Saturday, January 13, 2018

A thing that happened today

Very thankful that we don't see things like this every day...

It also affected my little corner of the world,
covering sports events that can seem so meaningless.

Here's a strong piece of instant analysis and context provided by Ian Bogost of The Atlantic: "The Internet Broke Emergency Alerts"

And here's the entirety of a terrifying Twitter thread (starting with this tweet) from Max Fisher, a journalist at The New York Times:

You need to know the story of KAL-007, a Korean airliner shot down in 1983, to understand why those 38 minutes in Hawaii put the whole world in danger.

Soviet pilots shot KAL-007 down because they thought it was a military spy plane that’d deliberately entered Soviet territory (in fact it was civilian and a mistake). When they shot it down, killing 269 people, Washington said it’d been a mistake. But US officials also worried the whole thing could be a prelude to war.

Ironically, Soviet leaders in Moscow were the most terrified. They had fragmentary information about what was happening way out in its far east — much as DC is at a great remove from Hawaii — and could only trust what they were told: the Americans are lying, it was a spy plane.

The Americans knew that the Soviets were lying and thought: What are they up to? Is this meant to provoke a war? The Soviets “knew” that the Americans were lying and thought: they’re trying to create casus belli for a massive attack on us. The Americans in 1983 had been repeatedly threatening to launch some kind of attack on the USSR — just as the Trump admin is doing with North Korea today. Some in Moscow were convinced this was it, cover for what DC had promised to do. Some in Moscow, believing this was all a smokescreen for an imminent American attack, wanted to strike first. They had good reason to argue as much: if they were facing possibly extinction, better to launch first and maybe survive.

What made this especially dangerous is the nature and speed of missile-launched nuclear missiles gave the Soviets only a few minutes to guess — yes, guess — what the other side was doing and respond. Terrible pressure to fire before it was too late. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, but they might not have. The confusion over KAL-007 literally could’ve ended the world.

Imperfect information, mutual distrust, and minutes-long response times. They all existed in 1983 and only more so today.

Might North Korea have had reason to fear, if only for a moment, that the alarm was cover was a US attack on North Korea? Recall the US has been threatening such an attack for weeks. What if they’d said “this could be it, better launch to stop them before it’s too late?"

Nuclear weapons are unspeakably dangerous. But their greatest dangers come from uncertainty and human fallibility.

The Trump administration has deliberately engineered high levels of nuclear uncertainty on the Korean peninsula. Most think it’s a bluff. But this comes with risks. Even a relatively limited nuclear exchange would, according to some (highly theoretical) climate studies, bring global famine and "a decade without summer."

Ugh. Even the White House is confused as to whether this was an exercise or an error. If we have shoddy information about our own military's mix-up, how much more confused must the North Koreans be? At what point does their confusion become dangerous?

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