Sitting in the bus shelter at the bottom of the village we speculated on the possibility of not being there on the morrow. It was the height of the Cuban missile crisis and there was a real fear among us that a nuclear war may break out within hours and that we were all doomed. We weren’t, Russia blinked and we carried on our schooldays regardless.
Those 13 days in October 1962 were when I and a lot of others woke up to the possibility, and the consequences, of nuclear war. Today and 55 years later the Doomsday Clock stands at 2.5 minutes to midnight and today, the day this column is written, is the 72nd anniversary of the dropping of an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, in an action that brought an end to World War II.
The Cuban missile crisis at a state level was handled by men who were in their day statesmen — Kennedy, Khrushchev, McNamara and yes even Castro himself. It was brinkmanship pushed as close to the edge as it could get. The abyss was visible. Today the abyss is no less visible but what is not seen is a cohort of statesmen or women that might have the competencies to avert trouble of an explosive variety. It might not be nuclear but it could get very messy. Neither of the principal protagonists in North Korea or America could be regarded as statesmanlike, and even though there may be unseen limiting factors in both countries that would stay the presidential hands; the reality is that both leaders have an uncomfortable propensity to talk themselves into corners that are difficult to get out of.
All of this is meat and potatoes to the global media that like nothing better than the prospect of an all-consuming conflagration. Talking heads in a Babel of languages bat the options around in tones of rising alarm. Some of them are well-known faces to consumers of the electronic news media, men and women that are opinion-makers and shapers who influence however subtly the way in which sections of the population think.
They more than the politicians are the movers and shakers, the talking wallpaper that is the backdrop to our lives. If it does all go to worms, the last words some of us will be hearing are whoever is on air at CNN, or Fox or the BBC or al Jazeera as they deliver a voice-over to Armageddon. Many of the media outlets with a global reach will already have done table-top rehearsals for the end of days, and the closing scenes from Stanley Kubrick’s dark masterpiece Dr Strangelove play out to the strains of ‘We’ll meet again’ and Major T J Kong rides the bomb all the way down to Valhalla. Or up, depending on point of view.
But I digress. The Big Orange and the Muppet running North Korea certainly look crazy but they may not be as crazy as they look. Both are delusional and one is a serial liar believed and beloved by many of his people. One was elected to power and the other inherited it and both wield it with a blind abandon as to the consequences of their actions. To themselves and a lot of those that follow and support them they are sane and rational, going about the business of state in ways that the people expect them to. Both sit atop military machines that are vast and potent even if somewhat antiquated in the case of North Korea.
So is either of them sufficiently off their trolley to actually push the button? My guess is probably not. The Orange One is going to let it play through, and there will be a clutch of hands in the background that keep his digit off the trigger as they attempt to shut down his Twitter finger. Over in Pyongyang the Chinese embassy will be in overdrive keeping Muppet One more-or-less in the box. In the end it will all be fake news and soundbites, cabbages and kings, and we will look back in seven days’ time and wonder what the fuss was about. See you next week. Probably.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 10th, 2017.