Vail Daily column: Nukes are so ’80s
Remember the good old days, when all we had to worry about was nuclear Armageddon from the Russians? Now for Act 2 in world destruction, enter Ebola. Visions of human extinction abound, worthy of an epic Hollywood drama. Yet, is there merit in those fears?
In truth, the fear of Ebola is not specifically about Ebola but rather a fear of that which is uncontrollable, resulting in a potential rapid death sentence, with little ability to preemptively detect the threat or, once encountered, limited resources to combat it.
Some ask, why so much attention to Ebola when other tragic diseases such as cancer take many more lives. One answer is that the newest version of Armageddon is biological warfare; and while there is no indication that the current spread is attributable to terrorism, scientists remind us of the probability of mutations as it travels the globe and adapts to varying environments, thus making it more unpredictable and resistant to treatment. Those who were comforted by taking their shoes off at the airport are now in panic at our vulnerability to an invisible agent that rapidly kills, and for which we are not adequately prepared. Suddenly, those talks of chemical and biological weapons become more than just fictional movie plots or frightening scenarios in dictatorial countries.
All of this reminds us of our limitations and vulnerabilities, which is scary. As the “greatest nation on Earth,” we are unaccustomed to living in fear. Yet, there is a genuine weakness within segments of our infrastructure which can be easily exploited. Who needs nuclear weapons when such massive destruction can be achieved quite easily with the proper combination of chemical or biological substances? As militant forces secure government facilities within unstable regimes, the use of these agents becomes even greater and more dangerous, with the potential of creating global uncertainty and instability, thus a stronger power base for terrorists. The international community understands that it is in their best interest to contain these elements, as it can quickly expand beyond national borders and threaten regions and continents in a matter of weeks. If we do nothing to contain the spread of Ebola because we think that it might send a message of insensitivity, then we deserve what we get. Biological entities do not discriminate; they will attack any compatible host without prejudice.
Ebola aside, biological and chemical sources are a weapon of choice for those who are unable to attain or control nuclear weapons. They are more readily available, easier to transport with minimal detection, can be “detonated” anywhere, are relatively economical, highly efficient in producing massive casualties and deadlier on a greater scale due to proliferation and even a potential afterlife from genetic mutations — basically, a terrorist’s dream. The possibility of attack and exposure of weaknesses in our infrastructure make us susceptible to those who may not have access to nuclear weapons, but who are committed to massive casualties. That unpredictability creates widespread fear — terror, and the real purpose of terror is not necessarily in the act, but in its anticipation.
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In the field of mass destruction, nukes are so ’80s. Just as in the famous movie of that era, “War Games,” we discover that “the only winning move is not to play” — a strategy adhered to by both superpowers. After all, what fun is there in destroying the enemy if you are not around to enjoy the spoils of victory? In this deadly game of global warfare, nukes have simply become inconvenient and no longer necessary. Now that mass destruction is readily available to any nut case with a machete, we are jolted out of our sense of security and into the nightmare that has become the Middle East, and is spreading. Oh, how we long for the days of Duran-Duran, Culture Club and the improbable threat of “thermonuclear war.”
According to Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, “There is little that individuals can do in advance to protect themselves from a bioterrorist attack. However, there is much that government agencies, health care institutions and public health departments can and should be doing to improve the capacity to protect the public following a bioterrorist attack. Medical institutions and public health agencies, in particular, have not received adequate attention and resources to cope with disasters like bioterrorism.”
While nuclear weapons remain a threat, they are somewhat contained. These other sources are equally dangerous, but many are controlled by ruthless dictators who have delusions of grandeur and few moral constraints. Unstable governments are at risk of take-over by whoever is the terror group du jour. Often these militias have been supported either directly or indirectly by corrupt government or military leaders who quickly realize that they have lost control of these unofficial forces and have given rise to the very terrorist elements they feared. They have ever so swiftly moved from hunter to prey.
The new hunters are also quite adept at their preferred recruitment tool, social media, which rivals the proficiency of Madison Avenue. They take the imagination and hearts of those in dire circumstances and promise them a greater paradise if only they would (fill in the blank). Sadly, there are many takers, even at the risk of themselves and their families. It is not hard to imagine that someone who would strap a bomb on their body would also be willing to strap onto or into themselves a deadly biological or airborne chemical agent. It’s even harder when the face of that terrorist is a young person whose eyes were once filled with hopes and dreams for a beautiful future.
These new players on the field of regional and global uncertainty are highly unpredictable and not directly affiliated with any specific country, thus sanctions and official declarations of war are virtually ineffective. America and the United Nations can express outrage and threaten, but this highly mobile, well-funded new enemy is like a cockroach that moves quickly in the dark and outlives many of its enemies. It also adapts its appearance to fit the changing demographic. Almost chameleon in that, while the environment changes, the objective remains the same and it can look like your next-door neighbor.
Much of this describes terrorism of all sorts, but we must understand that attacks may come in varying forms, and we must be prepared. While the massive spread of Ebola is very real in its country of origin, the United States actually has a much greater ability to contain and treat it. However, this situation serves as a wakeup call to the effects of a potential biological or chemical attack and we must become ever vigilant, because the comfort of Cold War mushroom clouds have now been replaced. Yes, nukes are so ’80s and we may soon be wishing for the good old days.
Jacqueline Cartier, who has more than 25 years of political communications experience and is the president and CEO of Winning Images, recently moved back to Eagle-Vail from Washington, D.C. She can be reached by email at WinningImages.Cartier@gmail.com or by phone at 202-271-4165. Visit her website at http://www.CartierWinningImages.com.
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