John Hyten, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command responsible for the use of the U.S.'s nuclear weapons, recently tried to calm anxieties that Trump is a nuclear liability. Kathryn Watson reporting for CBS News:
The top U.S. nuclear commander said Saturday he would push back against President Trump if he ordered a nuclear launch the general believed to be "illegal," saying he would look to find another solution.
This is only mildly comforting.
In conversations with friends as far back as April 2016, I was predicting, with a reluctant and fearful certainty, that Trump was going to win the presidency. This was a very vocal and, right up until election night, a very ridiculed prediction. Ever since Trump's actual election victory one year ago, I've held a similarly fearful prediction: Trump is going to use nuclear force.
I've kept this prediction much quieter. I expose it only in a hushed panic. It's too big, too incomprehensible, and it seems too ridiculous. But in my mind, it feels just as true as my prediction of election victory. Both are things I seem to know with an unaccountable certainty. It should be obvious that I didn't want Trump to win the presidency. But this new prediction, that we will see the U.S. once again unleash nuclear force on the world in our near future, engulfs my mind in an encompassing panic. It simply can not be allowed to happen.
The fact that Hyten is using even such mild language to express any level of resistance to the president is both comforting (there's important and powerful people who genuinely hold similar fears and are willing to act: good) and terrifying (top military commanders have such distrust of our president that they have to publicly state their position as nuclear babysitters: nightmare). These comments aren't entirely reassuring. Hyten states that he would resist an "illegal" order. Frankly the idea that there exists such a thing as a legal use of nuclear weapons is bad enough.
I hold a firm belief that nuclear weapons should never have been used in the past, should never be used in the future, and should never have existed in the first place. This makes all of Trump's tweets regarding North Korea so terrifying to me. He doesn't state an explicit desire or intention to use them, but he belies an assumption that there's obviously a right place and time to use them, and maybe just maybe North Korea will create those circumstances for him.
Humans have done many terrible things. There have been countless atrocities and genocides. But what the U.S. did to Hiroshima and Nagasaki ranks very close to the top of the greatest acts of evil ever committed by humans upon other humans. What befell Japan was a level of destruction of land and life that I don't think we've ever really reckoned with, or have found ways to comprehend. What our current nuclear arsenal is capable of exceeds that by far. America has spent the time since World War II, especially in competition with Russia, frantically trying to increase the destructive power of our weapons. I grew up after the Cold War ended, so I never knew a world with justifiable fears of nuclear war until now. And the prospect terrifies me in my marrow.
I have to intentionally and actively not think about this too much. What can I do? When faced with the looming specter of unlimited death, what possible action can I take? That helplessness, combined with the sheer magnitude of the consequences, can create a feeling of deep despair. So part of me would rather just pretend it's not a problem. Whether it happens or not, there's nothing I can do about it.
But sometimes I do think about how it'll feel. How will I find out? Will it be breaking news on a nearby television? Maybe a call from a family member who saw it first. Or will it be like most news about tragedies, an unexpected flood of tweets. Will I wake up one morning to discover that while I slept, the single greatest atrocity in history was inflicted upon the people of North Korea? Will I continue to lay in bed, scrolling through Twitter, my brain trying to wrap it's head around the fact that the president just decided to become one of humankind's greatest enemies?
All of this scares me to death. I can preemptively feel a weight of history on my shoulders. Of all the humans that have ever lived, only a small portion are alive right now. What will it mean to be one of the people alive when it happens, when real nuclear war is unleashed for the first time. I think we all, the collective generation alive for this event, will bear a permanent stain, a stain that above all other things, will be how history remembers us. We will be the generation who allowed this. My self pity asks why I have to be part of this stained generation. Why does my short life have to overlap with this likely event.
There are so many problems in the world. Most of them are problems that I can do something about, problems closer, more tangible, more immediate. But I don't think there are any problems in the world currently bigger than Trump as a nuclear threat. There's nothing with greater consequences. If anything can be done to prevent that, it must be. I've never before wanted so badly to be wrong.