‘Doomscrolling’ On Another Day That Ends in ‘Y’ — Nuclear War Edition

September 28, 2022

(Illustration: Pablo Picasso’s ‘Self Portrait Facing Death‘ [June 30, 1972], was originally found here.)

Less than a year after Picasso finished the artwork above, he was dead from pulmonary edema and heart failure, so the title is fairly apt. He’d lived a good life for 91 years, though. Distraught by his death, his much-younger wife, and ‘muse,’ Jacqueline, killed herself by gunshot in 1986 at age 59 — a sadness reflected.
I first used the image in a July 2014 blog piece on insomnia I’d then been experiencing (if you’d like, you can read it here), and later employed the painting when death, dying or some other shitty sorrow was a post subject. I last used it at the end of May with the school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
Although there was no long-life death there, yet was still a potent depiction of the despair and anguish in the horror encapsulating in a never-ending winter and Hemingway’s notion“… it was as though a young person died for no reason.”

So anyway, back to today and the right now this Wednesday afternoon, with another encore presentation of the so-called ‘doomscrolling,’ which I noted in my last post is nothing you have to seek out anymore, for such scrolling for related horrible shit is so prevalent it could be near-about considered ‘normal,’ or at least the ‘new normal’ in an age of accelerating bad news in so many categories.
Especially since today is ‘World News Day,’ as we face a litany of dangerous shit, it’s appropriate to doom on the scrolling once again.

Top of the scroll today is Hurricane Ian breaking across the Gulf coast of Flordia this afternoon — a Category 4 storm with 140-150 mph winds, causing immense flooding (an 18-foot storm surge in some coastal areas) and spawning tornadoes ahead of itself and in its wake. The region is not known for high-power storms and Ian is supposedly a history-making asshole with a huge 80-mile frontal size, which intensified way too quickly last night.
A bad sign for the future (CNN):

Rapid intensification is defined as a wind speed increase of 35 mph or more in 24 hours, and it has historically been a rare phenomenon. But scientists say it is becoming more likely for hurricanes as the climate crisis advances, pushing ocean temperatures higher and laying the groundwork for them to explode at a breakneck pace into deadly major hurricanes.

Ian’s rapid intensification was unprecedented for a storm this strong in its location Wednesday morning, according to Sam Lillo, a forecast team engineer at DTN Weather. Not only did Ian’s intensity jump significantly, but Lillo also said there is no record of a storm that strong strengthening at all in that location.

Climate change is mankind’s greatest problem, and Ian is a right-now indicator of how bad our environment will become, and even worse if mitigating action isn’t taken soon (the result of years of a ‘“blah, blah, blah”‘ approach to the climate crisis). Just in the category of climate change, ‘doomscrolling‘ is a who’s who of top-of-the-bad-news list.

However, yesterday afternoon as I was surfing news sites/blogs in a ‘normal’ news update, I came across this, which is frightful in its own right, but could far advance a terrible calendar for future history:

In a quick review, it looked heresayish, but maybe not so much — talk about some seriously bad shit (Insider): ‘“I think the chances of his de-escalating are close to zero,” Robert Baer, a former CIA case officer, told CNN on Tuesday, adding that Putin “simply cannot give up so much ground and be seen to be losing and continue as leader of Russia … The chances of his using nuclear weapons — at least tactical nuclear weapons — is going up by the day,” Baer added, referring to smaller nuclear weapons meant for use on the battlefield.

One major flame in the wick is Vlad Putin, a cruel asshole who’s pinched into a position like a cornered rat — the war in Ukraine going downhill quickly, his ‘mobilization’ a total bust, and near-about the whole world against him — and has babbled about no weapons are off the table. He’s a loser who can’t afford to lose. Seemingly, hardcore dictatorships are like that.
He’s going for broke and is willing to take it all down (via ABC News this afternoon):

Putin has said his nuclear threat isn’t a bluff. His top associate, Dmitry Medvedev, said Tuesday that Russia has the right to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine if Kyiv threatens Russian statehood.

Medvedev declared NATO would stand back if Moscow launched a nuclear strike on Ukraine. “American and European demagogues aren’t going to die in a nuclear apocalypse, and so they will swallow the use of any weapons in the current conflict,” he said.

Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, tweeted that by dangling the nuclear threat, “Putin is not bluffing, he is deterring.”

“He is trying to prevent the West from providing more sophisticated weapons to Ukraine,” McFaul said.

Is that so? Although Joe Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Sunday termed the US response to Putin’s use of a nuclear weapon in Ukraine would entail “catastrophic consequences,” it was apparently on the down low (the New York Times): ‘But Mr. Sullivan’s use of the word “catastrophic” as a deliberately ambiguous warning of a major — if almost certainly non-nuclear — response to a Russian nuclear detonation illustrated how quickly the rhetoric has intensified as Russia has faltered on the battlefield in recent months.

Of course, the big, humongous question is whether Putin will use a nuclear weapon in Ukraine, and what would happen if he did — the long range is not good with a nuclear exchange worldwide, to a smaller clusterfuck in Europe, which would kill millions.

A good primer:

A deep dive into the subject by Nina Srinivasan Rathbun, professor of International Relations, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, at The Conversation this morning; go read the whole piece, really good, in-depth details/background of tactical nuclear weapons — some snips:

Tactical nuclear weapons have burst onto the international stage as Russian President Vladimir Putin, facing battlefield losses in eastern Ukraine, has threatened that Russia will “make use of all weapon systems available to us” if Russia’s territorial integrity is threatened. Putin has characterized the war in Ukraine as an existential battle against the West, which he said wants to weaken, divide and destroy Russia.

U.S. President Joe Biden criticized Putin’s overt nuclear threats against Europe. Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg downplayed the threat, saying Putin “knows very well that a nuclear war should never be fought and cannot be won.” This is not the first time Putin has invoked nuclear weapons in an attempt to deter NATO.

I am an international security scholar who has worked on and researched nuclear restraint, nonproliferation and costly signaling theory applied to international relations for two decades. Russia’s large arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons, which are not governed by international treaties, and Putin’s doctrine of threatening their use have raised tensions, but tactical nuclear weapons are not simply another type of battlefield weapon.

Tactical nuclear weapons are substantially more destructive than their conventional counterparts even at the same explosive energy. Nuclear explosions are more powerful by factors of 10 million to 100 million than chemical explosions, and leave deadly radiation fallout that would contaminate air, soil, water and food supplies, similar to the disastrous Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown in 1986. The interactive simulation site NUKEMAP by Alex Wellerstein depicts the multiple effects of nuclear explosions at various yields.

Unlike strategic nuclear weapons, tactical weapons are not focused on mutually assured destruction through overwhelming retaliation or nuclear umbrella deterrence to protect allies. While tactical nuclear weapons have not been included in arms control agreements, medium-range weapons were included in the now-defunct Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty (1987-2018), which reduced nuclear weapons in Europe.

The fundamental question is whether tactical nuclear weapons are more “useable” and therefore could potentially trigger a full-scale nuclear war. Their development was part of an effort to overcome concerns that because large-scale nuclear attacks were widely seen as unthinkable, strategic nuclear weapons were losing their value as a deterrent to war between the superpowers. The nuclear powers would be more likely to use tactical nuclear weapons, in theory, and so the weapons would bolster a nation’s nuclear deterrence.

Yet, any use of tactical nuclear weapons would invoke defensive nuclear strategies. In fact, then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis notably stated in 2018: “I do not think there is any such thing as a tactical nuclear weapon. Any nuclear weapon use any time is a strategic game changer.”

I believe Russian use of tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine would not achieve any military goal. It would contaminate the territory that Russia claims as part of its historic empire and possibly drift into Russia itself. It would increase the likelihood of direct NATO intervention and destroy Russia’s image in the world.

Putin aims to deter Ukraine’s continued successes in regaining territory by preemptively annexing regions in the east of the country after holding staged referendums. He could then declare that Russia would use nuclear weapons to defend the new territory as though the existence of the Russian state were threatened. But I believe this claim stretches Russia’s nuclear strategy beyond belief.

Putin has explicitly claimed that his threat to use tactical nuclear weapons is not a bluff precisely because, from a strategic standpoint, using them is not credible. In other words, under any reasonable strategy, using the weapons is unthinkable and so threatening their use is by definition a bluff.

Hopefully, those aren’t famous last words. And add this shit to the doom list of everyday news, from terrible weather, to crazy, cruel Republicans, to a nasty, right-wing political swing across Europe, and to just being alive in one, a crazy-assed period in human history.
Even with tactical nuclear weapons, we could get a bit mussed:

Mr. President, I’m not sayin’ we wouldn’t get our hair mussed, but I do say, no more then 10 to 30 million killed, tops, depending on the breaks…

Surfing the InterWebs forthright in sad fear, yet once again here we are…

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