The Only Winning Move

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With all the sabre rattling coming from Russia lately, a number of Gen-Xers have found that we’re reliving parts of our childhood. Only now we’re doing it as adults. This has allowed us to stir from our jaded slumber and assure the generations which came after us, “Don’t worry, folks. We got this.”

See, we grew up assuming there’d be a World War III between the USSR and the United States 1, and that war would end in a nuclear apocalypse which would pretty much end the world as we knew it. Our parents had drills on what to do in case of a nuclear attack, by the time we were growing up folks knew how useless they were. Instead, I got to watch The Day After when I was ten.

And people wonder why we grew up cynical and distrustful of power structures? Those were were the things which lead people to think “Mutually Assured Destruction” was a fine idea2.

So, here we are again. Putin has decided that a free Ukraine somehow equals “Russian genocide” and used it as an excuse to make sure the country will only ever love them 3. And, because he knows that NATO could pretty much run over Russia’s forces, he’s relying on the nuclear deterrent to keep the alliance out of it. After all the Russian Foreign Minister has said that War III couldn’t help but be nuclear. And it’s working.

So far.

That is, until some Russian munitions, fired to force Ukrainians into submission, land on NATO soil. Because if that happens cooler heads might prevail, but where you have a lot of people with really big guns aimed at each other emotions tend to take over. If that happens all bets are off.

So this cynical Gen-Xer is pondering what to do in case of a nuclear strike in my area, kinda like I used to wonder when I was a kid. If we’re not obliterated outright would I have enough time to get Bump from his sitter’s before the fallout hit? If it happened while my wife was teaching what would they do, since the school has no basement and huge windows? Do I have enough water? Do I have batteries? Can I tape my basement windows? Would the church basement be safer than my basement?

These were things I first pondered, again, when I was ten. And, surprise, four decades later they’re all relevant again. Sigh.

Thought after thought after thought.

But, here’s the thing. In the still unlikely event that some wretch of humanity launches nuclear weapons my worrying won’t matter one bit. I live with the endless megapolis of the Northeast Corridor on three sides of me, and my back is to the ocean. There’s huge airbase just the North, so that’s also a likely target. Where can I go? If we’re outside the blast zone we can wait for the fallout to become less dangerous, but then?

This may look like despair, but it’s isn’t. The sobering reality is, should a nuclear World War III happen there’s going to be nothing I can really do to save myself from it. But in accepting that there is freedom. Freedom to live, and show that we are human no matter what dehumanizing evils people are willing to unleash on each other. C.S. Lewis put this this way,

“If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

Do we find ourselves consumed by worry about nuclear-threats, cyber-attacks, or a breakdown of society because of supply chain shortages? I mean, right now I can understand why we might worry. But worrying changes nothing.

A better use of our energy is to re-focus. We can’t do anything about those things 4. But, our neighbors need help with something. So help them. Nature is coming alive with Spring, marvel in the beauty of it 5. We’re in the midst of yet another refugee crisis because of war, so donate some money to help 6. We meet people who are lonely, offer them company. We see people who are hurting, use acts kindness to treat them as human. We have people who love us, embrace them.

These are things we can control, and when we embrace these opportunities they bring life. So if the end comes, let’s be found celebrating the gift we’ve been given. And, just maybe, the death-bringers will see life and feel just enough shame to walk back from the edge.

Because in the end, when it comes to nuclear war. The only winning move is not to play.

How about a nice game of chess?


  1. Really between the Warsaw Pact and NATO, but we were kids so what did we know?  ↩

  2. It also led to my fascination with post–apocalyptic role playing games.  ↩

  3. It won’t work out, but abusers are stupid that way.  ↩

  4. Well, don’t use 1234 as your password and have normal natural disaster supplies on hand, but other than that not much.  ↩

  5. And curse allergies.  ↩

  6. And if you hear people complaining about Syrian or Afghan refugees you may point out that they are, in fact, racist as all get out and should be ashamed of themselves. Also, don’t forget all the Afghan people we still need to get out of Afghanistan because we made a promise to them.  ↩