The Science of MAD and Why it Should Scare You

Look, I'm just doing what the video is telling me to do. When the sirens start to sound and you don’t have a nuke-proof bunker somewhere in your house, you should get to the lowest place possible, duck, and pray to whatever higher power you choose to believe in. (Photo courtesy of Greyson Rupert)

Have you ever watched those old 19th century short films about what to do if an air raid siren sounds in your area? Well I have, and I probably won’t be the first to tell you that they aren’t as helpful as they seem. 

Bert the Turtle is a fictional character created in 1952 during the height of the Cold War, which is when we started pointing nukes at each other instead of fingers.  It was a terrifying time for just about everyone in the world with the threat of these cruel bombs looming around every corner. We needed something to calm ourselves down during those times of terror. Bert the Turtle was the main character in the short film Duck & Cover, and told us what to do if we ever saw a bomb go off.

Even though Bert the Turtle seemed to calm most of us down, now having something to do instead of waiting for the inevitable, it doesn’t come close to what would happen to Earth if nukes were fired. Not only would the nukes cause a devastating blast killing everyone around it, it would also leave a massive radioactive field in its destructive wake, which would stay there from as long as one to five years until it finally dissolved. That’s just one nuke, however. If the affected nation had its own arsenal and decided to fire back, well, that’s just another stepping stone in the catastrophic ability of the nuclear missile.

If multiple nukes were fired and hit their targets at once, something terrifying would happen. Debris would kick into the atmosphere, effectively blocking out the sun from our view for a very long time, depending on how many nukes were fired. The area of effect would also determine how long and how massive the nuclear debris cloud is. This would kill all of the plants in the area, not having the access that they need to the sun. We would be blocked out by a cloud of ash so dense that not even our own sun’s rays could shine through it. Of course, as with other clouds, like volcanic ash clouds, they will most likely be drifted away in a certain amount of time, depending on how many nuclear missiles were fired.

Even if some plants were to survive being cut off from the sun, and if all of our bombs were exploded in a full scale nuclear war, something else would happen. A “Nuclear winter” of sorts would occur. This is when radioactive ash falls to the earth in the form of a snow-looking type of precipitation, scorching most of what it touched with radioactivity. 

This is where the term MAD comes into play. MAD is short for mutually assured destruction. When both sides of a war go nuclear at the same time, there are no winners, only one side loses the least. It’s a terrifying concept that has a lot of people worried about other countries’ nuclear weapons and even our own. Thankfully under the treaty on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, the United States has halted production of nuclear weapons. The treaty aims towards peaceful uses of nuclear power instead of the threat of weapons. 

Mutually assured destruction is a terrifying concept to grasp. Everybody has different opinions about nuclear weapons and whether they should be kept around or not. Out of 22 people interviewed at Leesville Road High School, 17 said that the thought of nuclear war scared them or made them anxious. Just about everyone else said that they have become accustomed to having an imminent war looming over their heads.

“Growing up in an era when nuclear war is a constant threat, I’ve become numb to the dangers that nukes pose,” said Victoria Hall, a freshman at Leesville Road High School. Nuclear war is not something most people think about on a daily basis, so it’s not hard to imagine people going about their lives thinking that a war is not possible, or even just worry about nuclear weapons in general. They might be thinking to themselves that the government and the military will take care of things like that. 

When students of Leesville Road High School were asked what hearing the phrase MAD made them think of, 7 out of 14 people said that they thought of other countries unleashing their own nukes if one was ever fired. “I guess I always thought this was a given. Nobody is a winner in the nuclear war. Everything will be destroyed eventually,” said Christina Dotson, who is a science teacher at Leesville Road High School. 

Another student thought about the people around him. “It makes me think of the cold war, which was honestly not very different from today. Only difference is that now, everyone either wants to die or has been desensitized to the very real possibility of nuclear fallout,” said Luke Hesla, a senior at Leesville Road High School.

When asked if the United States should keep their arsenal of nuclear weapons, 9 out of 22 said that we should keep our silos chock full of nuclear technology and weapons. 10 out of 22 said that we should be careful with our arsenal and get rid of most of these MD’s (weapons of mass destruction) lickety split. 3 out of 22 said that there were two sides to everything and were indifferent.

 “I believe that the U.S should not make any more nukes. If nuclear war breaks out, it would cause a global crisis across all countries, affecting things like economics, causing major air pollution, releasing uncountable amounts of radiation into our atmosphere, kill many things in the food chains in the area of effect, and, most importantly, take the lives of hundreds of thousands of millions of people. Many governments don’t realise what will happen if they launch into nuclear warfare, and I believe it should be put into the attention of the public eye,” said Michael Hendon, a sophomore at Leesville Road High School. 

Other students had different opinions than Hendon. “The United States needs to have nuclear weapons if other countries contain such power, because it’s not about us attacking people, it is about letting other places know that we can hit as hard or harder than they hit us,” said Tripp Poole, a student at Leesville Road High School.

Although it seems like a simple question, a few students were indifferent or wanted some nukes with the hope of deconstruction later. “We should have the necessary preparations in the event that another country should attack, but we shouldn’t try to flex our power; other countries will just try to do the same,” said Violet Thornton, a senior at Leesville Road High School.

Nuclear war is no joke: It could happen at any moment. MAD is just as serious, showing that everything will be destroyed if even one of our nukes gets into the air. Scientists have studied this theory and have officially determined that we could possibly cause a man made mass extinction if anyone with a high authority decides to get loose fingers and push the big red button. 

It’s at this point that I recalled a quote from J. Robert Oppenheimer who was present when The Manhattan project was complete, dropping the first nuclear bomb, Trinity. “Most people were silent, but I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita: Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”


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