Do You Need a Pick-Me-Up?

April 19, 2004

[Or: 3377 days without a nuclear near-Armageddon.]

Are you finding April is turning out to be the cruelest month yet again?

Are you having trouble dealing with the fact that this month of April to date has seen more American casualties in Iraq than during the entire initial invasion in March-April 2003?

Are you drowning in doubt due to dubious deals and dysfunctional decision-making now diligently documented by Bob Woodward?

Are you just plain annoyed by all these lilacs breeding out of the dead land?

Or maybe all this mixing of memory and desire?

Or perhaps you’ve just run out of dried tubers?*

In short: Do you need a pick-me-up?

Well, here in the greater Boston region, it’s not hard to be happy. The weather is fabulous. The Boston Marathon today was swell. The Red Sox have beaten the hated Yankees 3 games to 1 in the just completed 4 game series at Fenway. Plus, with the 229th anniversary of the Battle of Lexington this Patriots’ Day, perhaps the rest of the country is even looking a little more fondly on Massachusetts’s infamous liberal revolutionary fervor.

But outside the “Hub of the Universe” as we Bostonians still hubristically call our now second-tier metropolis, you might find things a tad more dreary. So let me share with you a secret that never fails to provide me with at least a temporary pick-me-up:

As of today, the world’s gone 3377 days without a nuclear near-Armageddon.

You may be thinking that I’ve mistyped the number. 3377 days is only about 9.25 years. Am I implying that the world nearly suffered a nuclear Armageddon back in January 1995?

You bet your not-nuclearly-vaporized ass I do.

Back on January 25, 1995, an in-all-likelihood-inebriated Boris Yeltsin was informed that Russia’s early warning radars were tracking an incoming missile coming down from the Arctic Circle. For the only (publicly disclosed) time in history, the Russian nuclear “football” was opened. (In the US, the large briefcase with the launch codes and the radio equipment to signal a nuclear launch order that is always within easy reach of the President is called the “football”. I don’t know what they call it in Russia.) Supposedly, the Russians realized what was actually going on—namely, that the incoming rocket was actually just a research probe being launched from Norway—sometime around 3 minutes before they had to make their final decision whether to launch full scale nuclear retaliation or risk being utterly incapacitated by this apparent US first strike. The next day, according to Interfax, Yeltsin tried to put the best spin on the situation by claiming that, before this incident, people doubted the Russian early warning radars were good enough to even register, let alone track, an object as small as the research probe that was being launched from Norway. Boy, were those nay-sayers wrong! (Now that’s some good, shameless spinning.)

I don’t know why (especially since we and our Russian friends still have several thousand nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert), but that anecdote always brings a smile to my face.

Hopefully, it does the same to yours.

Well, nighty-night. Sleep well. 🙂

[*Hey, you try working in better comedic allusions to T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” It’s not as easy as it first seems.]

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