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Nine Paradoxes of a Nuclear War

It gives me a broader perspective when I explore current world issues from the standpoint of the Abrahamic faiths (including Bahá’í).

Mushroom cloud in the wake of a nuclear explosion

Mushroom cloud in the wake of a nuclear explosion

Nuclear Paradoxes

A red line was crossed recently when talk of nuclear war began flooding the airwaves and was splashed on the front pages of the world’s media. The sudden focus on such a taboo subject was occasioned by subtle hints as well as overt threats reportedly coming from one of the foremost nuclear powers on the planet. And so it was that, out of the blue and for the first time in decades, the spectre of a nuclear war (and, by implication, of World War III) began to loom large in the consciousness of the world.

And yet a full-scale war involving the use of atomic bombs—so unprecedented in the history of mankind—is never going to end well for any part of the globe, let alone for the belligerent nations themselves. In a worst-case scenario, expect cities to be obliterated, entire regions reduced to radioactive wasteland, and the global order destabilised and torn to shreds in a single moment of madness. Not even the doyens in this arena of study can offer a reliable estimate as to the scale of death and destruction that would ensue from a full-blown nuclear exchange. The least that can be said is that it would be simply mindboggling.

That said, a nuclear war would also come with its own cache of paradoxes. We look at some of these:

Fire, smoke, radioactive dust, death, and destruction will be the grim outcome of a nuclear explosion.

Fire, smoke, radioactive dust, death, and destruction will be the grim outcome of a nuclear explosion.

1. Nuclear War Prospects

In the current circumstances, the prospect of nuclear war remains several notches higher than usual. Little wonder then, that keen watchers of the geopolitical scene should be growing more concerned and jittery by the day. With events unfolding unpredictably, there is a gnawing fear that the world powers might sleepwalk in a downward spiral into the nuclear abyss.

The ordinary person in the street does not appear much concerned, though. Life for him goes on as usual. He does not seem to be holding his breath. There is no sign of desperation in his demeanour, no mad rush to put plans in place to safeguard safety and survivability in the event of a nuclear Armageddon.

And as the masses carelessly overlook the possibility of a nuclear conflict today, so they are unlikely to shift much in their attitude tomorrow. But there comes a moment when such a carefree attitude is bound to radically change.

That moment is when the entire human race is jolted to a rude awakening in the shape of an earth-shattering nuclear holocaust. Sadly, it would be too late for many by then.

From the lessons of the Gospel, we learn that it is never in anyone’s interest to be indifferent to “the signs of the times” (Matthew 16:3). Indeed, should we venture on a path of reflection, we would perhaps discover that the present-day lifestyle of people is not much different from the lifestyle of folks depicted in one of the gospel narratives, whereby:

…they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded… [Then] it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. (Luke 17:28-29)

(Note: All biblical references in this article are from the King James Bible.)

2. Security Risks

For now, the nuclear powers stand tall among the nations of the world on the strength of their military might and apparent invincibility. How best can these countries be described other than as the superpowers of the global community! When provoked, after all, they are capable (some more so than others) of launching nuclear-armed missiles across frontiers to pulverise a nation and reduce it to radioactive ash. To mess with a nuclear-armed nation, therefore, is to play with fire—fire that recklessly endangers masses of innocent lives and potentially condemns them to instant death or horrific injuries.

And yet, the paradox in all this is that a nuclear-armed nation is much more at risk of nuclear destruction than a nation that is free of any nuclear encumbrances.

Almost invariably, countries targetted by nuclear weapons are themselves armed with nuclear assets. The only exception might be a non-nuclear nation that allows its territory to be used as the foreign military base of a nuclear power (most likely, without even being aware of the danger involved).

The reason the territories of the nuclear powers are likely to be in the crosshairs of rival nuclear powers is simply this: non-nuclear nations lack the lethal wherewithal to threaten the existence of a nuclear power. It is only a nuclear-armed nation that can pose an existential threat to another nuclear power.

The paradox then is that acquiring atom bombs does not necessarily safeguard the security of a country; it rather brings it into the target list of a nuclear-armed adversary, making both sides vulnerable to mutual annihilation.

Missiles raining down from the sky on a city

Missiles raining down from the sky on a city

3. Nuclear Disarmament

Everyone, whether resident in a country with nuclear assets or not, knows the harm that can be done to our planet in the event of a nuclear conflict, even a limited one. No one can therefore dispute that the world will be infinitely better off without nuclear weapons. Paradoxically though, only after exposure to a nuclear holocaust (with its attendant human suffering) would man be ready—no, eager—to give up all arsenals of nuclear weapons (and other weapons of mass destruction) for all time.

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It is only when this critical line is crossed (unveiling a searing picture of the earth in the throes of a nuclear apocalypse) can there be credible attempts at disarmament. Until then, nuclear weapons will continue to have pride of place in the armouries of the great powers.

This, indeed, is one reason why nuclear war is inevitable—because, in the grand scheme of things, nuclear disarmament is itself inevitable and is only a matter of time. Thus, even though no one wants a nuclear war, this is exactly what mankind has unwittingly opted for and will have in the end.

(For more on the subject of nuclear disarmament, you might wish to read the article: “Where Are the Safe Places in an All-Out Nuclear War?” at:

Atomic bomb

Atomic bomb

4. Flow of Refugees

In recent decades, the world has witnessed a steady exodus of people—refugees, asylum seekers, economic migrants, adventurers, and what-have-you's—mostly from the impoverished, crime-ridden, or war-ravaged countries of the south to countries of the north, in search of opportunity, protection, adventure, or some other outcomes.

Most of these migrants end up in the affluent, liberal nations of western Europe and North America, nations that happen to lie in the north temperate zone (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle). Incidentally, this zone is also the most vulnerable to a nuclear attack.

If one should check where on earth nuclear assets have been deployed, one would be surprised to note that they are all in countries that are fully or partially in the north temperate zone. And this is what makes this zone the most likely theatre of any nuclear confrontation.

So, hypothetically speaking, expect the tables to turn in the wake of a nuclear war—waves of people potentially fleeing the devastation and radioactive contamination of the northern countries in hope of reaching the relative safety of the poorer southern territories, leaving behind homes, possessions, businesses, etc., for an uncertain future in alien lands.

While tragic, such a reversal of fortunes would only make sense if looked at within the overall context of the changes and chances, trials and vicissitudes that afflict all earthly existences from time to time. No earthly arrangement is, has been, or can ever be permanent.

Refugees on the move

Refugees on the move

5. The Element of Prejudice

Prejudice is an ever-present concern in all parts of the globe. It is an issue today as it has ever been in times past. Prejudice, as is well known, goes beyond colour and race; it rears its ugly head in other facets of human existence such as nationality, tribe, caste, creed, gender, and so on. Wherever differences appear in the outward circumstances of people, there prejudice would sooner or later announce its presence.

In the overall scheme of things, however, the outer characteristics of earthly existence (the very things that often beguile one group into feeling superior to another) are ephemeral, superficial, and irrelevant—and will be even more so when the global community is rudely shaken with a deeply traumatising episode in the form of a global nuclear catastrophe.

In the face of intense human suffering brought on by the explosions of atom bombs, it would not matter to you who it is that offered you water to quench your parched lips, dressed the raw burns on your skin, or gave you refuge in the safety of their humble dwelling.

And the paradox is that it should be in the midst of so much pain and suffering, not in moments of wellbeing and tranquillity, that man begins to understand the true meaning of humanity.

At that point, the misguided belief in the exaltation of one race, nationality, tribe, creed, or caste over another would evaporate in the dustheap of forgotten mythologies, where it truly belongs.

6. The Fruit of Nationalism

That so much pain should be visited upon the world as a result of an unwinnable nuclear encounter would be down to nationalism at its most extreme. Paradoxically, though, the very concept of nationalism would be challenged by the utter hopelessness and helplessness that the war would thrust into the lives of people.

In the aftermath of a nuclear conflagration, with the global order in complete disarray, the world’s governments struggling to stand on their feet, and swarms of disoriented survivors running helter-skelter in search of refuge, how would immigration formalities be enforced or asylum applications processed? In the chaotic environment, who would even be at post to oversee the required passport control procedures at the various points of entry of a country?

And just as survivors are compelled by circumstances to move en masse away from the radioactive hotspots to less contaminated areas of the globe, expect others to relocate, years or decades later, from elsewhere on the planet to the same abandoned, erstwhile contaminated territories, to settle and to make those places their new home, again without passport checks.

The hypothetical picture being painted here is of a world where people are more able to move and settle wherever on the planet they wish. In this scenario, national borders would remain more for purposes of civil administration than as barriers to migration. Travel visas would be seen then as anachronistic relics to be ditched.

And that would mark the dawn of the new day envisaged in Bahá’í scripture. Thus do the Bahá’í Writings counsel:

It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens. (Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, #CXVII)

A nuclear war will unleash a wave of refugees across the globe.

A nuclear war will unleash a wave of refugees across the globe.

7. World Government

Currently, the concept of world government is anathema to many—religionists, nationalists, right-wing pundits, and conspiracy theorists alike. In the wake of a doomsday nuclear event, however, expect the peoples of the world to unhesitatingly clamour for a reformed United Nations Organization (or some other remodelled global authority). Their cry would specifically be for a global structure that is endowed with more teeth than the system currently in place, one with sufficient clout and authority to protect the world's people from the scourge of war and anarchy and safeguard their security and wellbeing for all time.

But instituting such an authoritative, world-directing organisation would perforce mark the inception of a world federal system of government. And that is yet another paradox, especially for those strongly opposed to any scheme of international governance that would dilute the supremacy of unfettered national sovereignty.

8. Spotlight on Religion

Paradoxically, the level of devastation that a nuclear incident would cause on planet Earth is bound to arouse fervent discussions around the role of religion. In the eyes of many, the religious faiths would have failed in their sacred responsibility to keep the children of men united and at peace with one another.

It might be specifically pointed out that religion had not lived up to its expected role as a divine agency for shepherding humanity to the haven of unity, peace, and harmony; it had rather paraded itself as the unapologetic source of division, tumult, and discord. Indeed, too many are the instances that could be cited when religion had been misused as the uncompromising instigator of war, communal violence, political strife, terrorism, suicide bombing, persecution, discrimination, intolerance, etc.

Nor can religion be considered innocent even when it comes to the gravest of all charges—that it had had a bearing, in certain undeniable instances, on the development as well as the proliferation of nuclear weapons!

9. Messianic Expectations

Following a nuclear catastrophe, expect worshippers of the diverse religious persuasions to renew their debate on the messianic expectations of the Last Day. The urgency of the discussions might most likely be dictated, not only by the nightmarish nature of the nuclear conflagration but by a crying need to understand the chronological arrangement between the nuclear event and the messianic appearance.

Worshippers might be compelled to take a new hard look as to why Jesus Christ had not returned to the Christians, Kalki Avatar to the Hindus, the Mashiach to the Jews, Shah Bahram to the Zoroastrians, Maitreya Buddha to the Buddhists, or Nabi Isa to the Muslims.

Conceivably, having profoundly upset the world’s equilibrium, the nuclear episode would see longstanding paradigms and conceptions of human reality wobble and give way to new paradigms, conceptions, trends, and insights. Under renewed but passionate scrutiny, expect long-held traditional interpretations and creeds to disintegrate in the doctrinal universes of worshippers, obstructive veils to fall, and the search for the Holy One to intensify around new insights and expectations.

To ardent Christian survivors, for example, the ostentatious and boisterous “coming” of “the Son of man” “in the clouds of heaven” to the accompaniment of “a great sound of a trumpet” (Matthew 24:30-31) might begin to sound less convincing, in their literal sense, than his appearance in the discreet, thief-like manner Jesus had also warned:

But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. (Matthew 24:43)

And in those dark moments of doubt, confusion, but prayerful search, expect the light to break forth, enabling flocks of worshippers, of diverse shades and backgrounds, to gravitate towards the only religious cause that, to their progressively more receptive hearts, would emerge from the shadows as the most perfect embodiment of the messianic promises and expectations of the past.

Towards a New World

So, the above are some of the paradoxes that could be associated with a nuclear war. We conclude by citing one reassuring aspect of any nuclear conflict. It is this:

The ultimate destiny of humankind is in God’s mighty hands. Thus, no matter how dangerously armed to the teeth a country might be, it is not in the power of its leadership to bring all life on this planet to an end. The most it could do is cause a lot of havoc. Yet even in the midst of the carnage, a new world, a better world, would be expected to emerge in accordance with God’s overruling promise.

For, upon the ashes of all these nuclear paradoxes and fantasies will be fulfilled all scriptural promises and assurances regarding the dawn of a new day. A new world will be born, a world that is vastly superior to what pertains today, a world of perfection, holiness, radiance, unity, peace, prosperity, and wellbeing for all.

The Christian Bible joyfully proclaims:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away…

And God shall wipe away all tears from their [men’s] eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. (Revelation 21:1,4)

While the Bahá’í Writings affirm:

The day is approaching when God will have, by an act of His Will, raised up a race of men the nature of which is inscrutable to all save God, the All-Powerful, the Self-Subsisting. He shall purify them from the defilement of idle fancies and corrupt desires, shall lift them up to the heights of holiness, and shall cause them to manifest the signs of His sovereignty and might upon earth. Thus hath it been ordained by God, the All-Glorious, the All-Loving. (The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, #1.8)

Such a beautiful new world of spirituality, illumination, righteousness, love, concord, prosperity, and wellbeing—epitomising the rebirth of man—can scarcely emerge without a major world-encompassing apocalyptic upheaval.

And that is the ultimate paradox of the nuclear saga.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 Kobina Amissah-Fynn

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