John Colson: Is it really ‘duck-and-cover’ time again?
Let’s talk about nuclear Armageddon, shall we?
And while we’re at it, does anyone know how to say “oops” in Hindi, the official language of India?
Nuclear annihilation, here in the U.S.A., is not much of a hot topic right now, perhaps.
But it might become so pretty damned quickly.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who seems to let a daily diet of steroids do his thinking for him, two weeks ago put his nation’s nuclear forces on some kind of high-alert status, known as “special combat readiness.”
While the exact nature of that new status remains a mystery, it has been enough to prompt worldwide expressions of dismay and panic, as well as a sudden rush of orders for bomb shelters, among other oddities.
Last weekend, The New York Times published a story headlined, “Nuclear Specter In Europe Spurs Run on Bunkers” focusing primarily on Italy.
Putin, of course, wants to scare the world into turning a blind eye on his vicious assault on the sovereign nation of Ukraine, which many view as the opening gambit of his warped obsession to revive the old Soviet empire by force.
The invasion gambit has backfired in international terms, drawing sharp rebukes and economic sanctions from world leaders and prompting the shipment of arms and ammunition to bolster Ukraine’s courageous defensive efforts.
And while the threat of Russian nukes flying around the globe cannot be ignored, it has yet to achieve Putin’s intended result — in fact, it seems to have stiffened the spines of those nations, including the U.S., that are moving to isolate Russia financially and diplomatically.
Still, it has freaked out a lot of people who thought we had left all this nuclear posturing in the rear-view mirror with the end of the Cold War.
And, perhaps predictably, bomb shelters appear to be at the top of some to-do lists among certain populations.
One bunker-building company in northern Italy, called Minus Energie (don’t have any idea what that might translate to), has had to ramp up its operations from a rate of making roughly 50 bunkers over the past two decades, to dealing with more than 500 “inquiries” in the past two weeks,” according to a front-page NYT story on March 13.
On the Internet, according to ABC News, searches for “bomb shelters” are trending upward on Google. The news story aired on a network affiliate in Sacramento, California, which reportedly has “a long history of wartime threats from other nations” because the town was “surrounded by military bases” and seen as a likely target for missiles.
One historian there dug up a 1960s-era map showing that at the time the city boasted more than 130 bomb shelters, some of them in existence but unused buildings looking for something to do.
And one news site, businessinsider.com, reported recently that the invasion of Ukraine has brought a spike in inquiries about “luxury bomb shelters that can cost a half-million dollars or more,” from possible buyers stretching “from France to Saudi Arabia.”
If readers are experiencing a jolt of deja vu, well, so am I.
As a kid I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, which like Sacramento is a state capital and, in the mid-1900s, was home to a Strategic Air Command bomber and jet-fighter base, which meant we were a target for Soviet bombers and missiles during the aforementioned Cold War.
I recall vividly being in class at Franklin Elementary in the ’60s when “air raid drills” were conducted and we were instructed to either dive under our desks (known as “duck-and-cover”) or leave the room and line up against the walls of the corridor outside.
I never believed these drills were anything but “busy work” devised by the school administration to give us the feeling we were doing our bit to resist communism, as well as fooling us into thinking we would be safe if we followed these procedures.
Which, of course, was hogwash, but we didn’t know anything about the real world anyway and would joke and jostle our way through the drills even as the teachers did their best to look serious and concerned.
So the current level of nuke-related fears certainly is nothing new, though Putin’s apparent dive into mental instability has certainly heightened our anxiety.
Oh, and my opening remark about how to say “Oops” in Hindi?
Well, it turns out that India, a nuclear power, “accidentally” lobbed a cruise missile that hit Pakistan, also a nuclear power, earlier this month, some time after Putin started pummeling Ukraine. The missile reportedly did little damage and was not carrying a nuke warhead, and officials said it was caused by a “technical malfunction” during maintenance, but it still shook up the Pakistanis, not to mention nuke-watchers elsewhere.
I write about all of this not because I’m particularly worried about being incinerated either by mistake or by design, but to point out that our world is slouching ever closer to something catastrophic, and we had better pay attention.
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Aspen City Council’s recent actions are proof that you get what you pay for, argues Elizabeth Milias in her Red Ant column this week.