The nuclear bomb explodes with the power of 15 kilotons. There are more than 80,000 deaths, from the highest ranking members of government to the youngest schoolchildren. All major news outlets then report receiving an identical claim: that five more nuclear bombs are hidden in five major cities.
Such is the nightmare nuclear scenario that former US Defense Secretary William Perry says may seem remote, but the consequences, if realized, would be disastrous.
“I do not like to be a prophet of doom,” says Perry, 89, with the gentle grace of a decadeslong diplomat who has negotiated with countries both hostile and friendly to US interests. Then he bluntly gets to the point. “What we’re talking about is no less than the end of civilization.”
Perry doesn’t believe an intentional terrorist attack or all-out nuclear war is the greatest risk — he fears a “blunder” that plunges the globe into a nuclear conflict.
“The consequences are so serious, that one has to give careful thought to what you say in these areas. I don’t think, in the nuclear field, it’s an area that lends itself to offhand or spontaneous comments. I think they require deep thought,” explains Perry.
“It’s hard to imagine that… tweeting meets that test.”
The Oval Office, however, can have a sobering affect, as Trump acknowledged to ABC News, describing what it’s like to get the nuclear codes.
“When they explain what it represents and the kind of destruction that you’re talking about, it is a very sobering moment, yes. It’s very, very scary, in a sense,” the President said in an interview with David Muir.
Engaging the public through education
Perry watches closely as his granddaughter pecks away at the keyboard. She’s scanning through recent notifications he received on his official Twitter page.
“You’ve been getting some attention for the ‘No Nukes’ campaign,” Lisa tells her grandfather.
Next, they check Perry’s massive, open online course, “Living at the Nuclear Brink: Yesterday and Today,” where Lisa says he has more than 3,800 enrollees.
“That’s good, but I’d like the number to be to be tens of thousands, not thousands,” Perry says with a grin.
The Perry team has also used Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” chats to help educate through social media. Lisa, who describes herself as a child of the Internet and encouraged her grandfather to partake, says they spent up to three hours answering questions during one session on the discussion website.
Lisa Perry believes her generation would become as active in this issue as in global warming or other social justice issues, if they’re merely made aware that a nuclear threat is not hypothetical, but real. “It should be something we talk about, that we get to decide on, because it affects all of us,” she says,
At 89, William Perry could have easily settled into retirement long ago and let younger generations deal with the nuclear threat. Instead, he chooses to carry on this mission: to engage.
When asked why, he calmly points to a wall in his house where photos of his family neatly hang. He has five children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“I would like them to have a chance at a future, a future in which they can live in peace and not be faced with the specter of nuclear war,” says Perry. “And we can translate that to other people’s children and grandchildren as well.”