The last time I thought I might be at risk from nuclear fallout, I was in grade school and the air raid sirens in Halifax were wailing in the middle of the school day, either by accident or technical error, and we were looking out the long glass schoolroom windows fearfully, wondering if we were supposed to be hiding under our desks.
In the years since then, the chances of nuclear powers pulling the trigger on each other seemed to be growing smaller and smaller as walls came down and trade opened up.
I mean, for years the chance of a terrorist “dirty” nuclear weapon — a bomb meant to do less damage by exploding and more by spreading nuclear contamination — has been out there as a threat.
But now we’re in a standoff between a nuclear rogue state (North Korea) and an American Twitter-rogue president with the attention span of a gnat.
One moment, Donald Trump’s attacking football players and their freedom of speech, the next, he’s tweeting something that North Korea interprets as a declaration of war.
Puerto Rico may have lost more than 80 per cent of its food production due to a hurricane’s direct hit, it may have no electricity (and may not have any for months) and people’s lives are in clear danger, but heck, “Murica and the flag.”
Meanwhile, a clearly unstable leader (take your pick) is remotely egging on another obviously unstable leader (still take your pick) and they both have nuclear weapons and an addiction to Dirty Harry-like “make my day” statements. I know the first thing I’d do if I was ever given the chance to speak to the United Nations would be to threaten to bomb 25 million people into dust, right? Or else, given the opportunity, I’d lob a few test-drive ICBMs at a country with enough atomic weaponry to wreck the world a few times over.
Didn’t we all know Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in high school?
You remember them — their dads were rich and gave them big cars and free gas, and damned if they weren’t going to chug Southern Comfort all night and then get in a back-road race until they T-boned a family in a mini-van at a four-way stop.
They’d walk away — not the family, of course, but the rich kids, each blaming the other, and neither one got jail time because of all that limitless opportunity stretched out in front of them.
So they’d go on to their next big car and their next big crash, and really the only guarantee for anyone else’s safety would be if they hit a bridge abutment before hitting the next hapless victim. (Come on, bridge abutment.)
Give me leaders who understand consequences, not ones that wrap themselves in flags and want salutes from the military. Jong-un already has military parades, and now Trump wants them too, and the only real reason is to see who has the bigger missiles and the longest parade. And eventually the only way to prove whose car is faster or whose missiles are bigger is to fire a few of those suckers off, even if you have no idea of where or who they’re going to hit and kill, and really, what’s a family doing out there in a minivan anyway? It’s not like they were anyone important or anything, blocking the road like that.
And all I want is for my kids to be safe from men with no understanding of suffering, unless you count the suffering of being the one who’s got the least amount of gold gilding their latest particular palace.
What a time to still be alive.
Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 35 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org — Twitter: @wangersky.