nukes are suddenly—insanely, by Perry’s estimate—once again a contemporary nightmare, and an emphatically ascendant one.
Americans no longer think about the threat every day. Nuclear war isn’t the subtext of popular movies, or novels; disarmament has fallen far from the top of the policy priority list.
Perry’s hypothesis for the disconnect is that much of the population, especially that rising portion with no clear memories of the first Cold War, is suffering from a deficit of comprehension. Even a single nuclear explosion in a major city would represent an abrupt and possibly irreversible turn in modern life, upending the global economy, forcing every open society to suspend traditional liberties and remake itself into a security state.
As for a nuclear explosion, by Perry’s lights, the consequences are so grave that the rational thing would be for people in the United States and everywhere to be in a state of peak alarm about their vulnerability, and for political debate to be dominated by discussion of how to reduce the risk.
And just how high is the risk? The answer of course is ultimately unknowable. Perry’s point, though, is that it’s a hell of a lot higher than you think.
“Nuclear weapons are the biggest public health issue I can think of.”
“As a 90s baby I never lived in the Cold War era,” wrote one participant, with the Reddit username BobinForApples. “What is one thing today’s generations will never understand about life during the Cold War?”
Perry’s answered, as SecDef19: “Because you were born in the 1990s, you did not experience the daily terror of ‘duck and cover’ drills as my children did. Therefore the appropriate fear of nuclear weapons is not part of your heritage, but the danger is just as real now as it was then. It will be up to your generation to develop the policies to deal with the deadly nuclear legacy that is still very much with us.”