Historical memory is tricky as decades pass and generations change: those who haven’t experienced a severe crisis or threat in their lifetime may not know better how to handle resurfacing risks.
America and its Western allies’ current diplomatic and political tensions with Putin’s Russia are a case in hand.
After all, the two sides actually fought the so-called “Cold War” for several decades up until 30 years ago. Back then, the threat of an all-out nuclear war that could wipe out humanity – first and foremost through the effects of a “nuclear winter” – was what both Americans and Russians feared the most.
Last Time We Faced That Risk, We Had Reagan, Not Biden
Of course, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Communist Soviet Union collapsed, and a weakened and smaller Russia emerged from it. Moscow’s aggressive and expansionist behavior was stunted for a couple of decades due to its sheer weakness and poverty.
That effectively put an end to the total nuclear war and nuclear winter threat the West had feared. Of course, the lull, as evident today, was only temporary, but that wasn’t obvious at the time.
The US and Western victory in the Cold War was courtesy of one of the most outstanding American leaders and one of the greatest Republicans of all time, President Ronald Reagan, the man who indeed made America great again by raising it from the Vietnam War fiasco and the Democrat-led energy and stagflation crisis of the 1970s.
Reagan won the Cold War, defeated Soviet Communism, and thus put an end to the total nuclear war threat by being bold and fearless, and pressing and pressuring the Soviets across the board.
The Reaganite foreign policy is packed full of lessons that a confused Joe Biden could have well used all throughout 2021. That was the year Biden eagerly lost America’s longest war – the 20-year-long war on terror in Afghanistan – to a bunch of medieval, ragtag goat herding Islamist terrorists – for no rational reason whatsoever.
That was also the year the man who earned himself the nickname “Kabul Joe” was appeasing Russia’s criminal dictator Vladimir Putin hand over fist every single day, projecting weakness.
Where President Donald Trump schooled Putin and put him in his place – including by stopping the latter’s favorite geopolitical project, the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany – Biden just gave the KGB alum all that he wanted – including the lifting of Trump’s Russian sanctions.
In return, he got from Putin the ultimate appeasement award – war! – as the Moscow tyrant decided to start rebuilding the former Soviet empire by gobbling up Ukraine first. Putin exhibited the classic dictator’s thinking: “They negotiate and make concessions. They must be weak. Let’s crush them!”
In any case, Joe Biden and his Democrat cohort got us where we once were – facing once again the very real prospect of a total nuclear war with Russia. Arguably a weaker Russia than the Soviet Union once was, but still a heavily nuclear-armed one with a seemingly irrational dictator as a leader.
The worst Cold War nightmare is now back: the prospect of nuclear blasts and winter.
‘We’ve Forgotten about It’
Except today’s American and allied societies are now mostly plagued with a “general lack of awareness” about what a nuclear war and the ensuing nuclear winter would seem like, a Science Alert report points out. Based on new research, it says that “we’ve forgotten” about this.
Even as the Western public and pop culture still keep the nuclear war motif in the background, details about what a nuclear winter could look like “have become hazy.”
The article notes that while millions of people would be killed in potential nuclear war blasts, there are climate models predicting the resulting debris would affect incoming sunlight for years, possibly up to a decade.
That would have devastating consequences for any nuclear blast and radiation fallout survivors: global temperatures would drop, leading to universal crop failures and mass starvation.
The report quotes Paul Ingram, a researcher of global risk at the University of Cambridge’s center for studying existential risk, who insists that the nuclear war threat the West is facing in 2023 is the biggest since the early 1980s. (Which was when President Reagan took over.)
The researcher decries the apparent lack of “public knowledge or debate” about what the “long-term consequences” would be like after a nuclear war – that is, the so-called “nuclear winter.”
Ingram conducted an online survey that polled 1,500 Americans and 1,500 Britons on their nuclear winter knowledge, whose results he used to compile a nuclear winter awareness report.
It established that only 7.5% of US and 3.2% of UK respondents “had heard” about the topic from modern-day culture or media.
A greater percentage of those polled said their awareness of the topic stemmed from what they remembered from the 1980s, the last full decade of the Cold War: 9% in the US and 5.4% in the UK.
Here’s Why Public Awareness Matters
In the same survey, Ingram asked respondents how governments should respond if a nuclear strike happens. Half of them were shown nuclear winter infographics ahead of answering the question.
Almost 20% of the respondents said the West should strike Putin’s Russia with nukes if the latter launched a nuclear attack against Ukraine. However, among those who saw the infographics, the figure was 16% lower for the US and 13% lower for the UK.
The scholar concluded that there was an “urgent need” to boost “public education” on the topic so the leaders of nuclear-armed nations would be less tempted to threaten one another.
Of course, it would be great if his valid proposition could also be applied to the likes of Russia’s Putin, China’s Xi, the Iranian ayatollah, and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.
The infographics that Ingram used were released in a peer-reviewed study last year. It showed the smallest nuclear war would involve 100 warheads of 15 kilotons each (the size of the bomb the US dropped on Hiroshima in 1945). Such an amount makes up 0.1% or one-1,000th of the combined nuclear arsenal of Russia and the US.
The researchers estimated this “smallest” nuclear war would kill 27 million people immediately and cause 225 million deaths in nuclear winter starvation. They also theorized a total nuclear war between Russia and America would cause 400 million direct deaths while more than 5 billion would die of starvation subsequently.
Another recent estimate also concluded that 5 billion people would starve to death worldwide due to the nuclear winter in the first two years after a potential nuclear war.
Ingram insists that the more the public knows how a nuclear war and a nuclear winter would play out, the smaller the risk that those would ever materialize.