Yesterday morning in Hawaii, the unthinkable seemed to be happening: A ballistic missile was incoming, the text and highway civil defense systems were warning; with fifteen minutes until impact the citizenry was implored to take cover. Many fled to interior rooms, underground parking garages and even bathtubs to await the worst. Thirty-eight agonizing minutes later, that same system notified all of the false alarm due to human error. Forced to front page news the real question is, should we have been discussing this issue before now in order to be prepared, heaven forbid, in the event of a real crisis?
In the wake of World War II, the United States and Russia found itself in a “Cold War” and a rush to nuclear superiority. In his recently published book, “Unidentified,” author Larry Hancock recounts how the U.S. military largely kept the general public in the dark to potential Soviet threats even when, in the late 1940s, they were convinced a pending invasion was coming through Alaska. The reason for the silence? The U.S. did not yet have an adequate early warning air defense system in place. By the 1950s we did and the discussion of preparedness, just in case, dominated news reels, schools and neighborhoods where air raid sirens still reside to this day. Of course, it was not all orderly and relaxed. Understandable fear led to the building of public and personal bomb shelters – all now largely antiquated if not shuttered.
Which brings us to now. How should we approach this potential crisis moving forward? Such a scenario has not really been seriously addressed by most of us – ever. In the 1950s we were more trusting of our government and indeed the media. We all watched and read the same thing. That has, of course, all been thrown on its ear with social media, the concept of ‘fake news’ and online hoaxes and hacking. Do we all unequivocally take what we hear or read at face value from any source? Hardly. And now, in light of yesterday’s events, that trust has been further eroded.
It is obvious (at least in Hawaii) that warning communication avenues are being prepared and tested (and need to be updated). What needs to next be developed next, I would argue, is an honest discussion of what we all should do in the advent of a real attack. It might be a hard pill to swallow yet better to have an idea of what we could face and should do rather than remaining in the dark. Especially at a time when talk of ‘fire and fury’ has turned a Cold War with North Korea into something at times akin to ‘white hot.’