It Only Takes One Match
Of all the tweets that have disturbed me from President Donald Trump, one where he recently talked about having a bigger nuclear button than the leader of North Korea disturbed me on a level in a way I thought impossible since the end of the Cold War. I thought I had buried those fears along with the memories of early childhood.
I grew up in the shadow of the Cuban Missile Crisis. We had a neighbor who had a bomb shelter, or fallout shelter, I can’t remember which. I only know there was no room for us and as the Vietnam War escalated and all of us kids grew up wondering if there’d be a world around for us when we were adults, we knew if someone dropped the bomb our chances of survival were nil.
I remember détente and “Mutual Assured Destruction” policies or (MAD ) – which somehow reminded me of my favorite magazine – and I swore I would labor to be a part of a world where my children didn’t have to worry about nuclear conflagration.
As a young adult I watched “The Day After” which should be required viewing in every school in the country. I was ending my time in college and because of Ronald Reagan’s policies the fear of nuclear conflict was higher than at anytime other than during the Cuban Missile Crisis. At the end of the showing of the television movie I remember Carl Sagan and William F. Buckley squaring off to debate the topic of nuclear proliferation versus nuclear disarmament. Sagan introduced us all to the possibility of a “Nuclear winter,” and went on to say, “Imagine a room awash in gasoline, and there are two implacable enemies in that room. One of them has nine thousand matches, the other seven thousand matches. Each of them is concerned about who's ahead, who's stronger."
Sagan’s sobering thoughts put an issue into perspective that many people at the time had failed to understand.
Our use of nuclear weapons can never occur. It can’t be considered. It shouldn’t be on any table and it shouldn’t be discussed lightly as if we’re comparing the size of our genitalia.
Yet our president has done just that.
His tweet, telling North Korean leaders he has a nuclear button on his desk, it’s bigger and it works is not only woefully inaccurate but dehumanizing and very destabilizing.
There are those, so wound up in the rhetoric of this administration they are more than willing to give the president a wink, a nod and a pass on anything he does.
I’ve heard them and read their missives complaining how the rest of us are giant sissies and are willing to be bullied by North Korea.
The unbelievable naiveté of those sentiments are only more disturbing by the inability to learn of their ignorance.
North Korea, with minimal food and a horrifyingly backward economy and infrastructure is hardly a bully. They want to be a bully and want us to believe it – and the real sissies are those who do believe it.
But more than that, there are those today who do not understand the analogy on the fundamental level: It only takes one match.
The world is filled with variables and no one can understand fully how one action can lead to others, or what those reactions will be or how they will affect us all.
In the case of nuclear war, it only takes one match. That’s it. One match lights the entire room full of gasoline.
Sagan knew it then and so did we as we backed away from the brink on two occasions in my life time.
We are now at the brink – a third time. There are those of us who do not believe it, those who enjoy it, those who deny it, those who think to believe so makes us weak or fools, and then there are those who understand the seriousness of rhetoric.
The president is playing a very dangerous game with North Korea – and it may well end up playing out on his behalf this time – for despite everything else North Korea wants to survive.
The president is banking on the leaders of that nation blinking as he plays nuclear chicken.
They just might.
Then the president’s dwindling support may surge as a great many people become fooled into thinking he did something brilliant.
But the problem with brinkmanship is that encourages more dangerous and reckless behavior. It is why it was abandoned by this country and why calmer and cooler heads have prevailed.
I do not wish to go back to “Duck and Cover” drills or building bomb and fallout shelters. I don’t wish my children and their children living in a world where nuclear war is an issue.
But here we are. Despotic nations have already picked up the president’s cry of “Fake News” to discredit their critics. How long before another nuclear nation decides to threaten another, smaller nation? What if we don’t agree?
We sit in that room daring someone to light the match. What if they do? What then Mr. President? What then?