Would you like nukes with that?

When I was a teenager I was strangely obsessed with the possibility of nuclear war. Whether it was that we were all going to die in a nuclear conflagration, wither away from radiation poisoning, or starve to death in a nuclear winter, I was convinced it was going to happen. I would talk about it incessantly to anyone who’d listen, even at parties (God help me).

This was in the early 1980s, when the fall of the Berlin Wall was still six or seven years away and no-one was predicting the collapse of the USSR. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were busily grinding down a series of Russian leaders, protests were going on all over the world, and popular culture was full of references to nuclear war.

In 1981, UK Band Fischer-Z put out Red Skies over Paradise, relating how “Down in the bunkers, under the sea, men pressing buttons don’t care about me.” A few years later, Sting released his song The Russians, and Midnight Oil put out their album Red Sails in the Sunset, with a cover showing Sydney Harbour devastated by a massive fireball.

Those are just a few examples from the musical sphere. At the time it seemed inevitable that sooner or later someone would press a button to initiate Mutually-Assured-Destruction (MAD).

Of course it never happened, but the girl who took me to our school formal (she had a driver’s licence and a car, all I had was pimples) reminded me recently that when she picked me up that night she’d said “We’re going to have fun tonight, don’t mention nuclear war.”

My reply? “Pip, you’re in denial.”

This week, thirty-odd years later, I sent her an email saying I hadn’t given nuclear war much thought since 1989, and that clearly I was cured. The next day the headlines read “North Korea threatens to nuke Guam.”

Ah the irony.

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