In an era defined by climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic, one apocalyptic potential fell off many Americans’ radars: nuclear weapons. But in the bitter February twilight, Russian President Vladimir Putin put them squarely back in the center of discourse when he invaded Ukraine—and appeared to threaten anyone who intervened with radioactive retribution.
“They must know that Russia will respond immediately, and the consequences will be such as you have never seen in your entire history,”
ludicrous and imminent.
. But recent events have pulled this history back into the headlines.
None of these policies were perfect; many remain unenforced. But t
Rebuilding that muscle will take effort. Managing the global nuclear threats that exist today requires a dizzying blend of military strategy, foreign policy, and diplomacy, as well as environmental and health science. But there’s also a moral clarity to the absolute need to prevent nuclear conflict, as lessons from the recent past make clear.
Today the Hibakusha, the Japanese word for people affected by the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, still tirelessly share their stories of the real and lasting damage of nuclear warfare. Almost 80 years out from the first mushroom cloud, their numbers are shrinking, but there is always a community ready to pick up where they left off. After the French colonial government no longer found Algeria suitable for its nuclear tests, for example, it moved its operations to French Polynesia, where bombs were routinely detonated from 1966 to 1996. Over a hundred thousand people are to have been affected by the resulting contamination.
wonder—about the choices we made and the choices we could make in the futureAbout how we weigh possible gains against an existential risk.