What Nuclear War Looks Like in the 21st Century

Countries will not give up nuclear arsenal. They might have in the first decade of the 21st century. That was a window of opportunity to do things different. Counter insurgency warfare was going to replace regimental military practice with no collateral damage in the western half of the first world society. Former enemies would become collaborators in the global first world society as economic fortunes improved.

Brief Golden Age

Jobs existed for greater numbers of people. Political sights were set on higher abstract notions. More people seemed to be at peace. Communication technology advances accelerated global understanding of the world. The situation at large seemed more prosperous.

Dwindling Promise

Wrinkles in the fine scene started to show. Assaults on society by terror groups grew but was very limited in geographic scope. Still, such things peeled back, just a little, the enjoyment of society’s slice of prosperity. Jobs were outsourced. It started with blue-collar positions in such a way that white-collar jobs seemed safe. Economic collapse near the end of the first decade of the 21st century meant a further erosion of white-collar jobs as well. At the end of the first decade, it was clear the promise of the new millennium was but a shadow of a hope.

The World Regresses Backwards

A close reading of world events in 2012 revealed a few things. Global mercantilism wasn’t working for everybody. Some countries that were part of the formation of the European Union wanted to out. Many voices wanted it the way it was. Sovereignty. Economic practice pioneered in some parts of the western first world did not translate well to a global stage. Wealth gaps became large enough to see policies advocated that would now contain the progress of those that did not gain early largess in the new economy. The old rules were taking new form. Meanwhile, traditional acts of sovereign land conquest were in the making.

Living in Oblivious Peace and Routine

Large numbers of people live in a relatively steady existence. A good job, a reliable place to live, eating at restaurants with a decent view, convenient transportation to surrounding cities, parks, family and friend’s place of residence. The option is available to shroud oneself in activities of great pleasure; humble piety, or hours of restful abandon. Much of this is the symptoms of natural freedom. A small number of people get to experience the best forms of this while those we call middle class with a steady job can experience these things in a decent way.

Communications Technology

Whether copper wire or aerial radiation, communications technology changes life experience. Today, we have something called the Internet but whatever it becomes in the future, it changes the way people in a society function and what they expect in terms of fundamental feedback. Financial systems are different with communications technology. Hiring people for jobs becomes a more systematic process. Research actions and inputs can take more forms and directions.

Ideas can be distributed in stronger ways through structured print delivery technology (we call it http web tech or mobile app tech today); images (moving or still); and an assortment information action tools (software and data platforms). Since most of this works very well and improves the flow of activity in desirable ways, we are firmly dependent on it. Many of us cannot imagine living without the function of communications technology in its present form. It can greatly alter the way we live in a modern society.

Essence of Technology

Technology is a broad term and not a synonym for digital information systems. Technology is not an interchangeable word for all things computer related. When a person takes something from nature, whether a stick, a rock, or batch of sand and reshape it into a functional thing such as a weapon, a writing instrument, or bricks for a house, that is a technological process.

The difference today is that we are much better at reshaping these things. Sticks get processed into paper used for inkjet printers. Certain kinds of rocks get reformed into aluminum outer body for laptops. Sand is milled in a highly sophisticated way to become computer processors that run all the digital technology.

Modern Life with Technology

Technology is good in general. Communications technology works very well and eases many aspects of living. The ability to instantly reach someone by voice over a phone is a huge boost in communication productivity. Even more so with e-mail and social networks. The convenience of broadcast TV, streaming media, and digital controlled air conditioning systems adds to the comfort of living. Even modern housing with higher standards of temperature insulation, energy-efficient windows, gentle lighting offers many people a steady place to rest and ponder.

Surprise Hostility

One day or one night, a sudden rattling shake is felt and you might think to yourself, “that was an odd feeling”. It goes away after a minute or so and you think nothing of it. The worst you may think it to be is the minor echo of an earthquake somewhere. Maybe a plane crash. At best, you consider that somewhere nearby large earth moving equipment was at work on a construction project.

All the lights go out and you say, someone somewhere is messing with the utilities. Perhaps doing an upgrade. Most of your digital devices function on battery so you keep on with what you are doing. But the Internet isn’t working. Since broadcast TV doesn’t work and voice radio is not something you have, you don’t know something is going on. Digital voice communications technology is inoperable and your battery-powered devices are strangely and quickly fading down to 1% battery remaining.

Life Changes in Hours

A situation developed wherein the convenience of digital technology has entirely evaporated. It is not even available for life saving communications or community response coordination. The technology tools have become useless. Not even available to stem the threat of sudden quiet idleness that could trigger chaotic interpersonal situations. Society breaks down because the many pleasantries taken for granted has given way to the reality that the unreal things many of us base our lives on do not hold true in the face of a major nuclear attack.

Disaster Mindedness

Many decades ago, when I matriculated through the education system, I was part of a generation who went through standardized drills in which we enacted responses to certain events. Namely, we got under our desk at school or was guided on routes to safe areas of a building. Implicitly, we were taught to think about and be prepared for danger. I continued studies in those topics sometime later before moving on to other things.

Nothing I have just said is a solution. Rational actors at a political level have to keep their hand off the trigger. However, I am reminded of this possibility by Loren Thompson on Forbes.com who has an interesting article on nuclear defense. His suggestions could blunt an attack, but not resolve damage to infrastructure, digital communications, delivery networks for food, fuel, and electricity. Nuclear impact in just a small number of places could be the kind of destructive leverage that echoes out to the society at large.

Arms Control Treaties

The undertone of this article seems stark. What I considered when I read one of Loren Thompson’s articles on Forbes.com was that there are thousands of nuclear weapons in existence. Arms reduction efforts were an exercise in futility because even just a few high yield weapons can create tremendous damage. It was never about the quantity of arms but the thinking behind their existence in the first place. That latter issue does not seem solvable.


Again, the weapons are there. They remain in the background, sitting idle connected to analog control systems ready for the day that a signaling mechanism indicates that those weapons are to launch. With just a single decision to launch, the world changes. Every few years or decades, remembering that technology exists across the world that could end it can be enough to take the mental sting out of surprise hostilities.

Modern Living Crumbles

If we were talking about a single missile or maybe that an entire society can be relocated away from danger indicated in early warning systems, it would be a different thing. You could almost be oblivious to the concept of nuclear weapons. The reality is that thousands, and thousands of such weapons would be put to use. The bombardment would be widespread, intense, and overlapping with the largest, most prosperous cities hardest hit. It would end like that.

It is not unflattering to today’s society to say that earlier generations that lived before the vast modernization of the last half of the 20th Century were hardier people as a whole who could better endure relocating to a rural countryside. Modernization brings us many things but it has other costs in terms of the muscle memory needed to contend with the sudden peeling away of such conditions. Study the Great Depression of the 20th Century to know who those people were in terms of engagement with less savory aspects of life. That is not to say they would respond to nuclear hostilities any better, but they seemed to possess more of the qualities needed to recover to a pre-industrial existence and survive.

Solution in the 21st Century

With the huge numbers of weapons in existence, there really isn’t a good solution in the absolute sense. I am 100% convinced that certain kinds of individuals and communities will survive such things. Although I am read and was certified decades ago on this subject, I am not presently one those individuals. My knowledge was part of an institutional practice rather than individual.

What I speculate however is that the best advice is to study disaster preparedness of the rural variety. In particular, memorize disaster preparedness knowledge even if you are not motivated to practice it as even the right knowledge channeled through instincts could save your life. With or without modern conveniences, life deserves to go on and sometimes that becomes a personal responsibility when institutions fall.


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