prepared.
What could go wrong?
Enter Peter Sellers: “Now then, Dmitri, you know how we’ve always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the bomb. The BOMB, Dmitri. The hydrogen bomb. Well now, what happened is, uh…”
Accident, mis-calculation, the hot blood of battle, you name it. Only it wouldn’t be Peter and Dmitri on the phone but Donald and Xi. If war breaks out with nuclear weapons at the “locked and loaded,” China, desperately afraid of losing a North Korea buffer between South Korea and the South’s United States ally will surely come to Defcon One.
And if the Atom splits , well, you know how that is.
And if you don’t, I do.
In 1957, I was an Army Lieutenant on active duty and one summer morning at 03:50, my post along with others was at the bottom of a six foot deep slit trench in the Nevada desert. With ten seconds to zero hour, the Range Officer on a loud speaker commanded me and the others to shut our eyes tight, and press the palms of our hands over them.
The range officer counted down to zero. Although I had followed instructions, I saw an instant blinding flash. Then nothing for a few seconds before the ground and those of us huddling on it, shook violently. And an instant later, KABOOM, the loudest, ear splitting noise I’ve ever heard accompanied by half the Nevada desert, sand, rocks, uprooted bushes, cascading down on our helmets.
For a moment there was relative quiet, then WHOSE, a high wind with an additional portion of the Nevada desert rushed back from behind to fill the vacuum that had been created three thousand yards to our front. Finally, the range officer told us to get out of the trench. When I scrambled up the edge and stood up the giant fireball was just losing its last incandescence and the white, mushroom cloud billowed wide and high. No one laughed or made a joke, in fact no one said anything it was such an awesome and terrible sight.
The bomb that had exploded was roughly the size of the one the United States dropped on Hiroshima. Our slit trench was just over a mile and seven tenths away from ground zero and had we been standing in the open we all would have been killed instantly.
In Hiroshima the bomb was detonated above the city, it’s killing range was wider and an estimated seventy to eighty thousand people were killed instantly and the total deaths including those later from radiation received on that day are estimated to approach 140 thousand. Fortunately for those of us present that summer morning in Nevada, the trench shielded us from radiation, moreover, the bomb we experienced was not a so-called “dirty” bomb. At least two others that summer were and a large percentage of the military observers to those tests developed cancer years later.
By the way, if I had not followed the range officer’s directions about shielding my eyes (even though my retinas did register the flash) I would most probably have been rendered permanently blind. Despite the good advice you can look at the sun if you choose, but if you do you are a fool.
My bomb was a baby compared to today’s thermonuclear Hydrogen megaton bombs, each Intercontinental Ballistic Missile carrying several of them in it’s nose and when loosed, each one of them honing in on a different target. These bombs beginning with the one I experienced are not like anything else in their ability to destroy life on this planet.
That movie with Peter and Dmitri, we know how it ended. With Vera Lynn singing as the bombs go off all over the world “I’ll see you again, don’t know where, don’t know when, but I’ll see you again someday.”
Efforts to de-escalate the Korean crisis must intensify. There may be nothing short of military action that stops North Korea from continuing down the “garden path” to a nuclear war but military action on our part must be a last resort; there is no “shortcut” to ending this crisis that does not risk the “unthinkable.”
Vera Lynn has gone on to her reward but somewhere there is a “fat lady” ready to sing the song and believe me, we don’t want to hear it.