The Doomsday Clock, created in the late 1940s after America’s use of atomic weapons to end the war in the Pacific, is inching forward.
The clock was started by a coalition of scientists with the idea that the closer the hands got to straight-up midnight, the closer the human race was to annihilation.
The Cold War sent the hands racing toward the midnight hour, but when the Soviet Union broke apart, the hands backed off. The big hand was 5 minutes out as recently as 2012, but took a full 2-minute leap toward midnight by 2015, when climate change and the modernization of nuclear arsenals once again took center stage.
Last year, with North Korea, Russia and the United States rattling their nuclear sabres, the clock jumped ahead another 30 seconds — then took another, quick half-minute run toward midnight in the first two months of this year.
The science community is rattled, as should be the rest of us. North Korea is touting its nuclear abilities — including a direct threat to the United States — and Russia’s Vladimir Putin last week bragged about an unstoppable nuclear weapon, for which U.S. military officials said this country is prepared.
Which is, of course, patently ridiculous. No one is ready for an all-out nuclear war. North Korea could cause minimal damage, but if the U.S. squares off against Russia, our recommended reading list includes “On The Beach,” “The Road” and “Dr. Strangelove.”
Those are novels in which art imitates life. If the U.S. and Russia unleash their nuclear capabilities on each other, and any of the other half-dozen members of the nuke club join in, life as we know it is finished.
All of which makes President Trump’s behavior in recent days worrisome, to say the least. White House insiders say the president became “unhinged” following a series of chaotic events, including the congressional testimony and subsequent resignation of a trusted presidential aide and confidant, the special counsel’s escalating investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, and other assorted conflicts within the president’s inner circle.
After Putin’s announcement that Russia had new wipe-out nuclear potential, instead of a measured response, Trump opted to rip actor Alec Baldwin in a twitter tirade, then announced stiff trade tariffs that threaten to set off a trade war with partners overseas, and with Canada and Mexico.
The tariffs decision was apparently off-the-cuff, made without consultation with legal specialists or White House staff. Such a decision also has the potential to come at enormous costs to this nation’s economy, especially regarding a loss of jobs.
To cap off a terrible period of the Trump administration, former CIA chief John Brennan essentially accused the president of being “unstable, inept, inexperienced and also unethical.”
Sadly, those are traits we’ve come to expect from this administration, and which should make everyone nervous because of a U.S. president’s vested authority to call a nuclear strike.
Fortunately, when Trump bragged to North Korea’s young leader that he had a “nuclear button” on his desk, it was just more of Trump’s reckless rhetoric. While only the president can direct the use of nuclear weapons by U.S. armed forces, the actual use of those weapons requires a multi-level authentication process, involving the Secretary of Defense and possibly the vice president and others.
We must hope somewhere in that chain of command there is enough thoughtfulness and understanding to prevent World War III — because there will almost certainly be more unhinged episodes in the Oval Office.