Here are some facts that have been too little recalled of late.

A Russian truck-mounted Topol intercontinental ballistic missile is displayed at Moscow’s Red Square during the annual Victory Day parade May 9, 2008. Russia currently has an estimated 1,600 deployed tactical nuclear weapons, with another 2,400 strategic nuclear weapons tied to ICBMs, according to author and Air Force veteran Blake Stilwell. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press, File

Russia has about 1,600 nuclear weapons ready to hit Europe and the U.S. on a few minutes’ notice. U.S. targets would include cities ranging in size from Chicago to Bath. The U.S. is similarly poised to annihilate Russian society. Both sides’ missiles are set to launch “on warning” – that is, if radar seems to report an attack. Year after year, 24/7, destruction is held at bay only by complex control systems that have almost failed on several occasions.

Once launched, the missiles could not be stopped. In the time it takes to walk a dog, bake a batch of cookies or read a commentary arguing that intervening in Ukraine is definitely not going to trigger a nuclear war, our world would be destroyed. In the U.S. scores of millions would die in the blasts, followed by scores of millions more as survivors succumb to radiation and hunger.

If you aren’t fortunate enough to live in a blast zone, the end would be announced by a day-bright horizon flash. The power would go out, never to return. From that moment on there would be no lights or refrigerators, no phone or internet, no deliveries of fuel or bread. The infrastructure would be gone, and the infrastructure to rebuild the infrastructure.

Soon poisonous smoke would fill the sky, carried Down East by prevailing winds. It won’t matter if you have a year’s worth of beans stashed in the crawlspace, or guns, or kids, or just fell in love and have big plans: There would remain only death, fast or slow, death not only of our brief selves but also of everything that we always deep down assumed would outlast us. No more children, no more songs. No more sports or science or sex or church or “Star Trek.” The U.S., Europe and Russia, at minimum, will be essentially extinct, and global economic and environmental collapse would likely kill billions more. The human race would face a very long, very dark night.

Today, as Vladimir Putin is backed snarling into a corner, we are only a few bad decisions away from this fate. The Ukrainian president, U.S. senators and others call for a no-fly zone, but a no-fly zone isn’t a magic place where bad things stop happening; it’s a place where one shoots down somebody else’s planes. It’s war.


A recent simulation by Princeton University, “Plan A,” shows that if NATO and Russian forces clash directly, escalation to nuclear holocaust would be easy. Facing defeat on its own border, Russia might well use the unanswerable argument, a tactical nuclear weapon – a “small” warhead only a few times more powerful than the bomb that leveled Hiroshima. But the unanswerable wouldn’t go unanswered. Explosions big enough to level cities would proliferate. Communication networks would fry, confusion reign. Soon hundreds of missiles carrying much larger warheads would crisscross the planet, and night fall.

We are now closer to this hell than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 – as close as a blindfolded bicyclist teetering along the edge of a cliff.  Yet, incredibly, the fate of the world is being treated as a side issue. Pundits are scoffing at the very idea that we should hesitate to attack.  But I like how hip-hop artist Malik Diamond cuts through the bull:

“Russia’s tanks are stalling out, its army’s morale is at an all-time low, and Iron Fist Puto is trying to micromanage a futile war while sequestered in some kind of paranoid quarantine. If that doesn’t sound to you like a man who would risk incinerating the planet to prove a point, then congratulations, you have lived an extraordinarily privileged and comfortable life.”

Calls for any form of direct conflict between the U.S. and Russia are utterly unhinged and must be opposed at every turn. Ukraine itself would probably be the first place to burn – but not the last.

War is not a thing one controls.

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