Editorial #10 – Uranium Fever

Hello Gauchos!

Welcome back to the Soapbox Chronicles! My word, let me tell you: if this metaphorical box were real, it’d be quite worn down by now. We’re on Editorial #10! 10! That’s quite a feat.

Let’s get straight into things this week with an issue that feels like it’s right out of the 1980s: nuclear war.

Despite its antiquity, the concept of nuclear war still exists in today’s world. And while it isn’t nearly as horrifying as it was in the 80s, it still is a rather troubling and worrying subject to fathom.

Think about it: how insane is it that the United States, Russia, China, France, Great Britain, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea all have uranium or plutonium based cylinders of death which, when fired atop a high altitude missile and then released over a large city, have the potential to completely destroy a city within the span of about a minute. Further, imagine such a barrage occurring 5,000 times over all across all of the populated areas of the globe. Every single major city eviscerated, every gleaming national park and landmark whisked away, and every single human living in those areas blown to smithereens.

That is certainly a frightening prospect.

The world has maintained this perspective of nuclear weapons since their initial inception in 1945, during World War II. The United States was still in a heated land battle with Japanese forces at the time and President Harry S. Truman did not want to initiate a large-scale land invasion again, especially after all of the deaths of countless American and allied soldiers on D-Day in 1944.

Therefore, when he was presented with the idea of dropping a bomb so powerful, it could decimate an entire city in one hit, he absolutely had to jump on it; he felt that there was no other way to put an end to the war. All other alternatives would be placing far too many lives of U.S. troops on the line.

So, on August 6, 1945, the United States dropped a nuclear bomb named Little Boy on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, completely obliterating it in the process. The Japanese response to that was essentially “Pffft, it’s only one city. The Americans probably only have one!” So then 3 days later, on August 9, 1945, the United States dropped another nuclear bomb named Fat Man on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. This time, the Japanese attitude towards the bombing was along the lines of “YOU HAVE ANOTHER ONE?!?” 6 days later, the Japanese formally and unconditionally surrendered to the United States. This came not only after the initial explosive destruction of the atomic bombs, but also the long-term nuclear fallout of the two blasts. The bombs, when detonated, had released untold amounts of radiation on the civilian populace. The number of civilian deaths were later determined to be between 129,000 and 226,000 people.

These two instances are still the only times in which nuclear weapons have ever been used in actual warfare. Other deployments have only been tests.

Once the United States had essentially dropped the Sun on Japan twice, and tensions began heating up between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the Cold War officially began: a period in which both sides began a major military effort to broaden their nuclear arsenals, invest in new propulsion technologies and generally find better ways to blow each other to smithereens if the circumstances ever deemed it necessary.

But within the act of initiating a nuclear attack, there was a critical problem buried within it. It is the sole reason nations have not just immediately destroyed other nations when given a particularly nasty conflict. It is the fine line between a beautiful, peaceful life and a slow, wretched, cataclysmic death.

This concept is known as mutually assured destruction. Some of you may understand this concept, others might not. Allow me to explain.

Back in 2020, just before COVID hit the United States, there was a sort of mini-conflict between the United States and Iran. When a U.S. drone killed a high-ranking Iranian military general, Iran didn’t like that very much and sent a rocket barrage straight at a U.S. forward operating base. The U.S. responded by dropping the DEFCON level to 3.

DEFCON stands for “Defense Readiness Condition”. Created by the United States Air Force, it acts as a measurement of how alert the U.S. military is and how close they are to engaging in nuclear war. One can imagine the various levels by picturing a man sitting before a big red button that launches the nuclear missiles. DEFCON 5 is peacetime; it’s when everything is hunky-dory and all is right in the world — our main man isn’t even looking at the button. DEFCON 4 is when there is some kind of conflict going on, but it’s nothing too concerning. However, the man is now looking at the big red button more intensely. DEFCON 3 is when the man unlocks the cover for the button and gets sort of nervous — something bad just happened, and it needs to be dealt with immediately. However, it doesn’t necessarily warrant an immediate nuclear strike. DEFCON 2 is when things get serious — the man now has his finger hovering right above the big red button, ready to press it at a moment’s notice. Finally, that brings us to DEFCON 1, where the man has now pressed the big red button and has fired the nuclear missiles, sealing the fate of whomever the missile is targeted for. The United States has gotten pretty low on the totem pole of the DEFCON system; during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the U.S. declared DEFCON 2, fearing an imminent attack from Soviet controlled Cuban missile bases. But the United States has never achieved DEFCON 1 ever. Ever.

Now, back to the Iranian missile barrage, when the U.S. dropped the DEFCON level, many people were talking about how we were “on the verge of World War III.” They weren’t horribly off. However, many of them misunderstood what that would look like. When the term “World War III” comes up, one might picture a similar sight to that of World War II, in which physical fighting between troops with guns would take place in some field off in a foreign country and would last some 2 or 3 years. But that’s not right at all.

Instead, this war would only last about 2 or 3 hours. There wouldn’t be any physical troop movements. All of the strikes would occur from the comfort of each nation’s own territory using nothing but nuclear weapons. And therein lies the concept of mutually assured destruction. End here

The idea is that if we were to fire our nuclear missiles at a nuclear-equipped country or a country that is allied with a separate nuclear-equipped country, then that country would also fire its missiles at us. In the end, no one would really “win” and all you’d be left with is two decimated, irradiated countries that can’t support life very well. When the U.S. dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this concept hadn’t existed yet — we were the only country that had access to nuclear weapons at the time. Nowadays, nuclear weapon technology information is extremely widespread

The 1983 thriller film WarGames did a fantastic job of displaying this concept. In the movie, an automated computer named Joshua attempted to launch missiles at the Soviet Union in an attempt to “win the game” that was nuclear war. Before it could launch, it needed to calculate a strategy that would allow the United States to win against its enemies at the time. It went through scenario after scenario after scenario attempting to find a solution that would put the United States on top. But every single time, there was no winner. Each time, our missiles would destroy the enemy, and the enemy’s missiles would destroy us. After trying every strategy in the book countless times over, Joshua eventually gave up and reported to the people in the room the famous line that tied the entire movie together with real-world events:

“A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?”

Now, one of the primary casualties of such a fear of nuclear weapons and their destructivity is the construction and maintenance of nuclear reactors in the United States. Take California’s nuclear energy grid for example. Since 1957, there have been at least one nuclear power plant providing electricity to Californians. However, therein lies the rub; most of the time, there has only been one.

The state has seen the presence of 6 nuclear-generating stations since their initial aforementioned inception: Vallecitos, Santa Susana, Humboldt Bay, Rancho Seco, San Onofre, and Diablo Canyon. Today, only a single nuclear generating station remains — Diablo Canyon near San Luis Obispo — and its presence is slowly but surely coming to an end. 

Fear is what caused this decline. The concept of nuclear war and the photographs, videotapes, and eyewitness accounts of nuclear bombs being detonated gave many Americans a tangible fear of such affairs. So much power and destructivity packed into a small space. And to add insult to injury, the death and despair didn’t stop after the initial blast had concluded; nuclear radiation would then enter the scene, firing hundreds upon thousands of “invisible bullets” at people in the vicinity, breaking apart human DNA like tissue paper and causing the skin to blister, orifices to bleed profusely, stomachs to become severely upset, and organs to catastrophically fail, causing a slow painful death within just a few days. And after being told all about their destructive and dangerous nature, people were then told that electricity would be generated using the very same explosive material right in peoples’ backyards.

Additionally, this fear of anything to do with “nuclear” was backed by a series of disastrous nuclear reactor meltdowns in the years prior. These included the Windscale Disaster in 1957, the Three Mile Island incident in 1979, the Chernobyl Explosion in 1986, and the Fukushima meltdown in 2011.

However, despite these fears and despite the issues we face with the frightening concept of nuclear catastrophe, we still have something to hold onto mutually assured destruction. We aren’t going to fire our missiles because another country will destroy us, and another country won’t fire their missiles because they know that we’ll destroy them. No matter how many times other nations may threaten to use nuclear weapons, it’s very unlikely that it will ever happen.

However, if it does happen, let’s just hope it’s not a clear sunny day in Boston, Mass. on October 23, 2077. THAT would be ironic as all get out.

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Seize the Day,




Owen Davis

Editor-in-Chief, 2022-2023