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How I stopped worrying and learned to love the bomb


I think my boss at work (a Honolulu nonprofit) is a littled miffed at me. When the incoming ballistic missile warning came in over everyone’s phone this morning, she texted that she had just had training on this and for us to, “stay indoors, preferably on the floor away from windows.” I texted back that I was going to post, “still time to donate” on our website.

I live in a wooden house with windows facing Honolulu International Airport, Hickam Air Force Base, and Pearl Harbor. Given even a sub-megaton airburst at several thousand feet, and that the fatalities from atomic weapons come from the flash, not the blast (the flash of nuclear energy and not the explosive force), I’d be a memory before my body could experience any misgivings about the situation.

My boss is a quarter century younger than I am and lacks the dubious benefit of having lived through the Cold War with the Soviet Union (check history books for those guys). The American national doctrine against nuclear war with the Soviet Union was called Mutually Assured Destruction. Yes, the acronym is MAD. The concept is that if the Russians dropped a nuclear bomb on the US, the US would automatically retaliate by launching its nuclear arsenal against them. And if we assumed that the Russians had a similar system (or "doomsday bomb"), both countries would be reluctant to launch any nuke against the other since that would assure the destruction of both countries. This was a real nuclear “policy” with soberly calculated casualties of many hundreds of millions of people.

It was an environment of deadly absurdity: School drills to “duck and cover”—duck under your desk and cover your head – in the event of an attack, America vs USSR scorecards of number of warheads, megatons, ballistic missiles, blueprints and building supplies for effective fallout shelters (forget "bomb" shelters because nothing could shelter you against that), etc. The Military Industrial Complex warned of the US falling into a "Missile Gap" with the Russians -- build more missiles and warheads! And I have to mention that I even actually witnessed a nuclear test blast along with everyone else in Hawaiʻi: the Starfish Prime test which was one of the last Pacific atmospheric tests. The flash lit up our night sky, stopped some cars dead in their tracks (from the EMP), and the fireball was visible for many minutes.

(1962 Starfish Prime post-blast fireball seen from Honolulu. I was 10 yrs old and living in Niu Valley off to the right out of frame)

Not to make a long political commentary here; there are others more adept at making sense of nonsense, and making serious attempts at banning war and its weapons. But it’s a Saturday and just wanted to make a movie recommendation: Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr Strangelove, or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb.”

You have to rent Strangelove at Netflix or wherever, but you can get a good idea of the era through this documentary of how it was made (back in 1964). In any case, we’ll meet again some sunny day. (And there's still time to donate)


H. Doug Matsuoka
13 January 2018
Honolulu, Hawaii

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