Armageddon a Little Tired of This

Is your armageddon anxiety on the upswing lately? I know … thanks for bringing it up, right? It’s not going away anytime soon, so let’s talk about it.

Baby Boomers remember quite well growing up with the knowledge that humankind is always a hair trigger away from massive annihilation, and that’s no doubt made us a little “different.” In a less tense atmosphere, following generations have greatly put this aside. This might not be a good thing. It might be better to keep the possibility in mind and choose leaders whose policies will not alienate one people from another.

And to do it more quietly.

It doesn’t help when the President chimes in with his own nuclear sabre rattling. It also doesn’t help when NBC Nightly News mentions the word nuclear thirteen times in the first five minutes of their broadcast. The pursuit of capital, whether for power or profit, is not always in our best interest.

Here is the synergy of mutually assured destruction, as I see it:

Three components drive the process toward a breaking point:

  • Events. Wars in Ukraine, Syria and Yemen, tensions in Korea and Taiwan, unsettled differences in Iran, Afghanistan and numerous other places in the Middle East, climate change, energy and food shortages–all these threaten the geopolitical balance of our world. Will we always have such events? Most likely.
  • Risk. This is primarily a factor of the sheer number of nuclear weapons available. Some meaningful reduction of these arsenals has happened, but a full-scale exchange would still leave the remaining half of eight billion people and their descendants in a new dark age. Additional risk comes from the aging of weapons systems, poor training, and lowered standards of recruiting and/or contracting personnel to manage it all. As the last remaining disarmament treaties expire, these risks worsen.
  • Suspicion. Who is crazy enough to throw the first switch? Who is likely to throw the first switch before that crazy guy?

Each drives the others, accelerating the flow. Too much, and something’s going to snap. So how do we slow the damn thing down? People are saying that tension is the highest it’s been since the Cuban Missle Crisis. So what happened then?

Diplomacy. Rationality. Two leaders, at least behind the scenes, stopped spouting politically motivated rhetoric long enough to learn a little about each other. By the process of negotiation itself, a mutual spirit of concern for the welfare of humanity revealed itself. These are words of Premier Nikita Khrushchev from those dark days:

…It is thus that we, Soviet people, and, together with US, other peoples as well, understand the questions of war and peace. I can, in any case, firmly say this for the peoples of the Socialist countries, as well as for all progressive people who want peace, happiness, and friendship among peoples.

I see, Mr. President, that you too are not devoid of a sense of anxiety for the fate of the world understanding, and of what war entails. What would a war give you? You are threatening us with war. But you well know that the very least which you would receive in reply would be that you would experience the same consequences as those which you sent us. And that must be clear to us, people invested with authority, trust, and responsibility. We must not succumb to intoxication and petty passions, regardless of whether elections are impending in this or that country, or not impending. These are all transient things, but if indeed war should break out, then it would not be in our power to stop it, for such is the logic of war. I have participated in two wars and know that war ends when it has rolled through cities and villages, everywhere sowing death and destruction…

Department of State Telegram Transmitting Letter From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy, October 26, 1962–John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Throughout his communication with Kennedy during the crisis, Khrushchev repeatedly focuses on the mutuality of their positions leading people with similar desires. Yes, the two find spots to get their licks in, but those only further serve to humanize each to the other. A conversation is found. A solution is suggested. Suspicion is suspended. The synergy cools. Completely? Of course not. Enough? Obviously.

It was difficult to hate Khrushchev in that moment. Is that conceivable with Putin?

Is anyone even trying?

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