The Sunday Magazine

Michael's essay: Why we're going to have to get used to living with threat of global nuclear war again

“Now that Oval Office Man has cancelled his summit meeting with Kim Jong Un, the nuclear roulette wheel will begin again -- going round and round.”
A man walks past a television news screen showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump at a railway station in Seoul on May 16, 2018. (JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)

There are few nightmares that push our imagination to its furthest reaches more than nuclear annihilation. 

Those of us old enough to remember those frolicsome duck and cover drills in the classroom still carry faint unease about "The Big One".

In the Sixties we sat through a series of nuclear war movies such as Fail Safe and in 1964, the best of them all, Dr. Strangelove or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb. The premise of the films was that by accident or an act of madness, the world was on the verge of nuclear incineration, going toe to toe with the Russkies.

Actor Slim Pickens found some positives when the bomb went off in the iconic 1964 movie Dr. Strangelove. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Throughout the Sixties and Seventies we continued to live with the fear that confrontation between the US and the USSR would end in nuclear war. The fact of the matter is we nearly blew ourselves up by accident. There were dozens of incidents where nuclear weapons were almost unleashed.

The near misses were given grisly codes names such as Broken Arrow, Faded Giant or NUCFLASH. Most were covered up by the U.S. government.

In 1983, a Russian lieutenant colonel named Stanislav Petrov literally saved the world when he realized that his early warning system showing an incoming missile launched from the United States was, in fact, a computer error.

The fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 eased our fears a bit. Then in 2017, the US elected as president a man who liked to throw his nuclear weight around. Some of us had visions of the man in the Oval Office asking," What happens if I push this button?"

U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks at the commissioning and graduation ceremony for U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2018 at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland, U.S., May 25, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

If that isn't enough to disturb your slumbers, try this.

Some high security troops at a US nuclear missile base in Wyoming have been accused of taking the hallucinogen LSD. Apparently there was an entire system of purchase and distribution of LSD and other mind-altering drugs. Some 14 airmen were disciplined. Six security guards were convicted in courts martial of using and distributing LSD. Under questioning, one airman said he felt paranoid after taking the drug. Another was carried away by the vibrant colours he experienced.

A third admitted that, "I absolutely just loved altering my mind." The appropriately named lead prosecutor Captain Grimsley said, "This sounds like something from a movie. It isn't."

The air force maintains that none of the security guards used LSD while on duty. But I'm not sure. If you were assigned to guard a silo the contents of which could blow up the world, wouldn't you try to get by with a little help from your friends?

Now that Oval Office Man has cancelled his summit meeting with Kim Jong Un, the nuclear roulette wheel will begin again going round and round.

It's more than a little disconcerting knowing that somewhere in American ranch country, a young security guard who has consumed some psychedelic ingestibles is fiddling with the silo door while singing Fly Me to the Moon.

Click 'listen' at the top of the page to hear Michael's essay.