Growing up near Washington, DC during the Cold War left an impression on me. It could be that my dad, a physicist, had explained how the U.S. and Soviet nuclear arsenals were large enough to reduce the world to dust and have nukes left over to shake up the dust.
Okay, that’s a bit of hyperbolae. My dad would probably qualify my sentence by pointing out that the nukes wouldn’t obliterate the entire surface of the earth… and then he’d provide the exact square footage based on what he’d read and complex calculations he’d do in his head on the fly. That’s how he rolled.
But regardless of whether the entire planet would be flattened (it wouldn’t), it was very clear that, should World War III occur, where we lived would disappear in the intense fireball caused by multiple nuclear warheads.
That was pretty heavy to contemplate in elementary school.
There was an air raid siren near where we lived which, at the time, still went through the same monthly tests it probably had done since the Eisenhower administration. Of course, we grade schoolers did not know the finer points of such test schedules. Invariably the siren would roar to life while we were walking home from school and you felt the need to run for cover even though you were probably doomed.
So it probably comes at no surprise I caught many of the nuclear apocalypse-themed films and TV specials from Dr. Strangelove to The Day After to Threads to World War III. And yes, I made a point to see the TV version of Fail Safe live.
Sadly, even though it’s over 25 years since the end of the Cold War, the Doomsday Clock remains very close to midnight. I suppose you could accuse the Atomic Scientists of being dour, but they do more than just watch movies. They’ve put a lot of time and thought into this. And speaking of time and thought, I stumbled across a site created by Alex Wellerstein, a historian of science and technology.
Simply called “NUKEMAP,” it’s a devilishly comprehensive simulator of what would happen when any of a variety of existing nuclear weapons might hit wherever you’d like Google Maps to specify. You can even project the radioactive fallout based on wind direction. It’s no hyperbolae to say that, had this site existed when I was a kid, I would have spent an afternoon or three going through all the scenarios I could think of… after confirming our family home would be reduced to dust in a full Soviet attack.
Because, if you’re going to contemplate the horrific destructive capacity of nuclear weapons, you might as well have a little fun. General Turgidson would.