Should Jamaica prepare for an accidental nuclear war?

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

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Asked the question above, every sane Jamaican would say an unhesitating 'yes'. So the bigger question is: How should we prepare for the eventuality of an accidental nuclear war?

Accidental or otherwise, a nuclear war would change all our lives forever. And, even though it is unlikely that Jamaica would be directly involved as combatants, we would be part of the collateral damage that would be inevitable.

Let us not fool ourselves, the probability of a nuclear war is nowhere as remote as we would like to think. We in this country like to use the phrase “tek sleep mark death”. Indeed, we should use last weekend's false emergency nuclear alert in Hawaii as an example.

The alert, happily, turned out to be false, but it would have been an epic, if unbelievable catastrophe.

It happened in the one country in the world, the United States, that we would least expect it.

A state employee reportedly accidentally triggered the Emergency Alert System message during what was supposed to be a routine internal test, and it took 38 minutes for authorities to confirm that the warning had been a false alarm.

From the reported reaction of many Hawaii residents, most people had no idea what to do or where to go. They all seemingly believed the warning was because of the heightened tension between the United States and North Korea.

Some estimates suggest that a missile from North Korea could reach Hawaii in 20 minutes. Many Hawaiians assumed they would die and were calling loved ones to say one last “I love you”.

Just over 76 years ago, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour killed more than 2,400 Americans, including civilians, and wounded more than 1,100 others.

On Saturday, several took cover in mall bathrooms, bathtubs, drug stores, even in a storm drain. People were seen speeding down highways and running red lights to reunite with family members.

Pope Francis was quoted a day after the incident as saying that the world is standing on the “very edge” of an accidental nuclear war, and he admitted to being personally terrified.

“I am really afraid of this. One accident is enough to precipitate things,” the 81-year-old pontiff told journalists, commenting on the series of nuclear and missile tests since last year in North Korea.

For a long time, since the end of the Cold War, the conventional wisdom has been that the potential for mutual destruction would keep nuclear powers from launching an attack on another. But we believe that, in the tense relations between North Korea and the US, it is conceivable that an accidental war could be triggered.

Fortunately, the US did not react militarily to the false warning. Would North Korea have been equally restrained — if it can be called that — in the event the alarm had been in that country? Who's to tell?

We have every interest in seeing that relations between Washington and Pyongyang improve to the point at which diplomacy is the much-preferred option to resolve differences. The current name-calling is childish and unbecoming of leaders of nations.

In the meantime, we in Jamaica should start thinking seriously about what we could and should do in the event that worse comes to worst.

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