All we are and all we ever will be


Last updated 4/16/2024 at 9:33am

There’s nothing like contemplating the end of the world to start off your weekend.

I headed out at daybreak on Saturday to get in a good training session at Zimmerman Butte. Kettlebell complexes and shooting — a kind of biathlon. I like to listen to a podcast while I drive out there and set up, so I scrolled through the new stuff, and ran across a fresh one from Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. He was interviewing Annie Jacobsen about her new book “Nuclear War: A Scenario.” I suppose I could have set it aside to walk out into the morning dew in peace, but … no. When Dan Carlin posts a podcast I listen to it. When Annie Jacobsen writes a book I read it.

I ordered it up immediately and am reading it now.

Jacobsen is an investigative journalist who works in the intersection of conflict and technology. She’s written books about Area 51 (real deal stuff, not goofy alien theories); targeted killing; Operation Paperclip, which brought Nazi rocket scientists — many of them war criminals — to the U.S. at the end of World War II; the CIA’s foray into paranormal phenomena, and more. Her new book is a deeply researched and sourced prognostication about what happens if a rogue state (North Korea) launches a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile at the United States.

Spoiler: The world ends in 57 minutes.

Grim stuff. I shut off the podcast and fired up a play-list of Turnpike Troubadours for my training session, but I went back to the podcast on a trip to Bend later in the day. Got to admit — the prospect of global thermonuclear war, followed by nuclear winter and the destruction of virtually all life as we know it, tends to cast a pall over things.

That’s the problem. We don’t like to think about such things, so we don’t. And yet the threat is very real — and probably a more clear and present danger right now than it’s been since the early 1980s when the U.S. and Russia came very close a couple of times to lobbing nukes at each other by mistake.

Jacobsen notes that the realities of what nuclear war would mean for mankind have largely been scrubbed from the public discourse, relegated to technical discussion that renders the concept abstract — even as Vladimir Putin raises the specter of the use of “battlefield nukes” in Ukraine, and regime propagandists chortle over the idea of dropping missiles on the UK.

If and when a nuclear device is deployed, the decision-making window for a response is very short — a matter of minutes. The danger of miscalculation under pressure is immense.

Jacobsen isn’t just spinning out an imaginative scenario as a plot for a thriller. Her scenario is based on extensive interviews with people with deep experience in the science, technology, and national security apparatus around the U.S. nuclear arsenal. They understand that once we stumble across the nuclear threshold, events will, at lightning speed, develop their own inexorable momentum, driving toward retaliatory strikes and an escalation that can’t be controlled.

That happened in Europe in 1914, when locked-in mobilization schedules and the dire consequences of not acting or reacting quickly enough plunged nations into the cataclysm of the First World War. That conflict left lasting scars on western civilization. A similar scenario involving nukes will end it.

The responsibility for managing this looming threat lies almost entirely upon the President of the United States, since he or she will have to call the critical shots when the balloon goes up. It seems that it might be a good idea to field candidates we can really trust with the fate of the world. The stakes are, literally, everything. All we are, all we have ever been, and all we will ever be.

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

Author photo

Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit


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