Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Cynthia Lazaroff's 38 Minutes of Dread Expectation

Cynthia Lazaroff has written a long, relentless and horrifying essay for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, titled "Dawn of a New Armageddon," about her experience this past January of living in Hawaii when a false text alarm went out about an incoming ballistic missile attack with the dread words "this is not a drill."

Lazaroff, a filmmaker and founder of U.S.-Russian exchange initiatives, recounts the terror of the 38 minutes before the announcement was recalled as a false alarm, through waves of incomprehension, phone calls, searches for shelter, thoughts of preparations left undone. She weaves throughout a historical overview of U.S.-Soviet disarmament efforts and the ramping up of nuclear tensions in a multilateral world, with a focus on Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev (whom she recently interviewed as part of a documentary on escalating nuclear threats) and their meetings in the 1980s.

The personal impressions and hurried decisions race along as the clock ticks, literally. Lazaroff writes,

I phone our close friends Prajna and Greg. They don’t know anything. They haven’t yet checked their cell phones. It takes a moment for it all to sink in.
"How long do we have if it’s real?” my friends ask, relying on me for an answer I can’t give them. “It depends on where it’s coming from,” I reply. “If it’s North Korea, I think we have about 25 minutes. If it’s Russia, we might have 25 to 30 minutes or so from launch, but that’s if it’s land-based from Western Russia to New York or Washington. If it’s from a Russian sub, it could be just a few minutes. We don’t know.”
“How long ago did Tom get the message?” Greg asks. Tom checks his cell phone. “About seven or eight minutes ago,” he answers. We are all calculating — maybe 20 or 15 or how many minutes left until … flash, blast wave, death.
Her article demands to be read and pondered.