RE: metaTHAAD was: Son of Star Wars

Billy Brown (
Tue, 19 Oct 1999 11:25:56 -0500

O'Regan, Emlyn wrote:
> What about all that destroying the world 30 times over stuff? Nuclear
> winter? Do you mean to say that television has been lying to me?
> Please be gentle in replies, I'm feeling kind of vulnerable right now.

The 'destroy the world' stats seem to have started back in the late 50s or early 60s, when people started noticing that we had more bombs than the Russians have major cities (and vice versa). Then MIRV warheads became popular, and it got to where you could plausibly plan on bombing every military installation in the other guy's country and still hit every city of significant size. Since media people tend to think 'my country = all of civilization' and '1 bomb = 1 city', the idea that a nuclear war would completely destroy human civilization became commonplace.

Realistic estimates have always placed the probable death toll much lower than 100%. The world is a big place, after all, and no one has anything aimed at most of it. Even in high-threat regions like America I don't think the estimates ever broke 50% mortality, and they have been declining for some time now. One of the good effects of the move to the suburbs is that it makes your cities so spread out that it takes a lot more bombs to destroy one.

Nuclear winter was a purely theoretical study, based on rather laughable computer models. The scientists who supported it did so for ideological reasons - when pressed they would tend to concede that the theory was implausible, but then justify their support of it because it would 'make the world safe from nuclear war'. It would be just as plausible to argue that a nuclear war would increase global temperatures (by causing so much combustion), or increase or decrease rainfall, or destroy the ozone layer. Most likely there would be only a very modest effect on world climate - there is nothing about a nuclear war that makes it likely to cause bigger effects than a major volcanic eruption.

As far as 'destroying civilization', in the sense of reducing us to a primitive technology base, that seems to be considerably more difficult than is generally appreciated. The typical nuclear war scenario would essentially destroy all major cities, but there would be well over 100 million survivors left in suburbs, small towns and rural areas (this is a very pessimistic number, BTW). That leaves you thousands of intact machine shops and hundreds of small manufacturing plants devoted to low-tech goods. You also have plenty of agricultural equipment, intact local transportation systems, working oil fields, mines, and a modest supply of power plants. Your port facilities are all wrecked, but you can get them operational again with a modest investment of effort (concrete piers will easily survive a typical city-killing air burst), and the same is true of airports and the interstate highway and railroad systems (destroying long stretches of road and rail is impractical, so the best an attacker can do is take out key bridges). Most of your shipping is at sea at any given time, and will therefore survive, and the same is true of rolling stock (trains). All in all, it is hard to see how we could regress below the WWII-era at all. Re-establishing regular trade with untouched regions of the world would take a few years at most, and from there we are less than a decade from recovering a modern tech base.

Billy Brown, MCSE+I