Australians are great at writing horror; the Babadook had the entire northern hemisphere checking under the bed. Wolf Creek made backpackers think twice, and the classic drop bear story particularly terrifies Americans for some reason. Japan has excellent horror, as do the Americans; Brittain boasts the birth of Gothic Fiction, and French horror is some of the most shocking in existence.
The most terrifying horror story is yet to be completed though, and it’s an international collaboration. It started when 0.7 grams (the sip of water I just took weighed more) of uranium was sent into full fission over the city of Hiroshima on the 6th of August 1945. It turned that city to ash, along with its children and women, and their beloved pets, and their favourite spot in the park where their families had picknicked over generations.
A few days later they did the same to Nagasaki.
The world lived in varying degrees of fear and tension from thereon; the bomb became a spectre: unseen yet present. America made many, and Russia did too, and in the cold war they set the standard for Nuclear Holocaust etiquette; it’s still in place today. It’s called “Mutually Assured Destruction”, and for each country now possessing nuclear weapons, it is the best and only strategy for defence.
The result of this is a hard truth often disregarded, that nuclear war effectively assures the destruction of civilisation as we know it. No vampire, no axe murderer, nor bunyip or chupacabra could ever haunt my dreams the same way minuscule amounts of plutonium can.
Since the 90’s we’ve turned a blind eye to the greatest monster ever conjured up by humans, and so many people forget (or like me, grew up unaware of) the power of a nuclear bomb. I write now to fill this gap.
Marx once said that history occurs first as tragedy, then as farce. And now, in a surreal twist, a twitter conflict between two incompetent world leaders, both of whom are deranged, now means that each of us has to come to terms with this fact.
There are more than 15,000 nuclear weapons today, nine countries hold them. The USA and Russia jointly have 1,800 active and ready to launch at all times. Each of these can vaporise cities. They vary in size and capacity, but even the smallest of these if detonated in any major city in the world can kill 100,000 people at a minimum and create a higher amount of burn victims than the all of the hospitals in the world combined would have the capacity to treat. Most of these are insecurely stored, particularly in Russia, but the USA can hardly boast, their nuclear program only stopped running on floppy discs last year.
Kevin Rudd recently suggested we invest heavily in a missile defence shield. Many people believe these will keep Australia safe; this is somewhat correct. But missile defence is flawed: William J. Perry, secretary of defence under Bill Clinton, negotiator to the maniacal regime in North Korea stated that “the belief that our country can defend itself against a large-scale nuclear attack is a fantasy.” In an interview he gave at U.C. Berkeley, he not only discredited any ability to defeat a large scale attack but also emphasised the possibility of missiles slipping through defence shields.
Should a barrage of nuclear weapons be sent our way from Pyongyang (after all, Kim Jong Un did tell Julie Bishop back in April ‘17 that her “reckless tongue-lashing” would be responsible for our destruction), and one single, 300 kiloton nuclear missile slip through the cracks of a hypothetical shield and sail into Sydney Harbour, this is what it could look like.
William J. Perry states that the most significant nuclear danger would be blundering into a nuclear situation, whether that means ground war in Korea, or allowing war between Pakistan and India to occur again (both possess nuclear arms) or inciting conflict with China. Here’s what Sydney would look like should China use their standard 5 Megaton missile systems against it.
Let’s unpack this starting from the centre:
The yellow radius represents the size of the fireball the explosion will produce, where temperatures have been measured to read hotter than the surface of the sun. 10.6 Square Kilometers of Sydney will be instantly vaporised. Long before we can even settle the debate as to which is the oldest, Australia’s first pub will disintegrate into radioactive dust that will enter the stratosphere and fall somewhere on the eastern coast, as far up as Yamba and Byron bay.
Perhaps you just saved for a ridiculously overpriced apartment in Strathfield, don’t stress the enormous debt you just incurred. Strathfield’s buildings, like most buildings within the blue zone, will crumble from the shock waves, especially if they’re built by Meriton. You will most likely die instantly from the shock within this area, if not the heat from the blast is effectively guaranteed to kill you and your landlord. With most cars now destroyed and their drivers dead, the roads would be clogged, emergency services would have a tough time reaching any survivors, although Parramatta road would still effectively be the same to drive on.
The third zone represents the area in which you have a 100% chance of getting 3rd-degree burns via thermal radiation if you are outside or otherwise exposed. The very same force responsible for overheating your pizza in the microwave so thoroughly damages your skin that the nerves are destroyed; this means that, should you survive this, you can wander the ruins of your former hometown numb to the tissue damage that just permanently disfigured you, surveying the carnage. There are many, many eyewitness reports from Hiroshima by Hibakusha (this is the Japanese term for survivors who had to experience the cruel bombings and face the aftermath) of the living dead patrolling the streets of ash detached from the world, their minds unable to comprehend what just happened.
Some may survive with horrific scarring after several surgeries. Famously a group of 25 schoolgirls survived the Hiroshima nightmare, and after extensive operations were known to the world as the Hiroshima Maidens. Many of these girls flew to the USA for surgeries and were heralded by the media as “grateful” for their opportunity to have rudimentary facial reconstructions, so that they may one day be “fit for marriage”. One of the maidens, Tomoko Nakabayashi, died on the operating table during a minor procedure; an American headline covering this read: “Beauty Hunt Fatal – Hiroshima Maiden Dies In Surgery.”
Now is probably a good time to mention that most of this chaos happens within the space of minutes, the blast waves create winds that can travel near the speed of sound, at estimates of nearly 1000km/h. In the hypothetical Chinese Nuclear attack, the 24Km space between Lakemba and Manly would be flattened within 40 seconds, along with Concord Hospital, our best centre for treating burn victims. The shock waves from the blast can rupture eardrums, lungs, and entire abdomens, as well as creating severe internal haemorrhaging. Alongside this, any sand within the fireball’s radius is melted into glass from the heat and sent outwards. Most window panes are violently shattered when exposed to pressure and wind like this, with lacerations the result of flying shards of glass carried by winds several times stronger than the largest hurricanes ever recorded.
Nuclear weapons are designed to explode several kilometres above ground, but if one detonates on the ground, the aftermath is much worse. Tonnes of radioactive dust, the remains of what was Sydney Cove, the vibrant inner city strips, the bar where you met your wife, all of this is sent up into the atmosphere and into the stratosphere after being fused with radioactive compounds such as Strontium-90. Here it travels for kilometres settling over eastern New South Wales, where the Pacific Highway from Wyong to Byron will be littered with cancerous, radioactive fallout. The ashes of the Botanical Gardens, the NSW Art Gallery, its collection of masterpieces from Australian visionaries, and the already dead King’s Cross will render some of the world’s most beautiful coastland uninhabitable for decades to come. Now atomised, we will float inland to Maitland and the Hunter Valley where the farmland responsible for some of Australia’s best dairy and Wine will be contaminated with radioactivity potentially damaging to chromosomes and blood compositions for generations to come.
Sydney is now nothing; all our memories are carcinogenic particles scattered across a broken country. All the beer is vapour, and Australia may not have enough bulldozers to clear the rubble that remains. The carbon and soot collect in the atmosphere and creates clouds that begin to rain black drops the size of Marbles (The New Yorker reported this exact thing in 1946) all over the greater Sydney area.
As the rain falls and washes away the last remains of a naive Australia of the past, we will recognise that this, all of this, was from one single bomb, of which there are still over 15,000 more. The annihilation of Sydney is but one hypothetical chapter in the most horrifying narrative that we humans have ever produced. You, the reader, must fathom that when J. Robert Oppenheimer invented and witnessed what his bomb was capable of, his invocation of Vishnu: “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds,” this was not an exaggeration. We have sleepwalked into a situation where insane politicians from 9 different nations (and growing) can murder entire cities in their beds.
Should we continue to support the warmongering leaders, just as our government has always done, we will be forced to confront a shell of a world where life can be choked out in an instant, with nothing but black rain to wash away our mistakes.