On Thermonuclear War, by 3AD Scout

A lot of chatter can be heard and read about “nuclear war” these days. Like every other subject, there are many differing opinions as to whether or not it is going to happen. As Preppers, our goal is to survive disasters regardless of the origins of the disasters. There are some disasters that we seem to let our politics sway our opinion more than facts and some of us also become unknowing victims of the normalcy bias, nuclear war being one of those disasters.

I am a product of the Cold War. As a teenager, I didn’t read comic books. I read “SURVIVE” and “AMERICAN SURVIVAL GUIDE” magazines. I read books on the Soviet Military with special interest in their nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) warfare capabilities. In the Army, I volunteered for extra assignment that dealt with NBC warfare. During my college days I was asked by my National Defense & Securities professor to partake in a lecture he was giving on Nuclear Winter. The professor wanted me to provide a rebuttal to the theory of Nuclear Winter. In the late 1990s one of my first civilian jobs was working to help first responders develop plans and policy for responding to terrorist attacks using NBC weapons. I also became a member of our county Hazardous Materials Response Team.

Dealing with NBC issues for sometime now, I think, has given me a different perspective about the risk than most. We sometime forget that there are Hazards and then there is risk. Hazards would be tornados or nuclear war but the risk is the likelihood that they occur. What I propose in this article is that we, as Preppers, look beyond the “white noise” and look at the hazard and risk of nuclear war in a different light.

In 1998 I remember sitting in my cubical when I was handed a letter from the state emergency management agency stating that there was “no longer a need” to prepare for nuclear attack, that it was “no longer a threat”. Really? Did nuclear weapons just completely disappear from the world? No, they did not, so the “hazard” (nuclear weapons) remained. The risk of nuclear war, at the time, had diminished greatly but the mere fact that you have a hazard means you have some level of risk. That level of risk can change very quickly, which necessitates a level of preparedness.


A perfect example of why a level of preparedness for any hazard is a good practice is the recent surge in purchases and subsequent shortages in a number of goods. Toilet paper and Potassium iodide pills being two good examples. If you wanted to prepare now it may be harder and/or more expensive due to availability. In the current situation we have an adversary telling us that the threat is going up but in the next situation maybe with China or Iran there is no notice and therefore no chance to quickly order stuff online before there is a launch. Point is, that preparedness is a journey and isn’t something you can do in a day or even several months. Don’t wait for the Emergency Alert System to go off before you start to prepare.

Instead of looking through the lens of Nuclear War let’s look at the concept of hazards and risk through the lens of a tornado. Tornado is the hazard, what is your Risk? For some of us we have a very low risk due to our location. The time of year also influences our risk and of course meteorological conditions are a major determining factor as to risk and change day-to-day. So do we stop preparing for a tornado in December because our risk isn’t as high as it is in May? No, since our assumption should be that that risk will be higher in a few months. Our political “leaders” in state capitals and in Washington DC deemed the hazard of nuclear war diminished when that is not the case. We should not follow their flawed “logic”. As a nation, we are not prepared for a nuclear war. Yes, you may see a building with a faded Fallout Shelter sign but long gone are the plans, policies, contacts, and logistics capabilities to open, staff, and sustain those shelters. My community no longer has any nuclear attack sirens, let alone the stockpiles of radiological detection kits and the people trained to use them. Just like with tornadoes your location may also affect your particular level of risk.

The other issue we need to examine is the impacts of the normalcy bias or even just the influences of our political beliefs in how we prepare for any disaster not just nuclear war. I did a Google search about the threat of nuclear war and came up with some interesting results. Back in 2017 and 2018 there were several articles about how the threat of nuclear war was the highest it has been since the Cuban missile crisis. The reason was the North Korean Dictator and Trump. Many left-leaning reporters and voters were shaking in their boots and worried that there would be a nuclear war while those on the right were like nope not going to happen trump is in office. Today, we have the exact opposite, the right claiming that Biden will cause a nuclear war and the left not even recognizing the possibility. Relying upon politics to determine your preparedness is not a good strategy. We need to look at our hazards and threats without all the “white noise” that distracts us from reality. The reality is that as long as nuclear weapons are in the arsenal and military commanders have strategies and tactics for their use they are a hazard with risk mostly based on current geopolitical variables.

We know nuclear war is still a hazard, but what is the risk level? In my opinion, looking back at the Cuban Missile crisis would give us a good idea of what the risk is now. The reality of the situation back in 1962 was that a conventional attack by either side could lead to a nuclear exchange. Kennedy did threaten a full retaliatory strike against the Soviets IF a missile was launched from Cuba. Today, we have Putin strongly hinting at the use of nuclear weapons against any country “Supporting” the Ukrainian government. The leaders back in 1962 continued to talk and look for compromise during the crisis. Based on news accounts it doesn’t appear that either the US or Russia is looking for any “compromise”.

We also need to consider the mental/cognitive states of Putin and Biden, versus JFK and Khrushchev who were the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Today there are questions about both leaders’ cognitive and mental states, unlike during the Cuban missile crisis. Putin regards Ukraine much like JFK regarded Cuba. But unlike Cuba, Ukraine is surrounded by NATO member states. Putin also believes that this is Russia’s backdoor and the US should back down just like Russia did in Cuba. The Ukrainian situation is also different in that there is hostile action taking place so there is more room for error. In 1962 the US “quarantined” Cuba versus using the word “blockaded” which is an act of war. Khrushchev responded by saying the quarantine was an act of “aggression” not an act of war. So in 1962, we had leaders that were trying to soften the language versus today’s more aggressive rhetoric.

As the war drags on for Putin he likely will face internal threats from the Russian people and from within his own government. The external and internal political stress will amount to tremendous pressure on Putin and will lead him to take even more aggressive and riskier actions, like a child lashing out because they didn’t get their way. As Putin feels more and more that his back is against the wall he will have more of a tendency to feel as though he has nothing to lose by using chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. Putin will probably resort to chemical or biological weapons before he resorts to nuclear weapons. Why? History has proven that the world is less likely to demand action against a foreign power for use of chemical or biological weapons. Remember Barry Obama stating that chemical weapons use was a “redline” in Syria? Remember the people asking why Trump bombed Syria for their use of chemical weapons? Americans don’t believe that the use of chemical or biological weapons means that we have to butt our nose into a war.

Children of the Cold War era were taught that nuclear war was “unthinkable” and that there would be no winners. Those lessons were propaganda for the masses, more than likely paid for by the Soviet Union. If you think that those same lessons were being taught in Military Academies In nuclear-armed nations you may believe Swampland is a good investment too. And you would be even more naïve to think that those lessons still aren’t being taught. No, the nuclear-armed nations have strategies and tactics for their nuclear weapons deployment, they train their military and drill those tactics to help ensure a high level of readiness. To me that doesn’t sound or look like a bunch of people who think nuclear war isn’t “winnable”.

Another clue into the risk we currently face from nuclear weapons is examining Russia’s current military capabilities. We believed that the Russian Army was a juggernaut but their performance tells a different story. In my office I have a quote posted from General Dwight Eisenhower that reads: “You will not find it difficult to prove that battles, campaigns, and even wars have been won or lost primarily because of logistics.” I was a scout in Operation Desert Storm, so I have a knack at observing things. I have watched hours of footage of the war on YouTube and what I see is a very poorly trained Army with poor leadership. Vehicles bunched up going down the narrow streets of a city and no air guards watching for threats from above. Are tanks that bunch up due to poor communication, no communication, poor leaders, poor training, poor tactics, or all of the above? Whatever the cause or causes it doesn’t show a professional military.

At the beginning of the war I saw abandoned vehicles, but at the two-week mark I saw something else. I started to see that those abandoned vehicles were meticulously picked over for anything useful. Hatches, doors and storage containers all open and tell-tale piles of stuff outside the vehicles that were probably tossed out by whomever was going through the vehicle salvaging it for supplies and or equipment. Could it have been the Ukrainians and not the Russians? Sure, but coupled with reports that the Russians are having logistics issues and video showing cases of Russian “MREs” with expiration dates of 2015, Russian soldiers asking Ukrainians for food, Russians looting stores and a 40-mile long truck convey I would say that the Russians are having some major logistics issues. A 40-mile-long convey of trucks parked for days is not a good logistics system no more than having a 40-mile-long convey of WalMart trucks parked along an interstate highway is. Many of the abandoned Russian vehicles I saw in the videos had no visible damage.

Now, some weapons make small holes so that in and of itself isn’t 100% solid proof that the vehicles were not taken out by weapons fire. However, why would the Russians leave a slightly damaged vehicle abandoned and not recover it? That to me is a sign of poor logistics, poor Leadership and poor tactics. During Operation Desert Storm we had a Hum-Vee that hit a mine and was severely damaged. Did we leave it in place? No, that vehicle was towed behind a wrecker and was scavenged for parts needed to get other Hum-Vees back into the fight. By the end of the 100-hour ground war, that Hum-Vee was a carcass that was being dragged with no wheels on the thing.

Why the Focus on Logistics?

Logistics win wars. As the Russian army falters logistically on the battlefield it will be clearer and clearer to the Kremlin that they are losing the war. If this was some Third World army that would be the end of the story but unlike most nations in the world, the Russian Army has nuclear weapons. It is clear that the Russian will not hesitate to use chemical weapons as they did in Afghanistan and Syria. There is also the possibility that the Soviets used or supplied toxins to Allies in Southeast Asia (Yellow Rain).

I think the risk of the Russians using nuclear weapons is low until they use chemical or biological weapons. If chemical or biological weapons are used by Russia and the war doesn’t turn around for them then I believe the risk is substantially higher. How high? Well, you’d better start preparing for fallout protection. Move if you live in a high-risk nuclear target area and be ready to live like they did back in the 1800s. Russia will not back down anymore than we would back down from a war with Canada or Mexico that we viewed as a risk. Regardless of what the west believes, it is what Russia believes that is driving this war.

History rhyming

During World War One, US politicians went around proclaiming our neutrality but at the same time supplied one side with equipment and supplies for the war. Needless to say, the Germans saw this as a threat and sank numerous ships with US citizens on them. As World War Two raged in Europe the United States passed the Neutrality Acts that legally bound us to staying out of the war in Europe. Like World War One, the United States yet again supplied equipment and supplies for the war effort. And like World War One we ultimately got dragged into the war. With the war in Ukraine we have clearly sided with the Ukrainians and we are suppling equipment and supplies to them.

How do we logically come to the conclusion that we are not going to be somehow dragged into this war as well? I don’t think we logically do. If the Russians can’t handle the Ukrainian Military how do you think Russian plans to take care of fighting the United States, let alone all of NATO? Russia can’t fight the US conventionally they will have to use chemical or biological which will ultimately lead to the use of nuclear weapons. Why? Go back to Operation Desert Storm. Iraq had chemical weapons they were told that we (the United States) reserved the right to use any weapon in our arsenal against them if they used chemical weapons against us.

During Operation Storm I remember asking one of my sergeants what we would do if we got hit by a chemical weapon since there was really no way we could decontaminate effectively without water. The response was that the plan was that we would make a Bee-line to the ocean and that a tactical nuclear weapon would be deployed behind us to ensure that we did not get attacked from the rear. I suspect that if Russian deployed chemical or even biological weapons against US forces it would necessitate the same type of response.

So as long as the we don’t see chemical or biological weapons used by the Russians the risk of nuclear weapons being used is low. If/when chemical or biological weapons are used the risk for nuclear weapons being used goes up. If the United States engages the Russians militarily the risk of nuclear weapons increases. One caveat to this is that should we see elements within the Russian government try to overthrow Putin we could see Nuclear weapons launched due to the reported Russian “Dead Hand”. The United States doesn’t fully know all the details of the dead hand system but what we know for sure is the system is designed to allow for an automatic launch of Russian nuclear weapons if the “system” does not get a response from Russia’s high command. The question is does the dead hand system launch if Putin does not respond back to the system?

Don’t rest on your laurels

If this crisis passes without it escalating to nuclear weapons don’t let that give you a false sense of security and go back to a state of thinking nuclear war isn’t a hazard to worry about. Consider the fact that Iran will probably have nuclear weapons soon, if they don’t already have them. Pakistan has nuclear weapons and a sudden regime change to an Islamic nationalist could see a war between Pakistan and India which could spark a wider war with other nuclear-armed nations joining the fray. Before you know it, we will see and have to deal with an increase in tensions with nuclear-armed China as they press closer and closer to taking back control of Taiwan.

So moving forward do a little research and look at how to protect yourself and your family against a nuclear attack. The Cold War may be over but as long as there are nuclear weapons there will always be a risk of nuclear war. That risk can suddenly increase from one day to the next simply by a change in political leadership in nuclear-armed nations.