Cold War Part 2 Rears Its Head

Guest Author: Seth Kaplan

What ’s going on here?  Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal contains an article by Michael Gordon headlined, “U.S. Plans New Nuclear Weapons.”  The theme of the article is that, because Russia and China have eschewed following the U.S. policy of reducing its nuclear arsenal while increasing the sizes and capabilities of theirs, the United States has to “keep up with the Joneses” by developing new and more diverse nuclear capabilities of its own.  Oh, wait! Don’t forget North Korea! Or any of the other members of the nuclear “club.”

Remembering Boris and Natasha

John F. Kennedy, JFK, Cuban Missile Crisis speech, cold warThat this entry ramp to another cold war has come to pass during just the last year, and not during the previous eight, should not escape your notice. It didn’t take You Know Who (YKW) long to offend both neighbor countries and the ones far away, across big oceans. Very big oceans.  And, for those of you who either lived through it or studied history, remember that the previous cold war lasted almost 40 years.

With all due respect to World War II, it is the last war we fought and won in which it was clear who were the Good Guys and who were the Bad Guys.  For a lot of us, while it was more Boris and Natasha than “The Americans,” it was scary.  I remember my family listening to hear President Kennedy’s speech about the Cuban missile crisis; terrifying.

Splitting Hairs on Splitting Atoms

This time around, though, the tactical thinking is both more refined and a lot sillier.  For instance, the planners today talk of “low-yield” systems, which would allow us to hold the “high-yield” systems in reserve.

Mushroom Clouds, nuclear bombs, low-yield weapons, high-yield weapons, kilotons, HiroshiimaWhat is “low yield” you ask?  In the example used in the article, low yield might be one or two kilotons; high yield, 100-450 kilotons.  The standard for such comparisons, the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, was about 15 kilotons. So, splitting hairs can produce different levels of destruction.

Lest you rest easy, thinking, “Well, how much damage can a tiny, little one kiloton nuclear bomb do?” consider this:  A kiloton is equivalent to 1,000 tons of TNT.  Its explosive power would kill from 5,000-10,000 people outright.  It would destroy most buildings within a .5-1-mile radius.

Collateral Nuclear Damage

In addition to these immediate physical impacts, a one-kiloton device would produce radiation, burns, and various other injuries.  This is the silly part.  Planners might call it “casualties of war” or “acceptable rates” of death and destruction, yet many living things would die horrible deaths.  Radiation isn’t confined to one area; the wind tends to move it around, plus the radioactive elements and ions have long half-lives. Aquifers would be contaminated.  You get the picture.

nuclear missile impact ranges, cold war, casualties

Another silly point relates to the fact that these low-yield missile heads would be sea-based systems.  So, before we could deploy them, we would have to get permission from countries that have territorial ocean concerns; i.e., asking for permission before going to war.

Why Another Cold War?

Why, presuming all countries want good education, housing, health care, and food for its citizens, do these warlike attitudes manifest themselves?  Why our planners, deep thinkers, and military personnel keep going down the same roads is a question for another time.  I suspect that similar scenarios unfold in other countries, too.

All of this may be moot. Because the military just developed these threat scenarios, there is no budget to do any of this work.  Since the Congress has trouble keeping the government from shutting down, this may be the most comforting news of all.

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About Aline Kaplan

Aline Kaplan is a published author, a blogger, and a tour guide in Boston. She formerly had a career as a high-tech marketing and communications director. Aline writes and edits The Next Phase Blog, a social commentary blog that appears multiple times a week at She has published over 1,000 posts on a variety of subjects, from Boston history to science fiction movies, astronomical events to art museums. Under the name Aline Boucher Kaplan, she has had two science fiction novels (Khyren and World Spirits) published by Baen Books. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies published in the United States, Ireland, and Australia. Aline’s articles have also appeared on the Atlas Obscura website. She has been an active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America since 1988 and is a long-term member of the Spacecrafts science/fantasy writers’ group. As a tour guide, Aline leads architectural and historical walking tours of the city for Boston By Foot, ghost tours for Haunted Boston and historical bus tours of the city. She lectures on Boston history and has appeared in the Boston Globe, as well as on TV for Chronicle, an award-winning television program that broadcasts stories of New England. As a lecturer, Aline has spoken at Brandeis and Tufts universities for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. She has also addressed as service organizations and local meetings. She is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston and lives in Hudson, MA.

3 thoughts on “Cold War Part 2 Rears Its Head

  1. It’s not the governments that want the societal basics I mentioned–it’s the governed; a.k.a. the people. There are many historical examples of peoples who decided, “We’ve had enough!” and took what seemed appropriate actions at the time. I like your Latin quote, though I think to convey the meaning you want, the order of the words should be:
    “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum”.

    • Seth:

      Not meaning to be persnickety – and I appreciate your clarification – you said “countries” which, at least in my book, can easily be understood to mean the governments thereof. Certainly that’s how I interpreted it.

      As to the Latin phrase – that’s what I get for cut-n-pasting the first search result. 🙂

      I wish the Iran uprising had succeeded. I hear there are still protests but there’s damned little news. I was there before the Revolution in 1979, and while a child, I remember it. I have a Persian coworkers, know several more, and would love to go back.

  2. “Why, presuming all countries want good education, housing, health care, and food for its citizens, do these warlike attitudes manifest themselves?”

    Alas, not all governments want these things. Consider what’s happening in Iran:

    Europe’s Betrayal of the Iranian People

    Quote: “Iran’s economy is in terrible shape. Much of the infrastructure is worn out. Water resources, badly managed, are vanishing. The banking system has disintegrated: in 2017 alone, five banks and investment funds collapsed; in coming months, others will, too. Pension funds are bankrupt: hundreds of thousands of old people have lost everything they owned. Millions of young Iranians, highly qualified, cannot find jobs; they are unemployed and frustrated. Drugs and prostitution are widespread. Venereal diseases proliferate. The birth rate is in free fall, condemning the society to aging rapidly.”

    And yet, they are the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, their proxy, Hezbollah, has – by some estimates – tens of thousands of missiles ready to fire at Israel… the list of their activities goes on. Their money goes to attacking, and planning to attack, the “Great Satan” and also the “Zionist Entity”, aka the Little Satan.

    Or North Korea, a Communist dictatorship where people have been, in the past, instructed to drink pine needle tea as food. NK in particular has been described as “an army with a country.” If the reports are true that Army defectors have multiple, crippling parasite infections, that doesn’t bode well for the population-at-large.

    Now let’s be clear: am I advocating nuclear war or thrilled with the idea of new warhead development and, worse, use? No, that’s a threshold we should be terrified of crossing. Specifically in Iran’s case, Shiite Islam requires that the Twelfth Imam (their version of the Messiah) can only come to earth after a global conflict, a world war is a feature not a bug.

    The single biggest NK or Iran threat is an EMP attack:

    EMP: A Terrorist’s Dream

    These two threats, and others, started long before Trump’s election.

    I don’t claim to know what the solution is. But I do know three pieces of wisdom, separated by over 1000 years, still convey the same message that applies to any situation with humans involved:

    “Si vis bellum para pacem.”

    “The supposed quietude of a good man allures the ruffian;
    while on the other hand, arms like laws, discourage
    and keep the invader and the plunderer in awe,
    and preserve order in the world as well as property.
    The same balance would be preserved were all the world
    destitute of arms, for all would be alike;
    but since some will not, others dare not lay them aside…
    Horrid mischief would ensue were one half the world
    deprived of the use of them…” — Thomas Paine

    “Nothing. I keep other people awake at night.” — General Mattis

    It’s a frightening world. But if there is to be the best, imperfect-world security for America, then we should not be as concerned with “What if they go to war with America?” but rather getting them to think “What if America goes to war with us?”

    Or, to go back to Rome: “Let them hate, so long as they fear.”

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