ICAN campaigners protest outside the permanent mission of Japan to the United Nations at Geneva, during the May session of the UN open-ended working group on nuclear disarmament in May 2016. Photo: ICAN/flickr/CC
“Now is the time to lift the cloud of nuclear conflict for good, eliminate nuclear weapons from our world, and usher in a new era of trust and peace,” said Guterres, who observed in a statement last week that hundreds of nuclear bombs are just a “pushed button away from being launched.” Continue reading →
Even a limited nuclear war would be catastrophic and kill millions, a new study finds, despite the belief of the Pentagon that the U.S. military could effectively and safely use nuclear weapons in a conflict.
The report, which Princeton University’s Science and Global Security Lab presents in video form, affirms the position of anti-nuclear war activists that no use of nuclear weapons is sensible—or safe. Continue reading →
Elected officials and experts from more than 40 countries have sent an open letter to U.S. President Donald, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and various other world leaders imploring them to preserve the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, from which the Trump administration has said it plans to withdraw, despite warnings that doing so “would be stupid and reckless.”
While welcoming progress on denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, the letter (pdf) emphasizes alarm over the “erosion” of the INF Treaty; war games and nuclear weapons development the United States ditching the Iran nuclear deal; and “unresolved conflicts between Russia and the West including over Crimea and Syria and between nuclear armed states in other regions including South Asia and the South China Sea.” Continue reading →
The new report “names those that are still okay with trying to make a profit from producing nuclear weapons.” (Photo: ippnw Deutschland/flickr/cc)
A new report offers a comprehensive look at who’s profiting from the new nuclear arms race.
“If you have been wondering who benefits from Donald Trump’s threats of nuclear war, this report has that answer,” said Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), winner of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.
ICAN, along with Netherlands-based peace group Pax, released the report, entitled “Don’t Bank on the Bomb,” on Wednesday. It shows that 329 financial institutions in 24 countries invested $525 billion into the top 20 companies involved in the production, maintenance, and modernization of nuclear weapons from January 2014 through October 2017. Continue reading →
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists announced on Thursday it has moved up the Doomsday Clock to two minutes to midnight. (Bulletin of Atomic Scientists/Facebook)
In response to rising nuclear tensions and concerns about inadequate action to address the climate crisis, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced Thursday the hands of the Doomsday Clock have been moved and it is now just two minutes midnight, a signal to the world that international scientists and policy experts are increasingly worried about the likeliness of global catastrophe.
“In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago—and as dangerous as it has been since World War II,” said a statement from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Continue reading →
As a teenager, I remember being horrified about the possibility of nuclear war. I watched daily news reports about the nuclear arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union and listened to music about “what might save us, me and you,” as Sting’s 1985 song “Russians” put it (the answer: “If the Russians love their children too”).
But I especially remember the television event of 1983: “The Day After,” a fictional, made-for-TV movie that imagined a nuclear attack on American soil. The debates and discussions the film spurred make me wonder if a similar sort of high-profile cultural event would serve the country well today.
The water cooler event of the decade
At my junior high school in Southern California, “The Day After” was what everyone was talking about leading up to (and following) the night it aired on ABC on Nov. 20, 1983.
By all measures, it was a major media event. An estimated 100 million viewers tuned in. The White House phone lines were jammed and ABC headquarters in New York received more than 1,000 calls about the movie during its East Coast broadcast.
“The Day After” imagines a scenario in which America’s policy of deterrence fails. It depicts a nuclear attack through the experiences of Midwesterners – doctors, students, children, the pregnant and the engaged – followed by an extended (and, though grim, fairly unrealistic) consideration of post-blast repercussions.
Leading up to the attack, there is quotidian normality, followed by localized shock at the terrifying sight of missiles being launched out of the ground from Kansas missile silos. Panicked anticipation of an incoming nuclear attack follows, replete with period novelties such as huge lines at pay phones.
Although dated and artless in many ways, the representation of the blast remains horrific, if only by virtue of what it forces us to consider: the fire, wind and chaos; the widespread damage and suffering; the desperate need for medical care; and the futile desire for order and assistance.
Society as the characters in the movie knew it – just a day before – was a thing of the past.
“The Day After” was controversial even before it aired, with critics like Tom Shales of The Washington Post deeming it “the most politicized entertainment program ever seen on television.” Reverend Jerry Falwell organized a boycott against the show’s advertisers, and Paul Newman and Meryl Streep both tried (unsuccessfully) to run anti-nuclear proliferation advocacy ads during the program.
In the text that scrolls at the end of the film, “The Day After” declares its intention to “inspire the nations of this earth, their people and leaders, to find the means to avert the fateful day” – to, in essence, scare some sense into anyone tuning in.
Pro- and anti-nuclear groups used the film as a rallying cry for their positions. An Oct. 4, 1983 LA Times article (“‘The Day After’ Creating a Stir”) detailed a “conservative counteroffensive” that attempted to “discredit the film and write it off as a media conspiracy against Ronald Reagan’s strong defense posture.” Reagan supporters also hoped to defuse potential public backlash against American nuclear missile proliferation in Europe.
After the film aired, two simultaneous events at the epicenter of the film’s setting, the University of Kansas, are telling. A Los Angeles Times article titled “‘The Day After’ Viewed Amid Debate, Fear” described how a candlelight vigil in support of nuclear disarmament was joined by counterdemonstrators who “urged peace through military strength.”
As The New York Times’s John Corry wrote, “Champions of the film say it forces us to think intelligently about the arms race; detractors say it preaches appeasement.”
A trigger for serious reflection
Outside of partisan lobbying, “The Day After” opened the door for public debate about nuclear weapons.
Immediately after the movie’s broadcast, Ted Koppel moderated a riveting discussion that featured a formidable group of pundits, including Henry Kissinger, Elie Wiesel, William F. Buckley, Carl Sagan and Robert McNamara. During this special edition of “Viewpoint,” Secretary of State George Shultz also appeared to tell audiences that “nuclear war is simply not acceptable.”
The most prescient and horrifying questions from the audience and responses from the panelists on “Viewpoint” anticipate a future that’s eerily indicative of where we are today – a time of multi-state nuclear capability, where one unstable leader might trigger nuclear catastrophe.
In the weeks after the broadcast, schools and community centers around the country held forums during which people could discuss and debate the issues the film raised. Psychologists and communication scholars were also eager to study the movie’s impact on viewers, from how it influenced their attitudes about nuclear weapons, to its emotional consequences, to whether they felt empowered to try to influence America’s nuclear policies.
That was then, this is now
In the early 1980s, of course, it was the Soviet Union that posed the nuclear threat to America.
Today’s adversaries are more diffuse. The world’s nuclear situation is also much more volatile, with greater destructive potential than “The Day After” imagined.
A modern-day remake of “The Day After” would have to reckon with this bleaker scenario: a world in which there may be no day after.
The bellicose posturing that prevails in the White House today resonates, in some ways, with the public bickering between Soviet Head of State Yuri Andropov and Ronald Reagan in the months leading up to the broadcast of “The Day After.” After the film’s release, New York Times columnist James Reston hoped “the two nuclear giants” would “shut up for a few weeks” – that “some civility or decent manners” might prevail in the wake of public concern about the consequences imagined in ABC’s somber nuclear fable.
But as then-Secretary of State George Shultz pointed out in the Koppel interview, the aim of the Reagan administration was to never have to use nuclear weapons. It was to deter our nuclear adversary and to reduce our nuclear storehouse. Shultz’s words of assurance are a contrast to today’s rhetoric of nuclear one-upmanship that is totally removed from the devastating reality of nuclear war.
Trivializations of nuclear warfare on the order of “my button’s bigger than yours” undermine the grave reality of nuclear cataclysm. Such rhetoric is no longer the domain of farce, as in Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove,” in which erratic, incompetent leaders bumble their way into the apocalypse.
Perhaps some modernized version of “The Day After” could function as a wake-up call for those who have no real context for nuclear fear. If nothing else, “The Day After” got people talking seriously about the environmental, political and societal consequences of nuclear war.
It might also remind our current leaders – Trump, foremost among them – of what modern nuclear war might look like on American soil, perhaps inspiring a more measured stance than has prevailed thus far in 2018.
Advocates of nuclear disarmament are raising alarms about reports that the Trump administration is planning to loosen constraints on the U.S. nuclear weapons program, warning that the Pentagon’s forthcoming plan “makes nuclear war more likely.”
Jon Wolfsthal, an official who worked on arms control in the Obama administration and has reviewed what he believes is the final version of the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), told the Guardian the Pentagon’s new review includes plans to develop more nuclear weapons and expand “the circumstances in which the U.S. might use its nuclear arsenal, to include a response to a non-nuclear attack that caused mass casualties, or was aimed at critical infrastructure or nuclear command and control sites.” Continue reading →
Given Trump’s expressed affinity for America’s nuclear arsenal, it is not entirely surprising that his administration’s security strategy would place it at the center of attention. (Photo: Devin/Flickr/cc)
Viewed by critics as further evidence that President Donald Trump is “obsessed with nuclear weapons and creating the conditions for nuclear war,” the White House’s newly unveiled National Security Strategy (NSS) lionizes America’s nukes as the “foundation” of its security policy and suggests they could be deployed even in the case of non-nuclear threats.
“Nuclear weapons have served a vital purpose in America’s National Security Strategy for the past 70 years,” states Trump’s NSS document (pdf), made public on Monday. “While nuclear deterrence strategies cannot prevent all conflict, they are essential to prevent nuclear attack, non-nuclear strategic attacks, and large-scale conventional aggression.” Continue reading →
Hawaiian officials will begin using an alarm system on Friday to prepare residents for a potential nuclear attack. Community meetings have also been held to let Hawaiians know what to do in the event of an attack by North Korea. (Photo: @USAToday/Twitter)
With President Donald Trump showing little interest in sitting down at the negotiating table with North Korea—regarded by many in the U.S. and around the world as the best method for deterring nuclear development by Kim Jong-un’s government—Hawaiian officials are being forced to take precautions to make sure residents know what to do in the event of a nuclear attack.
At the beginning of next month, the state will begin testing the missile warning system it used during World War II and last tested during the Cold War. Continue reading →
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump met at the United Nations General Assembly in October. (Photo: Shealah Craighead/White House)
A coalition of more than 200 South Korean civic groups have announced plans to protest U.S. President Donald Trump’s escalation of nuclear tensions with North Korea during his scheduled visit to Seoul next week.
The protests are expected to draw thousands, and will kick off with a “No Trump, No War People’s Rally” outside the U.S. Embassy in South Korea’s capitol city on Saturday, Nov. 4, ahead of Trump’s arrival on Nov. 7 for a two-day visit. The coalition has also planned a candlelight vigil at Gwanghwamun Square for Nov. 7 and a protest outside the National Assembly building, during Trump’s address to parliament on Nov. 8.
In a statement announcing details about the president’s trip to Asia, the White House said, “The President’s engagements will strengthen the international resolve to confront the North Korean threat and ensure the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
“Who can possibly welcome a foreign leader who talks about the possibility of a war on their land?” the civic groups said during a press briefing, according to the Seoul-based Korea Herald. “We should take the path of peace, not war. We cannot help but protect peace on our land and our livelihood for ourselves.”
The protesters plan to “call on the U.S. to stop threatening to start a war, putting pressure on the North, and forcing the South to buy American-made weapons,” the Korea Herald reports, noting:
They also want the withdrawal of the US Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system, which they say caters only to U.S. interests while widening the divide between South Korea and China. China, which believes the system’s radar could be used to spy on its territory, has taken what appear to be retaliatory actions against Korea, such as restrictions on Korean firms’ businesses in China.
They also want the abolishment of the Korea-U.S. bilateral trade deal, which the two countries have recently begun to renegotiate at Trump’s urging, saying the trade deal only benefits the U.S. and disadvantages Korea, especially local farmers.
North Korean newspaper and television reports, according toDeutsche Welle, have highlighted the planned protests against “war maniac Trump’s South Korea visit” and noted that the protesters have “denounced war lunatic Trump’s hysteria for a nuclear war against the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea].”
The president and First Lady Melania Trump will depart the U.S. on Friday, Nov. 3 and return Nov. 14. In addition to South Korea, they will travel to Japan, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Hawaii.
In an unusual move for a sitting U.S. president, Trump reportedly will not visit the Demilitarized Zone, or the DMZ, the border that separates North and South Korea. Last month, amid rising tensions, reports of a possible presidential visit to the DMZ sparked concern among the international community due to Trump’s tendency to lash out at Kim Jong-un.
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