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Where Are the Safe Places in an All-Out 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 following a nuclear explosion

Mushroom cloud following a nuclear explosion

Could a Nuclear War Be on the Horizon?

Like the howling of the wind to herald a destructive rainstorm, ominous threats of nuclear confrontation (both veiled and overt) have saturated the media in recent times, causing jitters across the globe and an uneasy sense of foreboding everywhere.

If ever there was an occasion to nudge oneself from suffocating in the dense smoke of complacency, this should be it. A complacent person would let his guard completely down, thus omitting to make any necessary adjustments (in some cases, minor changes) to his circumstances that could well be his saving grace when the unimaginable happens. Indeed, when it comes to matters of survival, complacency can have no place in the equation.

There is no definite suggestion in this article that anything untoward is about to happen imminently—whether in a week’s, year’s or even a decade’s time. No one can really tell what comes tomorrow or the day after.

The Spectre of World War III

What we can, however, say with some degree of certainty is that it is not outside the realm of possibility for a nuclear holocaust to be unleashed on our beautiful planet in our lifetime, even today. (And to suggest otherwise would be wishful thinking indeed!). Such a war, because of its global impact, should rank as World War III—indeed, as the greatest war of all time. The more reason why we should not be averse to exploring ways of enhancing our survivability should this horror of horrors appear out of the blue.

So, while the subject might appear alarmist (or perhaps even farfetched), why shy away from openly discussing it? Whether we like it or not, in a full-blown nuclear war all of us will be sitting ducks. No place will there be for anyone to hide. We could run, of course, if not caught up in the eye of the storm, but where to? And that is the question.

History Does Repeat Itself

For the sake of the planet's survival, the last thing the world needs is muscle-flexing by the nuclear-armed states; neither can humanity feel at ease in the midst of disagreements, tensions, rivalries, threats, or squabbles amongst these extraordinarily powerful nations. (Some might say all that is happening already.)

Nor can true safety be found in a global environment that is poisoned by the spread of fake news, false narratives, conspiracy theories, and extremist ideologies and in a cyberspace that is constantly threatened by harmful cyber-attacks.

History usually repeats itself when the bitter lessons of the past recede far into the shadows and get forgotten. We are at a point in time when the generation of people who lived through the carnage of the two world wars have largely been replaced by a new generation who lack any direct experience of the horrors of those days.

In our increasingly polarised world, this should be a cause for much worry.

Where Might the Nuclear Danger Come From?

The countries known to have nuclear weapons include Russia and the United States (they have the greatest arsenals between them) as well as China, France, and the United Kingdom. These five countries are also the only permanent members of the United Nations Security Council with veto powers, setting them apart as the superpowers of our globalised world.

Other nuclear powers, newcomers to the nuclear club, include Pakistan, India, and North Korea. Israel is assumed to belong to this list, although the country itself is ambiguous about its nuclear status.

These then are the nuclear-armed nations of the world.

The MAD Doctrine

Nuclear weapons were first used in 1945, at the close of World War II, when the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were attacked with nukes. That no atomic bombs have been used since then is attributed in large part to a doctrine known as MAD. Unfortunately, putting so much of our hopes in such an anachronistic doctrine can only benumb us to the ever-present danger of nuclear annihilation.

What is MAD in the first place? MAD is an acronym for Mutually Assured Destruction. It is not a binding treaty by any means but merely a principle or doctrine that, according to its proponents, helps dissuade one nuclear power from initiating a nuclear attack on another. The reason behind it is that the immediate and massive nature of the counterattack could conceivably result in the destruction of both parties.

Why MAD Is Not a Sufficient Deterrent

The pressing question to be asked is whether MAD can be a sufficient deterrent when the danger of nuclear proliferation has not gone away and when there is very little to stop those already in the nuclear club from embarking on a “mad” race to get ahead with ever-more sophisticated and advanced nuclear weaponry and delivery systems.

Beyond that—and this is the frightening thing—there is no system in place, apart from MAD, to deter one side from recklessly launching a nuclear strike on the other side (or on any country of the world, for that matter), no ironclad or foolproof mechanism, no effective global authority to stop a nuclear war from happening. Even worse, it could get underway at any time at the whim of just one erratic leader—a leader who might be tempted, at an unguarded moment of desperation, to stretch forth his itching hand towards that nuclear button!

Indeed, the nuclear sabre-rattling and threats recently reported not only breach a long-held taboo but are the clearest proof that MAD has lost its deterrent effect.

And that is not a comfortable place for us to be in.

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The proverbial nuclear button

The proverbial nuclear button

What Goes Up Must Come Down

What goes up must perforce come down at some point. Nothing in this world remains the same forever. Surely, the future of humanity, its ultimate destiny, can never correspond with a world held hostage by a few powerful nations. It can never align with a world that can be brought to its knees or destroyed by just one murderous but all-powerful leader. Rather must it be a world that is completely free of all weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons.

But how do we get from here to there?

The Paths to Disarmament

There are only two viable paths to get there. One path will require the voluntary destruction of all the nuclear arms of the world. The prospect for this does not look good, however, simply because there is very little trust left in the world. So, even should the nuclear-armed nations be receptive, in principle, to the idea of simultaneously disarming themselves of their deadly caches, the actual process could be thwarted by the fear of clandestine re-armament by their respective counterparts or by some other rogue states.

That, sadly, leaves us with the only other option—that of picking up the pieces in the wake of an unforgiving nuclear Armageddon! That is when men across the globe would have had firsthand experience of the trauma of wanton destruction and intolerable human suffering brought on by the blasts of atom bombs. Then would they, the survivors of this most horrendous of calamities, one and all, embark on the dismantlement of all remaining nuclear weapons and the denuclearisation of the entire planet, solemnly declaring their action as the only viable and enduring option for all people for all time.

This unprecedented move should bring a chastened humanity to a new stage in its collective life—the stage whereby the principles of unity and peace and spiritual attributes (of humility, truthfulness, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, justice, and so on) begin to reign supreme as the overriding factor in human affairs.

The walking dead in the wake of a nuclear explosion

The walking dead in the wake of a nuclear explosion

Some Sobering Characteristics of a Nuclear War

While the prognoses below are by no means prophetic and set in stone, it would serve no purpose to attempt to minimise the inherent danger of an all-out nuclear war. The stark reality is simply this: There are enough atom bombs (over 13,000 warheads) in the armouries of the nuclear powers to obliterate whole cities from off the face of the earth, annihilate entire populations, and cause long-lasting damage to the planet.

The Aftermath of a Nuclear War

When looking at a worst-case scenario in the wake of a nuclear apocalypse, this is what can reasonably be expected:

Cities in the targetted areas disappear in firestorms, acrid smoke, and radioactive ash. Those caught up in the explosions suffer radiation poisoning as a consequence of the radioactive fallout. From the ensuing contamination, vast tracts of land emerge as inhospitable, uninhabitable, and inarable wastelands. This induces a mass exodus of refugees away from the affected areas to less contaminated regions of the globe. A nuclear winter envelops the earth, resulting in crop failures and upsetting vital ecosystems.

The dramatic nature of the disaster causes disruptions to almost every aspect of life, leading to shortages of basic amenities everywhere. The overall effect is widespread famine, diverse human health problems, as well as a breakdown of law and order, economic collapse, and other existential hazards.

The final tally of human deaths across all continents, from the primary and secondary effects of the war, could ultimately run into billions.

The casualties, shortages, disruptions, and turmoil ensure a pitiable collapse of our modern-day civilisation—a collapse that could defy any meaningful attempt at revival for years, if not decades, to come.

The Massiveness of a Nuclear First Strike

Because of the fear of retaliation, any nuclear first strike would almost inevitably be massive and overwhelming—the intent being to totally neutralise and destroy the other side; cripple its major infrastructures, strategic assets, and important centres; and reduce whole areas to rubble and radioactive ash. And this is what makes a nuclear war so “mad” and frightening.

The Suddenness of a Nuclear Event

The other “mad” and frightening aspect of a nuclear war is that it could break out very suddenly, with very little warning. It would likely just happen, its duration lasting no more than a few days, hours, or even mere minutes. Its chilling impact would reverberate across the globe and be felt even in the remotest recesses of the planet.

That, unfortunately, is the most likely feature of any nuclear exchange: the element of surprise as a strategy for achieving a decisive and overwhelming victory—the misguided hope of any aggressor being to eliminate the possibility of a swift and equally destructive counterattack.

The drowning of the earth in a nuclear fireball

The drowning of the earth in a nuclear fireball

Safe and Unsafe Places in a Nuclear War

Given the devastation that would follow from a full-scale nuclear encounter and the immense suffering that would be unleashed on the peoples of the world, it might be cold comfort to many to learn that there would likely be places—hinterlands, enclaves, pockets of territory, isolated outposts, jungle areas, or remote islands—in every nook and cranny of the globe that should offer a measure of safety to its inhabitants when the unimaginable happens.

Let’s now consider what could be the safest and least safe places around the globe in the event of a nuclear attack.

The Planet

All things being equal, the southern regions of the globe should be far safer than the northern sector, for obvious reasons. Although the eyes of many in the south do turn lingeringly and yearningly to the affluent north on account of its relatively high level of development, its abundance of wealth, and economic opportunities, the stark reality is that when it comes to a full-blown nuclear showdown, the north temperate zone is the least safe region of the earth.

This is the area between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle. The entire nuclear arsenal of the world is owned by nations that lie fully or partially within this zone. From the military point of view, this is what makes this region so unsafe in a nuclear conflict. And this, indeed, is the paradox inherent in nuclear armament.

The Continents

The least safe continents can only be those of the nuclear-armed nations. That would make America, Europe, and Asia the least safe continents in any large-scale nuclear confrontation.

Contrariwise, the safest continents must be Africa (especially its hinterlands, away from the coasts and deserts) and the Pacific islands (away from the low-lying coastal areas).

The Countries

The countries are many and diverse and fall into different categories. We consider the circumstances that could render a country either safe or unsafe in a nuclear encounter.

1. Nuclear-Armed Nations

The least safe countries must potentially be the nuclear-armed nations themselves. For obvious reasons, the threat to the security and survival of a nuclear power will largely come from other nuclear powers rather than from non-nuclear nations.

In a nuclear war, the nuclear powers cannot but focus all their attention on other nuclear-armed adversaries. This is because of their opponent’s potential to reduce vast swathes of their own respective territories to radioactive ash in mere minutes.

It is, therefore, logical to assume that should there be a nuclear exchange, it would most likely be a duel between nuclear-armed nations, other nations being left alone.

2. Foreign Military Bases

A collateral damage of any nuclear engagement could likely be suffered by those nations that innocently oblige to host military bases of nuclear-armed powers on their soil. Such countries might find themselves in danger even when no nuclear weapons are associated with those bases. In a nuclear conflict, the warring factions might not want to take any chances and might subsequently target some of the more prominent or strategic foreign military bases of their adversaries.

3. Having a Nuclear-Armed Country as a Neighbour

Another vulnerability of a country might come from sharing a border with a nuclear-armed nation or being in its general geographical area. After all, missiles can fall short of their target, and in any case, the resulting radioactive cloud could conceivably drift far beyond the epicentre of the attack and contaminate vast swathes of territory further afield.

4. Other Nations

Relatively speaking, the safest countries are all other countries that are farthest away from the theatre of a nuclear war—which potentially means away from the nuclear-armed nations or their foreign military bases.

Within National Borders

As already noted, in a full-scale nuclear war, all countries will suffer in one way or another. At the same time, some zones within each country could offer greater survivability than others.

We look at the relative safety of areas within each country:

1. The Least Safe Cities

Worldwide, the least safe cities would potentially be the ones hosting strategic nuclear weapons or that are of high strategic importance to a nuclear-armed nation, perhaps being home to the type of assets that could bring the country to its knees if destroyed.

2. The Coasts

Nuclear-powered torpedoes, the ultimate doomsday weapon, have been added to the world’s armoury of nuclear weapons. Allegedly, these can create huge tsunamis and spread long-lasting radioactivity along the coasts. Given the distribution of the world’s nuclear arsenals, the most vulnerable coastal areas in a nuclear confrontation might most conceivably include the North Atlantic, North Pacific, and Mediterranean seaboards.

3. Big Cities

In obvious reference to the next global conflict (World War III to be precise), Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, predicted in 1954, almost a decade after World War II, that in “any future war… big cities all over the world are going to be in tremendous danger.” (Lights of Guidance, #448).

Expect the economies in the big cities of the globe to collapse following a large-scale nuclear war. It is hard to find a big city that does not rely on large imports of food, diverse commercial products, and assorted equipment for the sustenance of its life. When supply chains are disturbed even a little in such sophisticated societies, that spells chaos. Nor can the farming areas of most countries be capable of supplying all the food needs of their respective urban populations.

In the face of insurmountable challenges (including shortages of essential commodities and lack of basic services), expect law and order to break down rapidly in the cities—leading, in many instances, to the fall (and possible restructuring) of governments.

The shortages might involve such items as farm produce, imported food items, medicines, toiletries, fuel, etc. The breakdown of services could involve water, electricity, sanitation, transport, medical, supermarket, phone and internet, media, etc.

Generally speaking, the bigger the city the more complex and insurmountable its challenges might be, and the smaller the city the more manageable the situation.

4. The Countryside

For the most part, the rural areas should be expected to cope much better than the urban areas irrespective of country or region of the globe—the more rural and remote the settlement, the higher the potential survivability of its inhabitants.

While such communities are usually bereft of many modern amenities, what makes them survivable is smaller population densities, easier access to natural sources of water for the most part (such as wells, springs, lakes, rivers, streams, or brooks) and to food (usually farmed and available within the communities). Besides, the simple lifestyles of the inhabitants and their communal spirit of solidarity and mutual assistance tend to accrue to the benefit of all.

Thus, the most unsophisticated areas of the globe, usually inhabited by the humblest and most unpretentious of people, would likely prove to be the most survivable of every nation in the event of a nuclear nightmare.

It was not for nothing that Jesus declared:

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

Other Elements of Nuclear Survivability

Just because you live in a vulnerable area of the globe does not necessarily follow that you are doomed to perish in a thermonuclear war. Survivability can always be enhanced by first keeping oneself reasonably informed of what to do in a nuclear event and then making contingency plans for just such a doomsday scenario.

Immediately After a Nuclear Explosion

Following a nuclear explosion in your city, do you know what you must immediately do to keep relatively safe from blast, heat, and radiation injury? The expert advice is to shelter in a secure location (such as a brick or concrete building) for up to 24 hours while tuning in to available media for official information as to the way forward.

Evacuation Plans

Have you made contingency plans for evacuation at a moment’s notice? That would include having a grab bag and an idea of somewhere reasonably safe to go (perhaps based on official communications). A grab bag would be a portable bag (emergency supply kit) filled with basic essential items that could enable one to survive for some time. It could contain bottled water; food; medicines; toiletries; some clothes, including warm clothing (for a cooling environment); battery-powered radio (to access information); flashlight; lighter or safety matches; etc.

Money Matters

And, oh! Do you have enough cash on hand to use in case there is something available to be bought? Under the circumstances, your cash in the bank might not be of much use to you, you know, nor the cash you may have in foreign currency. Only local currency might do.

Getting Prepared Now

The above are just a few tips to get you started; they are not meant to be a detailed or exhaustive exposition. Their main purpose here is to merely arouse you to tread the path of research and preparedness against that dreaded day of days.

The Deeper Implication of a Nuclear Holocaust

People tend to live carefree lives when times are good; but when harrowing events intervene, there inevitably follow moments of sadness but also of deep reflection. One issue that a survivor of a nuclear catastrophe might sooner or later have to reflect on is the religious dimension of what had happened.

As is well known, the messianic advent of the Last Day is a universal expectation in religious circles. It is referred to in Christianity as the Second Coming of Jesus; but in other religions, it is known variously as the advent of Kalki Avatar (Hinduism), of the Messiah (Judaism), Shah Bahram (Zoroastrianism), Maitreya (Buddhism), or of Nabi Isa (Islam).

The first question to be explored by the survivor would be the relationship, if any, between the nuclear event and the messianic advent.

If a relationship could be established between the two, which of them would have been expected to come first—the messianic appearance or the global catastrophe?

Of course, in the absence of any universal awareness of the Messianic Figure, the temptation might be to surmise that he was destined to come after the nuclear event. But what if the converse was true, and the messianic advent had in fact taken place ahead of the nuclear catastrophe?

Delving into these profound questions might hopefully prove to be a source of healing and illumination for the survivor.

(A detailed discussion of this subject appears in “What Do the Scriptures Say About the Coming World Calamity?” available at https://hubpages.com/@kobby95)

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Kobina Amissah-Fynn

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