Re: Guest Post - nukes!

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You're right that this is a big change. I think the change is due to the Strangelove end of the world scenario now much less likely. My city/region destroyed is scary, not to be casually dismissed. But all cities everywhere gone seems really unlikely now.

Drones are new though. Lots of people living in isolated places seem now pretty nervous about death from above, which had been less of a concern in the past.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 9:07 AM
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I think the change is due to the Strangelove end of the world scenario now much less likely. My city/region destroyed is scary, not to be casually dismissed. But all cities everywhere gone seems really unlikely now.

I would be interested to know why you think this. There are still a lot of ICBMs etc out there.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 9:10 AM
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2 not meant to be snarky, but honestly interested.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 9:10 AM
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It seems like there's an interesting (post-hoc, indubitably BS) cultural shift at work, from "the lunatics in control could kill us all" to "nobody has control".


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 9:15 AM
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Because it's no longer a bilateral world? The 80's fear of nuclear war was that something would happen to set off either the US or the USSR, which would then strike the other massively in an attempt (which would, I assumed at the time, probably fail) to make retailiation impossible. Essentially, the idea is that any use of nuclear weapons would most likely be on a continent-obliterating scale.

Now, what looks more plausible is that someone, and possibly a small country, would set off a bomb somewhere, and then maybe get bombed in return, but it wouldn't necessarily turn into everyone bombing everything.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 9:19 AM
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2 The incentives to engage in a war of total nuclear annihilation were always pretty weak, and have only gotten weaker. We're all more likely to die of ebola.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 9:20 AM
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5: although, insofar as those automatic-ish systems ever worked, they're all still in place, right?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 9:22 AM
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The 80's fear of nuclear war was a complete fabrication peddled by people with financial and/or political incentives, which then morphed out of their control.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 9:22 AM
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If we're all going to die of Ebola anyway and we've already got this huge stockpile....


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 9:23 AM
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I think 5 is right, but that last bit also brings to mind the last time somebody thought it could retaliate against a small country--like Serbia--without it turning into world wide conflagration.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 9:23 AM
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7: Beats me.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 9:24 AM
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That was the sense I got from that Schlosser book.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 9:28 AM
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although, insofar as those automatic-ish systems ever worked, they're all still in place, right?

PERIMETR is probably still in place, as far as I am aware. But the point is not the automatic stuff: if an accidental launch happens against the US or Russia, it will retaliate massively, just as it would have in 1983. It might take slightly longer because they'll have to retarget the missiles (detargeted in 1994) but it'll happen.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 9:32 AM
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On the basis of no knowledge whatsoever, I had a belief that there weren't any fully automatic massive retaliation triggers -- that all of the systems have human signoff. At which point even if the systems haven't changed, the beliefs of the people in the systems about what's likely to happen and what should happen in response are going to make a big difference.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 9:32 AM
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7. Early radar barely worked. I don't know what the detection systems are like now in detail, but they can't be worse. Also, I can't see even a tiger's blood drinking Putin or a deranged McCain-like president ordering "launch them all!!!," and I believe that anything short of that will not lead to global retaliation.

Not to be sanguine about "small" conflicts or the wisdom of our leaders, also asteroids and solar flares to worry about.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 9:33 AM
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The best thing that the US could do to avoid this would be to scrap the land-based missiles and the nuclear bomber fleet. They're unsafe, unreliable and unnecessary and have too much of a use it or lose it element. Submarines only. But this won't happen because politics.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 9:34 AM
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14 is correct - PERIMETR involved automatic launch of a command rocket which would broadcast recorded launch messages by radio to the launch officers in the individual missile launch control centres. Still a human in the loop, but no way for that human to tell that he's getting a launch order from PERIMETR and not from a human authority.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 9:35 AM
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Did Wargames teach us nothing?


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 9:35 AM
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Well right I meant "automatic" as in "triggered by sheer bureaucratic necessity", not automatic as in "seamlessly implemented by 1950s-era computer systems", because obviously the latter was always a pipe dream.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 9:36 AM
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19 to 13.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 9:37 AM
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Yeah. I don't think there's buy-in for the sheer bureaucratic necessity of blowing up most of the world without thinking about it for a couple of minutes first any more. Charley seems convinced that there never was that buy-in; I don't know if he's right or wrong, but I'm pretty sure there isn't now.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 9:41 AM
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The 80's fear of nuclear war was a complete fabrication peddled by people with financial and/or political incentives

Next: Charley explains the fear of nuclear war in the 70s, 60s, 50s, 40s, 30s, 20s and 1910s. (HG Wells, "The World Set Free", 1914).


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 9:46 AM
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8. The 80's fear of nuclear war was a complete fabrication

A little more than 31 years ago (September, 1983) the USSR detected five Minuteman missiles launched against them from the US. The officer on duty, Lt. Col. S. Y. Petrov, decided they were computer glitches and did not report them to his superiors. Had he done so, they might have launched a retaliatory attack, possibly of the "continent clearing" variety, as that was published Soviet "MAD" doctrine at the time.


Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 10:00 AM
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Russian colonels love their children too.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 10:15 AM
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22: It took some hunting, but it appears that American fears/expectations of nuclear war (according to this PDF, highest in the world) spiked to 75% around the time Russia got the A- and H-bombs, drifted down below 50% during the '50s, spiked back up (and right back down) during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Apparently Gallup took a break asking the question during the Vietnam War, but when the took it back up in the late '70s, fears were bouncing between 35-45% until Glasnost and all that.

I don't actually see any evidence of a Reagan-associated spike in fears.

*to imply a probably spurious causality


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 10:16 AM
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I don't even remember a time when anyone cared about nuclear arms control. I was in a lot of campus activist groups 13 years ago and that was not one of the hundred biggest topics of interest.

In terms of the earth being destroyed, that worry long ago shifted to worry about climate change.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 10:21 AM
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Hey look, I failed to close tags, just like Heinleinajay wanted me to be able to do.

Also, that asterisk is an orphan from a previous edit.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 10:23 AM
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Anyway, I think 21 is right.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 10:24 AM
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Did stealth technology have any effect on the theory of nuclear deterrance and MAD? Shouldn't it make a massive first strike undetectable, via stealth bombers or even ICBMs?


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 10:41 AM
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I guess our's and Russia's systems were designed so that enough nukes could survive a first strike and still obliterate the other.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 10:42 AM
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29: You can't really stealth an ICBM launch.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 10:45 AM
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I spent way too much time studying international relations just after the Cold War ended but before anybody teaching IR could stop themselves from repeating what they taught during the Cold War. All that stuff is coming back to me now.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 10:46 AM
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31: Why not? Too big? Detectable by other means? You could totally stealthify whatever they launch from submarines or drop from bombers, though, right?


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 10:51 AM
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Making the launches stealthy is not relevant unless you can make the detonations stealthy as well -- the point of MAD is that it's impossible to knock out enough capability with a first strike to prevent massive retaliation, element of surprise or no.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 10:54 AM
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I don't think "stealthifying" is that easy, and it doesn't matter, because stealth doesn't do anything to prevent your opponent from using his boomers to launch a counterstrike - that's the whole premise of the nuclear triad, that no plausible attack could take out ICBMs, bombers, and subs, and therefore any attacker will always face massive nuclear retaliation.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 10:57 AM
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I thought the stealthy bit only mattered until launch. After launch, unless you have some sort of SDI capability (and we never got that working well enough, did we?) there isn't much you can do.

At least that's how it works in Civ.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 10:57 AM
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And now I've hit semantic satiation on the word "stealth".


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 11:00 AM
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In Civ 4 it worked but I don't think it's a thing in Civ 5.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 11:01 AM
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OK, I guess I have to be a little more precise. In the early 60s, and then again in the late 70s early 80s, people went around stoking fear of an intentional unprovoked attack by the other people. It was bullshit -- especially the second time -- but it worked. A typical pitch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NpwdcmjBgNA (I should probably try to find some video of JFK talking up a missile gap.)

And I'm not interested in reducing their culpability even the smallest iota by talking about the (imo ebola level) danger of unintentional attack, which hasn't IMO been significant in either public opinion generally, or US politics generally. Not that it hasn't been a niche fear.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 11:49 AM
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OK, I guess I have to be a little more precise. In the early 60s, and then again in the late 70s early 80s, people went around stoking fear of an intentional unprovoked attack by the other people. It was bullshit -- especially the second time -- but it worked. A typical pitch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NpwdcmjBgNA (I should probably try to find some video of JFK talking up a missile gap.)

And I'm not interested in reducing their culpability even the smallest iota by talking about the (imo ebola level) danger of unintentional attack, which hasn't IMO been significant in either public opinion generally, or US politics generally. Not that it hasn't been a niche fear.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 11:49 AM
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39. Is it me or do I smell patchouli? The soviets built these in the 80s. Those were too small to carry these. Both considerable engineering efforts, requiring years of organized work from many people. This xenophobic whack job was in charge.

Reagan's defense buildup was wasteful and corrupt, his domestic politics were shitty, but there was something on the other side. It is not a counterargument to point out that the people in charge in the US were deluded idiots.

The US spent billions dismantling weapons and facilities. What's left after that dismantling is still enough to sell generation-old stuff to arm China's PLA, which cannot yet make reliable jet engines or quiet submarines.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 12:22 PM
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41: Reagan's defense buildup was wasteful and corrupt

If you concede that I'm not sure what you're arguing. I don't think Charley is suggesting that the Soviets were peace-loving innocents.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 12:37 PM
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No, I'm not saying that they were peace loving innocents. But they were not going to invade Germany in the 70s or 80s, and everyone who said they were likely to (at the 1% level or above) was acting in bad faith. Also the only way they would have launched an attack was if they really thought we were really launching one.

The same kinds of political incentives applied in the Soviet system, though. So you had people hyping the threat of a US first strike, maybe with those missiles we were trying to get the Europeans to just shut up and base. It was bullshit in their system too.

Andropov was in office after we were in full paranoia expand the Navy move missiles closer mode. And even so, there was still no chance of a tank attack through the Fulda Gap.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 12:50 PM
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I thought that was an anatomical feature.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 12:54 PM
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So, scientists, is this a big deal: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/10/15/us-lockheed-fusion-idUSKCN0I41EM20141015


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 12:54 PM
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Sounds like they haven't built anything yet, just run models. It's partly inspired by polywell fusion, which is another effort that people are trying to scale up, in that case from actual small prototypes.

Check back in five years.


Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 1:03 PM
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I just saw a link about that on metafilter and misread "Lockheed Martin" as "Leonard Maltin", so I think you know what that means.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 1:03 PM
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Here's another effort being announced this week: http://www.washington.edu/news/2014/10/08/uw-fusion-reactor-concept-could-be-cheaper-than-coal/


Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 1:05 PM
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I could swear that there was a maverick's tabletop device recently with more-energy-out-than-in that seemingly-respectable scientists couldn't explain. Can't find it now, though.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 1:37 PM
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Even if the chances of all-out nuclear exchange are considerably diminished, its still a pretty bad idea to keep that stuff around.

Its like keeping a loaded gun in your house. Probably you won't shoot one of your kids by accident, but you might.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 1:38 PM
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When is Leonard Maltin going to devote his skunkworks to the hidden potential of OTO Sex Magick, is what I want to know.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 1:40 PM
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love their children too.

Wretched song now lodged in medulla oblongata.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 1:48 PM
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49: You mean that "quantum foam" hooha?


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 1:54 PM
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Can't remember! I was hoping the cheat would turn out to be an accidental invention of an interesting battery.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 1:58 PM
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52: I'd apologize, but you wouldn't believe me anyway.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 2:11 PM
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I could swear that there was a maverick's tabletop device recently with more-energy-out-than-in that seemingly-respectable scientists couldn't explain. Can't find it now, though.

You're thinking of the E-Cat. The new reports that it may not be entirely fraudulent have apparently stunned the world, given the previous fraudulent activities of its inventor - although he developed it with reputable physicists from the University of Bologna. In context here at In The Pipeline.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 2:13 PM
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As we know, by the 1980s the Soviets were only likely to threaten nuclear war as part of an elaborate ruse to defect to the US and move to Montana.


Posted by: Criminally Bulgur | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 2:37 PM
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Oh dear, I missed my own end-of-the-world thread!

Somehow I think the Dr Strangelove portrayal of nuclear war, while obviously effective at getting people's attention, also has the unintended side-effect of making it seem like just one nuke isn't such a big deal. But it really is a huge deal.

It's informative to look at it from the other direction: go to the Nukemap, pick your favorite city, and try hitting it with nukes of different sizes, going from small to large. If you're a normal person, you'll probably think 20kt is kind of bad already, and 300kt is as big a weapon as anyone should have, ever. Then you'll notice that there are widely deployed weapons with yields all the way up to 800kt, and a few with 5Mt yield. It's pretty amazing, what one (1) nuclear weapon can do.


Posted by: torrey pine | Link to this comment | 10-15-14 5:19 PM
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they were not going to invade Germany in the 70s or 80s, and everyone who said they were likely to (at the 1% level or above) was acting in bad faith. Also the only way they would have launched an attack was if they really thought we were really launching one.

Oh, come on, there are a dozen scenarios that would have seen a smaller conflict escalate into a NATO/WP conflict, and step one in the WP war plan for a general war against NATO was an armoured (counter)attack into West Germany. No, there was no realistic chance of Andropov just waking up one morning and out of the blue saying "Invade Western Europe!" but European wars tend not to start that way; they start small and grow.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-16-14 1:59 AM
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I'm hard put to think of a dozen scenarios which could have escalated into full on NATO/WP hostilities in Europe in Andropov's time or even Brezhnev's. Spheres of influence were pretty solidly defined by 1970 and both sides understood that proxy wars made more sense. About the only realistic scenario I can think of would be civil war in Yugoslavia if Tito had died a bit sooner than he did. No US President was going to invade Cuba for shits and giggles after JFK's repeated fuck ups, any more than any General Secretary of the CPSU was going to invade W.Germany.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 10-16-14 2:27 AM
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I get the impression the whole "The cold war was a lie! The USSR was a puddycat!" meme is much more American than European. Nobody in Europe thought rollback, McCarthyism, or star wars was sane; similarly, nobody believed the Soviets were pointing SS-20 rockets (the special one that was like an ICBM but not quite, so it only worked on us and wouldn't affect the USA, what could its designers be thinking?) at them just for shits and giggles. Distance, even though it didn't provide any actual protection, permits unreality.

That's a caricature, but in the weaker and more realistic form, a lot of people will say "well, the Soviet leaders were really just like the Russian empire*'s foreign ministers, realist diplomatists with limited objectives. The idea of a challenge for global hegemony was silly, although of course they perceived vital interests in Europe" or something like that.

But one man's limited objective to protect the USSR's vital interests in Europe is another's skin.

*because imperial Russia was just awesome, right? serf's up!


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 10-16-14 2:43 AM
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Serf's up, of course, because if he isn't he gets flogged.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 10-16-14 2:45 AM
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60. We know that Kissinger wanted very much to invade Cuba after the Cubans sent troops to Angola.


Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 10-16-14 5:48 AM
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63. And yet he didn't do so. Nixon was wiser than he. I'm sure there were plenty of occasions when Brezhnev would have liked to put boots on the ground of countries in the western sphere of influence. But he didn't.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 10-16-14 6:11 AM
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Looking at Nukemap, if they nuked Hanger Lane,* we'd be just outside the high pressure blast radius, and might just about get away with a slow lingering death, if were inside at the time.

* and why wouldn't you?

http://www.sabre-roads.org.uk/wiki/index.php?title=Hanger_Lane_Gyratory


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10-16-14 6:18 AM
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Somehow I think the Dr Strangelove portrayal of nuclear war, while obviously effective at getting people's attention, also has the unintended side-effect of making it seem like just one nuke isn't such a big deal. But it really is a huge deal.

Huh? I don't get that at all. My baseline assumption is that if a nuke goes off anywhere in/over London (not a dirty bomb mind), I'm dead and so is everyone else in the M25. I don't know why Strangelove would change that? Because of Turgidson's 10m to 20m casualties, tops?


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 10-16-14 7:35 AM
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The Soviets are actually the first to use nuclear weapons in "Dr Strangelove" - the B-52 gets near-missed by a nuclear SAM halfway through (you know it's nuclear because they're 10 miles away when it goes off and it still almost knocks them out of the air).


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-16-14 7:38 AM
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66: Maybe you have better sense than I do! The part of Dr. Strangelove that stuck with me was the doomsday machine, and the insane logic of deterrence. I think the movie teaches you to be afraid of the people and organizations who control the weapons. That's sensible, but it sort of obscures the visceral horror of the weapons themselves. The weapons become kind of a joke, like at the end of the movie, when there are all the explosions, and the soundtrack is "we'll meet again."


Posted by: torrey pine | Link to this comment | 10-16-14 6:35 PM
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The Doomsday machines was just a dramatic way of making it so that de-escalation was impossible - it really was MAD. I didn't take away from the film any diminution of the impact of individual bombs.

My view may, however, be coloured by having seen Threads before Strangelove.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 10-20-14 4:56 AM
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