Another Old Fear

It's been a good few years for bringing back the old, primal fears that our age of technological marvels and miracles has conveniently allowed us to forget. So, naturally, just as the pandemic is (hopefully) starting to wind down a wee bit, international geopolitics brings a welcome return of our old friend, World War III, and nuclear armageddon!

I mean, right off the bat, let's quantify some things: do I think whatever is going to happen between Russia and Ukraine will spill over into World War III? No. But there's also an inherent uncertainty with these geopolitical games of brinksmanship that things could go sideways and very easily tip over into a wider conflict that could easily escalate into something worse. 

I don't know if Putin is going to invade. It seems counterproductive to me unless they can move fast and break things and get what they want and get out quickly-- I don't think he can afford to get bogged down in a snake pit in Ukraine. I could be wrong about that, of course- but what if the West has totally misread this? What if he's taking the whole ball of wax and wiping Ukraine off the map? I don't think that's a likely scenario- but again, with all that uncertainty... you don't know.

And in that scenario, the Baltics start to get nervous. Poland gets an itchy trigger finger (because I seriously doubt the Poles are going to let themselves be fucked with ever again. Should Germany or Russia get itchy again, an invasion of Poland will be far more costly the next time than it was in 1939.) Then suddenly everyone's in the shit and we've got Grandpa Joe staring down Putin and everyone's got nukes and who knows what happens after that.

Obviously, I'm catastrophizing a bit here. It's kind of my jam, but it's a weird notion to toss around in your head too: what if the world ends next week? And then it kind of hits you: fuck, is this how people walked around during the Cold War all the time

I mean, don't get me wrong: at the height of the Cold War, the US was packing 30,000 nukes. Now we're down to 3,750. Still probably not great, in the grand scheme of things but I'd say there's a statistical chance that some form of civilization makes it through that.  Maybe not a large statistical chance, mind you, but a chance is better than no chance at all.

Then the old brain starts gaming out scenarios. Would we get hit? We probably wouldn't get in the first wave- maybe the second wave, to try and follow up by wiping out population centers in general. Then, the true morbidity of the internet age becomes clear, because then you can find fun websites like NUKEMAP, which lets you find out that whatever the size of the bomb that hits your hometown, you'll either be incinerated in the first blast or die in the follow-up. 

Oddly enough, that closes on the anxiety loop quite nicely. I don't need to worry about what happens if any potential conflict gets out of control and spills into nuclear war, because, in all likelihood, I and most of the people I love and care about will be vaporized bits of air pollution floating through the atmosphere.

None of this should be construed to mean that I'm losing sleep over any of this. I'm not. In fact, I slept great last night and I feel pretty good today- it's just that catastrophizing? It's my jam. This is just how my brain works and after pestilence has been stalking the land for a couple of years, why can't war join the fun? We're all supposed to feel our feelings, right? Lean into them, breathe them, let them settle on you- those are the hot new therapy buzzwords- so, we take the old Cold War hit of existential dread and the Sword of Nuclear Damocles and run it back, yet again. History doesn't repeat itself, but it very often rhymes.

Hello, old fear. It's been a while- but don't worry, you'll be gone again, soon enough I think. Because, like the song says: the future's so bright, we gotta wear shades.

(As of this writing: I think it's about a 50/50 shot that something's going to happen at this point. I think the Theft of the Crimea and the insurgency in the Donbas brought Moscow some short-term gains, but I think it's backfired a bit because from what I'm reading, those two actions pushed Ukraine further into the European/Western orbit. Prior to 2014, you had enough of a split in the country that some gentle fingering and finagling of the right election could get you someone that you could at least live with, from Moscow's point of view. I don't think that can happen now. So then the question becomes, what can you get? Can Russia afford to get bogged down in a Ukraine that will, presumably, not be down with coming back to the embrace of Mother Russia? I don't think they can. So, we'll see.)


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