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Imagine this. You had just gotten home from work, school, or whatever you do during the day or night. You are tired, and excited to rest after an especially hard day. When you get home, you open your preferred beverage, and turn on the television. Your favorite television show had recently released a new season, and you are excited to watch it. Unfortunately, the streaming service has ads. You make the best of it, having your cellphone by your side to keep you entertained during the commercials.
As soon as you start to relax, you hear your phone's emergency noise. It irritates you, because you finally just got comfortable. It's probably another amber alert, and you can't do much about that. Or, it could be a tornado alert. On your way home, you noticed the sky was darker than usual.
But you check your phone anyway. Your hand starts to shake as you read the notification. It is not an amber alert. It is not a tornado alert. It is not a hurricane alert, or flash-flood alert. Your phone says this.
BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO YOUR AREA. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
You have no shelter. If you do, you do not know where it is. After all, no catastrophic storm, or any other event had ever threatened your life. You never had a reason to look for some, and you never will.
You look out your window. People are panicking as they look at their phones. Many are calling their loved ones. They do not know what to do either. They do not even know what a nuclear bomb does. Sure, you've seen the movies. You love Mad Max and the Fallout games. But you don't know, not really.
Who launched the missile? Was it China, North Korea, Russia, America, or even Iran? Maybe your country attacked first, and you didn't know about it. Maybe it is a test, but they're pretending it isn't.
This entire scenario is very unlikely. You will probably not be vaporized by a nuclear bomb. Even though your government isn't as competent or peaceful as you'd like, they recognize that by bombing another nation with a thermonuclear missile, they will probably assure their own destruction. You might have heard of MAD—mutually assured destruction—in history class. The Cold War is over (although some assert that a new Cold War has begun), and you are probably safe.
Despite your relative safety, knowing how nuclear bombs work, how destructive they are, and what their repercussions are is important. Schools do not teach what they do to humans, and they do not tell you what to do in the unlikely event of a nuclear detonation. They do not tell you why you should not wish a nuclear attack on another country. They do not tell you how to protect your loved ones, nor how to protect yourself. They do not tell you whether or not you could survive at all.
In 2018, this very same message was sent to people who lived in Hawaii. It was a mistake, however, because the government was testing a new emergency notification system. People were faced with mortal terror, many for the first time. They have never considered an event in which they, their family, their town, their state, their country, and intelligent life itself could be wiped from the earth forever.
But they did, and you should to.
You can not survive a nuclear bomb. Despite what the fiction has told you, you can not survive. If the world is engulfed in nuclear fire, and the consequent fallout, nothing will survive. There will be no plants for humanity to cultivate. There will be no animals to eat. Society, history, and our very existence will be snuffed out, like a candle underneath a glass.
You might wonder how a nuclear bomb works, and how destructive it can be. Answering this question, however, is complicated. We know how the original atomic bombs worked, and how they affected those caught in the blast. But we do not know how advanced the new hydrogen bombs are, or any other advancement. Any concrete information is classified under Q clearance, which is very hard to get unless you work at Los Alamos, or some other research center.
Here is what we do know. Many of these effects will be further exacerbated by recent developments, and some may be unpredictable. Note that the Tsar Bomba, tested by the Soviet Union in 1961, was 3,333 more powerful than the Fat Man dropped on Nagasaki. That was a long time ago, and scientific research has continued since then.
When a nuclear bomb strikes its target, it releases an incredible amount of energy. It's like if a piece of the sun came down on earth. It is so bright that, by looking at it, you will suffer damage to your eyes. Temperatures can get to tens of millions degrees. This happens because of a chain reaction caused by radioactive material—either uranium or plutonium—that involves either the splitting of an atom, or the fusing of atoms (fission and fusion, respectively).
Anything in this area—the blast site—is immediately vaporized. Reinforced buildings might survive, although it is unlikely. It will burn you, if you are farther away from the initial blast site. Any uncovered skin will be harshly burned. You will die. If not by the heat, then the radiation. Keep in mind that this is not a ball of fire, like in movies like Terminator. It is a flash of energy, like light that burns, kills, and destroys.
Remember: this is not happening to people in the military. This is not happening to people who signed up, knowing the risk. This is happening to human beings, probably civilians. They did not sign up for this, but they will still suffer greatly. It will not happen to someone else; it will happen to you, your friends, your family, and almost certainly every person you have ever met or will meet. If set off in, say, North Korean, this will kill human beings that did not sign up to live in North Korea. Humans like you, even if they look differently or have different beliefs.
Outside of the blast site, there is a shockwave. This shockwave will break windows, throw furniture around, and break your bones. Your eardrums might rupture from the shockwave. It will also be hot; many buildings will catch fire. The farther out from the bomb, the less powerful the shockwave and the consequent heat. Only the most flammable surfaces will burn. But there is still the radiation that will kill you. Think about HBO's Chernobyl, and the workers that threw up blood and died.
It will rain. The intense heat from the bomb evaporates all of the moisture in the air, which rains. This is not the rain you know. It is sticky, black, and radioactive. It will contaminate everything. It will stain your skin, your clothes, and your home. Buildings will be black from the rain. It can kill you.
When a nuclear bomb goes off, it does not exist in a vacuum. It releases a lot of force in addition to heat. As a result, the bomb pulls up dirt and dust from the ground. This dust, pulled through the very center of the blast, becomes extremely and lethally radioactive. This dust—known as fallout—does not vanish. It is blown by the disturbed weather system into the surrounding region. It will contaminate everything. Again, it is lethally radioactive. It can kill you.
Many scientists argue that this will cause a "nuclear winter." There will be so much debris and fallout from the nuclear bomb, it will black out the sun. This will cause extremely cold temperatures, which, in addition to the radiation, will freeze plants, animals, and humans until they are dead. This radiation will be present for thousands if not millions of years. You will not survive.
Many will die from radiation poisoning, be it quickly or slowly. It will increase the risk of cancer, or just kill you outright.
If you want to know precautions you can take, there are several articles and videos you can find on the internet. An especially good one is the mid-70s public information series, Protect and Survive. All of this may be useless, however, because you will be bombarded with so much radiation and—if you lock yourself in a shelter—isolation that you will die of cancer, or go insane.
Again, all of this will happen to, if not you, people just like you. Humans who have mothers, dreams, favorite foods, hobbies, childhood friends, lovers, sexual orientations, gender identities, preferred drinks, addiction problems, health issues, dreams of retirement, rivals, best friends, political opinions, crushes, the flu, and a fear of death. They are born worthy of love. In his masterpiece, Underworld, Don DeLillo says this,
"All these people formed by language and climate and popular songs and breakfast foods and the jokes they tell and the cars they drive have never had anything in common so much as this, that they are sitting in the furrow of destruction."
These people are not Americans, they are humans. I repeat this because it is easy to forget that these people are humans, even if they are far away. It is easy to propose a nuclear preemptive strike against North Korea. It is not easy to tell someone that they are human beings. and should not be exterminated because their leader whom they did not choose is a psychopath. "Fire and Fury" sounds powerful and delightfully masculine, but it is human beings like you who will be caught up in the fire and fury. They are the ones who will die.
If you are one of those people who pretend that they are better than these people, I hold no hope for you. You will live your life in cowardice and fear. Still, you might want to know about the Dead Hand, also known as the Perimeter. If a nuclear strike is detected in or around Russian soil, a barrage of nuclear weapons will strike back. Even if we do not attack Russia directly, it is entirely possible that an attack of North Korea could be within this perimeter. It is also likely that China has a system similar to the Dead Hand. America no longer uses such a system, but it is likely they have something similar. Again, this is conjecture, but these are strong possibilities.
When you vote for somebody, you are entrusting that person with the nuclear codes. In the United States, the President has access to something warmly referred to as the "nuclear football." In an event of an emergency, or just because they feel like it, they have instant access to the entire American nuclear arsenal. At a moment's notice, they can destroy the planet and wipe away our existence. When you vote, you should keep this in mind.
If there is one thing you should learn from this, it is that nuclear weapons are real. They are not relics from the past. They are here, sleeping in silos or being built. If used, you will die. Your family will die. Your town will die. Your country will die. Your species will die. All intelligent life on earth, gone in an instant.
"Nuclear Detonation: Weapons, Improvised Nuclear," USDHDH; Radiation Emergency Medical Management. Website.
"Effects of Nuclear Explosions," Wikipedia. Website.
"The Soviets Made A Real Doomsday Device In The '80s And The Russians Still Have It Today," Jason Torchinsky.
"The First Light of Trinity," Alex Wellerstein. Website.
"Flash Burns," National Science Digital Library. Website.
"Here's How Much Deadlier Today's Nukes Are Compared to WWII A-Bombs," Jay Bennett. Website.
Note: if there are mistakes, let me know so I can correct them.