Last week, the Doomsday Clock was set at two minutes to midnight. Since 1947, developed by the members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board, the Doomsday Clock is a symbol that represents the probability of a man-made global catastrophe. Over the years, the distance between the minute hand and midnight has fluctuated greatly. In 1991, the clock was set at 17 minutes to midnight, the furthest from midnight since 1947, because the United States and Soviet Union signed the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty which led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Since then, things have only gotten worse.
Over the 27 years since our allegedly most peaceful time of the 20th century, the minute hand has crept steadily closer to midnight. While the threat of nuclear war has been the most prominent criteria for the Doomsday Clock since its inception, the effects of global climate change has contributed to the minute hand’s position since 2007.
The Doomsday Clock was set at two minutes to midnight has week. This is the closest we’ve come to midnight since 1953 when the United states tested its first thermonuclear device in 1952 in an effort known as Operation Ivy to accomplish such a task before the Soviet Union had a chance. That designation in 1953 represented an active endeavor to advance nuclear capability. In 2018, the significance of these two minutes stems from the failure of the United States and other world leaders to address looming threats of nuclear war with some leaders even making comments or taking actions that seem to suggest the desire such an outcome.
Speaking strictly about the United States, the use of nuclear weapons has been a desire expressed by Donald Trump. During election, he asked several times why we even have nuclear arms if we don’t intend to use them. Since taking officer, he has made threatening remarks against North Korea and even made disrespectful comments against their leader Kim Jong-un, a murderous despot who is starving his own people to advance his country’s nuclear capabilities.
Over the last few years and prior to the Trump administration, the North Korean government has actively worked towards developing their nuclear arms. With every failed test, they have shown considerable improvement. In September, North Korea claimed a successful hydrogen bomb test. On November 29th, the Hwasong-15, the country’s furthest-reaching intercontinental ballistic missile, flew for 53 minutes before crashing into the ocean. That ICBM has a theoretical range that puts the whole world at risk apart from Latin America and Antarctica. While a lot of the Kim Jong-un says could be just empty threats and saber-rattling, there is truth to the improvement of his nuclear capabilities. It was reported today that Mike Pompeo, Central Intelligence Agency chief, believes that North Korea could be able to nuke the United States within a “handful of months.”
What makes the shadow of nuclear war longer is Donald Trump’s mishandling of the issue. Beyond the name calling and threats of “fire and fury,” there exists something deeper in Trump that adds credibility to our worries of nuclear war.
I recently read The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President. Compiled by Dr. Brandy X. Lee, the organizer of Yale University’s “Duty to Warn” Conference, this is a collection of essays and reports from over two dozen psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals who are executing their professional duty to warn people that their assessments of Donald Trump’s poor mental stability and how he puts the world at risk.
While each professional goes into their own narrative or theory on Trump’s mental health, there is a common thread that suggests they all believe that Trump is unfit to be president and can react in a volatile and unpredictable way. Trump’s narcissism and need for pure adulation and control could lead to the president making an ill-informed, or even dangerous, decision. Whether its pure impulse to destroy an enemy or distract the public from the Russian collusion investigation, Trump’s access to the United States’ nuclear arsenal is cause for concern.
The United States is feeling this nuclear threat on a level that hasn’t been seen since the Cold War. The United States Centers for Disease Control originally planned a session on discussing nuclear disaster preparedness for January 16th. That session has been postponed for a currently unknown date. Though the CDC cancelled the session with the promise of a future session scheduled, the fact a federal agency is recognizing an imposing threat validates the general public’s concerns which should motivate our leaders to take action to curb such threats.
On January 13th, an emergency alert was mistakenly sent out to people in Hawaii warning that a missile was incoming, that they should seek shelter, and that the alert wasn’t a drill. This error was made and the Hawaii government is taking steps to prevent the error being made again. However, the alert represented a sign of the times; misinformation about a possible threat. And that is problematic because it reduces the public’s ability to take the government seriously. Considering the man currently in the Oval Office cannot be trusted and has a questionable mental health status that makes him dangerous, trust is dwindling.
Since the middle of the 20th century, nuclear annihilation has been a reoccurring theme in our popular culture. Whether such an apocalypse is depicted in films, television, or video games, people ae fascinated by a world impacted by nuclear fallout and the question of man’s ability to survive it. It is a narrative setting that never fails to create such dynamic stories from a reality that none of us want at all.
The theme of nuclear war is also present in our popular music. While there are hundreds of songs that cover the subject, none feel more relevant now than “2 Minutes to Midnight” by Iron Maiden. The heavy metal legends release this protest song about nuclear war on their 1984 album Powerslave. “2 Minutes to Midnight” is a hard-hitting critical track that condemns the hands of doom that wreak nuclear havoc on people for glamour and greed. It is the madman’s love of death that threatens our lives.
The song title is a reference to the Doomsday Clock. The track was released 31 years after the first time the clock was two minutes to midnight and we were closer to nuclear annihilation than ever before. Now, 65 years after the clock hit two minutes for the first time and 34 years since Iron Maiden released this single, we are now closing in on the brink of nuclear annihilation again. While that threat was curbed by some of our country’s greatest leaders, we have no one currently in the White House who can fill those shoes. It is a frightening time being this close to midnight and the only thing we can do is wait it out.