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IPFS News Link • WAR: About that War

How Devastating Would a Modern-Day Nuclear War Be?

•, By Madge Waggy

This article is from my grandparents perspective!

A nuclear war would be anticlimactic

Before the angry comments begin, I don't mean anticlimactic in the sense of I hoped for more, or that I am attempting to downplay death and destruction. Rather in a sense of it being nowhere near the grand apocalypse what we've come to expect. I grew up in the 1980s and the prevailing opinion was that any nuclear war would be "the last war". Humanity would be wiped out, all major cities would be struck, the Earth would be rendered uninhabitable, etc. This is so deeply entrenched in people's understanding of the world, it's never really questioned.

There's the quote often attributed to Albert Einstein:

I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.

There are, however, a handful of variables that make this outcome extremely unlikely:

The grossly distorted public idea of how destructive a nuclear bomb actually is. I got angrily shot down in another answer on this topic a while back, with the commenter telling me "a single nuke could cause an Extinction Level Event". Errr… no. A single nuclear warhead actually destroys an area of a few square miles and causes damage to maybe a few hundred square miles. They're catastrophically destructive compared to conventional ordnance, but surprisingly local in a global sense. They don't even come close to the destructive power of some erupting volcanos, and they're a pin-prick in comparison to cosmic impacts from asteroids. A 300kt airburst strike over downtown New York would leave Central Park with only light damage; if you're inside the green circle, you're toast. The blue circle? probably toast. Outside of it, you've got an increasingly decent chance of surviving. While there would be millions with injuries and burns, about 85% of New Yorkers would survive a direct nuclear strike on the city.