Death--the destroyer of worlds

I wrote one of my final college papers on nuclear and ballistic missile policy. So of course I had to go see the film Countdown To Zero when I heard it would be playing at the international film festival in town.

Incidentally, it occurred to me tonight why I am still single. It must have something to do with the fact that I'd rather go to a film festival alone than hang out with friends... Oh, well. I saw three great documentaries and am perfectly satisfied with my evening.

You never know with documentaries, but this one turned out to be great. They had their facts right, and it was low on propaganda. The nice thing about nukes is that all you have to do to convince people that it's a good idea to get rid of them is present some facts about the results of using them. Example: upon detonation, everything with a 5-mile radius is absolutely and completely obliterated. Why? Because everything within that radius suddenly becomes hotter than the surface of the sun. You wouldn't even know what hit you. You might not even realize you're dead! As you get further from the blast, things get a little less hot. There's the zone where not everything is vaporized, it just bursts into flame. And once you get to be about 10 miles away, the only thing you really have to deal with is the shockwaves, which turn everything around you into a missile traveling hundreds of miles per hour. The immediate effects are far too many to list, and this is to say nothing of long term problems associated with radiation.

I don't know why, but this topic fascinates me. The power humans have managed to harness in nuclear weapons is quite astounding. Add diplomacy and things get especially interesting. The United States and Russia have about the same posture now as they did during the Cold War, only on a much smaller scale. Right now, the United States has about 1,500 hydrogen bombs mounted on missiles that could all be launched in less than 15 minutes and reach their targets (ANY point on the globe) in less than 30 minutes.

One of my favorite facts about nuclear weapons is the timeline of how things might go down if someone were to launch one at us. It goes something like this:
  • 0 - The enemy (let's say Russia) launches a missile targeted at Washington D.C.

  • T+2-30 seconds - US satellites detect the launch and US command is alerted.

  • T+2minutes - The president is contacted. He is briefed (told the situation and given all of his options to respond. HIs briefing lasts about 30 seconds)

  • After he is briefed, the president has no more than 12 minutes to make his decision about how to respond.

  • T+26 minutes - The president's final decision has to be delivered and executed by this time because at...

  • T+28 minutes - Washington D.C. is no more.
Not a lot of time to think things over. Especially when the potential consequences of your choice include the death of 500 million people in the course of a few hours.


  1. David ScovilleDecember 10, 2010

    Wow, 500 million people in a few hours! While trying to be sensitive to others, I would have to say that nuclear power is fascinating. If that scenario were between US and China, it could be the death of 1 billion people--15% of the earth's population gone in a moment.


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