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In the 1980s the BBC produced a two part docu-drama entitled ‘Threads’. This programme portrayed the period immediately running up to the break out of a nuclear war between the West and the Soviet Union. Set in a town in the north of England, the series follows the lives of a young couple as they prepare for the arrival of their first child. The horrifying moment in the series illustrates a nuclear attack on Britain.

What follows in the rest of the series shows what happens after a nuclear war. In a short period of time, what used to be a world we are familiar with was turned on its head. Modern technology was lost, and the world was plunged back into the dark ages.

The series had some success, as it made the British public aware of the imminent danger of a nuclear war. During that period there were increased tensions between the Soviet Union and Western countries. At a number of points, the world came very near to the brink of a nuclear war. The effect of ‘Threads’ was focusing public opinion as to what the outcome of such a war would be.

Ronald Reagan

Around the same time, ABC in the United States produced a similar drama called ‘The Day After’. Similar in many ways to ‘Threads’ it shows the impact of nuclear fallout on a family in the United States. The drama had a similar impact on the American population. Almost 100 million people watched ‘The Day After’ when it was broadcast. Its effect was so profound that it is believed to have left Ronald Reagan feeling depressed for days. Many speculate that the drama was the impetuous for Reagan signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Soviet Union.

Change In Attitude

Thanks to common sense prevailing between world leaders, nuclear war hasn’t been a reality for many years. A generation of school children never had to learn how to take cover in the event of a nuclear attack. Nobody thinks of building a fallout shelter in the back garden or considering stockpiling unperishable food.

The problem is, such a reality is changing. In a short period of time, world leaders no longer think it is unthinkable to use nuclear weapons as a legitimate act of war. This was summarised by Donald Trump’s response to North Korean nuclear proliferation.

The US President promised that in the event Americans were threatened by North Korea, then “they will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” One can only interpret this statement as a declaration for the use of nuclear weapons.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Only the United States has previously used a nuclear weapon as an act of war. During the Second World War, the US detonated nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing almost 300,000 people. The attacks were centred on two civilian populations, with little strategic importance. Historians and military experts believe the targets were chosen because they suffered little damage during the war. After dropping the bomb, the United States was able to survey the true havoc that nuclear weapons could ravage.

The bomb which was dropped on Hiroshima measured 15 kilotons. It destroyed everything within 200 yards and burned everybody within 2km. A modern warhead carries 455 kilotons. A missile can carry up to eight of these warheads. The effect that dropping one of these missiles on a centre of population is almost unthinkable.

Nuclear War Fears

It is not unthinkable, however, to several world leaders. The Russian military has been practice nuclear de-escalation as part of their war games. In effect, that is the tactic of dropping a nuclear warhead and then searching for peace agreements. North Korea has been notably prominent in its development of nuclear capabilities. With so few understanding the true politics of the region, or of its leader, Kim Jong Un, it is hard to predict. That is not to mention to continuing enmities between India and Pakistan. Both countries have extensive nuclear capabilities.

The rise of populism in certain countries puts the entire world at risk. Donald Trump is concerned about his polling numbers falling drastically among his key voters. As many populist leaders throughout history have done, he may be considering a war as a means of distraction. A war forces a population to choose whether to support their government or not. Jingoism often takes hold and rational thinking loses influence.

The world should be afraid. There is little comeback from a nuclear war. In a matter of minutes, a nuclear bomb would wipe out the entirety of human history and civilisation. It is not something leaders should consider playing politics with.

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