Read But Don’t Weep

by Isabel Flessas, Opinions Editor Emeritus
graphic by Julie Wang

During my sophomore year, I spent far too many winter nights sleepless. No, I wasn’t doing homework or even talking to friends. Instead, I had become obsessed with the phenomenon known as the Doomsday Clock — a metaphorical “clock” designed in 1947 due to the introduction of nuclear technology and used to warn the public about the “end of the world as we know it.” Our proximity to utter destruction is measured in “minutes till midnight”.

Now, there is no need for alarm. At the time my obsession began, tensions with our estranged “friend,” North Korea, were at an all-time high. Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump were having yet another Twitter war, except this time, the nuclear button was the main topic of discussion. The news was consumed by events that appeared to be the makings of a final chapter for humanity. I couldn’t sleep at all because I thought that at any moment, the world as we knew it would end. That is, until I started reading.

I scoured Wikipedia for information about what had happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as to nuclear test site areas such as the island of Guam. I combed through the graphic details — the bits of information my anxiety had latched onto — and dove into the facts and technicalities. 

I wanted to understand how these weapons worked and exactly what could happen if one was dropped onto nearby urban centers. I even discovered an online simulator that allowed users to emulate an Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) deployment to their own region, allowing them to adjust the size and power of the bomb in order to show how devastating such a strike could be. 

I read about Chernobyl, a nuclear power plant disaster in present-day Ukraine, and learned about how only 31 years later the area was beginning to recover. And finally, I began to read up on the current political climate. I learned about North Korea’s dubious claims and many failed attempts at producing an ICBM that could hit even the closest portions of the U.S. Donald Trump’s lack of power over the so-called “nuclear button” became apparent. And so, I found that I could finally rest. 

Sure, I had probably learned more disturbing information than I had in the beginning. But, my anxiety was gone. Why? Because less of the chaos erupting in the world seemed unknown to me. Although all of the facts looked scary on their own, when put into a broader context they painted a clearer picture. In my mind, the threat of nuclear war instantly became my reality. After reading about the topic, however, what once seemed probable became an unlikely event.

This was not the first time I would panic, only to turn to the facts for comfort. It certainly wouldn’t be my last time either — as the climate crisis came to the forefront of the public eye, I did research once again on what the future could look like, and, needless to say, it is scary. Learning about what could happen, however, gave me the power to prepare myself once again for what has yet to come.

In times like these where we find our lives swarmed with unknown, dark and scary possibilities, remember that forming a well-informed opinion can be just enough to carry you through.