Eventually, history will view Adolf Hitler as one of the greatest leaders of all time.

If you could travel back in time with the ability to change one thing in history, what would that be? What if you could go back in time and kill one person? Who would you kill?

I think many, if not most people you asked the second question to would choose Adolf Hitler. Of course, if you posed this question to Americans this day and age, you’d probably get a lot of people answering Donald Trump, but I still think most would answer Adolf Hitler. If you posed the question to Chinese people, the majority would surely answer Mao Zedong, though those who study history may reluctantly choose Genghis Khan instead. If you asked Russians, they might answer Joseph Stalin. Italians might say Benito Mussolini, Cambodians, Pol Pot, Congolese, King Leopold II…the list of history’s corrupt and evil mass-murderers is lengthy.

Despite all of these choices and the various answers you would receive from people around the world, I still believe the answer you’re most likely to hear is Adolf Hitler. And why is this?

Hitler_portrait_crop

Everybody knows Hitler was responsible for starting World War II, perpetrating the holocaust, enslaving entire ethnicities, and numerous other atrocities culminating in well over 40 million deaths.

But few people actually give him credit for some of the good things he accomplished, either intentionally or as an inadvertent byproduct of his actions.

That last sentence is going to piss some people off. The thought that Adolf Hitler might have accomplished some good with his actions is pretty abhorrent when weighed against the evil he committed, there’s no doubt of that. If you don’t like the idea that Hitler accomplished many good things, then my next sentence is going to be even more repulsive to you.

Someday, history will almost certainly look upon Adolf Hitler as a great leader, and his actions as beneficial to both democracy and the human race.

Cambridge professor and member of Parliament, Lord John Dalberg-Acton, is well known for his oft-quoted line, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Less often do you hear people quote the next sentence in that letter he wrote though, and that sentence may be even more germane. “Great men are almost always bad men…”₂ What he meant by that is that leaders usually become great by doing what is necessary to accomplish their vision, however unsavory those acts may be. Historian and Hardcore History podcaster Dan Carlin sums it up in an interesting way with this question that I’ll paraphrase:

“Would you be willing, under certain conditions, to order the killing of an innocent woman or child? If not, you’re already out of the running to be on the list of great people, at least for the category of world leaders.”

World leaders who are historically considered great men, are almost without exception also very bad men who committed what most would consider to be evil acts.

Great men are almost always bad men.

– The Lord Acton

Alexander the Great is one of the most admired people of all time. There have been more than twenty world cities that have borne his name, most notably Alexandria, Egypt. He was undefeated on the battlefield in more than a decade of waging war. He’s credited with bringing Hellenism – the influence of Greek civilization and culture – to the Persian Empire and throughout much of western Asia, bringing in what eventually came to be known as the Hellenistic Age.

And yet, his sole intent was to wage war in order to enrich himself and his generals in Macedonia, and to expand his influence and his empire for his posterity. He killed an unknown number of people, certainly in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. He looted and burned, conquered and enslaved…and today we honor and keep his memory through cities and shrines.

But he’s nowhere even close to holding the title of the worst monarch in history. Another one that comes to mind is Julius Caesar.

Julius Caesar conquered Gaul, now called France, and killed millions of people – his actions have been called a genocide by some – all for his own personal gain, and that of the wealthy Roman elite. He’s often credited for bringing modern-day France into the enlightened era, bringing culture and literacy to the area by eliminating the Celts. Most modern-day French would agree that Caesars actions were good for them and that they’ve benefited greatly from all those deaths. Yet, that wasn’t his intent, it was simply an inadvertent byproduct of his actions.

Historians credit Caesar and praise him for the results of his brutal and merciless actions, when his intent was purely to enrich himself. One famous quote uttered during the time of Caesar’s conquests was: “The Romans create a wasteland, and then call that peace.”

Genghis Khan is another ruler and conqueror who is generally accepted by historians to be one of the greatest leaders and one of, if not the best, battlefield commanders of all time. His small army of mounted Mongol fighters laid waste to most of Asia and large swathes of eastern Europe for more than twenty years, conquering everybody they encountered, and mercilessly burning, looting, raping, pillaging, and murdering as they rode. Those he didn’t order murdered, he often ordered enslaved, remarking that where he trod nothing would ever grow again.

In his rise to power, Genghis Khan destroyed entire cities and even civilizations. There’s one known story about him ordering all the survivors of a town he besieged to walk in front of a wagon. Many of these were civilians and non-combatants. Anybody who was taller than the wagon wheel had their head cut off.

Yet, he’s revered throughout Asia. There’s a mausoleum and many temples in his honor. Shops, hotels, and restaurants are all named after him. Through DNA testing, it’s been determined that more people on Earth are direct descendants of his than of any other man in history, mostly due to his rampant raping of any surviving women during his deadly warring. Approximately 1 in every 500 Chinese people is his descendent. Hell, he’s even pictured on Mongolia’s money. He’s the George Washington of Mongolia!

Genghus Khan money

I was at my cabin in Washington State last week and came upon a hive of yellow jackets living in a rotting log. My nephews had actually stumbled onto the hive and both had been stung numerous times, so I went into the woods to exterminate them. Finding the entrance to their lair, I looked into the eyes of two yellow jackets perched in the entrance like guards, and I fired a stream of poison spray directly into the nest. I then waited for it to dissipate and fired another stream, filling the nest with poison and killing probably hundreds of bees. That wasn’t quite enough though. A few hours later I came back and discovered several bees – ones that had probably been out foraging when my murderous rampage occurred – trying to tunnel their way back into the nest, likely looking to attempt a rescue of any survivors. With no compassion, I exterminated them as well, shooting more poison into the nest to wipe out any unlikely survivors.

I was able to commit this bee genocidal act without losing any sleep because I look upon yellow jackets the same way people like Genghis Khan or Adolf Hitler or Atilla the Hun looked upon some races of people – as subhuman. In fact, my actions mimicked one of the favorite plays of Genghis Khan. He would raid some town in his path and order the murder of every man, woman, and child in that town. After the Mongol army had searched the town for anybody left alive, they would ride off, only to return a few days later, thundering out of the hills on horseback and surprising anybody who had been able to hide from them the first time around, or anybody who had been lucky enough to be out of town that original day, maybe hunting, foraging, or traveling. They would then kill all of those survivors before finally setting fire to the town and wiping it from the face of the Earth. This is brutality without limit, absolute and merciless genocide.

Imagine if Harry Truman had been like Genghis Khan. Imagine if, three days after the first ever atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, while the survivors were stumbling around and rescue workers feverishly tried to save the hundreds of people trapped in the devastation, Truman had ordered the bombers to drop another atomic bomb in the same place. That’s what “great men” like Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar, or Alexander the Great might have done. Murder without mercy, terror without compassion, and yet, had Truman done the same, he would have been considered a monster, at least to us in the present. We would be too close to those deaths, too modernized to accept the brutality, and too emotionally attached to see the potential benefits that may have arisen from such brutality. If history is any indicator though, at some point in the future that action alone might have made him a great leader, willing to make the tough choices and do what was necessary without an emotional attachment.

Now granted, he did drop another bomb eventually, just choosing to target a different city, which actually resulted in more loss of life than dropping a second bomb on Hiroshima would have done. However, in terms of emotional devastation and inflicting terror upon the enemy, I can’t help but feel a second bomb in the same location would have been a more effective tool at destroying the Japanese morale and ending the war sooner. After all, it was dicey that the bomb on Nagasaki was even going to end the war. The Japanese had vowed at the beginning to fight to the deaths of every last man, woman, and child if necessary. The Truman administration had a whole list of further targets where they were going to drop bombs, providing they could actually build any more immediately, since, unbeknownst to the Japanese, we only actually had two of them in our arsenal at the time. Luckily, they didn’t have to continue down that list.

The lesson here is that when you’re too close in time to the actions of evil men, it’s hard to look at them objectively, and even more difficult to ignore the pain and suffering those actions inflict in order to analyze any recognized benefits of the actions. It’s also tough to look at the unintentional dividends of their actions and reconcile those gains with the evil brutality that it took to accomplish the benefits we enjoy. Getting distance (timewise) on events allows you to be a dispassionate observer. You lose any feeling of compassion toward the suffering and loss of human life.

Men like Caesar, Genghis, and Alexander are considered great men, yet they were also very clearly evil men.

Joseph Stalin was certainly one of the evilest men to have ever lived. He had a famous quote: “A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths is just a statistic.” And boy did he ever live up to that quote. He’s responsible for millions of deaths, generally considered to be somewhere between 20 million and 40 million in total. He took the communist ideas of Karl Marx and applied them with an iron fist, ruling over the U.S.S.R. without mercy. There’s little doubt that Russians suffered greatly, their culture set back in devastating fashion due to his barbarous policies and actions. Yet, without him, it’s also quite possible that Hitler and the Axis powers would have been victorious in World War II.

With that fact alone, could history consider him a great man? It seems unlikely just based on the fact that he didn’t really conquer anything, and for some reason that seems to be a prerequisite to making the list of greatness. Regardless, Stalin would certainly never be considered to be a great man this close to his actions in the historic timeline. There are living Gulag survivors, and living victims of his torture sessions. When you can look into the eyes of someone who was a victim of a merciless dictator, it’s nearly impossible to ignore their suffering and proclaim the perpetrator of that suffering to be a great leader.

Which is what makes it so difficult to even write the words I wrote earlier, that Adolf Hitler will someday be considered amongst the great leaders of all time.

I’m currently working on writing a book that explores the question of what you would do if you could travel back in time and actually kill Adolf Hitler. Even more importantly, what would a Jewish person, possibly one who lost family members in the Holocaust, do if they could travel back in time and kill him? It seems like an easy question doesn’t it? After all, there were many attempts on Hitler’s life, some of which are well-known and immortalized in books and movies, and others that occurred even before his rise to power, including one little-known attempt that nearly succeeded while he was incarcerated at Landsberg Prison in the 1920s.

What if one of those attempts had succeeded? Well, it probably would have been a disaster for civilization, particularly if you happen to enjoy the benefits of living in a democracy. More on this statement later.

What makes it so unpalatable to admit that history will probably remember Hitler as a great leader and a great man, is that I’ve studied the results of his actions in pretty great depth. I’ve read his book, Mein Kampf. I’ve visited three concentration camps in Poland, along with the Jewish ghetto memorial in Warsaw. I’ve been to the holocaust museum in Washington D.C.  I’ve shed tears in front of this photo of children holding hands as they walked unknowingly to their executions at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

On the way to death

He caused great suffering and great pain, and you could legitimately attribute in the neighborhood of 40 million deaths, on the low side, to his actions. There’s little doubt that Hitler has the military prowess to be considered amongst the great leaders. It would be difficult to find a military historian who would be unimpressed with the success of the German Wehrmacht in nearly every battle they entered. Hitler used his military to devastating effect, taking advantage of the blitzkrieg strategy to first destroy and conquer Poland. He used that same strategy to then invade and conquer Denmark, followed by Norway, despite the two countries receiving help from both Britain and France. The blitzkrieg continued as the Wehrmacht next marched through Belgium and then the Netherlands as they prepared to skirt around the Maginot line to invade and conquer France.

Now, it should be noted that one of the big differences when it comes to future generations admiring Hitler as a conqueror and putting him in the same category as warriors like Genghis Khan or Atilla the Hun, is that Hitler clearly never led from the front. He directed from the rear, and much of his success must certainly be credited to the genius of his frontline military commanders and generals. Of course, conquerors like Julius Caesar, Napoleon, and to some extent, Alexander the Great also relied on their generals and commanders more than on their own fighting prowess, yet history still credits them with the successes of their underlings.

The other big difference is that Hitler failed and died before he could consolidate his holdings, and without achieving success or his end goal. These differences will certainly put an asterisk beside his name on the list of great leaders, but I don’t think it will keep him off it.

Where Hitler didn’t invade and conquer, he made alliances. The photo below of Germany’s success in conquering, controlling, occupying, or allying with nearly all of Europe, along with parts of Asia and Africa is pretty conclusive evidence of Hitler’s status as a great conqueror. The Third Reich’s success at the height of the war was clearly on par with the empire building glorified in the memories of conquerors like Caesar, Genghis, Attila, or Alexander.

Although Hitler was a formidable conqueror, he made one very big mistake, and that was his decision to violate his non-aggression agreement with Stalin and open up a second front to the war by invading Russia. In absence of that decision, it is quite possible, maybe even very likely, that he would have won the war and eventually defeated Great Britain. It’s also likely that America, also caught in a two-front war, would have found it necessary to focus on the Pacific war and abandon the European war had Great Britain fallen, which would have allowed Hitler to consolidate and shore up his power and holdings.

If we can accept that in the future, Hitler will be looked upon by historians as a great military leader and conqueror, just based on the countries he conquered, then we only have to wonder if history will be able to overlook the horrible atrocities he perpetrated. By looking at how history manages to overlook the atrocities from other conquerors it deems great men, it’s quite apparent that eventually, at some point in the future, history won’t care one iota about the deaths or the suffering. As Dan Carlin states in his Hardcore History podcasts, “Nobody weeps for people who died 500 years ago.”

If we as a civilization are able to overlook genocidal atrocities, torture, and rape in pursuit of what we determine as valuable to our species, regardless of the intent of the perpetrator, then there remains little doubt that Hitler will someday fall into the same category of greatness as Caesar, Atilla, Genghis, and so many others. Apparently when it comes to what we’re willing to accept, the ends definitely justify the means. So, let’s take a look at some of the things that were accomplished either as a direct result, or as an unintended consequence of Hitler’s rise to power.

  1. Formation of the State of Israel.

At the end of World War II, hundreds of thousands of Jewish Holocaust survivors and refugees looking for a place to live that was distanced from their awful memories of their destroyed homelands, descended upon what was then known as Palestine, a land that was under British rule.

Jews had been searching for an ancestral homeland since the Jewish diaspora, the scattering of them from their ancestral homeland, and their settling throughout Europe.  In 1881, when the Ottoman Empire ruled Palestine, the first wave of Jews attempted to settle there, fleeing from organized violence against them – known as “pogroms” – in Eastern Europe.

There would be four additional waves of settlement, the last and largest occurring after the fall of Hitler, swelling the population of Jews in Palestine to its largest level, 33% of the total. This caused intense conflict between the Jews and the British Empire, and the Jews and the Arabs, over Jewish immigration limits. Some fighting occurred, the British administrative headquarters was attacked resulting in almost 100 deaths, and Britain finally announce they would be withdrawing from Palestine, basically deciding to let the Jews and the Arabs fight it out without them.

After the British withdrawal, the newly formed United Nations voted to create two new states out of the former British territory, one for the Jews and one for the Arabs, with Jerusalem being a neutral city for all. Jews accepted the plan, Arabs rejected it, more fighting broke out, and the Jews won, causing Arabs to flee and the Jews to seize control of the land with most of the borders poorly defined and in dispute. David Ben-Gurion announced the official formation of the Jewish homeland and gave it the official name of the State of Israel. The following day, Arabs attacked, beginning the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, and they have effectively been at odds with sporadic fighting since then.

Adolf Hitler was a big proponent of the formation of a home for the Jews, although he preferred they settle much further away, completely out of Europe. Madagascar was actually one of his preferred choices. At some point during his reign, he changed his mind about creating a home for them, and decided to exterminate them instead. This, more than anything is what caused the wave of Jews to flood to Palestine at the end of the Holocaust, which created the pressure cooker effect in that region, which caused the British withdrawal, which caused the UN to step in, which resulted in the formation of Israel.

If you look at the history, you can see that this result was clearly a direct consequence of Hitler’s actions. In fact, it’s difficult to see a different path toward the Jews ever getting their own homeland without the actions of Adolf Hitler. Although this is clearly an unintended consequence of his actions, it is also very clearly something good that came out of those actions.

I often wonder, were you to ask an Israeli citizen, particularly a Jewish Israeli, if they thought the formation of Israel alone made the atrocities of Hitler’s actions worth it, what they would answer? I suspect they would vehemently answer that it was not worth it, but I wonder what their actual thoughts on the matter would be? Clearly if they lost a loved one to Hitler’s barbarism, or if they themselves were a survivor, the answer would have to be no. But what if you were to ask someone young, a 20-year old say, who’s parents and maybe even grandparents were not even born during Hitler’s time? What if you were to ask someone 100 years from now, when they have no connection whatsoever to anybody who suffered or died under Hitler’s rule? I wonder how much time will have to pass before the answer becomes, yes, it was worth it?

History tells us that 500 years will do it for sure, but I suspect it may be much less than that.

  1. Military and space technology advances and innovations.

Undoubtedly, one of the things history will remember Hitler for is his dedication to advancements in science and technology. Despite fighting a two-front war against most of the world, he placed scientific innovation at the top of his list of objectives and priorities. Now, granted, he wanted these advancements to give him a better chance at winning the war, but after he was defeated, the Allied powers were able to utilize many of Nazi Germany’s technological advancements to rocket our knowledge forward.

The Nazis did amazing work on many weapons of war, including inventing the first ever production helicopter, the first radio guided bomb, great strides in missile technology, and creating the largest ever liquid-fueled rocket, among other things.

Enjoy flying above the weather and at speeds faster than a car can drive? Thank Adolf Hitler, who oversaw the invention of the first jet-powered fighter, the Messerschmidtt ME-262. Before this little beauty, the skies were filled with propeller-driven aircraft, and it wasn’t until the U.S. managed to capture one that we were able to reverse-engineer the technology and use it to create aircraft like the F-86 Sabre and the B-47 Stratojet. It was German physicist Hans Joachim Pabst von Ohain who invented Pabst beer the first operational jet engine as well.

Wernher Von Braun is known as the father of rocket technology and he was yet another German who worked for Adolf Hitler during the war. Under the umbrella of the Nazi regime, he developed the V2, the first guided ballistic missile, a huge step toward the ICBMs of today, and a gigantic leap toward the ability for space exploration. After the war, Von Braun was brought to the US along with 1600 of his closest friends and Nazi war criminals – check out Operation Paperclip for more on this – where they propelled us into the space age. None of this would have been possible without Adolf Hitler’s commitment to funding and driving rocket technology.₄

As with most technology, it would have come along eventually, but one of the wonders of war is that the tech field always ends up getting a huge boost forward, and those benefits eventually trickle down to civilian technological improvements. There’s zero chance we would have reached the moon in 1969 without Hitler’s commitment to, and funding of, Von Braun’s rocket research.

By the way, the Nazis also created methamphetamine. I was going to write a big thing about the benefits of stimulants, but I’m too tired.

  1. An end to systemic anti-Semitism and pogroms against Jews.

I don’t want this one to read like I believe that anti-Semitism is dead, because I’m not an idiot. In fact, a recent statistical analysis shows that there may be as many as 150 million people across Europe who harbor serious anti-Semitic views.₃ This is a scary big number for this day and age.

That being said, before and during the time of Hitler, anti-Semitism was a much bigger problem. For starters, it was considered completely acceptable, and possibly even vogue, to be openly and vocally anti-Semitic. Pogroms – attacks on Jewish persons and destruction of their properties – were common, merciless, and often brutal. Leaders, scholars, and influential people of the day openly bandied about ideas of what to do about “The Jewish Question” or “The Jewish Problem.”

Hitler was not the first to consider Jews to be nomadic sub-humans…far from it, actually. In fact, in Mein Kampf, he talks about his struggle actually coming to terms with the rampant anti-Semitism that surrounded him. He was a young man living and working in Vienna at the time, and he spends a long time in the book writing about his first encounters with Jews, his studies of their cultures and beliefs, and the debates he often engaged in with them. Mein Kampf is a weighty, difficult-to-read tome, but below, I’ve cut and pasted some of the relevant parts of his chapter on his discovery of Jews and how he grew to loathe them.

Once, when passing through the inner City, I suddenly encountered a phenomenon in a long caftan and wearing black side-locks. My first thought was: Is this a Jew? They certainly did not have this appearance in Linz. I watched the man stealthily and cautiously; but the longer I gazed at the strange countenance and examined it feature by feature, the more the question shaped itself in my brain: Is this a German? As was always my habit with such experiences, I turned to books for help in removing my doubts. For the first time in my life I bought myself some anti-Semitic pamphlets for a few pence…

Naturally I could no longer doubt that here there was not a question of Germans who happened to be of a different religion but rather that there was question of an entirely different people. For as soon as I began to investigate the matter and observe the Jews, then Vienna appeared to me in a different light. Wherever I now went I saw Jews, and the more I saw of them the more strikingly and clearly they stood out as a different people from the other citizens…

This fictitious conflict between the Zionists and the Liberal Jews soon disgusted me; for it was false through and through and in direct contradiction to the moral dignity and immaculate character on which that race had always prided itself. Cleanliness, whether moral or of another kind, had its own peculiar meaning for these people. That they were water-shy was obvious on looking at them and, unfortunately, very often also when not looking at them at all. The odour of those people in caftans often used to make me feel ill…

Here was a pestilence, a moral pestilence, with which the public was being infected. It was worse than the Black Plague of long ago. And in what mighty doses this poison was manufactured and distributed. Naturally, the lower the moral and intellectual level of such an author of artistic products the more inexhaustible his fecundity. Sometimes it went so far that one of these fellows, acting like a sewage pump, would shoot his filth directly in the face of other members of the human race. In this connection we must remember there is no limit to the number of such people…

I had now no more hesitation about bringing the Jewish problem to light in all its details. No. Henceforth I was determined to do so. But as I learned to track down the Jew in all the different spheres of cultural and artistic life, and in the various manifestations of this life everywhere, I suddenly came upon him in a position where I had least expected to find him. I now realized that the Jews were the leaders of Social Democracy. In face of that revelation the scales fell from my eyes. My long inner struggle was at an end…

If your adversary felt forced to give in to your argument, on account of the observers present, and if you then thought that at last you had gained ground, a surprise was in store for you on the following day. The Jew would be utterly oblivious to what had happened the day before, and he would start once again by repeating his former absurdities, as if nothing had happened. Should you become indignant and remind him of yesterday’s defeat, he pretended astonishment and could not remember anything, except that on the previous day he had proved that his statements were correct. Sometimes I was dumbfounded. I do not know what amazed me the more–the abundance of their verbiage or the artful way in which they dressed up their falsehoods. I gradually came to hate them.

It’s quite obvious, if we’re to believe Hitler’s own words, that he was not a hater of Jews until well into adulthood. I think it would be an interesting take to explore how things might have been different had Hitler encountered a Jew in those days he respected, one who could have debated him on the level he desired, perhaps even just a single Jew he could have befriended. Could you imagine the different world we might live in had that occurred?

Nevertheless, although Hitler is responsible for the most devastating persecution of the Jewish people in history, the fact that they were being persecuted throughout Europe during the time before Hitler’s rise to power is clear. Again, this didn’t end after Hitler’s downfall, however, it was greatly diminished, and with the formation of the State of Israel, finally giving the Jews a homeland, we can assign credit to Hitler for making that happen. In fact, giving the Jews a home of their own was actually his goal, though the idea that they would be ensconced in what was at the time, British Palestine and that they would become a respected and world-leading country would have appalled him.

  1. Formation of The European Union.

Adolf Hitler was an avowed nationalist, and it was his abject sense of nationalism that gave rise to the idea that German citizens were the pinnacle of the human race, valued above all others, and that everybody should desire to become a citizen of Germany. This idea, spread around Europe during Hitler’s time, was truly his goal, at least in the beginning…to achieve great things for all German citizens.

After Hitler’s defeat, Winston Churchill gave a speech to European member states, advocating for the formation of what he called, “The United States of Europe.” This idea gave rise to several coalitions and treaties throughout the 1950s and 1960s, all of which culminated in the Treaty of Maastricht in 1993 which officially formed the European Union.

Without Hitler’s devastation of the continent through his nationalist notions, it’s incredibly unlikely we would have seen the necessity for the joining together of all of these member states. Without the various treaties linking them together, it’s also quite possible we would have seen additional wars breaking out on the European continent in the intervening decades since 1945. There’s no doubt that despite the great many years it took for the EU to actually complete their union, the seed of the idea was planted as a direct result of Hitler’s actions.

5. The downfall of Benito Mussolini.

There’s just no way to be nice about this. Mussolini was a dick. There is zero chance that history will consider him to be a great man, or a great leader. He will forever be viewed by history as a dick. Despite his dickish behavior, Italians somehow let him rise to power as the leader of the National Fascist Party to become Prime Minister, a position he held – in theory—from 1922 until 1945. In reality, he only actually was Prime Minister, a title that implies some sort of constitutional governance, from 1922 until 1925, at which point he dropped all pretense of Italy being a democracy and installed himself as a sort of supreme dictator.

Mussolini consolidated his power by first using his secret police to remove all political opponents, then creating a one-party dictatorship to ensure that he and his buddies were the only ones in power.

You would think that Italians would have fought back against this kind of power grab, but once again we see the power of nationalism and persuasive speech in the rise of a determined ruler. By the time Italians began fighting back against Mussolini, it was too late…he was entrenched and ruled with an iron fist, ruthlessly ordering the death or imprisonment of all who opposed him. By 1925, he had dismantled virtually all constitutional and ordinary restraints on his power and had effectively turned Italy into a police state.

When war broke out in Europe, Mussolini held back on declaring allegiance to one side or the other until he determined that Hitler seemed likely to defeat France, at which point he made the classic dick move of siding with who he thought would be the eventual winner, joining the Axis powers and eventually declaring war on the United States. This didn’t work out too well.

Italy suffered great losses throughout the war, and when it became clear that Eisenhower’s armies were likely to cross the Mediterranean and attack the Italian mainland, Mussolini panicked, begging Hitler to make peace with the Soviets so he could free up Nazi troops to help defend Italy. Hitler, in a battle for the ages on the eastern front, refused.

As bombs began to fall on Rome, the Italian people had finally had enough. Dino Grandi, Mussolini’s minister of foreign affairs, minister of justice, and president of the puppet Italian parliament, openly revolted against him. Grandi eventually petitioned the king to remove Mussolini from office, a power the king held but could effectively only use with enough support from the powerful politicians who surrounded Mussolini…support he now had. Mussolini was removed from office in 1943, arrested, and imprisoned.

He was rescued by Nazi troops a few months later, and Hitler propped him up as the puppet head of government for the territory of Northern Italy, a position where he served only to pacify the Italian people that an Italian was still in charge as opposed to Hitler running the country, which fooled exactly nobody, but did serve to keep the Italian people subdued for a short period of time.

On April 25, 1945, with Allied troops invading Northern Italy, Mussolini attempted to flee to Switzerland. He was captured, and then executed the next day, along with his mistress and a dozen or so members of his government who were fleeing with him.

Were it not for Hitler and his war, there’s a good chance the Italian people would have suffered under Mussolini’s rule for many more years. Even if Mussolini himself had not held power for much longer, by eliminating all other political parties, the Fascist government would have been able to hold out for decades longer at least.

As Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Had World War II not interfered with Mussolini’s plans, what trouble might he have decided to thrust Italy into once he completed establishing himself as sole dictator? At what point would he have eventually done away with the King, recognizing his power as a threat? Would Italy be the beautiful tourist destination it is today if Mussolini and his fascist party had remained in power for decades longer? How much more suffering would the Italian people have endured without Hitler’s war outing Mussolini’s true nature and the dangers of fascism?

By the way, just as a side note, after his execution, his body was transported back to Milan where the population was able to spit on it and stone it with rocks. He was then strung upside down at a gas station, along with several of his followers, where more rocks were thrown at him for a few days. Whatever happened to the days of this being acceptable? Can we bring this back?

Mussolini_e_Petacci_a_Piazzale_Loreto,_1945
Mussolini hanging, 2nd from the left

Now, we’re going to get into the realm of things we should actually be thankful to Hitler for today, especially if you’re an American reading this, but also if you’re a citizen of any democracy who enjoys freedom. This brings us back to the question I asked at the beginning of the blog, about who you would kill if you had the chance to go back in time. Unfortunately, without the actions of Adolf Hitler, the world would very likely look completely different today. And probably not in a good way.

  1. The weakening of Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union, and communism in general.

Without the ruthlessness and brutality of Joseph Stalin, there’s little doubt that the Third Reich would have eventually ruled over Europe. If I tried to tell the entire story of the war on the eastern front, I’d need dozens of blogs of this length, but to sum it up, it was the pinnacle of suffering and barbarous, inhuman conditions. The losses suffered by the Soviet Union is staggering. More than 10 million soldiers and more than 15 million civilians died, most of the civilians starving to death.  The Soviets lost 134,000 armored vehicles, more than 100,000 aircraft, and more than 70,000 villages and towns that were completely razed. More soldiers died fighting on the Eastern front than in all the rest of the battles of World War II around the globe combined.

At the beginning of the war, Hitler and Stalin had a non-aggression pact. It was actually completely likely that the Soviet Union would have eventually joined Hitler in the Axis powers. Inexplicably – and this action will certainly be a point of argument for opponents of my premise – Hitler decided to violate the pact, open up a second front to the war, and invade the Soviet Union. Hitler’s justification for the invasion was that he thought the Soviets were weak…as he stated to his generals, “The Soviet Union is a house of cards. We need only kick in the door and watch it come crumbling down.”

Take a second and imagine the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. If you know anything about those decades of struggle, you know that although the United States eventually won, at many points, the Soviet Union was close to getting the upper hand. Now picture how much different that might have looked had Stalin been able to maintain his frosty fortress in Asia without it being significantly weakened by his war with Hitler. Imagine if Hitler had kept his pact, the USSR had taken half of Poland and many of the Baltic states as per the agreement between Hitler and Stalin, and now imagine this altered history Soviet Union without the loss of all those soldiers, civilians (26 million combined!), aircraft, tanks, etc.

Not only would the Soviet Union have been stronger, it’s quite likely the United States would have been much weaker. They would have had to commit more forces to the European war, at least in the short term, which would have weakened efforts in the Pacific theater. It’s also entirely possible Stalin would have set his sights on further territorial expansion by means of Alaska.

This sort of revisionist history can, and does go deep into the rabbit hole as you start imagining all of the possibilities, but it’s quite clear that had Hitler never come to power, the Soviet Union would have been an entirely different beast, regardless of whether there was an actual war in Europe. With America committed to fighting the spread of communism, and facing a much, much stronger opponent, this world would look entirely different.

2. The strengthening and heralding of the United States as the predominant world power.

The United States, along with most of the world, had been mired in the Great Depression for much of the decade leading up to the start of World War II. In fact, it was Germany’s weakened and externally reliant state of affairs that at least partially allowed them to welcome the rise of the Nazi party and Adolf Hitler, with his promises to revitalize the German people and transform the country into a self-sufficient, economic power.

In the U.S., Roosevelt had enacted his New Deal, and it had at least partially revitalized the American economy, though it did not completely mitigate the disaster of the Great Depression. However, when the war began in Europe, the vast majority of the U.S. industrial machine turned to war production, selling supplies and materials to (mostly) the allied nations in Europe, particularly England and France.

Seeing the future potential for the U.S. involvement in the war, while at the same time getting years of reprieve from actually being involved, allowed the U.S. to be as prepared militarily and industrially as a non-aggressor participant could possibly be. The entire U.S. auto industry, for example, had switched from producing automobiles, to producing planes, tanks, armored vehicles, and other war machines, both for sale to the Allies, and as a stockpile for our own preparedness. War bonds were sold at very low interest rates, hawked by celebrities as a way for the average citizen to contribute to the war effort. The number of Americans required to pay federal taxes rose, from 4 million people in 1939, to 43 million by 1945, a staggering increase. Not only did the number of people required to pay taxes increase exponentially, the taxes themselves saw incredible increases as well. People making more than $1 million per year, for example, were taxed at 94%, a mind-boggling figure.₆,₇

Adding to the years of selling materials and preparing war machines, not a single bomb struck the U.S. mainland during the entire war. Every factory in the country was producing 24/7, the workforce was at a maximum, including a huge percentage of women for the first time, and money was flowing in from the Allies as their own factories fell to the Axis bombing and they needed to purchase what they could no longer produce.

Even after joining the war effort following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. was still able to produce a surplus of military supplies to sell to the Allies. Following the end of the war, as Europe began the long and expensive process of rebuilding, the United States became a literal supermarket, providing building materials, loans, and manpower in order to repair the devastation across the European continent.

Of all the countries involved in the war, the U.S. was in the best shape, both economically, and structurally, by a long shot. While other countries struggled to unbury themselves from the rubble and chaos, the U.S., barely scratched, was able to take great strides in distancing themselves as the most wealthy and powerful country in the world.

This wealth and power has carried forward all the way to today, allowing the U.S. to win the Cold War, win the space race, and build the most advanced and most powerful military in the world. Imagine if this had gone differently. We never would have been able to experience the epic film, Team America: World Police. Devastating.

3. The U.S. development of the first atomic bomb.

 

It’s a near certainty that the United States would have never been the first country to develop the atomic bomb were it not for Adolf Hitler. A startling proportion of the most famous names on the list of physicists involved in the Manhattan Project were from Germany, Hungary, or Poland.₅ Take a look at this list of nuclear (and other) physicists who fled the Nazi regime and emigrated to the United States:

Albert Einstein – Obvious genius. A real Einstein. Actually, the real Einstein. German by birth, he was visiting the U.S. in 1933 when Hitler came to power. A Jew, he wisely decided not to return to Germany, becoming an American citizen instead. He received the Nassau Point letter, also known as the 1939 Einstein-Szilard letter, which was written to President Eisenhower, informing him of the recent discovery of sustainable nuclear chain reactions in Uranium and the potential to harness that energy to create a bomb. The letter was written in German originally, then brought to Einstein at his home on Long Island, where it was translated to English, signed by Einstein, and then sent to the president. This letter, and Einstein’s signature in particular, convinced Eisenhower to order the formation of the group responsible for the Manhattan Project. It also opened his eyes to the fact that the Germans – minus their top nuclear physicist talent obviously – had already discovered chain reactions and were already hoarding Uranium and beginning work to harness it’s power and build a bomb.

John Von Neumann – Physicist and mathematician. The kind of math that looks like Greek when you see it. Oh, and he spoke Greek. He basically performed all the mathematical equations for the bomb.

Leo Szilard – Discovered nuclear chain reactions. Actually wrote the Nassau Point letter to President Roosevelt and brought it to Einstein for him to sign and forward.

Enrico Fermi – Nobel prize winner in physics. Built the world’s first nuclear reactor under the football field at the University of Chicago. Posited the famous Fermi Paradox question – during his lunch break, of course.

Edward Teller – Known as the father of the hydrogen bomb. Designed the thermonuclear weapons of today in collaboration with Stanislaw Ulam (a Polish mathematician who also fled the Nazis and emigrated to the U.S.)

Hans Bethe – Nobel prize winner in physics. Chief theorist at Los Alamos during the effort to build the bomb.

Eugene Wigner – Nobel prize winner in physics. Collaborated with Einstein and the others on the Nassau Point letter. Led the group responsible for the design of the nuclear reactors that produced weapons grade Plutonium.

Each of these incredible physicists were Jews, or, in one case, married to a Jew, and each of them fled the Nazi regime just prior to the start of World War II. Many of them lost close family members in the concentration camps of the Holocaust…family members who were either unable or unwilling to flee along with them.

It’s quite clear when looking at this list of all the top names from the creation of the first atomic bombs, and the first thermonuclear bombs, that had Hitler not come to power, along with his anti-Semitic views and pogroms against Jews, these scientists would not have fled for the safe haven of America, and would have instead done their work in Europe, the most likely beneficiary of the first ever atomic bomb being Germany. Ironic, considering the stringent disarmament treaties from their World War I loss that governed Germany prior to Hitler coming to power.

4. The greatly diminished future potential for a nuclear war

Without the rise of Adolf Hitler, Stalin would have been an absolute powerhouse in the east, one with territorial expansion ideas and weak neighbors to his west. It’s not difficult to imagine Stalin moving his incredible, incomparable military forces to the west, only to encounter a nuclear armed Germany or Hungary.

It’s also not difficult to imagine a shaky peace in Eastern Europe as more and more countries learned about and began development of nuclear weapons. Without the U.S. having dropped two of these early bombs on Japan, would there have ever been nuclear non-proliferation treaties and agreements? It was the recognition of the devastating power of these weapons that made the world take a step back and decide rules and laws were needed to govern them.

One of the theories behind Enrico Fermi’s paradox – if the math says that alien civilizations should be littering the galaxy, then where are they all – is that when a civilization discovers the power of the nuclear chain reaction, they usually use that power to destroy themselves, basically bombing themselves back to the stone age where everything starts over again. What if our planet was destined for that? What if the only thing that stopped us from that fate was the rise of Hitler right at the moment we also became just technologically advanced enough to discover nuclear fission? Think about the timing of those two events and think about how it took Hitler coming to power at just that moment for all the nuclear physicists to flee to America where they were able to collaborate on their findings and create the first bomb for the United States. Which we were then able to use to end the war against Japan, something that would otherwise have cost tens of thousands of American lives to accomplish.

These two events, the discovery of nuclear chain reactions, and Hitler’s rise to power, are two of the most pivotal and potentially destructive events to ever occur in the history of mankind. And they just happen to have occurred within a few years of each other. Had either one happened a decade earlier or later from the other, our world might not even exist today. For them to happen at the same time, on a timeline that stretches for millennia, is an incredible coincidence.

Much of this is undeniably speculative of course, particularly that last part about us dodging nuclear planetary annihilation thanks to Hitler. However, it’s quite obvious that we’d be looking at an entirely different world without his influence, and I think it’s equally apparent that the likelihood that world would be a much worse place is statistically quite high. We can’t know what potentially devastating changes would have occurred without the rise of Adolf Hitler, but it’s more difficult to imagine a world that’s much better than the one we currently enjoy than it is to imagine a world that’s much worse.

At no point in this paper did I expound on the atrocities perpetrated by Hitler and his regime. Those atrocities are well-known, well-documented, and generally acknowledged by history in everything you might read or study about the topic. The point of this paper is not to dwell on those horrible actions, but rather to look at what future historians might have to say about Hitler based on what current historians say about other world leaders who committed atrocities on similar levels to Adolf Hitler. Sadly, as I’ve mentioned a few times, history doesn’t seem to care.

When I started this blog with the question about who would you kill if you could go back in time, I was reminded of the lessons from both Stephen King in his novel, 11/22/63, where the protagonist goes back in time to stop the assassination of JFK, only to learn that his actions resulted in a massive nuclear war that thrust the world into a nuclear winter, and the lesson in the Ray Bradbury short story, A Sound of Thunder, where a time traveling Tyrannosaurus Rex hunter treading on a simple butterfly caused tremendous ripples of change when he returned to his own time.

Though fiction, both of these lessons are certainly applicable when considering the hypothetical question of who you would want to kill if you could go back in time. Adolf Hitler may be the easy and obvious choice, but would the world actually have been better off without him? Or will we someday glance back in time, removed from the emotion of being close to the horrendous tragedies he perpetrated, and consider him to have been a great leader and his actions to have had a net positive impact on our society?

 

Notes:

1. Letter from Lord Acton to Bishop Creighton https://history.hanover.edu/courses/excerpts/165acton.html
2. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_101I-126-0347-09A,_Paris,_Deutsche_Truppen_am_Arc_de_Triomphe.jpg
3. http://jewishjournal.com/mobile_20111212/126144/
4. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/02/books/review/operation-paperclip-by-annie-jacobsen.html
5. https://www.atomicheritage.org/key-documents/einstein-szilard-letter
6. https://eh.net/encyclopedia/the-american-economy-during-world-war-ii/
7. https://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?t=191325
8. Various excerpts pulled from Mein Kampf. http://www.greatwar.nl/books/meinkampf/meinkampf.pdf

 

STARTING WEDNESDAY THERE WILL BE A BAD GUY WITH A GUN ON EVERY PLANE IN THE WORLD!!!

On Wednesday, August 1st, Cody Wilson of Defense Distributed, a non-profit, private security firm located in Austin, Texas, will upload the blueprints for 3D printed guns, known as Ghost Guns, to the internet.

3D printed guns are made from a type of plastic or polymer, and can be produced right from your home for very little cost. In fact, Defense Distributed sells a 3D printer that can be used to manufacture these guns for just $250.

How did this possibly happen? Why hasn’t anybody stopped this Cody Wilson jerk from uploading these plans to the internet?

Well, the federal government tried.

Cody Wilson made his first 3D printed pistol, called The Liberator, in April of 2013. He then uploaded the plans for the pistol to the internet. It didn’t take long for more than 100,000 people to download the plans, and not much longer for the government to allege violations of the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), threaten him with prosecution, and to demand he remove the plans for the gun. Wilson did so, and then sued the federal government for violation of his first amendment rights.

Shockingly, he won. On June 29th of this year, the federal government entered into a settlement with Wilson, paid him $40,000 for his legal fees, and created an exemption in the ITAR regulations, allowing him to publish his plans for 3D printed firearms for international distribution.

Gun safety advocates, liberal lawmakers, and social justice warriors everywhere went nuts when the news was released.

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.) all sent letters to Attorney General Jeff Sessions demanding an explanation for the settlement with Wilson. New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and Los Angeles City Attorney Michael Feuer sent Wilson cease and desist letters threatening him with legal action if he made his plans available to residents of those jurisdictions. (Wilson has sued both of them for intimidation and harassment.)

Three gun control organizations — the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence — attempted to get an injunction against Wilson by filing an emergency motion with Federal Judge Robert Pitman in Austin. Pitman denied the emergency motion, ruling in favor of Wilson.

Congressman Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) wrote this letter chock full of fear mongering to the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs chairs in the house, demanding an emergency hearing. As far as I can tell, they seem to have ignored these demands.

Well known screamer and social justice warrior Chelsea Handler felt the need to weigh in on a topic she knows zero about, of course.

None of these last-minute attempts to censor and control the internet have worked, and the plans will be free to all on August 1st when Wilson releases them.

The problem with all this liberal fear-mongering and screaming, as anyone with even a hint of a working brain could figure out, is that you can’t un-ring a bell. The plans for this gun were uploaded in 2013 and downloaded hundreds of thousands of times! That means they are available. In fact, it took me all of five minutes of searching to locate the plans on the file-sharing site ThePirateBay.org. They are on other torrent sites as well. The plans exist already and they can be downloaded by anybody who wants to spend just a little bit of time searching already, right now.

The other problem, as anybody who’s ever shot a gun can figure out, is that when a gun fires, a violent explosion occurs. Plastic guns are not equipped to handle violent explosions. An ATF test done on several types of 3D printed guns showed that many of them will explode in the user’s hands, perhaps even fatally injuring the shooter. Now, Wilson’s Liberator gun did perform well in the tests and that is the concern that many lawmakers have, however, the idea that a new law prohibiting him from uploading the plans for that gun will stop people from making it is just silly. Mainly because…wait for it…

It’s already illegal to own a gun that can defeat metal detector technology!

The Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 was enacted in response to Glock’s manufacture of the Glock 17, the first gun that was made with a large amount of plastic or polymer components. The law states that no gun shall be made or owned that contains less than 3.7 ounces of stainless steel, or whatever amount is the minimum detection level in metal detector technology. It also states that no gun can be created or owned that is undetectable to weapons imaging technologies. (Meaning guns that don’t look like guns.)

This federal law means that if you were to make a gun made entirely of plastic, it would be illegal. You must insert a metal plate that makes it detectable to magnetometers.

Another problem (and this should be really obvious) is that nobody has figured out a way to make a plastic bullet or shell casing. So even if you have an illegal plastic gun, the shells still have to be metal.

Now, the fear mongering that’s happening out there is obviously ridiculous, but let’s address their concerns. The first is that criminals will have easy access to firearms now that they can just make them in their garage. First of all, there are millions of illegal firearms already out on the streets, available for sale for way less than the cost to build your own. Not only is it easier for a criminal to just buy an illegal gun, it’s much more lethal to own a real gun that fires multiple times without blowing up, than it is to trust a plastic gun that might blow your hand off or might fail after firing a few times.

“Ghost guns are as scary as they sound — a terrorist, someone who is mentally ill, a spousal abuser or a felon can essentially open a gun factory in their garage. No background check, no training,” Sen. Chuck Schumer

The second is that criminals will be able to sneak a gun onto a plane or into a courthouse. This may be true, however, they still can’t sneak the bullets through. And, to be clear, the plans for these guns have been downloaded already hundreds of thousands of times over the last five years. Thousands of these guns have been created successfully. Nobody has successfully used one to take down a plane or shoot a judge in that time.

The true purpose of this technology is not to build a gun that can be used to sneak through a metal detector. It is to build components of firearms to make guns cheaper and lighter. Defense Distributed will be uploading plans to replace components of many popular firearms with polymer DIY components. These guns still contain a large amount of metal, including all of the actual firing components including the firing pin, the barrel, and usually the receiver. Keeping these parts metal insures they have the structural integrity necessary to fire safely and repeatedly.

Ghost Guns, scary as the name may sound, are effectively useless for anybody with any criminal intent. Making your own gun is no scarier than buying a gun from a gun show, your neighbor, or a local hood on the street, and not nearly as useful. People who decide to make their own guns will do so as a hobby and nothing more, despite the fear-mongering tactics of the liberal left.

Not only this, but the idea of criminalizing and censoring knowledge should scare all of us. The plans to create a 3D printed gun are no different than the plans to create a metal gun using a metal lathe and boring machine, despite the difference in skill, cost, and time to create that metal gun. It’s a slippery slope once the courts start to decide what information we’re allowed to learn.

With more than 300 million actual firearms floating around this country, having a few plastic ones is not going to change a thing. Now, other countries where guns are illegal and don’t really exist, countries such as Australia and Great Britain may actually have something to worry about. If you live in a place where you can’t easily buy or steal a gun, being able to 3D print your own gun makes things much easier. It will be interesting to see how those countries react to the Ghost Gun uploads and what kind of internet censoring they’ll be willing to do to try to stop them.

Did Japan lie about North Korean nuclear testing deaths?

When I was thirteen years old, I carried a hammer, a bucket of rusty nails, and a bunch of scrap wood deep into my backyard, and then proceeded to build the most epic treehouse imaginable. It was three stories high, with each ascending level slightly smaller than the one below it, the third being simply a lookout perch, with just enough room for one person to stand and keep watch. The lower level had a roof, to keep the rain off me when I decided I needed to be able to spend the night out there on occasion. Railings were only for show, of course. Who needs them when you’re thirteen and invincible?

This treehouse, or tree fortress really, was my legacy, and I was so proud of it.

When my dad got home, he helped me tear it down.

It was my mom’s fault, really. She told on me. She didn’t know what she was talking about, of course, but naturally my dad took her side. The treehouse was “unsafe.” Rusty nails and 2x4s are not structurally sound enough to support a person’s weight over time, allegedly. And three levels is just too high off the ground, and completely unnecessary. Such BS.

Instead of junk wood and rusty nails, my dad helped me build a single-story treehouse in its place. He used 2x6s and large lag screws to secure the boards to the trees. No fortress was this, but rather a safe and secure platform that even my little sisters were comfortable perching on. In other words, it was useless to me.

If you’re reading this, you probably understand that in my eyes as a thirteen-year-old, the tree fortress I had built was amazing. But you also understand that my parents were certainly correct when they made me tear it down. Because a thirteen-year-old doesn’t have the wisdom to see the big picture—to see the nails that had already begun to work their way out of the tree trunks, to see the dangerous bending of the boards as he walks across them, to foresee the possible dangers of a stumble and fall from 20 feet up. A boy who can’t actually fathom the possibility and finality of death or the likelihood of an accident can’t foresee the dangers of his construction. And, without any background in building, construction, physics, or architecture, he can’t see the eventual and inevitable structural failure of his mighty creation.

What does this all have to do with North Korea? Well, I think the press wants us to look at Kim Jong-un as a petulant thirteen-year-old who can’t see the big picture, and can’t fathom his own mortality, or the strength of his rivals.

The media loves to feed this perception, using terms like “hermit kingdom,” “madman,” and “isolated recluse.” If you spend time studying Kim Jong-un though, you’ll realize that these things just aren’t true. Kim is the head of a government. That means he has the resources of a government behind him, backing his decisions and his thought processes.

It’s easy to envision him as Lord Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, eating a plate of greasy chicken while getting vague, fourth-hand reports from a few select advisors, making ill-informed and misled decisions based on faulty intelligence.

But this isn’t the case. Kim Jong-un has a full Intelligence Committee that reports to him. While they do rely heavily on open-source information, they do a fantastically thorough job of gathering and analyzing that intel. And make no mistake, they have a full network of spies doing human intelligence gathering throughout Asia at the very least. While they may not have the capability and resources of the CIA or MI-6, they are committed and dedicated to giving Kim Jong-un accurate and current data about the United States and our allies.

I read a report by Robert Carlin on 38north recently that stated that North Korea believes it’s nuclear forces have reached a level where the United States no longer has the means to counter them. Here’s an excerpt:

One problem not well understood is that the North Koreans believe recent developments in their nuclear weapons program have boosted them to a level of invulnerability, and that as a result, Washington—whatever it might say—is without options to counter them.

In fact, Pyongyang is so convinced that its strategic position has fundamentally changed for the better that it has recently suggested there may be no need for it to continue building up its program. Since two successful ICBM launches last July, the North’s position is that it has reached the “final stage” in bolstering the nuclear force. It has even explicitly laid out a final goal, a “practical equilibrium” with the United States. What that means exactly we do not know, though presumably Pyongyang has something specific in mind.

This is ridiculously misleading. In order to believe that Kim Jong-un thinks his country is strong enough to be invulnerable to a U.S. attack, you have to believe he’s like thirteen-year-old me. Naïve and lacking knowledge to the extent that he can’t fathom his vulnerability. Secure in the hubris of youth and misinformed, or uninformed, to the extent that lead young me to conclusions of security that couldn’t be justified by the actual facts.

This would mean that Kim Jong-un’s network of intelligence analysts are either too stupid, or too scared to give him accurate information. And this is almost certainly not true. North Korea has to know their missiles and nuclear weapons have not been tested thoroughly enough to be reliable. They have to know their arsenal is not sufficient to disable the United States and prevent a counter-attack. They have access to the same internet that you and I do, and we know this information. It’s their jobs to know it, and to pass it up the chain to the Great Leader himself. They have to know the military might of the world would descend upon them in the event of an attack. They are not stupid, they are not naïve, and they are not thirteen and lacking in life experience.

If North Korea is boasting that they’ve reached the “final stage” in bolstering their nuclear force, they are doing that only as misdirection, IMO. Confusion and uncertainty is their primary weapon after all. It’s almost certain that the west has no human intelligence operatives in North Korea, and that we rely on open-source intelligence and satellite imagery for our knowledge of their activities. That makes it fairly easy for North Korea to misdirect and attempt to confuse us.

So, what should the conclusion be with regard to the statements made by Pyongyang regarding their invulnerability to attack? Perhaps they want the United States to believe that they believe that. And, if U.S. intelligence agents think like Robert Carlin thinks (and hopefully they don’t), then I guess North Korea has succeeded.

If Pyongyang can get Washington to believe that they believe they’re invulnerable to attack, then Trump will believe that any attack on Pyongyang will result in a full and complete war, possibly to the extent that nuclear weapons are involved. And if he believes that, then he’ll be less likely to want to take steps that might lead to that type of confrontation—all bluster notwithstanding.

If Kim can get Trump to back down from his confrontational outbursts, then North Korea will buy time to continue their nuclear program without hindrance, and that’s their actual goal. They want to eventually actually be invulnerable to attack, or to at least have the ability to bite back and inflict serious damage if attacked.

And they’re still a long way from having that ability, despite the fears the media wants to project.

Speaking of projecting fear and uncertainty, on October 31st, Japanese news station Asahi TV reported that a tunnel collapse at the North Korea nuclear test facility inside Mount Mantap on September 10th, had killed at least 100 people, and a further 100 had been killed by another collapse during a rescue attempt. They claimed this collapse could cause nuclear fallout to spread throughout the region. This story was picked up and re-broadcast by such heavy hitters as Newsweek, Fox News, USAToday, and MSN. All of them quoted the Asahi TV story as their source, with no confirmation to back it up, blaming the most recent nuclear detonation from September 3rd for destabilizing the terrain and causing the cave-in.

And it might have all been a lie.

According to 38north.com, there is absolutely no evidence to support the story that a tunnel collapse occurred, or caused any deaths. Although satellite imagery was unavailable due to cloud conditions between September 8th and the 17th, analysis of satellite imagery after the clouds had cleared, showed no signs whatsoever of any equipment or new debris piles that would have indicated a rescue attempt had been performed. Although it is possible North Korea could have removed any sign of such rescue efforts during that period of cloud cover, there was also no seismic activity registered on September 10th in the area. Such seismic activity would almost certainly have been present during two major tunnel collapses of that nature, and the Japanese report claimed an earthquake from settling of the mountain due to the nuclear testing had been the cause of the collapse.

So, why would they make up such a story, and why would nearly every major western news organization pick it up without any confirmation?

North Korea officials claim that the story is an attempt by Japan to subvert their nuclear testing program. They blasted Japan through their state-run news agency, KCNA, calling the attempted misinformation “slander” of their nuclear program.

The big part of the story was the report that such collapses could open a vent in the mountainside that would cause nuclear fallout to spread throughout the region. There were reports from Beijing that any nuclear fallout reaching China would be considered an act of war. And it’s possible that the entire story was completely false to begin with.

I think news agencies have reached a dangerous trend where they don’t try to confirm stories prior to posting them, and these stories can have consequences. Instead of confirming the stories, they simply put a small disclaimer in there, “We have been unable to independently confirm these reports,” or something of that nature. And it’s lazy and negligent reporting at its finest.

Of course, I’ve given up on the news media doing the right thing. They’re far too concerned with ratings and exclusives, and seemingly completely unconcerned with accuracy and integrity.

It’s Fake News at its finest, and it’s disgusting, destabilizing, and potentially dangerous. And it’s only going to get worse going forward.

Gunslingers wanted; inquire within.

On Sunday night, October 1st, 2017, I was playing poker at Encore in Las Vegas when my phone rang at 10:50pm. It was my daughter, Meghan, and she told me she was scared. She was at a club at the Wynn Casino and they’d just closed the club and kicked everybody out, telling them there were multiple active shooters on the strip and everybody needed to leave.

I knew what she was talking about. It had been on the news in the poker room for the last fifteen minutes. By now, everybody knows about the Route 91 Harvest Festival mass murder. We know it was just one active shooter, firing from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. At the time though, the reports were conflicting. One active shooter for sure, with reports of several others. Except there are almost never other shooters in these situations, even though there are ALWAYS reports of multiple shooters. I told her that. I then told her to stay calm and to walk over to see me. Luckily, Encore is attached to the Wynn and you can get there without going outside. She could have been at any club in town and I could have been playing poker at any poker room, but we happened to be right next to each other.

Unfortunately, when she got to me, I could offer only emotional support and comfort to her. I could offer little in the way of protection as I was unarmed this night. I was unarmed because Wynn and Encore do not allow firearms in their hotel and casino. Believe it or not, most strip casinos do not have rules against carrying firearms, and I’m almost always armed when I’m playing poker. I have a permit to carry concealed in Nevada, and I nearly always do.

Tonight, I’d decided not to carry because I’d been caught carrying a concealed firearm by Wynn security a few months earlier. They’d seen the slight bulge under my shirt and had asked me if it was a firearm. When I’d admitted that it was, they’d asked me to please check it with security, this time and in the future. I’d done that a few times, and it’s quite a hassle. I know it’s possible if they catch me with a firearm again, there’s a reasonable chance they’ll ban me from the premises since they’ve already warned me, and I’m not willing to risk that, so I always comply with their rules and check my firearm while I’m there, despite the hassle. Tonight, I’d decided not to go through with that hassle and to leave my firearm at home, something I was now regretting. It was the first time in quite a while that I was unarmed on the strip, and there was an active shooter.

Why do I carry a gun on the strip when I’m playing poker? There are a couple of reasons. If you’re a tourist, you may not realize that Vegas is not a very safe city. There are a lot of murders, a lot of shootings, and a lot of armed robberies in these casinos, and on and around the strip. It’s also a target rich environment with constant crowds of clueless tourists stumbling around half in the bag, pockets full of cash. I have a lot of firearms training, from top-notch instructors, and I’ve been through a lot of simulated shoot/don’t shoot scenario training. I’m a good guy with good training, and I think it’s important for good people to be armed in this world where the wolves rarely have to concern themselves with the sheep. More on this later.

Now, to be clear, being armed against this particular active shooter would have been worthless. From his perch on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay, nobody was going to be returning fire. In fact, had there been armed and poorly trained people at the concert, it might have done more harm than good. Imagine if they’d decided to return fire? Firing upward with a pistol from 1500 feet away…exactly a zero percent chance of hitting the shooter and a near 100% chance of their bullets slamming into the side of the Mandalay Bay, possibly hitting innocent people in floors well below the shooter. That would have been a disaster. (Although, pistol rounds from that distance would have been unlikely to have enough velocity and kinetic energy to penetrate the hurricane glass.)

 

There have been many situations in the past though, where a well-trained and armed person might have been able to prevent a tragedy, or at least to lessen the extent of the tragedy. A few that come to mind are Sandy Hook, Columbine, Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the church in Charleston, and at Virginia Tech.

There have also been many situations in which an armed civilian has stopped a mass murder from happening, or at least lessened the carnage by confronting the shooter. We hear about these far less frequently than we do about the incidents where the shooter kills many, and the reason is obvious. It’s not as newsworthy when something doesn’t happen as it is when something does. Nevertheless, these incidents do get reported on, just to a lesser extent. Here’s a list of many recent ones. https://crimeresearch.org/2016/09/uber-driver-in-chicago-stops-mass-public-shooting/

So why don’t we encourage more people to carry guns around all the time?

Well, there are a lot of problems with that, which I’ll get into. But first, I want to talk a little about gun control.

I was having a conversation at the poker table the other night with an Israeli. Of course, the subject of the Route 91 shooting came up, as it was just one day in the past. He talked about mass shootings in America and legitimately wanted to know about gun control. I mentioned there were a lot of problems with implementing stricter gun control policies in the United States, one of which was the ease of availability of guns here. I mentioned how Chicago has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, yet has one of the highest gun crime rates. At that point, another player spoke up, “What do you do, just quote Fox News stats? Don’t you have any original thought?”

Um, no, asshole, I don’t. And neither do you. Gun control debate has raged in this country for decades. Nobody has any original thoughts on the subject at this point. If they did, they’d be on every news channel discussing them. And, by the way, thanks for inserting yourself into my conversation with your generic, canned and useless response.

The country is sharply divided. Liberals want all guns confiscated, banned, and destroyed, and conservatives want their second amendment rights to own whatever gun they want protected. Gun advocates say the actions of criminals shouldn’t cause their rights to be infringed upon, and gun control proponents argue that the writers of the constitution could have never anticipated the firearms of today.

And, they’re both right.

Anybody who thinks they should be able to own any kind of gun they want, with no restrictions and no government oversite simply because a 200-year-old document doesn’t specifically allow for restrictions, is a dick. And anybody who thinks that guns can just be “rounded up” or confiscated from law-abiding citizens is also a dick. Not only that, they’re a moronic, incapable of critical thinking or logical common-sense dick, which is pretty much the worst kind of dick you can be.

One of my favorite things to hear is how Australia rounded up all their guns and now they have no more mass shootings. I love to hear the champions of the green felt talking about how Australia is soooo advanced and so enlightened, and they discuss it as if the Australians came forward, guns in arms, tears in eyes, and held hands singing softly while the pile of guns burned in the middle of the town square.

That’s not quite how it happened though.

The Australian gun ban came about in 1996 after what’s known as the Port Arthur Massacre. 35 people were killed when a gunman opened fire on a crowd using two semi-automatic rifles. The Australian people were horrified, (obviously) and the National Firearms Agreement was enacted.

Before we get into those laws, it’s important to note that the gunman in the Port Arthur Massacre obtained his guns illegally. Australia already had tough gun laws, and permits were required to purchase semi-auto rifles. The gunman bought his illegally from a licensed dealer, without the permits.

The National Firearms Agreement bonded together the gun laws of each of the Australian states under one federal law. It provided for a buyback program under which 650,000 firearms were purchased back from the citizenry at a cost of $230 million which was paid for by tax increases. It also created a national firearm registry, a 28-day waiting period on firearms sales, and the requirement of a “genuine reason” for wanting to own a firearm.

So, how well did this work? Well, proponents of this law note that between its enactment in 1996 and 2016, there were no mass shootings in Australia. That sounds significant, but we need to dig a little deeper to see if it really is.

In 1996, Australia had 69 gun homicides, not counting the Port Arthur Massacre. In 2012, that number was down to just 30 gun homicides. That sounds like a remarkable decrease, and it is, until you look at the overall number of homicides. A study by Dr. Jeanine Baker and Dr. Samara McPhedran in the British Journal of Criminology found that there was little effect on the overall homicide rates during the decade following the National Firearms Agreement. It would appear that murderers were still killing, they just weren’t using guns as much.

So, what about the mass shooting effect? Another study by the same two doctors compared the incidence of mass shootings in Australia and in New Zealand. After standardizing the data to a rate per 100,000 people because of population differences between the two countries, they found that between 1980 and 1996, both countries experienced mass shootings at the same level, with no statistically significant difference. Between 1996 and the time of the study in 2007, NEITHER country experienced a mass shooting event despite the fact that gun laws in New Zealand didn’t change—semi-auto rifles continue to be legal and available in New Zealand. The authors conclude the following:

“the hypothesis that Australia’s prohibition of certain types of firearms explains the absence of mass shootings in that country since 1996 does not appear to be supported… if civilian access to certain types of firearms explained the occurrence of mass shootings in Australia (and conversely, if prohibiting such firearms explains the absence of mass shootings), then New Zealand (a country that still allows the ownership of such firearms) would have continued to experience mass shooting events.”

Now they don’t seem to state what reason they might attribute to the absence of shootings in both countries, and that’s a bit concerning with regard to the thoroughness of their study, but what they’re stating is that you can’t jump to the conclusion that the National Firearms Agreement is what was responsible for the decline of mass shootings. After all, a 2013 report by the Australian Crime Commission states that there are (conservatively) more than 250,000 semi-auto rifles and 10,000 semi-auto handguns available on the black markets in Australia. If somebody wanted to get a gun and commit a mass murder, they’d seemingly still be able to do so relatively easily, though not quite as easily as it would have been pre-1996.

So, let’s say that these studies are flawed and the National Firearms Agreement is working flawlessly in Australia. (Even though that’s doubtful.) Can we implement that same idea here? Well, let’s look at what that would mean.

The first problem is that our firearm laws are protected by our constitution where Australia’s were not. So, the first step would have to be changing the second amendment, and it doesn’t matter where you stand on firearms laws, nothing significant can be changed without adapting the constitution to repeal the second amendment, which reads,

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

However you want to define what a “well regulated Militia” means, the Supreme Court has ruled numerous times that the important words in this amendment are “shall not be infringed.”

To change the constitution, a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives, and the Senate is required. Then, the amendment has to be ratified by three-quarters of the states. That’s tough nearly impossible to accomplish, but let’s say we’re fed up with all the deaths and we can actually achieve that. The next step would be determining what exactly we’re going to ban.

The first thing would probably be “assault rifles.” The problem here comes in determining just what an assault rifle is exactly. There’s no clear definition because it’s not a real term. Most guns that are considered to be assault rifles are things like AR-15s and AK-47s, and nobody seems to be quite able to figure out what exactly makes it an assault rifle. It’s not the caliber of the bullet, AR-15s typically come in .223 or 5.56mm calibers (which are basically the same thing, in fact, the ammo is interchangeable.) The problem is, these guns are not that different from standard hunting rifle calibers. The .223 or 5.56mm is a small round, similar to the .22 rifle many boys grew up firing. The AK-47 shoots 7.62x39mm rounds which is the same thing as a .308 round, a common deer or elk hunting caliber.

What makes these guns different, and what some consider makes them assault rifles, is high capacity magazines and semi-auto capability. So maybe we could ban those?

There are many problems with this, problems well beyond the scope of this blog, but let’s just look at one of them. You’re never going to be able to ban and confiscate all semi-auto rifles without providing compensation. This is America, we can’t take things away from our citizens without compensating them for them. So how much would this cost?

Well, Slate.com estimated in a 2015 article that there are 3.75 million AR-15 rifles in the United States. That’s out of a Washington Post estimated total of 357 million total guns, which means that represents just around 1 percent of the total US private arsenal of firearms. Let’s say we could get half of those guns back from law-abiding citizens who duly turn them in. We’d have to buy back 2 million (rounded up) guns at an average compensation price of probably around $1500. That’s $3 billion dollars, and it would get just over one-half of one percent of all guns off the street. It would also still leave more than 1.5 million AR-15 rifles on the street, all in the hands of law breakers, (because only the law-abiding citizens turned them in, right?) and that doesn’t even take into consideration the tens of millions of other assault-type weapons, and the hundred million plus semi-automatic handguns.

If we wanted to outlaw all semi-automatic guns of any type, we’re talking somewhere around 200 – 250 million guns. If half those guns were turned in, that would be 100 million guns, and let’s say we completely stomped on everyone’s rights and only offered $500 per gun, regardless of true value or cost. That’s just $50 billion dollars spent, rights trampled upon, and 100 -150 million semi-auto weapons still roaming the streets, 100% of them in the hands of what would be, by definition, criminals.

With all the other problems, including the cost and logistics of such an effort, it seems to be becoming quite clear that outlawing guns and implementing buy-back programs just won’t work. And the fact is, voluntary gun buy-back programs that have been implemented in various locales have mostly been a complete circus. You have most people turning in their absolute junk, non-firing, jamming-prone pieces of scrap metal, and criminals turning in guns used in crimes (no questions asked!!) for real money. You have hawkers working the lines, offering more money than the buy-back program for the few good guns people are trying to turn in, and you have criminals out there burglarizing houses and stealing guns to turn in for easy cash with no questions asked. It’s usually just complete chaos.

So, getting guns off the street, which would seem to be a simple solution, is anything but. There are just simply too many guns in America to effectively rid our society of them. There are more guns than people in this country! I would love it if we could actually rid our society of guns. I own a lot of guns and I would happily turn them all in if all guns were completely eliminated from the planet. But this is an absolute pipe dream, and if you don’t see that, if you say things like, “we should just ban guns!!” then you are part of the problem.

The fact is, I would love to see gun control if it were even remotely possible to effect it without making it such that all the law-abiding citizens comply and all the criminals cheer and rampage. And comparing Australia, Canada, or any other country’s gun control policies to the United States is ludicrous. Put 300 million plus firearms in those countries and let’s see them implement any kind of successful gun control policy, constitutional protection or not. It just flat out won’t happen, and any implication that it can be effectively implemented is nothing but fairy tale thinking. So, what is the solution?

What if we could get more guns on the street in the hands of good guys like police officers?

I don’t think any reasonable person has a problem with police officers having guns, on or off duty. Officers are exempt from most gun laws in most states, allowed to conceal their weapons without a civilian license, and able to carry them nearly everywhere, including courthouses, federal buildings, bars, schools, airports, even onto airplanes in the case of federal law enforcement officers like the FBI and the DEA, and regular police officers with special training and permission. Even the Secret Service doesn’t prohibit cops from carrying guns while they’re sitting next to the President of the United States. Why do we allow and even encourage the carrying of guns by officers in these places where we abide no others to carry?

 

The only reason the law allows cops to carry guns in these places is because we trust them. We trust them because they’ve gone through thorough background checks and extensive firearms training. That’s the only reason. Cops are not superhuman, they’re not immune from mistakes and bad decisions, or even from animosity and criminal actions in some rare cases. They are, however, far less likely than the rest of society to stray from the perfection we desire of them.

Cops go through a thorough background check prior to being hired. This usually includes interviews with references, family members, neighbors, and previous employers. They take psychological tests, a polygraph test, and a medical exam. Then they get hired and they go through the academy where they get firearms training, have to qualify in a range setting, and have to show good decision-making skills through shoot/no shoot scenarios. Once they’re on the street, they still have to qualify with their firearms twice per year at the range and attend ongoing scenario training.

It’s this training and background scrutiny that makes us feel comfortable as a society with having cops off duty, carrying concealed firearms into our most sacrosanct places such as our schools, planes, and courthouses, as well as our venues such as stadiums and concerts where most civilians are forbidden from bringing firearms. We want these officers out there as a deterrent to the criminals who would cause us harm. The problem is, there just aren’t enough of them.

Hiring cops is expensive, and the truth is, we don’t actually need police officers in order to put more guns into the hands of citizens with police officer-like training and credentials.

I have two concealed firearm permits, one for Washington State, and one for Nevada. These two permits allow me to carry concealed firearms in 32 states because of reciprocity agreements. In Washington, I had to go through a background check and a mental health check. In Nevada, I had to go through a background check, attend an 8-hour class, and qualify at the range. States that require all of those things combined, have permits that are honored in more states than my two permits, despite the totality of qualifications of my two permits being the same as their one.

Both states have different laws pertaining to where I can carry my concealed weapon, and each of the 30 reciprocity states have their own laws as well, which means I need to be careful when I travel that I’m facile in all these different laws. For instance, in Washington, I can’t carry my gun into any place where the minimum age to enter is 21. In Nevada, I can carry into bars and casinos as long as I’m not legally intoxicated while carrying. In neither state can I carry on school property, however, Utah, which accepts my Nevada permit, allows me to carry a concealed weapon at a school. Some of these restrictions can get confusing, especially if you travel a lot with your firearm.

But, if I was a police officer, I could carry my gun anywhere. If Encore security saw the bulge under my shirt and asked me if I was carrying a firearm, I could have shown them my badge and they would have told me to have a nice day. They would have known I was trained and trusted to carry a firearm, and they would have likely welcomed my armed presence on the premises. After all, the day after the 1 October shooting, they hired outside, armed security to work their doors, persons carrying guns who have probably less than half the training and background scrutiny of a police officer. They’re fine with guns on their property in general, they just want to know those guns are in the hands of competent and trusted people.

I mentioned earlier that it would be great if we had more cops carrying guns on the streets, but the truth is, we don’t need them to actually be cops. They don’t need to know how to drive fast, how to enforce the law, or policies and procedures for dealing with domestic violence incidents. They don’t need to know how to write a ticket, how to clear a car during a felony stop, or how to search a building after a burglar alarm. They don’t need to know civil service procedures, how and when to take a child from an abuse situation, or how to investigate and gather evidence from a robbery. They don’t need to know 99% of the things a police officer needs to know.

All they need to know is how, and particularly when, to use a gun. And of course, they need to undergo the full background check that a police officer goes through.

Background checks aren’t cheap. Depending on the applicant, a full background check can take dozens of hours to complete. Even with a young applicant with relatively little work or life experience, it can take 8-10 hours to interview family and neighbors and to check references. Then there’s the psychological evaluation and the polygraph test, each of which can cost around $500. And, on top of all that, you have the firearms training. Some applicants require more training than others, but the average is probably around 30-40 hours in the classroom and at the range. The total cost of all this runs well into the thousands.

If we estimate the average background check at 20 hours, and we say the investigator responsible for this probably needs to make $40 per hour, the background investigation likely costs $800. We’ll say $500 each for the psych and the polygraph testing, so now we’re at $1800. Then, let’s say we need 40 hours of initial firearms training for each person, however, it doesn’t need to be one-on-one training, you can have, say, 5 trainees per trainer. If the firearms instructor makes $50 per hour, we’re talking about another $400 per person for firearms training. On top of that, maybe we need 8 hours of situational simulation training which would all be individual, so there’s another $400. That’s a grand total of $2600 to get a person through a full and complete background investigation, and to get them fully trained in firearms usage and scenarios. Add some money for paperwork processing, the application process, licensing costs, etc., and maybe we’re up to $3000 per person.

If we could spend just $3000 per person to put a fully qualified, armed person on the street, licensed to carry a weapon everywhere a police officer can carry, and in every state, we could stop many of the mass shootings we’re seeing nearly every day in this country.

If teachers and principals were some of those people, it would be the same as putting more cops into the schools. If judges and lawyers were some of those people, it would be the same as having more cops in courthouses. If pilots and flight attendants were some of those people, with additional training because of the extra dangers involved in shooting a firearm on a plane, it would be like having more air marshals. And none of these people would be drawing salaries for providing these services.

How many people in this country do you think would like to have the ability to carry a firearm without restriction? How many would like to have the training and be one of these people? How many would be willing to pay the $3000 themselves to have this ability?

I’m one. And I’d bet there are tens and maybe hundreds of thousands like me.

This isn’t exactly original thought, it would effectively be the implementation of a national concealed carry permit. The difference, and what should make my idea unique and significantly more palatable to those states that currently have the strictest gun control laws, such as California and New York, would be the background scrutiny and training. Right now, even the most stringent of concealed carry permits requires only a criminal history and domestic violence check, a check to see if you’ve ever been referred for a mental health evaluation, and 8 hours of classroom and range qualification training.

Can you imagine the difference that could be made if there were 100,000, or 500,000, or more armed citizens with police equivalent firearms training and background scrutiny? And if those hundreds of thousands of people were not banned from carrying their firearms into casinos, schools, stadiums, concerts, and courthouses? The difference would extend far beyond stopping many mass shootings. There would be fewer robberies, murders, and violent crimes of all types. Criminals would hesitate to commit their public crimes, knowing the increased odds that one of the citizens they’re attempting to violate may be carrying a weapon they’re thoroughly trained to use.

Understand, this wouldn’t actually put a lot more gun-toting people on the street in general. I suspect a huge number of these people would be current concealed carry holders. But this would allow for them to carry their weapons at all times, without fear that they may need to go somewhere their weapons aren’t allowed currently. In fact, applicants would be encouraged to carry their firearms at all times, similar to how most police departments encourage (or even require in some cases) their officers to carry while off-duty. This would allow them to travel to other states with their guns, to carry them in places that currently forbid guns, places like Disneyland, NFL games, and concerts—all target rich environments, as we saw on October 1st. Now, again, this wouldn’t have stopped this particular tragedy from happening, but it would have potentially stopped many others from the recent past, and some of the inevitable future mass murders.

In my opinion, it’s either implement something like this, or go on the way we’ve been going, continuing on in constant fear of the evil of the type that just descended upon Las Vegas. Because nothing else seems to be a viable option. There are just too many guns in America to ever actually effect any meaningful gun control laws. Enacting the harsh penalties that would encourage more people to give up their guns would only worsen our overcrowded prison system, and we’d be filling it with people who’ve truly done nothing wrong, people who never had any intent of using their firearms for wrong.

“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state…” This is how the second amendment starts, and I believe what I’m proposing would be exactly that—a well-regulated militia. A well-regulated and well-trained militia of civilians responsible for the security of our free state, a state that is under attack by bad people who want to perform atrocious acts of murder and mayhem upon innocent civilians. I don’t believe strict gun laws—even the strictest of gun laws—can work in a country that has more guns than people. I don’t believe the sheep should have to disarm so that the wolves can do their evil work free from fear with victims who can’t bite back. I believe nothing will get better until we embrace that our society is a gun society, and until we embrace that in order to regulate a gun society, we need gunslingers. We need people who are competent and capable and willing to carry a weapon and fight back.

These civilian operators, regulators, militia, gunslingers, whatever you want to call them, would be subject to oversite from a review board. They’d be accountable for their actions, licenses subject to suspension or revocation. They’d have to re-qualify with their firearms every six months, attend update training and scenario training. They’d be trustworthy and competent, and they’d be free of charge. They’d draw no salary, and I believe the costs of any regulatory agency would be happily paid by gun owners in the way of a tax increase on firearms and ammunition. The general public would bear no costs but reap the benefits. Crime would suffer while quality of life skyrocketed.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.

The Fermi Paradox and the Great Filter theory – part one

If you live in a city, you might only rarely see a sight like this. But if you ever get away from the lights, into the darkness of the countryside, you’ve likely looked up and marveled at the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy. You’ve maybe even tried to count them, wondering at just how many there are. Which is a great question. Just how many stars can you see out there?

If you’re in the darkest area on the planet, devoid of all light from the city, on a moonless night, with clear air and an unobstructed 360-degree view of the horizon, the answer is right around 4500 stars. That’s under the most ideal conditions. In places out in the countryside, the places where many people get out of the city to marvel at the blanket of stars, places where it’s dark enough to just begin to see the stripe of white that makes up an arm of the Milky Way, the answer is between 2000 and 2500 stars.

That’s still a lot of stars, and if you’ve stared up at the sight of all those glimmering points of light and considered that each of them represents a solar system, with many, if not most, having planets that orbit them, you’ve probably wondered about the possibility of alien life. Once you realize that for every star you see, there are approximately 100,000 stars you can’t see, just in the Milky Way galaxy alone, you realize how impossible it must be for us to be alone in the universe.

Think about the numbers here for a minute. Just in the Milky Way galaxy alone there are an estimated 200 billion stars. When we look up at the sky on those dark nights and marvel at all of the stars, we are seeing only a fraction of a percentage of our own galaxy. Like, one hundred-millionth of the stars in our galaxy alone. For every star we can see on a dark, clear, moonless night, there are around one hundred million stars we can’t see, just in the Milky Way galaxy. Think about that the next time you’re looking up at all those stars.

The furthest stars we can see with the naked eye are about 1000 light years away. The Milky Way galaxy is 100,000 light years across, which means we can only see around 1% (with regard to distance, not quantity) of it with the naked eye. All the stars we can see with the naked eye from Earth are the brightest stars within the little red circle in the picture below.

All of those stars in our galaxy, and we’re just one galaxy out of many in the universe. How many? Take a look at this picture taken a few years ago by Nasa using two different telescopes.

Every one of the points of light in this picture is a GALAXY. All different sizes, all different shapes, ranging from an estimated 50 million stars, to 100 trillion stars in size. There are approximately 10,000 visible galaxies in this photo, the most distant, nearly 13 billion light years away. And here’s the most amazing thing:

This picture represents an area of space the width of about 1/10 that of the full moon. A tiny, minuscule, fractional, sliver of space in our view plane and it contains at least 10,000 galaxies! The reason astronomers chose this area of space to train the telescopes, letting them gather all available light for days to get the image, was because it was the darkest area of space visible from Earth, where nothing could be seen with normal telescopes. And they found 10,000 galaxies hiding there. It’s hard to fathom that, and when you extrapolate those figures to the remainder of the universe, which is symmetrical and consistent in all directions, it’s estimated that there are somewhere between 200 billion and 500 billion galaxies in the observable universe. (Some scientists think it might even be as high as 1 trillion galaxies)

How many stars is that?

It’s typically estimated at between 1022 and 1024 stars. 1024 is this number:

1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

That’s 1 septillion stars. A trillion-trillion stars.

To put that in another perspective, the estimated number of grains of sand on every beach on planet Earth is 1021.

That means for every grain of sand on every beach on Earth, there are 1000 stars in the universe. Think about that the next time you’re laying on the beach and decide to wipe the sand off your feet.

Even if we take the lower number of the total star estimate, 1022 stars, that’s still 10 stars for every grain of sand on every beach on Earth. 10 sextillion stars in the universe. That’s not a septillion by any means, but still kind of a lot.

Astronomers’ opinions about the number of Earth-like planets that might orbit these stars varies, with some saying it’s as low as 20% of stars that contain an Earth-like planet, and some saying it could be as high as 50%. In addition, not all stars are even capable of nurturing life as we know it—white dwarfs are small and hot, red giants are huge and cool. Astronomers estimate that the number of stars that are sun-like, with regard to size, temperature, and luminosity, might only be 10%-20% of all stars.

If we take a middle of the road approach…actually, let’s take a low-end approach, we’ll look at the bottom of the range of estimates for all three figures. We’ll say there are 1022 stars and 10% of them (1021) are sun-like, and 20% of those (2×1020) contain planets that are Earth-like, in the habitable zone, or “Goldilocks Zone” as it’s known, (not too hot, not too cold, juuust right!). That leaves the possibility of 200,000,000,000,000,000,000 – 200 quintillion – or 200 billion-billion Earth-like planets in the universe.

Okay, let’s put this in more reasonable numbers by getting rid of all the other hundreds of billions of galaxies and just focusing on our own Milky Way galaxy.

We’ll take the low-end numbers again and we’ll give an estimate of 100 billion stars in our galaxy, which is the lowest estimate I’ve been able to find. (The high range is 400 billion.) If 10% of those are sun-like, that’s 10 billion suns in the Milky Way. If only 20% of those contain Earth-like planets, that’s 2 billion Earths in our galaxy.

How many of those 2 billion Earth-like planets in the Milky Way might support life? Now we have to move from educated estimates to speculation. There is an equation for determining the number of intelligent civilizations that exist in the galaxy, known as the Drake equation, conceived by Dr. Frank Drake. The problem with the equation is it requires a number of pure guesses and speculation to solve, things like the fraction of planets on which life appears, and the fraction of those systems which become intelligent life. These are things we can’t really know, so we have to speculate. We can take some pretty careful and conservative numbers and input them into the equation, but in the end, it’s still nothing but a guess.

So, let’s guess. Of those 2 billion Earth-like planets in the Milky Way, let’s say that only 1% of those planets form any kind of life whatsoever, from single-celled organisms, to simple life forms, to tool-using mammals with big brains, all the way on up to super-intelligent beings. That would be 20 million planets with some type of life on them. Now let’s say that only 1% of those have more than single cellular life-forms, those that have evolved to intelligent, multi-celled life like fish and even dinosaurs or Neanderthals and other tool-users. That would be 200,000 planets like that. And let’s say just 1% of those advance to a civilization that’s at least as powerful and knowledgeable as human-kind, communicating and sending radio signals out into space. That would be 2,000 super-advanced civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy alone. And remember, this is speculating with tiny numbers. Tim Urban over at my favorite website, Waitbutwhy.com, used rather conservative extrapolation that actually came up with an estimate of 100,000 advanced civilizations in the Milky Way.

So where is everybody?

Welcome to the Fermi Paradox.

In the 1950s, while on a lunch break with several other scientists involved in the nuclear program, physicist Enrique Fermi postulated that question. If the math says there should be thousands (maybe tens or even hundreds of thousands) of intelligent civilizations in the galaxy, then where are they all? Because there has never been one single instance of provable contact or signal from an alien civilization.

When you realize that our sun is very young, it gets even stranger. There are stars in our galaxy that should support Earth-like planets that are hundreds of millions, even billions of years older than the sun. Our sun is about 4.5 billion years old, but the Milky Way is about 13.4 billion years old. For 9 billion years before our sun was even formed, stars and Earth-like planets were galivanting about in our galaxy!

In theory, some of those stars and planets should have created life millions or even billions of years before our planet was even born, while our sun was still a cloud of hydrogen gas floating around in space. There should have been hundreds of intelligent civilizations out there when Earth was just beginning to cool, and then millions of years later, when single-celled organisms were just forming in the primordial soup. By now, hundreds of millions of years later, those civilizations should be so advanced that we might not even be able to fathom their intelligence. They should be advanced enough that they’ve spread throughout the galaxy, colonizing other planets, exploring other stars.

Even if you say, “well, okay, but you’re guessing on those numbers. Life might not evolve at anything near the rate you think it does”, remember that there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe. Maybe as many as a trillion galaxies. We can see galaxies out to a distance around 13 billion light years. That means the light from these galaxies has been traveling to us for 13 billion years. Radio signals travel at light speed. Even if you think my speculation is off by a thousand-fold, that would mean there were 2 intelligent civilizations in all the vastness of the Milky Way, but still hundreds of billions of those civilizations in the universe, many that should have been in existence for billions of years longer than humans have been around. Billions of years for those hypothetical radio signals to travel across the vast distances between the galaxies. Where are those signals? We’ve trained our radio telescopes at many of the galaxies nearest to the Milky Way and we’ve heard nothing.

So where are they all?

In the 1970s, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), a collective of scientific searches for intelligent life was formed to search for radio signals using deep-space radio telescopes like the Very Large Array shown here.

These types of arrays have been searching over the universe for decades and they’ve heard nothing. Not a peep from anything that couldn’t be explained as natural. (Other than this one mysterious signal known as the Wow! signal that we heard in 1977. It’s still unexplained.) In addition, we’ve sent signals out into space, broadcasting to all who might listen that we’re here and we’re looking for our neighbors. Nothing.

Incidentally, many scientists look at these intentional broadcasts into space as the equivalent of standing on the edge of a dark, unknown, and mysterious forest, and shouting loudly into it, (IS ANYTHING IN THERE? I’M RIGHT HERE AND I’M UNARMED!) They think it’s a pretty dangerous thing to do with the lack of knowledge we have, and, as the new kids on the block with regard to interstellar communications and technology, we should probably listen quietly for a while until we understand what might be out there. Of course, these messages will take hundreds or thousands of years to reach the systems they’re aimed toward, so unless a passing alien spacecraft happens to pick them up, we should be okay. Anyway, no response has ever been received to any message.

So again, where is everybody?

Science has a number of possible explanations for this lack of alien evidence. Some are very scary, such as there is one super-predator species out there that waits until a civilization advances to the ability to travel to other stars and then wipes them out, or assimilates them ala the Borg from Star Trek TNG.

Another theory is that advanced civilizations might have a Star Trek-like Prime Directive that enables them to observe us, but not to make contact or let us know in any way that they exist. (Known as the Zoo Hypothesis. We’re all just animals in a giant galactic zoo, folks.) A civilization that has the technology to travel the hundreds or thousands of light years between their home and ours would almost certainly have the ability to hide their presence from us. As an example, when you walk by an anthill, do the ants know you’re there? Do they have the ability to conceive of your presence, your purpose, your technology and intelligence? Civilizations that are millions or billions of years more advanced than humans might very well look at us the same way we look at ants. Their technology might be so advanced that we can’t even conceive of its purpose or its meaning, much like an ant could never conceive of what a car is, or what an iPhone can do, even if the ant was crawling right over it.

Another theorized solution to the Fermi Paradox is that super-advanced civilizations may have trapped all the energy of their home star in a type of hypothetical megastructure called a Dyson sphere

and that we can’t pick up their radio signals because they’re all trapped within this sphere. This theory, as outlandish and sci-fi in appearance as it might seem, could actually have some merit. Scientists have determined that there’s enough mass within the core of the planet Jupiter to build a sort of modified Dyson sphere, called a Dyson swarm, around the orbit of Mars. If we advanced far enough to develop the ability to dismantle Jupiter, we could build this Dyson swarm. Lining it with solar panels would give us the ability to harvest all the energy of the sun – unlimited free energy, allowing us to create a sort of inner solar system that would be completely controlled by us. If we broke up Mercury too, and built a full Dyson sphere, our sun and our radio signals would be completely undetectable to other civilizations that didn’t already know we were here.

There’s been some speculation that astronomers may have actually detected emissions from stars where Dyson spheres are currently under construction. (Or, more accurately, were under construction whenever the light we’re seeing was emitted from the stars, thousands of years ago most likely.) These stars are acting strangely, their brightness dimming periodically in similar fashion to the dimming that occurs when a planet in orbit passes between them and us, but to an extent that the object causing the dimming is way larger than a planet could actually be. You can read more about this interesting mystery here and here.

However, even if a civilization is advanced enough to build a Dyson sphere and hide all evidence of their presence, we still should be able to pick up signs of their civilization. Humans, for example, have been creating radio transmissions and projectile spewing them out into space for decades. Even if we advanced enough in the next hundred years to create a Dyson sphere (an unlikely rate of advancement), we would still have broadcast signals, both intentional and unintentional, for the previous 200 years. Those signals are traveling at the speed of light out into space, and, much like a bullet and a drunken comment, once it’s out there, it’s out there. You can’t retract it.

So, if a star suddenly disappears from our view because an advanced civilization closes up a Dyson sphere, we still should expect to have received some kind of radio signal from them over the last few decades we’ve been listening for them.

There are other theories and hypotheses that attempt to explain the Fermi Paradox, but the most popular one is The Great Filter Theory.

The Great Filter Theory basically states that at some point in the evolution of life, a filter is encountered, a filter that wipes out the advancing civilization, and that the filter is one that occurs for most, if not all civilizations at the same point in their evolution. Some may get through the filter, but most are destroyed by it. If just 1% of civilizations get through the Great Filter, that would mean there might only be 20 advanced civilizations out there, scattered throughout the 100,000 light-year-wide Milky Way, making it much more likely we wouldn’t have encountered any sign of their presence.

Now, the Great Filter is the leading theory at the moment, and many scientists think if there is such a thing, it must be behind us. We must have been one of the rare civilizations that managed to make it through the filter. They point to the asteroid or comet impact that wiped out the dinosaurs, and they say that that type of event could be the filter, that many civilizations may have been destroyed in that way, never recovering. Our planet did recover from that event, pushing us through the Great Filter.

Others, like renowned British professor and director of the Future of Humanity Institute, Nick Bostrom, think the Great Filter might be Nuclear weapons, that many civilizations, once they achieve the ability to harness the power of the atom, basically destroy themselves in war, something we actually came very close to doing in the 1960s. He thinks we might have made it through the Great Filter when we survived the Cold War.

Others think the Great Filter might be the challenge of life itself. That life doesn’t form as easily as we think it does, or that life only rarely passes beyond the zygote stage. Some think cosmic radiation, or chance, or some other factor stops life in the early, pre-intelligence stage, and that Earth, for some reason…luck, chance, or standard variance, faded that early death. As a gambler, I can appreciate the idea that we dodged the variance bullet, but the thought that Earth and our entire solar system might otherwise be as empty and barren as Mercury is a little disturbing.

Whatever the Great Filter is, we obviously have to hope it’s in our past and not in our future. When Viking 1 landed on Mars on July 20th, 1976, many scientists familiar with the Great Filter concept dreaded the idea that we might find signs of life on the red planet. If life had managed to form on two separate planets in this solar system alone, that would imply that the formation of life in the universe was easy and common, which would make the Great Filter theory the most likely explanation for the Fermi Paradox. If there had been signs of an advanced civilization on Mars – for example, the suspected canals that were big news in 1877, that might have indicated that the Great Filter lay in our future somewhere, a foretelling of our impending doom.

There are many people who believe the Great Filter is indeed in our future, and if that’s the case, it’s scary to contemplate, because it would mean we most likely have less than a .1% chance of avoiding the complete extinction of mankind.

I, unfortunately, am one of those.

Of course, I want to hope that’s not the case, and the optimist in me, and in many who write about this, wants to believe the filter lies in our past. After all, nobody wants to really contemplate the worst-case scenario, and it’s easy to believe we’re special, that we’re the chosen species who won the evolutionary Powerball jackpot, and that we’ll be the ones to eventually colonize and rule the universe.

But there’s certainly no evidence to support that hypothesis. It’s mostly wishful thinking.

Now, I certainly wouldn’t state that the Great Filter lies in our future if I didn’t have an idea of what I thought the Great Filter might be. And I’ll also state that the fact we’ve never found evidence of radio emissions from another civilization is pretty compelling evidence that the Great Filter, if it exists, is indeed in the past. However, that doesn’t mean that there can’t be two Great Filters, or even more than two. There may not be one Great Filter, there may be many Medium Filters. Maybe life is subject to extinction at multiple times throughout its evolution, and we’ve managed to dodge the bullets on several filters already. It’s possible that other civilizations have mostly fallen to one filter or another, with only relatively few surviving to where humans are today. Remember, alien civilizations with human levels of intelligence and evolution as advanced as we were in the 1800s for example, would not have thrown off any sign of their presence into the universe.

If there are many filters, then it’s possible that several of them lie in our future, and it might be worth examining what they could be, and when we’re likely to encounter them.

I think there’s a good chance that one of those filters could be Artificial Super Intelligence, and in part two, I’ll be taking an in-depth look into ASI, including exactly what it is, how far we are from achieving it (it’s almost certainly closer than you think it is), and why achieving ASI could be incredibly dangerous to the human race – dangerous enough even to result in our extinction.

What would a nuclear war between North Korea and the United States look like? (part FIVE)

In this fifth and final part, I’m going to discuss the nuclear capabilities of North Korea, and dispel some of the myths behind their nuclear program, as well as the myths surrounding their leader, Kim Jong-un.

On April 5th, 2009, North Korea launched a satellite known as Bright Star-2 into space. Their only previous attempt at a space launch had taken place in 1998 with the failed attempt to put Bright Star-1 into orbit. By most accounts, the launch of Bright Star-2 was a failure, with the three-stage rocket failing to achieve orbit, and the satellite package crashing into the Pacific Ocean. North Korea, however, disagreed and claimed that it had indeed placed a satellite into orbit, and that it was a complete success.

Whether or not they actually achieved a stable orbit with the satellite, (spoiler alert – they didn’t) North Korea’s announcement that the launch had been a complete success was probably not hyperbole. If their intent was actually to test a rocket capable of entering space at low-earth orbit altitudes, such as the type of rocket that would be capable of delivering a nuclear weapon – the type otherwise known as an ICBM, it was indeed a success. And that is what many in the intelligence community believed it to have actually been.

At the time of the launch, North Korea was involved in what was known as the Six-party talks, a gathering of six countries whose goal was to find a peaceful resolution to concerns over the DPRK nuclear weapons program. The talks were originally in response to North Korea’s advancements in creating a nuclear program since they withdrew from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in 2003. During the talks, North Korea had made concessions such as dismantling their lone nuclear reactor, and allowing international weapons inspectors access to their processing facilities, in exchange for international aid and an easing of sanctions put in place against them after their withdrawal from the treaty.

When the remaining countries of the six-party talks, particularly South Korea, Japan, and the United States (China and Russia being the other two) strongly condemned the Bright Star-2 missile launch, claiming it was nothing more than a test of ICBM technology, North Korea angrily removed themselves from the talks, expelled international weapons inspectors from the country, and reassembled the nuclear reactor, announcing they would resume full operation of their nuclear program.

On May 25, 2009, less than two months after the presumed ICBM test, North Korea conducted its first (successful) detonation of a nuclear device. The device was probably a fission-only bomb utilizing uranium-235 as the fissile material, and it resulted in a blast yield that was likely between 2 and 5 kilotons. Not a large explosion with regard to nuclear blast yields, but a clear message to the world that North Korea was now a nuclear power.

On February 11, 2013, North Korea conducted another successful nuclear test, this one with a blast yield in the 6-9 kiloton range, and on January 6, 2016, they conducted a fourth test (third successful test) resulting in a similar yield of 6-9 kilotons. They claimed that this one was actually a hydrogen bomb, however there is nothing to confirm that, and the low yield makes that claim dubious. There is ample evidence (the bomb was detonated much further underground than previous tests) that the DPRK expected this blast to be much larger than it actually was, making it likely they failed in an improvement they’d implemented. It seems possible, with their claim that it was an h-bomb, they’d attempted unsuccessfully to detonate a boosted fission device, and it had achieved a fission-only yield.

A fourth successful detonation was made on September 9, 2016, and this was the largest yet, with a yield estimated to be somewhere between 10 and 20 kilotons.

In order to launch a nuclear strike, North Korea (which I’ll often refer to as the DPRK – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) needs two things: a functional and reliable nuclear bomb, and a reliable means of delivering it to its target. I use the word “reliable” in both of those things because reliability is one of the most difficult aspects of the very technical process of building both nuclear weapons and ICBMs.

As you saw in part two of this paper, a nuclear weapon is fairly simple to build if you have the necessary amounts of a fissionable metal such as uranium-235 or plutonium-239. Uranium-235 is present in very small percentages in naturally occurring deposits of uranium-238, of which North Korea has plenty. There are several ways to separate the two isotopes, but the most common and effective method is through the use of a gas centrifuge.

Centrifuges are actually collective farms of thousands of cylindrical centrifuges, all working to enrich uranium, either to a high enough percentage of uranium-235 to be weapons grade uranium, or to the lower percentage to be reactor grade uranium. Remember, natural uranium is about .7% U-235 and 99.3% U-238. For reactor grade uranium, you need to enrich the content to between 3-7% U-235, known as low-enriched uranium, or LEU, a process that is a relatively simple undertaking. In order to create weapons grade uranium, or HEU (high-enriched uranium) however, the U-235 content has to be a minimum of 90%, ideally closer to 95%. This is a much more laborious, time consuming, and complex undertaking.

We know the DPRK has one centrifuge collective for sure, and that it contains around 2000 individual centrifuges of a type modeled from an Iranian design. A group of non-government experts were allowed to tour it in 2010 and that gave us a lot of insight into just what type of centrifuges they have and what they’re capable of.

Here’s a screen grab I took from Google Earth that shows the centrifuge building (blue roof) and a truck I pointed out just for scale.

This is the only centrifuge building we know of, however, it is highly suspected, particularly with their allowing the group to tour the building in 2010, that the DPRK may have another, secret centrifuge, and we don’t know where that is, how big it is, or what it’s capable of.

It takes time to enrich uranium, and then it takes time for that uranium to be converted to plutonium in a nuclear reactor. North Korea has two nuclear reactors. One is an old model they got from Russia in the 1960s. It has the ability to create plutonium, but we know from infrared satellite imagery that it runs infrequently and probably not to the power level required for plutonium production. The other reactor they have is what’s known as an Experimental Light-Water Reactor, or ELWR. A light-water reactor is designed to produce electrical power, and isn’t as efficient at producing plutonium as a heavy-water reactor would be, (light water is just regular water, heavy water is deuterium, or 2H₂O, hydrogen that has two neutrons) however, the spent fuel from the ELWR can be processed to extract plutonium, something we know the DPRK has been doing under the guise of a radiochemical laboratory. I pulled a screen grab from Google Earth of the DPRK radiochemical lab that is actually used to process plutonium from the spent fuel.

All of these buildings and processing facilities are located at a place called Yongbyon, in the north part of North Korea, known officially as the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center. Satellite images show modernization and construction of many new buildings all over that area in the last few years, easily identifiable by the new, blue roofs that show up well on the images.

So, what does all this mean? Well, North Korea likely has a stockpile of both HEU, and plutonium-239, enough to build a number of weapons. In this paper published in February, 2015 by physicist David Albright, he gives low-end, medium, and high-end projections on the number of nuclear weapons North Korea will have by the year 2020. He bases the projections on all the known and suspected factors,in addition to the unknown but possible factors, such as whether or not they have a second, secret centrifuge plant, and whether or not their ELWR is capable of running consistently and continuously. He then uses standard deviations to predict manufacturing numbers. For his medium projection, he estimates North Korea will have approximately 50 working nuclear weapons by the end of 2020.

Google Earth image of North Korea’s two nuclear reactors

The fact that they have nuclear weapons is undeniable, and the fact that they’ve been able to achieve miniaturization of those weapons is extremely likely, though there’s no actual proof of that. These weapons are almost certainly entirely fission weapons, with boosted fission hydrogen bomb technology still years away, and true two-stage thermonuclear devices even further. But still, fission weapons in the 10-20 kiloton yield size can be devastating enough to a city or military target. What matters now is, can they deliver them?

There are a number of ways of delivering nuclear weapons to their targets, but few of them are valid options for North Korea. They have no bombers to speak of, and certainly none capable of reaching any U.S. targets. The ones they do have are 70-year-old models from Russia that are slow and ponderous, and don’t have the range to even come close to Guam, let alone the U.S. mainland. In fact, they can’t even reach all of Japan with the bombers and expect to get back home. Plus, they’re fitted with old technology and would be easy to intercept or shoot down. So that’s not a real option.

They could possibly have the ability to detonate a weapon from one of the two satellites they’ve managed to put into orbit over the United States. This would result in an EMP, or electro-magnetic pulse. This would have a devastating impact on the United States power grid, and would result in serious loss of life and inability to function as a country, and many experts believe this is the most likely scenario of a North Korea nuclear attack.

From what I’ve read, and the research I’ve done, this is a definite concern, and the U.S. needs to take steps to harden our electrical grid against such an attack. However, this type of attack implies that North Korea has installed a nuclear weapon on one of its two satellites, and that seems very doubtful. They attempted to launch satellites several times unsuccessfully prior to the two recent successes, so the likelihood they risked one of their precious nukes in a package that was doubtful to achieve a successful orbit, is unlikely. I would be much more concerned about future satellite launches containing nuclear weapons than the two current satellites.

Ignoring the more extreme and unlikely methods of delivering a nuke, such as floating one over in a balloon, and launching a missile from a freighter that sails in close to the U.S. coastline, the only option left for North Korea is to develop an ICBM.

This is the most likely scenario, and the one they’ve spent the most effort achieving. It seems that the world is constantly underestimating the drive and determination of Kim Jong-un, including even the experts at my favorite website, 38north.org. If you go back through their archive of documents and articles, all the way back to 2009 as I did, you find numerous instances where they underestimated how quickly North Korea would achieve both nuclear, and missile (particularly ICBM) technology and success. There are several articles that project North Korea will not have a true and functional long-range ICBM until 2020, 2025, and even later. Yet, it seems that they’ve developed one already here in 2017, and you can read the surprise in the voices of the analysts each time Kim Jong-un achieves a stepping stone they didn’t think would be possible for many years.

If you spend enough time studying North Korea’s advancement in missile technology, you can see the incredible leaps they’ve been able to take, starting with their medium range ballistic missiles, up to their intermediate range ballistic missiles, and right up to the July 4th, 2017 launch of their first ever long-range ICBM, known as the Hwasong-14. Take a look at the state footage of that launch:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tD9styRiuYQ

Note a couple of things: First is that Kim Jong-un is present during the unloading of the missile onto the launch platform, which shows the extent of his direct involvement in the evolution of their nuclear program. You can find pictures and video of him at all major stages of development, watching the tests closely, and consulting with the scientists directly involved. The next thing to note is that, despite the DPRK claims that this was a mobile missile launch, it was clearly not launched from the transport truck, but rather from a platform that was set up in advance. This is important because the ability to launch from a transport truck would mean that North Korea was able to forego much of the preparation time necessary to launch a nuclear warhead – preparation time that gives the United States time to notice the preparations and monitor them so as to not be taken by surprise.

Now, granted, the platform that launched the missile was some type of temporary and mobile platform; not as efficient as launching directly from the mobile truck, but still as step up from the requirement to launch from one of their two permanent launch facilities, one of which is pictured below, grabbed from Google earth.

This Hwasong-14 missile also appears to be liquid-fueled, and that’s extremely important. Liquid fuel takes a lot of time to prepare, and it can only be loaded into the missile just prior to launch. Liquid fuels need to be kept at a constant extremely low temperature, and the fuel bleeds off as it warms. Liquid fuels are also extremely volatile. Notice how slowly the truck was driving in the video? Large bumps can cause the liquid fuel to explode. If North Korea is able to convert the Hwasong-14 ICBM to a solid-fuel missile, it will become a much bigger concern, and they have proven the ability to create solid-fuel rocket motors, as evidenced by this video from last year:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsxOg2fXQMc

Analysis of the Hwasong-14 launch of July 4th, 2017, showed that it was capable of delivering a payload of up to about 1000 – 1200 pounds all the way to the west coast of the United States. Remember, an ICBM goes into space and then has to come back into the earth’s atmosphere on its ballistic trajectory, which means that it needs a reentry vehicle to survive the extremely high temperatures when reentering the atmosphere. This reentry vehicle is going to take up much of that weight, and North Korea did test reentry vehicle technology as seen in this picture from KCTV/Reuters, modified by 38north.org:

The weight of the reentry vehicle is part of the payload, but leaves just enough for the type of nuclear device North Korea is thought to possess. And that’s a bad thing. The good thing is that the reentry capabilities of this particular missile hasn’t been tested, nor has its ability to successfully carry a nuclear payload at the extremely high speeds achieved during the ballistic portion of the missile’s flight. One little shimmy as it reenters the atmosphere, and the reentry vehicle will tumble and burn up. It typically takes years for countries to make new missiles reliable and safe, and despite the rather rapid pace of North Korea’s advancements, they can’t guarantee the success of untested and unproven missiles.

Here’s an excerpt from an article written last month by John Schilling on 38north.org, about the future capabilities of the Hwasong-14.

Thus, we expect there will eventually be more than just a single warhead under the shroud. But it probably won’t be multiple warheads, at least not for a decade or more. Multiple warheads of the size North Korea has displayed and can plausibly build today, along with reentry vehicles to carry them, simply wouldn’t fit. To put multiple warheads inside that fairing, at a weight that would still allow intercontinental reach, North Korea would have to develop a lightweight nuclear warhead comparable to the W-68 warhead of the US Poseidon missile. It took the United States almost 15 years to go from building the sort of nuclear weapons North Korea has today to the W-68. And while the North Korean missile program has been conducting tests at an accelerated pace, they have conducted only two nuclear tests in the past four years. So perhaps in 2030 we will see a multiple-warhead Hwasong-14, but probably not before then.

Keep in mind, as I mentioned earlier, 38north has been wrong about the capabilities of North Korea and their advancement abilities before, but it seems that at the very least, we don’t have to worry about multiple warheads (MIRVs) on a North Korean ICBM anytime soon.

The difficulties of designing a vehicle that can survive the heat and friction of reentry was shown in the next test. On July 28th, 2017, North Korea launched another missile, thought to again be the Hwasong-14, but this time with a larger second stage, powered by a higher thrust-producing engine. This missile flew for 45 minutes, and reached an altitude of more than 2000 miles. Now, this is WAY up into space. As a comparison, the International Space Station orbits earth at an altitude of about 250 miles, so this missile flew well past what would be considered low-earth orbit. Based on that high apogee, the range of the missile was calculated to be somewhere north of 6000 miles, which caused great consternation in the media as they reported that North Korea now had a missile that could reach Chicago, and possibly as far as New York. This is somewhat accurate, but, as President Trump might say, actually “fake news.” Yes, it’s true that in a perfect simulation, with a perfect ballistic arc, the missile could have flown that far. However, it didn’t have the weight of a warhead, and it didn’t survive reentry into the atmosphere.

Video taken from a Japanese television station weather camera which looks west into the Sea of Japan, catches the missile as it reenters the atmosphere. This was a night test, and so the reentry vehicle is clearly seen glowing as it begins to heat up from the reentry friction. Here’s the footage:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEh9–yJQPs

Although it’s grainy, analysis of the footage clearly shows that the reentry vehicle is breaking up as it falls through the atmosphere, which means that if it had contained a nuclear weapon, the weapon would not have survived the reentry and would not have exploded. North Korea clearly has more work to do to actually produce a reliable nuclear delivery system that can target the United States mainland.

That doesn’t mean that they can’t target other U.S. assets though. Guam is clearly within reach, and they have numerous ways to target U.S. allies such as South Korea and Japan. And, North Korea is certainly capable of making threats to do just that. Preemptive strike threats are nothing new to them, in 2010 alone they threatened preemptive nuclear strikes twenty times.

So, missile technologies aside, why shouldn’t we fear them?

Mostly because, despite what the media loves to report, North Korea is not a “hermit nation,” and Kim Jong-un is not an “unpredictable madman.” North Korea watchers are mostly in agreement that Kim Jong-un acts in unpredictable ways, but with a predictable path. He’s very aware of the capabilities of the United States, and he’s very aware of what a nuclear strike against U.S. interests and U.S. allies would mean. Above all else, he’s extremely motivated toward self-preservation, both for him and for his regime, much like his father was before him, and his grandfather was before his father.

If Kim Jong-un ever feels that the United States is about to make a strike against him in a decapitation attempt where he feels he has nothing to lose, he will likely launch whatever weapons he can. But that is again due to his self-preservation instincts. Other than that scenario, he knows the consequences of an actual strike. He also knows he can rattle his sabers and make all the threats he wants, safe in the knowledge that the American people, and the world in general, would never tolerate a first strike against him or his country, despite his verbal grandstanding and blow-hard announcements. In short, he’s no different from the teenage bully who struggles to get away from his friends who are, “holding him back,” while he shouts insults. All bluster, secure in the knowledge that as long as he toes the line without crossing it, he’s safe.

Last week, Kim Jong-un threatened to launch two ICBMs into the waters off Guam, and Donald Trump responded by threatening to shoot down the missiles. Trump also made threats against the country itself: From CNBC

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump told reporters, speaking slowly and deliberately with his arms crossed in front of him. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening … and as I said they will be met with fire, fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

He later doubled down on that statement, saying that against the likes of the Kim regime, it might possibly not have been a strong enough stand, following that up with vague statements about what he meant, saying, “You’ll see,” when asked for clarification.

The left-media had a field day with these statements of course, stating that Trump had “threatened nuclear war,” and that he had escalated the situation to unacceptably high levels of danger. However, as we’ve seen, North Korea does not have the capability to launch any real attack. Yes, they could possibly launch a nuclear missile at Guam, but that would be the end of Kim Jong-un, if not of North Korea itself.

Not only would that mean a massive retaliation, it’s unlikely the missile would be a success anyway. The United States has a pretty good missile defense network, which I’ll discuss in a bit, and Kim Jong-un is very aware of that fact.

So what was Kim’s response to Trump’s statements? Did he launch his missiles toward Guam? Did he escalate the situation and bring the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war as the alarmists and sensationalists predicted with their outraged shouts? No. He backed down, away from the edge of the cliff, which came as no surprise to those outside the north who watch him and know him best. A quote from 38north’s Robert Carlin on August 15th.

The North Korean report that Kim Jong Un has said he will wait and see what the United States does before deciding whether or not to order execution of a plan to envelope Guam with four Hwasong-12 missiles signals a decisive break in the action. This is no mixed message. It is exactly how the North moves back from the edge of the cliff. It’s classic, and anyone paying attention could have seen it coming.

This is not a question of parsing the precise language Kim used. It’s the act itself that speaks volumes. Put that together with the fact that the regime hadn’t been mobilizing the population for imminent crisis over the preceding four or five days, and you get a familiar North Korean dance move. Didn’t Kim say he was just giving the Americans a little more time? Of course! He’s not going to say “I surrender” or “I’ve decided that launching missiles would be a bad idea.” This way he can project the aura of the one still in control of the situation, of the one who scored the victory, of the one who kept the region from descending into war. He can be seen as the one who has the whip hand.

Not to turn this into a blog where I support Trump and his moves, because I don’t; most of them have been complete disasters. However, these statements by him were spoken in a language that Kim Jong-un was able to understand. Neither Trump nor Kim have any experience in diplomatic speech and carefully crafted statements. His regime doesn’t speak “diplomatese.” Remember, they made 20 preemptive nuclear strike threats in 2010 alone!! Kim Jong-un only understands the language of force, and Trump delivered that message to him very convincingly, in a way that caused him to step back while still attempting to save face. Accidentally or intentionally, Donald Trump spoke to Kim Jong-un in a way that he’s not used to being spoken to, and in language that he understood and feared. Trump is much more unpredictable than Kim Jong-un is, and no doubt his advisors warned him that he wasn’t dealing with a pushover in the White House, and Kim is the one who chose deescalation.

Now, let’s discuss some of the United States defenses against a missile strike. Obviously, we have enough nuclear weapons with high enough yields to turn the entire country into a smoking pothole and make South Korea an island nation, so retaliation for a nuclear strike is our biggest deterrent, but not only that, we have actual defensive capabilities against any initial strike Kim Jong-un may make.

THAAD – Terminal High Altitude Area Defense

This missile defense system is designed to shoot down ballistic missiles while they’re on their way down, during what’s known as their terminal phase, hence the “Terminal” in THAAD. The missile is capable of mach 8 speeds, and can intercept missiles nearly 100 miles above the earth’s surface. Now, these missiles shoot down the short and medium range ballistic missiles that might be fired at South Korea and Guam, but do not shoot down intercontinental ICBMs with their significantly higher speeds. Their deployment in Guam and South Korea however, does allow early warning radar of any ICBM fired toward the continental U.S., which allows our other missile defense assets more time to track the incoming warheads.

Patriot system – In particular, PAC-3

This system is designed to shoot down ICBMs, and has incredible ability to determine which warheads are armed in the event of a final stage that deploys decoys along with the actual warhead carrying ordnance, or in a multi-rocket launch where some are pure decoys. These systems are deployed at military bases along the west coast, as well as Guam, Hawaii, and other potential target areas. It’s an incredible defensive weapon, and you can read more about it HERE.

Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System

The United States has 30 of these Aegis systems on cruisers and destroyers split between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. These have some of the most advanced radar and tracking capabilities today, and are capable of shooting down a ballistic missile prior to it beginning its reentry stage. It even has the ability to shoot down a satellite from low-earth orbit, mitigating fears that North Korea might deploy a satellite containing a nuclear weapon meant to cause an EMP. This ability was proven in February 2008 when an Aegis-equipped ship in the Pacific destroyed a U.S. satellite that was failing and in a degrading orbit, over fears its radioactive payload may contaminate land areas when it reentered the atmosphere. Pretty amazing technology that could come in handy if North Korea launches more satellites.

Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) System

This system, our best defense against long-range ICBMs, is currently deployed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and at Fort Greely in Alaska. It has the ability to shoot down ICBMs while they’re in the space portion of their flight, outside of the atmosphere. These interceptor missiles are three-stage, solid fuel rockets that sit in underground silos. They’re 55 feet long, and can intercept even the fastest long-range ICBMs. Here’s a picture of one being loaded into a silo at Fort Greely.

These defensive systems, along with a few others I’m leaving out, and near-future technologies that will likely consist of space-based platforms which will be able to target, track, and shoot down missiles entirely out of the atmosphere, make it difficult for nations like North Korea to actually convincingly threaten the United States and our allies.

If North Korea decided to fire a long-range ICBM toward the mainland of the United States, a lot of things would have to go right for them to be successful. First, the missile would have to launch correctly, something they’ve thus far only been able to achieve at a rate of about 50%. Next, the missile would have to be able to hit a target, something that even with the “close is good enough” theory of nuclear explosions, is not easy to accomplish. For example, it’s thought that many of their successful missile launches have landed as much as 10-50 miles from the intended landing area. Next, the missile would have to survive reentry, something they’ve not yet accomplished with any of their long-range ICBM tests. Next, the warhead would have to work. This is something I didn’t discuss, but the forces that act on a missile and reentry vehicle during the flight portion are extreme, and nuclear devices have to be built to withstand those forces, something that requires an enormous amount of testing to accomplish — testing North Korea hasn’t yet done.

Next, the U.S. would have to miss with every attempt to shoot the missile down. We can intercept ballistic missiles with a success rate of well over 50%. Now, if North Korea fires ten or fifteen missiles at a time at the U.S., some containing actual warheads, and some as decoys, we’re going to miss a few, guaranteed. But let’s be clear, the U.S. is going to certainly fire all 40-some GMD interceptors, along with a bunch of Patriots and THAAD missiles at these things, so it would take a lot of ICBMs at the same time to get one through, something North Korea is not capable of doing as of yet.

So, what happens if they somehow manage to beat the odds and successfully land and detonate a nuclear warhead on a U.S. city? Well, if you happen to live there, it’s going to suck for you. The nukes they have, in the 10-20 kiloton range, will have a destruction radius of around one mile. If you live within that one mile radius of the detonation point, you’ll likely die instantly. Outside of that, as long as you’re somewhat protected, such as being indoors, you’ll probably survive. Depending on the altitude at which it explodes, there may be some radioactive fallout, so you’ll want to not be downwind of the explosion point.

However, all of these difficulties combined makes a scenario so unlikely that I’m much more concerned with things like the advancement of artificial intelligence that I feel is a real threat to all of mankind. Nuclear war with North Korea might be a concern in the distant future, when their capabilities improve dramatically, but as for now and the foreseeable near future, dying in a nuclear attack from North Korea is not something we should be spending much time worrying about.

If you want to read more about nuclear weapons and just how they work, be sure to check out parts 1-4 of this article.

Bibliography and sources:

Many of my sources are actual links in the article. The ones I didn’t specifically link to are listed below.

Geneticist James Crow study: http://www.rerf.jp/news/pdf/residualrad_ps_e.pdf

Radiation effects of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: http://www.atomicarchive.com/Docs/MED/med_chp22.shtml

Radiation effects on humans: http://www.atomicarchive.com/Effects/effects15.shtml

The British Mission: https://archive.org/stream/TheEffectsOfTheAtomicBombsAtHiroshimaAndNagasaki-ReportOfThe/british-mission-to-japan_djvu.txt

Halifax Explosion: wikipedia.com/halifax_explosion

Firestorms from nuclear explosions: http://www.atomicarchive.com/Effects/effects11.shtml

Dead Hand: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_Hand_(nuclear_war)

National Nuclear Security Administration: https://nnsa.energy.gov/aboutus

Yield to weight ratios: http://blog.nuclearsecrecy.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/yield-to-weight-trends.png

Design of Fat Man and Little Boy: https://web.stanford.edu/class/e297c/war_peace/atomic/hfatman.html

Alex Wellerstein – Asst professor of STS Stevens Institue of Technology: http://blog.nuclearsecrecy.com/about-me/

Nuclear physics of atomic bombs and thermonuclear devices http://www.barryrudolph.com/pages/atomic.html

Hydrogen bombs lecture: http://work.atomlandonmars.com/h-bomb-lecture/Wellerstein-HydrogenBombLecture-Slides.pdf

Harvard PhD dissertation of Alex Wellerstein on secret patents for the atomic bomb: http://alexwellerstein.com/atomic_patents/

A guide to nuclear weapons from the nuclear weapons archive: http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/

History of the atomic bomb in WWII: http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/nukevault/ebb525-The-Atomic-Bomb-and-the-End-of-World-War-II/

DPRK missiles: http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/1203680/the-more-you-kn-0w-about-north-korean-missiles/

Nuclear proliferation article: https://www.nobelprize.org/educational/peace/nuclear_weapons/readmore.html

Discovery Channel – Ultimate explosions – Tsar Bomba https://youtu.be/aMYYEsKvHvk

http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/Usa/Weapons/B83.html

http://www.atomicheritage.org/history/soviet-atomic-program-1946

Declassified CIA Soviet Atomic Energy program report: https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/DOC_0000843187.pdf

Project Crossroads atomic testing: https://www.osti.gov/opennet/manhattan-project-history/Events/1945-present/crossroads.htm

https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/touching-weps-grade-uranium-plutonium.76051/

Lots of technical nuclear information – used extensively: http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/Nwfaq/Nfaq4-1.html#Nfaq4.1

Analysis of North Korea – weapon design and rocketry analysis http://www.38north.org/

Institute for science and international security report on North Korea’s lithium-6 production http://isis-online.org/isis-reports/detail/north-koreas-lithium-6-production-for-nuclear-weapons

Command and Control – Nuclear weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety – book by Eric Schlosser

Defusing Armageddon: Inside NEST, America’s secret nuclear bomb squad – book by Jeffrey T. Richelson

hppt://wikipedia.org/ numerous pages dealing with nuclear weapon design, production, and testing, as well as nuclear physics.

Hydronuclear testing – http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/intro/hydronuclear.htm

Future Directions in the DPRK’s Nuclear Weapons Program – Feb. 2015 paper by David Albright http://www.38north.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/NKNF_Future-Directions-2020.pdf

Hundreds of blog posts about North Korea, their nuclear program, and their missile technologies, along with related analysis and projections were used estensively, and can be found by visiting www.38north.org/

What would a nuclear war between North Korea and the United States look like? (part FOUR)

In part three, I talked about just how inefficient the early nuclear weapons were, and how the discovery of adding fusionable hydrogen isotopes to the equation resulted in boosted fission weapons that were many times more powerful than the fission weapons alone. Well, scientists weren’t finished improving on the destructive power contained in those little atoms.

In the early 1950’s, a nuclear physicist by the name of Edward Teller had been working on an idea he’d discussed a decade earlier with famed Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, the same physicist who proposed The Fermi Paradox. If you’ve never heard of the Fermi Paradox, it’s a fascinating subject that has nothing at all to do with nuclear weapons, but rather with the question of where the hell are all the alien civilizations. The most incredible article I’ve seen dealing with that can be found at one of my favorite websites HERE.

Now, if you clicked on that link and just got stuck in a Fermi Paradox internet black hole for the last few hours, I can’t blame you, and welcome back. Enrico Fermi was much better known as one of the preeminent nuclear physicists of his day, and he had the idea of developing a fusion weapon that was triggered by a fission reaction. When Edward Teller realized that actually seemed to be able to work with the boosted fission weapons they’d developed and tested, he went to work developing a multi-stage nuclear weapon where the first stage would be a standard fission chain reaction, and the second, completely separate stage would contain a fusion reaction, ready to be touched off by the fission reaction. His work was aided by Stanislaw Ulam who came up with the idea of separating the two stages of the bomb, and the Teller-Ulam configuration that is still the design used in today’s thermonuclear weapons, was born.

The key to making the two stages work was X-rays.

X-rays had been studied for many years prior to the discovery of nuclear fission, and it was no surprise to anybody that the fissioning of a heavy atom produced extremely powerful X-rays. Teller and Ulam knew that if they could harness the power of those X-rays, they would provide enough pressure to implode the secondary device which contained the hydrogen-based fuel. Compressing the secondary would cause the hydrogen fuel to undergo fusion, which would release tremendous amounts of energy.

Before I go into the details of exactly how this works, I want to discuss something I found interesting and fascinating. First of all, the exact processes and designs of nuclear weapons are top-secret in every country that has them. Nobody wants the information getting out to rogue states or terrorist cells that may use the info to create their own nuclear weapons, something that most can agree would be a disaster. Some would consider that to have already happened, what with North Korea having successfully detonated several nuclear bombs, and Iran having shown they were well on their way to developing them, if they aren’t secretly still working on it.

What’s interesting about the top-secret nature of nuclear weapons though, is that nuclear information in the United States is what’s known as “born secret.” That means it’s so top-secret, that even if you come up with information about how they work all on your own, it automatically falls under the top-secret classification. There’s a lot of information out there about exactly how nuclear weapons work, but a lot of the intricate design detail that’s published is speculation. If I was to speculate about non-published information regarding nuclear weapon design, and I was correct, I could actually be arrested and charged with Treason for spilling the secrets in this blog.

Now, I’m not so vain and arrogant as to think that I could actually succeed in spilling top-secret information about nuclear weapon design through speculation about the unknown aspects of it, so don’t think I’m saying that. Nuclear scientists have done plenty of that, and I’ll simply report on what the leading nuclear physicists who are not directly involved in the manufacture of nuclear weapons think about exactly how they work. They’ve already done the spilling of the secrets, so I don’t have to be the first. Even though I just may have some ideas that I’ve never seen published…

So here’s exactly how (hypothetically of course) the Teller-Ulam configuration works.

  1. We’ll start with the primary, a boosted fission device. Into a hollowed-out sphere of plutonium-239 (and some plutonium-240) is fitted a neutron generator and a mixture of tritium and deuterium gases. Around the plutonium is a sheet of beryllium designed to reflect neutrons back into the reaction, and surrounding that is a tamper made from aluminum or some other light metal, possibly beryllium itself in some designs. High explosive lenses, exactingly milled into shapes very similar to the hexagons and pentagons that make up a soccer ball, tightly surround the plutonium package.
  2. The explosive lenses are triggered in an exacting and carefully calculated pattern to create a perfectly shaped blast wave. If this blast wave isn’t perfect, critical chain-reaction fissions will not be achieved and the weapon will “fizzle” and be a dud. The mighty blast wave compresses the tamper, which compresses the plutonium-239 to between 1/3 and 1/5 its original diameter. At the same time, the neutron generator inside is activated and begins shooting free neutrons into the tritium and deuterium (hydrogen isotope gases), which are condensed and heated by the compression of the cavity.
  3. The hydrogen gases undergo fusion from the pressure, heat, and free neutron bombardment, generating an even larger amount of free neutrons as the hydrogen isotopes are converted to helium-4, a free neutron, and energy. In the meantime, the plutonium has begun to undergo fission and a chain reaction of fissions has begun which is aided by the free neutrons from the boosted hydrogen isotopes which are now undergoing fusion.
  4. As this begins, X-rays are produced from the atomic nucleus of the fissioning plutonium. These X-rays shoot out at near the speed of light, which is about 100 times faster than the explosion that is brewing in the now critically fissioning plutonium, and plenty fast enough to reach the secondary before the explosion itself does. (We’re talking in terms of nanoseconds and milliseconds here. Billionths of a second and millionths of a second, with a total time of the entire device in the thousandths of a second, or microseconds.)
  5. The secondary device is both a fusion and fission bomb and it nests in a cavity, known as a hohlraum, which is a cavity that is in perfect equilibrium with regard to radiation. This is actually the most closely guarded secret of thermonuclear weapon design because the secondary has to be compressed perfectly symmetrically without the use of the exacting conventional explosive lenses, and through only the use of X-rays. What happens is, the bomb casing is lined with a metal meant to channel (without absorbing) the X-rays directly to the secondary housing. This housing is encapsulated in a polystyrene foam that fills the entire bomb compartment encasing the secondary, and when the X-rays hit the foam, the tremendous energy they carry converts the polystyrene into a plasma nearly instantaneously.
  6. I found a lot of information that stated the pressure of the plasma itself compresses the secondary device, but that’s not actually true, and seems to be a common misconception. Incredibly, and nearly inconceivably, it’s the ablation of the plasma that compresses the secondary. Ablation means that the polystyrene foam is heated so quickly by the X-rays, that as it converts to plasma, it vaporizes away from the casing that houses the secondary with such force that the vaporizing mechanism itself causes the secondary to implode. This secondary housing is either a cylinder or a sphere, and the ablation process causes it to implode to about 1/10th of its original diameter, (if it’s a sphere; 1/30th the original diameter in the case of a cylinder design) making it 1000 times denser than it previously was. And the container is made from uranium that’s about 1 inch thick! Just to be clear, X-rays and ablation alone cause this tremendous implosion of the secondary housing, nothing else. Incredible.
  7. Inside the secondary is the fusion fuel, along with a plutonium-239 “spark plug.” Much like the spark plug in a car, the plutonium-239 rod is designed to spark the fusion process of the secondary, and to aid in free neutron generation, which assists the fusion of the hydrogen isotopes inside.
  8. For the fusion fuel of the secondary, a solid (powder) called lithium-deuteride is used. This is a mixture of lithium and deuterium, which, since lithium is a solid, allows the mixture itself to be a solid instead of a gas or liquid, which makes it much easier to maintain than when it’s a mixture of deuterium and tritium like you find in the primary. Lithium is number 3 on the periodic table, with an atomic weight of 7, which means it contains 3 protons and 4 neutrons. For the lithium-deuteride, it’s actually the lithium isotope called lithium-6 that’s used, and when it undergoes fusion, the lithium-deuteride converts to tritium and deuterium, which, as we know from our discussion of primaries, converts to helium-4 and a free neutron, and, of course, copious amounts of energy.
  9. The spark plug, which as mentioned, is plutonium-239, also undergoes fission while the lithium-deuteride is undergoing fusion, and that adds to the yield of the secondary. As it goes critical, the expanding explosion from the primary boosted fission stage reaches the secondary, and they combine to form a big boom.

How big? The first bomb created with the Teller-Ulam design was known as Ivy Mike. It was detonated on November 1st, 1952 at Enewetak Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. It had a blast yield of 10.4 megatons. That’s 20 times bigger than the previous largest bomb ever detonated.

Here’s a video of it.

Up to now, we’ve been discussing weapons with blast yields in the kilotons, or thousands of tons of TNT. The prefix mega means million. So, Ivy Mike had a blast yield of 10.4 million metric tons of TNT. For anybody struggling with the math, that’s almost 23 billion pounds of TNT.

As unfathomable as that amount of blast power is, the Teller-Ulam configuration allows for much bigger blast yields. By simply adding more secondary devices symmetrically around the casing, you can harness the X-rays from the primary through an arbitrary number of secondary devices, each contributing to the blast yield. It also has the theoretical potential to use X-rays from the secondary to ignite a tertiary stage which would be another fission stage, for a fission-fusion-fission bomb. Theoretical bomb yields of 100 megatons are deemed possible, though testing that large a bomb comes with enormous complications.

The Teller-Ulam configuration developed in 1951 is basically the same design used in today’s weapons. The hydrogen isotopes of the primary and the secondary devices give these bombs the names hydrogen bomb and thermonuclear weapon as opposed to atom bomb and nuclear weapon that describe single stage configurations.

Here’s a good but simple representation of what the Teller-Ulam design looks like.

Teller-Ulam design

Incidentally, the largest thermonuclear device ever detonated was by the Soviet Union on October 30th, 1961 over the island of Novaya Zemlya near the arctic circle. The bomb was known as Tsar Bomba, and it was a monster. The blast yield was somewhere between 50 and 58 megatons, depending on which source you check. This Discovery Channel video has a few errors, but does a good job of showing the destructive power of Tsar Bomba. It had a total destruction radius of 15-20 miles. That’s a circle with a total destruction diameter of 30-40 miles. Plenty to completely annihilate most major cities with a single bomb. Of course, the bomb was so large that only one could fit on the bomber, and only then by making special modifications that had the Tsar hanging out of the bomb bay doors for the duration of the flight. The drag and lack of maneuverability of that plane would have made it effectively useless against the air defenses of the United States, then or now.

Which brings us to what really matters when it comes to nuclear weapons, and that is delivering them to the target. It doesn’t make much sense to build a nuclear weapon so big that you have to modify a bomber with the weapon hanging out the bomb bay doors, creating a radar cross section the size of Manhattan. What matters is making weapons as powerful as possible while still being able to mount them on Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, or ICBMs. That required a miniaturization program, keeping all of the design components of the Teller-Ulam configuration and keeping the yield to a satisfactory level.

To give an idea of how difficult this was, the first deployable United States hydrogen bombs, tested again at Bikini Atoll in what was called Operation Castle, were getting yields of around 15 megatons, and were considered extremely compact for their time. Yet they still weighed upwards of 23,000 pounds and were about twelve-feet long. The lithium-deuteride fusion fuel in the secondary device itself weighed 880 pounds. That’s a huge secondary, and difficult to maintain and deploy. Not to mention the yield of 15 megatons was unnecessarily large. Cities are only so big, right?

So weapons had to be made small enough to fit onto missiles, and that was accomplished very quickly. Both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were throwing enough money into the nuclear arms race to ensure the scientists had everything they needed to make it happen, and it took just a few years before we began to see deployable nuclear weapons with yields in the megaton range.

It would take another 3 parts to this blog to discuss all the aspects and designs of ICBMs, so I’m not going to do it. However, North Korea now has ICBMs capable of delivering a nuclear weapon, and North Korea’s capabilities are actually the subject of this blog, so we need to talk just a little about them. Here are the basics:

  1. The IC in ICBM stands for Intercontinental, which means the missile is capable of spanning the long distances between continents to deliver its payload. This is accomplished by launching the missile out of the atmosphere and into sub-orbital flight where it doesn’t have to deal with atmospheric pressures that would cause enormous fuel burn.
  2. The B stands for Ballistic, and that basically means that the missile is thrust upwards into an arc and then allowed to enter an unpowered and unguided trajectory back to the target established during guidance of the initial portion of the flight. Much of the flight of the missile occurs out of the atmosphere in a sub-orbital flight trajectory in space. The M in ICBM stands for missile which means… well, if you don’t know what a missile is, ask the person reading this to you.
  3. An ICBM can have a range upwards of 8000 miles in the case of the only current United States ICBM, the LGM-30 Minuteman III. North Korea’s only true ICBM is known as the Hwasong-14, and it’s thought to have a range of approximately 5000-6000 miles.
  4. The incredibly fast speed attained by a ballistic missile (up to mach 23 for the Minuteman III), due to its travel through space with no atmospheric drag to slow it, makes it difficult to intercept. It’s short travel time, around 30 minutes for its maximum range, means decisions on what to do if one is launched need to come quickly from command and control units.
  5. ICBMs can be stored and launched from missile silos, from submarines (where they’re actually known as SLBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, usually with a much shorter range), from mobile rail launchers on trains, or from heavy trucks, such as this one.

Russian mobile missile truck – Vitaly V. Kuzmin

  1. Each ICBM can carry multiple warheads known as MIRVs, or Multiple Independently targetable Reentry Vehicles. These are independent thermonuclear devices that all ride together into the sub-orbital flight portion of the ICBM, and then are released to reenter the atmosphere, each on its own trajectory toward a unique target. The United States doesn’t use MIRVs on its Minuteman III missiles due to requirements from the START II nuclear treaty with Russia, but its SLBM, the Trident II does carry up to 14 independent nuclear warheads on each missile.

Trident II SLBM launch from a submarine

Nine MIRVs mounted on an ICBM platform.

MIRV testing with tracers following the individual flight paths of the inert warheads.

Note: North Korea does not deploy any MIRVs on any of its ICBMs or SLBMs. Their SLBMs have failed numerous launch tests and are not thought to be ready for action at this time. We’ll talk a lot more about that in part five.

One of the greatest fears of the cold war was ICBM launched nuclear weapons. Not only had miniaturization of the Teller-Ulam design made it possible to launch nuclear warheads over the great distance from the Soviet Union to the United States, but both America and the USSR had developed enough warheads and missiles to completely annihilate one another. This is not the case with North Korea, and we’ll soon discuss exactly what they’re currently capable of.

The current thermonuclear warheads mounted on the ICBMs of the United States are known as the W87. They were originally designed in 1982 and mounted on Peacekeeper ICBMs, each of which could hold 12 W87s as MIRVs. They’re now mounted singly on the much smaller Minuteman III, and they’ve been upgraded with all the modern safety features that keep them from detonating accidentally. The yield of each warhead is 475 kilotons, making them significantly smaller with regard to yield than the megaton weapons that have to be delivered via bomber, such as the B83 which, at a maximum yield of 1.2 megatons is the largest yield weapon currently in the U.S. arsenal.

A W88 warhead, very similar in configuration and yield to the W87, By Dan Stober and Ian Hoffman, adapted by User:HowardMorland [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The B83, like most modern nuclear gravity bombs, has what’s known as dial-a-yield, which lets the operator choose the blast yield they want to achieve. This allows the bombs to be used for numerous different options. The yield is controlled by a simple dial on the outside, which, on the inside is effected by a few different options such as limiting the amount of boosted fission fuel enters the chamber, or by shutting down the secondary completely, making the device a primary fission bomb only. For the B83, the yield at the low end of the dial is classified but is reported to be in the “low kiloton range” whatever that means.

The United States has created nuclear bombs with very small yields. The Davy Crockett was developed in the late 1950s as a troop weapon, meant to accompany ground troops into battle. It was a tactical nuclear recoilless gun that was mounted on a tripod and had a range of between 1.2 miles and 2.5 miles. They could be mounted on an armored personnel carrier, or even a Jeep, and though it doesn’t seem that you’d want to be less than two miles from a nuclear explosion, that distance was perfectly safe for the yield of these nuclear weapons. They had variable yields of between 10 and 20 tons of TNT. Not kilotons…tons. The yields of the Davy Crockett were comparable to yields of several large conventional bombs of the day, but in a package that weighed only around 50 pounds.

Not only are low-yield nuclear weapons like the Davy Crockett able to be safely deployed from a short distance, but they are often safe even when they are detonated directly above a person. And, even when the blast yield is much greater than the 20 ton yield of the Davy Crockett. To show just how safe these weapons are, in 1954 the Air Force got five volunteers to stand directly under a 2-kiloton nuclear blast from an air-to-air nuclear rocket. Keep in mind, this blast yield is 100 times that of the Davy Crockett weapon, and it detonates only two miles from the officers, directly above them. Check out this video of these clearly low IQ volunteers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlE1BdOAfVc

The point of these last two examples is to indicate that while nuclear weapons can be absolutely devastating, and are designed primarily for that purpose, there are some that could absolutely be used in place of, and more effectively than, conventional bombs. Let me give an example.

On April 13, 2017, the United States conducted an airstrike on Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan. The target of the airstrike was a network of underground tunnels being used by ISIS in Afghanistan, tunnels that were originally constructed for the Mujahedeen during the Russian war in Afghanistan.

Multiple attempts had been made to destroy the tunnel network through bombing runs and drone strikes, and they’d been unsuccessful. That’s when the military made the decision to deploy the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, commonly known as the MOAB, with the nickname, Mother Of All Bombs.

The MOAB has an explosive yield of 11 tons of TNT, which puts it on par with the yield of the Davy Crockett nuclear weapon. Except the Davy Crockett weighed 51 pounds, and could be fired from a Jeep. The MOAB weighs over 21,000 pounds and needs to be delivered by a heavy bomber.

Russia has a conventional bomb much larger even than MOAB. Known as FOAB, the Father Of All Bombs, it’s a thermobaric weapon, meaning it pulls in oxygen from the surrounding air to generate an intense, high temperature explosion. Its blast yield is 44 tons, four times larger than MOAB, and the total weight of the bomb is just under 16,000 pounds.

There are of course, many critics of the use of weapons such as MOAB and FOAB that can cause indiscriminate and unintentional killing of civilians due to their large blast radii. But, when used cautiously, they can also be very effective weapons, succeeding where other bombs had failed. MOAB destroyed the tunnel system and killed a reported 94 ISIS fighters, including 4 commanders. There were some reports that two civilians may have also been killed, but overall, it was considered a very successful deployment. So, what would have been the difference if we’d used a low-yield tactical nuke such as the Davy Crockett in its place?

As far as yield, number of deaths, and probably even radioactive fall-out, next to nothing. The difference would have been the fact that it was a nuclear weapon, and that would have resulted in catastrophic consequences for the United States, numerous treaty violations, and an international incident on a scale previously unprecedented. But why? For what? Using MOAB is effectively the same thing as using a low-yield tactical nuke with one exception—MOAB uses conventional explosives instead of nuclear explosives.

The purpose of this paper thus far has been to show how nuclear weapons were developed and how they work today, and to show that the fears surrounding them are vastly overrated, and to do that, we need to talk about peaceful uses of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons themselves are not inherently bad. They are inherently neutral, and can be used for both evil purposes and for good purposes. A nuclear explosion might be necessary someday to move an asteroid or comet out of its flight path to keep it from striking the earth. Nuclear pulse propulsion is a hypothetical method of using nuclear explosions to power the thrust of a spacecraft. Operation Plowshare in the 1960s and 70s detonated 27 nuclear devices for peaceful purposes. Most were experimental, and results were mixed. The ground explosions caused large amounts of radioactive fallout and contaminated water supplies which caused protesting and eventually brought the program to a halt.

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty of 1996 prohibits all nuclear explosions, regardless of their purpose, and that brought a halt to all potential “good” uses of the explosive power. But should it have? At the time, I would say yes. The radioactive fallout of these ground bursts, even the peaceful ones, were causing environmental damages that will last for decades or longer. But, just as the treaty was being signed, scientists were making great strides toward clean nuclear weapons.

Clean nuclear weapons make use of the explosive power of the fusion stage of the weapon, and attempt to get rid of the radioactive metals of the fission stage. In theory, a complete fusion bomb would be potentially more powerful than the fission/fusion bombs of today, with complete control over the desired yield, and no radioactive fallout at all, which would allow clean surface and subsurface detonations.

In the 1970s, the Soviet Union attempted to create a canal joining two rivers. It was called the Pechora-Kama Canal, and they detonated three 15-kiloton weapons, each of which was reported to be 98% fusion and only 2% fission. This still wasn’t enough to avoid radioactive fallout though, as there is still some evidence today of radiation from the blasts. The danger is small, and people visit and live in the area without problem, but to ever have a peaceful nuclear program again would require 100% clean fusion bombs.

We’ll never be able to develop a pure fusion weapon with the current test ban treaties though, because development advances are only theory if the weapon can’t be tested and studied. And the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty prohibits all explosions of any type of nuclear device, fission or fusion, clean or dirty. That needs to be changed if we want to be able to ever harness the power of a clean nuclear detonation and use it for good.

On the flip side of the good of nuclear weapons, there have been some bad as well. Cobalt bombs, or salted bombs could be used for radiological warfare, designed to intentionally contaminate an explosion site with radiation, the sole purpose being to not allow humans to wait out the fallout in a bomb shelter. With a half-life of 5.27 years, the fallout of cobalt-60 would be dangerous for more than five decades using the 10 half-lives rule. This fear is what has driven many apocalyptic movies where you see radioactive wastelands. A nice plot for a movie, though there’s no evidence that any countries have actually produced and ever planned to use such weapons, although there is speculation that Russia did indeed have plans for similar devices, and may have even built some.

Another type of “bad” nuclear device, as I mentioned earlier, is the neutron bomb. A neutron bomb does the opposite of what most thermonuclear devices do; instead of trying to harvest the free neutrons and direct them back into the critical mass, the neutron bomb encourages their release out of the bomb. The casing of the bomb is made from depleted uranium, lead, or steel, all of which are translucent to neutrons. The explosion itself, without the addition of the free neutrons, is usually quite small, a fizzle compared to the explosions of today, but free neutrons are deadly to living beings. The massive neutron burst, which races ahead of the explosion, kills any humans or animals around. This type of bomb could be exploded above the heads of enemy troops, killing every person within a mile radius, but leaving the area fairly untouched by explosion. The neutrons are absorbed quickly into the atmosphere, and friendly troops could move right in.

With a neutron’s ability to pass right through steel and armor, even troops inside tanks or other armored vehicles would be killed immediately by the neutron bursts. An extremely effective but controversial bomb. If you’re interested in reading more about it, Wikipedia actually has a very informative page regarding the neutron bomb.

The radioactive fallout of conventional nuclear weapons is what led to their downfall, and rightfully so, considering the apparent complete lack of empathy employed by the superpowers during their production and testing in the 50s and 60s. The Nevada Test Site, which oversaw the detonations of 100 atmospheric thermonuclear devices (and an additional 828 underground detonations) often failed to completely consider fallout, or didn’t care to warn residents who were downwind of the explosions. This caused numerous and marked increases in cancers such as leukemia, bone cancer, brain tumors, and thyroid cancer in residents of St. George, Utah from the mid-50s into the 1980s, and caused a “significant excess of leukemia deaths” in children under 14 years of age. To date, nearly $2 billion has been paid out in compensation claims.

It is the combination of the real fears of nuclear annihilation from the Soviet Union during the cold war, in addition to the radioactive fallout experienced in the 100 above-ground tests at the Nevada Test Site and the atmospheric and ground tests at various atolls in the Pacific that have given nuclear weapons the chilling and almost universally feared name they have today. But, in my opinion, they don’t need to be so chilling. Conventional bombs are big enough today that they can compete with some of the smaller yield devices, and, clean nuclear bombs are a real possibility, with many, many uses that would greatly enhance the efficiency of any operation involving earth moving, mining, and tunnel drilling, as well as opening up possible space travel improvements. In order for this to ever happen, humankind needs to adjust its fears of the word, “nuclear.”

In part five of this paper, I’ll discuss North Korea’s specific nuclear program, what kinds of bombs they have, what types of delivery vehicles they have for those bombs, and how much fear Americans (and the rest of the world) should have about those bombs. I’ll also post the full bibliography and sourcing for this article.

What would a nuclear war between North Korea and the United States look like? (part THREE)

Just to recap, in part one, I discussed the premise for this series of posts: that most Americans have an unmerited fear of nuclear weapons, in particular the type being developed by North Korea. I also stated that I felt that fear was grounded in two things, the first being the unknown — most Americans have no idea what a nuclear weapon actually does, or how it works, and the second being most American’s only experience with nuclear weapons — the Cold War.

In part two, I discussed The Manhattan Project and The Trinity Experiment, as well as the two different types of bombs that we dropped on Japan during World War II, including how they were made, how they worked, their blast yield, and the effects they had, both during the actual explosion and afterwards.

Here in part three, I’m going to go over the types of weapons that were built after World War II, and how they led to the types of nuclear devices we have today. I’m going to explain how they work, what they do, and how they are delivered to their targets. I’m also going to discuss how fission and fusion actually work in nuclear devices, and how different elements and designs can be used to increase the yield of the bombs.

It didn’t take long after World War II for America to continue testing nuclear weapons, this time at Bikini Atoll in the western Pacific. They used the same type of bombs there as Fat Man and The Gadget; plutonium implosion bombs. Let’s talk a bit about just what exactly plutonium is. This is important because, since the early 1960s, plutonium, not uranium, has been the standard fission material used in nuclear weapons.

Plutonium is a radioactive element that’s capable of decaying into other elements. The most stable version of plutonium that’s found in nature is the one on the periodic table, plutonium-244, and it’s only found in trace quantities – thought to be remnants of the formation of galaxy. This form of plutonium is completely irrelevant to nuclear weapons.

The plutonium isotopes we’re concerned with are plutonium-239, plutonium-240, and plutonium-241. These are the ones that capable of fission and they’re created in nuclear reactors, not in nature. Nuclear reactors produce plutonium-239 as the uranium-238 that powers the reactors decays and the neutrons it gives off are captured. Capturing a neutron changes uranium-238 to uranium-239. Uranium-239 rapidly decays into neptunium-239, which then decays once more to plutonium-239. This isotope is the one we want to capture to build a nuclear weapon.

Interestingly, plutonium-239 eventually decays into uranium-235, which is enriched uranium and what we try to process out of the mostly uranium-238 we mine from the ground so that we can make a nuclear bomb, which gives all of these isotopes an incestual relationship reminiscent of the Targaryens and the Lannisters.

All of this decaying of atoms and capturing of the isotopes is a complicated and technical process, and it’s not that important. What is important is that when the plutonium-239 is captured, it always contains some percentage of plutonium-240. Plutonium-240 is spontaneously fissile, so it’s unstable and unusable in nuclear weapons if the percentage present in the plutonium-239 is too high. If the plutonium-239 isn’t captured quickly, the 240 isotope builds up and it becomes only suitable as a reactor fuel. It isn’t feasible to separate the plutonium-240 from the plutonium-239, so the mixed plutonium product must be removed frequently from the reactors, which means that it requires very specialized nuclear reactors to make.

Why is this important? It’s one of the ways we’re able to monitor non-nuclear countries for adherence to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. These countries who want to develop nuclear power, can create power reactors that are incapable of producing pure enough plutonium-239 to make a bomb. 98% of the world’s nuclear reactors are not capable of making weapons-grade plutonium.

Although plutonium radiation is extremely dangerous to humans, it’s very difficult to actually get infected. That’s because plutonium-239 decays with Alpha radiation. Alpha radiation is weak and can’t penetrate the skin; in fact, it can only barely penetrate the air, and only then just a few inches. That means you can actually pick-up a lump of plutonium-239 with your bare hands without negative effects from the radiation.

The largest danger from plutonium (other than being present when it goes super-critical of course), is from inhaling it. This can happen if it catches fire, such as when a plane carrying nuclear weapons crashes and burns, or in lab accidents, or potentially from breathing radioactive fallout in a ground burst. Although inhalation is thought to be the most likely way for plutonium to kill or cause cancer, there were about 25 workers at Los Alamos in the 1940s who inhaled a large amount of plutonium dust, which was thought would give them each a 99.5% chance of contracting lung cancer. None did.

Interestingly, Wikipedia has a footnote that states that plutonium has a metallic taste. First, duh, it’s a metal. Second, who tried it??

Apparently, although inhaling it is likely to have long-term and serious health effects, the Los Alamos workers notwithstanding, you actually can safely eat a small amount of plutonium, as the body tends to simply expel it without actually processing it.

Back to the Bikini Atoll tests, known as Operation Crossroads. The first test was an air drop that was unremarkable and quite similar to the previous two implosion devices that had been detonated. The main lesson learned from it was that the initial beta and gamma radiation from an airburst, while strong enough to kill any human or animal exposed to it, was short-lived and the long-term effects of the radiation on the ships in the harbor was negligible. While the first test was considered unimpressive, the second test was quite remarkable, and it showed the dangers of radioactive fallout in a ground burst.

The purpose of the second test was to determine the effect a submerged nuclear weapon would have on naval ships, and for this test, the navy assembled a fleet of 95 U.S. and Japanese ships in the bay at Bikini Atoll. Then, they detonated a plutonium implosion device under the water at a depth of about 90 feet. This was the result.

What you’re looking at there, is hundreds of millions of gallons of instantly radioactive seawater. If you look closely at the bottom right of the water column, you see a vertical battleship. A 27,000 ton battleship. Amazing amount of force.

The ships that survived the explosion were painted with radioactive seawater when the wave passed over them. Despite numerous efforts to scrub many of them clean, the Navy was unable to make them non-radioactive. The seawater had settled into the microscopic cracks and seams in the metal of every ship it touched, contaminating them permanently. Of the total of 95 ships in the harbor that day, only 9 were able to be salvaged. The remainder either sank from the bomb and the water column, or were scuttled by the Navy because of their radioactivity.

What we learned from that bomb was that radioactive fallout is pretty dangerous when a nuclear weapon explodes on the ground, (or under the sea as in this case) and that such an effect can have a devastating impact for a long time. How long? Well, let’s discuss radioactivity and exactly what it means.

When we speak about how radioactive a substance is, we usually talk about its half-life. In nuclear physics, a half-life is the amount of time it takes for a substance to lose half of its atoms through radioactive decay. Some substances have a half-life in the billions, or even trillions of years, and others a half-life of only fractions of a second. Many of the radioactive isotopes that are present in a nuclear explosion have these very short half-lives, which is why they are only deadly during the explosion itself, and not afterwards.

What about the elements in a nuclear weapon? Well, in a nuclear reactor, uranium-238 is bombarded with neutrons. When it captures one, it becomes uranium-239. Uranium-239 has a half-life of 23.5 minutes. It decays into neptunium-239 which has a half-life of just over two days. Neptunium-239 decays into plutonium-239 which has a half-life of 24,100 years. Plutonium-239 decays into uranium-235 which has a half-life of just over 700 million years.

The longer the half-life, the less radioactive and dangerous the substance is. Radioactivity is inversely proportional to half-life, which is why the two main fissionable fuels of a nuclear bomb are so safe to handle. Both Plutonium-239, with it’s half-life of 24,100 years, and uranium-235 with its half-life of 700 million years can be safely picked up with your bare hands. (The mostly alpha-decay of these metals is the other reason they’re safe – alpha particles are incapable of penetrating even the dead layer of the outside of your skin.)

A lot of radioactive elements are produced in a nuclear explosion, and some of them have half-lives that extend beyond the initial effects of the explosion, but are short enough to be dangerous. Strontium-90, for example, has a half-life of 28 years, Iodine-131 has a half-life of 8 days, and cesium-137 has a half-life of 30 years. All of these substances can cause cancer in the human body, all live long enough to survive the nuclear explosion, and all have short enough half-lifes to be dangerous with regard to the inverse proportion rule.

Now, half-life doesn’t mean that the element is safe at the conclusion of that time. Far from it. Take iodine-131. It has a half-life of 8.1 days, but that doesn’t mean that after 8.1 days it’s safe to be around. What it means is that after 8.1 days, half of its molecules have decayed, which means that half of them remain. After another 8.1 days, it still contains one quarter of its original molecules, and so on. Typically with this halving, a radioactive element is considered safe after 10 half-lives, which is when it becomes undetectable to most instruments. So, for iodine-131, that would be about 81 days. For cesium-137, that would be about 300 years. Detectable amounts of plutonium-239 then, would stick around for the next 241,000 years.

While that sounds horrible, it really isn’t. Remember, radioactivity is inversely proportional to half-life, which means that the longer an element sticks around, the less radioactive danger it typically poses. (With a few exceptions)

Shortly after the underwater explosion at Bikini Atoll, nuclear scientists began experimenting with trying to make the reaction in the explosion a lot more effective. Remember, in the first detonations, less than 2% of the uranium in Little Boy, and only about 15% of the plutonium in Fat Man went critical and contributed to the blast yield. Scientists realized that there was something missing in the equation, and there had to be a way to harness more of the power of all that uranium and plutonium that went to waste.

The problem was that when a mass of plutonium goes critical and begins the fission chain reaction, it expels neutrons. Neutrons, along with protons, are what gives an atom its mass. You can see the number of neutrons in an element by looking at the periodic table and subtracting the atomic number from the weight. For example, plutonium-239 has an atomic number of 94, which means that it contains 94 protons and therefore, 145 neutrons. (239-94)

So, as the fission process begins (with the explosive compression and a small neutron generator in a plutonium bomb) some of those neutrons are thrown out of the reaction. They become what’s known as free neutrons, and some of them get absorbed by the other plutonium atoms. Free neutrons are the key to a good nuclear chain reaction. When they get captured by other plutonium atoms, it creates another fission event, which releases more neutrons, which get absorbed by other atoms, and so forth. This is the nuclear chain reaction, and in a nuclear power plant, it’s carefully controlled so that only small amounts of energy are produced and the mass of fuel can never reach a super-critical state.

In a nuclear bomb though, that chain reaction isn’t dampened, and it quickly reaches the super-critical state where it gives off so much energy so quickly, that we get the nuclear explosion. It happens so quickly though, that all that other plutonium gets wasted. The idea the scientists came up with, was to harness some of the free neutrons that were escaping, and redirect them back into the critical mass so that more fissions would occur before it went super-critical.

What they found was that covering the entire thing with a thin sheet of beryllium would reflect the free neutrons and cause them to re-engage the chain reaction, causing more fissions to start before the mass goes super-critical, and increasing the efficiency of the weapon, which also increases the blast yield.

(Later we’ll discuss how neutron bombs do the exact opposite, encouraging the free neutrons to actually escape the critical mass rather than joining it, and why that would be desirable with regards to killing humans.)

Beryllium also acts nicely as a tamper, helping to compress the plutonium when the explosive spheres surrounding it are detonated. Not only that, but it also produces some of its own free neutrons during the process, all of which help make the entire detonation more efficient and more powerful.

The other discovery nuclear scientists made shortly after the end of the war would prove to be even more significant, as it would lead to the ability to begin the miniaturization process of nuclear weapons, which would eventually allow them to get small enough to be mounted on missiles as warheads. This discovery involved hollowing out the center of the mass of plutonium and filling it with a gas. The gas used is a mixture of both tritium and deuterium.

Tritium and deuterium are both isotopes of hydrogen (think, hydrogen bomb), which simply means they are hydrogen atoms with additional neutrons. Everybody is familiar with hydrogen – it’s the most common element in the universe by a long shot. It’s also the simplest, with the nucleus of the atom containing just one single proton. When a single neutron is added, this hydrogen atom becomes deuterium (also known as hydrogen-2) and it’s a non-radioactive, stable isotope that can be found in small amounts in nature. When you add the second neutron though, that’s when it becomes radioactive, and we call that tritium (or more rarely, hydrogen-3).

Most people are familiar with tritium, at least having seen it if not knowing what it was. Tritium is used for night sites on guns, luminescent numbers on watches, altimeters, and clocks. The radioactive decay of tritium is what causes it to glow with a greenish hue. Tritium has a half-life of just over 12.3 years, which means it’s quite unstable. What makes it safe around humans is that it decays to a helium gas, helium-3, and though it decays through beta emissions which are typically less safe than alpha emissions, the beta particles are slow moving and can’t penetrate more than an inch of air, nor can they penetrate the human skin.

Because of tritium’s short-ish half-life, it is a bit of a problem. In the civilian world, for example, your gun sites and watch faces lose half of their brightness every 12.3 years, which means a 25-year-old watch that uses tritium to glow in the dark will be at one-fourth of its original strength. In nuclear weapons, this is a much worse problem as the helium-3 it decays into can cause problems during the nuclear reaction. Helium-3 has a large cross-section and the greatest ability of any isotope to grab the free neutrons in a nuclear explosion. We don’t want the free neutrons being grabbed by all the helium as that would be counter-productive toward the effort to create them in the first place. Therefore, not only does the tritium need to be replaced fairly frequently in the entire nuclear arsenal because of its short half-life, the helium-3 needs to be drained from the pit even more frequently, which is one of the reasons regular maintenance of the arsenal is so extensive.

So, what happens when deuterium and tritium are added to a hollowed-out pit in the plutonium core? Fusion occurs during the compression process, and fusion reacts with fission to vastly improve the efficiency of the weapon. This is known as a boosted fission weapon, and it was the first step toward the weapons of today, the two-stage thermonuclear warheads. It turns out that fusion is even more efficient than fission when it comes to nuclear weapon yields, though these early boosted fission weapons did not make use of the fusion as a yield increaser, but rather they used it to harvest more free neutrons to add to the critical chain reaction and increase its efficiency.

When I first learned of fission and fusion, way back in grammar school, it was explained to me quite simply. Fission is the splitting of the atom, and fusion is the joining together of two atoms. Very simple. I had an image of a scientist with a tiny knife cutting an atom in half and creating a huge explosion in a lab. Not quite accurate, obviously.

Fission doesn’t occur by means of a knife, or a laser, or any other type of weapon, but rather by bombardment. Throwing heavy atoms (like uranium and plutonium) into each other causes the neutrons in the nucleus to split off, which is what fission actually is. And, throwing lighter atoms (like hydrogen and helium) into each other causes the nucleus to bind together, creating heavier atoms and dispersing enormous amounts of energy. Fusion is the energy that powers most stars, including our sun, where it’s known as stellar nucleosynthesis.

When deuterium and tritium are compressed during the initial conventional explosion and compression of the plutonium core, they fuse together, and that causes those hydrogen isotopes to form helium and free neutrons instead of the energy that might be released were hydrogen-1 used instead of its heavier isotopes. The helium is simply consumed in the fireball which adds a small, but mostly negligible increase to its yield. The free neutrons however, contribute greatly to the chain reaction, vastly increasing the yield.

By hollowing out the pit of the plutonium to add the fusion gases, it not only increases the yield, it also decreases the weight of the bomb, not just through the lost weight of the plutonium, but through the smaller explosives needed to compress the core. It’s significantly easier to compress a hollow sphere than a solid one, and far less explosives are needed. There were almost 3000 pounds of conventional explosives in Fat Man, for example, which shows just how much explosive power was needed to compress the heavy plutonium. (Just to be perfectly clear, there was a small hollow pit in the Fat Man plutonium design – about 2.5 centimeters, into which was inserted a neutron generator which was found to be insignificant to the chain reaction and unnecessary to the design.)

Once boosted fission devices were perfected and tested, nuclear scientists had reached the limit of blast yield for a single stage weapon. They were eventually able to harvest some of the energy of the fusion reaction in the core, but the maximum amount theoretically possible was about 20% of the total yield. So, 80% of the nuclear blast yield still had to come from the fission of the plutonium. By playing around with highly enriched uranium-235, and surrounding it with lithium-deuterium fusion atoms, and other various configurations, they were able to achieve some impressive blast yields.

How impressive?

The United States produced a bomb known as the Mark 18 or the Super Oralloy Bomb (Oralloy is super-enriched uranium). The Mark 18 was tested one time at Enewetak Atoll in the Pacific. It had a blast yield of 500 kilotons, a 25x increase in yield over Fat Man.

Great Britain created a boosted fission weapon known as Orange Herald, which had a blast yield of 750 kilotons. Fifty times the blast yield of Little Boy over Hiroshima, and an incredibly destructive fireball.

This was nothing however, compared to the yield achieved when two-stage thermonuclear weapons were invented in the early 1950s.

In the next part, I’ll discuss the concepts of multi-stage weapons and the blast yields achieved, including talking about the largest ever nuclear detonation, and the advances in miniaturization and delivery vehicles that were achieved in the heart of the cold war. This will lead us to a discussion of the types of nuclear weapons that North Korea has, and to my thesis of why we shouldn’t fear them or their weapons, and why we shouldn’t fear nuclear weapons in general today.

What would a nuclear war between North Korea and the United States look like? (part TWO)

Before I begin this discussion, I’m going to start with a statement that I should have made in part one. That is, I’m not a nuclear engineer. I’m not a scientist, or a national security expert, and I have no security clearance or access to top-secret information. What I do have is a very special set of skills…no, wait, that’s not it. What I do have is a lot of time. A lot of time in the last 12-14 months in which I have spent an inordinate amount of that time studying nuclear weapons.

Now, when I say that, I’m sure it conjures up images of me Googling “How does a nuclear bomb work?” then reading the Wikipedia page and spouting off as if I’m an expert.

I will say this, just so we’re clear: I’m not an expert in nuclear weapons. I’ve never touched one, or even seen one in real life for that matter. My knowledge comes from more than 300 hours spent studying nuclear weapons, on the internet, in books, and in scientific journals. I link to many of my sources in this blog with the highlighted words, which are clickable links. After the last article in this series, I’ll attach a bibliography with all of the sources I used.

Now, 300 hours is a lot of time, but it doesn’t make me a nuclear scientist. In fact, it likely took me that much time only because getting my brain to absorb and comprehend this material is rather difficult for me. I think the level of research I’ve done only just barely qualifies me to convey entry-level information about nuclear weapons, and to try to clear up what I think are widespread inaccuracies in the perception of what nuclear war with North Korea would look like.

So, here we go!

In my first post, I began with a premise that I feel many people have an unhealthy fear of nuclear weapons, and that that fear is grounded in a lack of knowledge as to exactly what they are and what they do. I also stated that I thought people certainly had an unhealthy fear of the nuclear weapons that North Korea – the DPRK – has likely managed to build.

Now, just to be crystal clear, I don’t expect people to have no fear of nuclear weapons. I just think that most of the population has an unhealthy fear of them, and that fear comes from a lack of understanding as to just what they are, how they work, and what they do. I think of it as a monster under the bed sort of thing…we inordinately fear them because we don’t understand them. That premise is based on the fact that there is a vast difference in the types of nuclear weapons that the DPRK has, and the type currently owned by other nations such as the United States, Russia, and China.

When we created the first atomic weapons, nobody outside the scientists and engineers and a few people in the government and the military knew what they were. Although tens of thousands of people were involved, only a handful of them knew all the details. It was top-secret code word stuff. Most people today are familiar with the Manhattan Project and the story behind the effort to create the first atomic weapon thanks to movies and a lot of great documentaries. We all know that it was the British who really made the first strides toward creating the bomb, and the combination of the efforts between the U.S. and Great Britain that eventually led to Trinity, the first ever testing of an atomic bomb.

I’ll spare you the details of the problems that were encountered just in the isolating of the correct isotopes, first of uranium, and later of plutonium, not to mention the engineering difficulties that were encountered with 1940s technology, but let’s just say, they were extensive. Naturally occurring uranium is mostly uranium-238, and within that mined uranium ore exists a very small percentage of uranium-235, less than three-quarters of one percent to be exact. And uranium-235, known as highly enriched uranium, is what is needed to create fission, the catalyst behind the destructive power of a nuclear bomb. Separating it in the quantities needed to produce just one atomic weapon was a vast undertaking.

The other weapons-grade fissile material that could be used at the time was plutonium. Plutonium — both plutonium-239 and plutonium-240, could only be created in nuclear power plants, and, it turned out that plutonium-240 was too highly spontaneously fissile to be used in the original atomic bomb design. Like I said, lots of problems. Luckily, we had some of the world’s smartest scientists and engineers working on the problem.

Like J. Robert Oppenheimer, and nuclear fission was achieved. The first bomb created was tested in what became known as the Trinity Test.

The bomb detonated in the Trinity Test was nicknamed The Gadget, and it was detonated in New Mexico at Alamogordo (now part of the White Sands Missile Range.) It was an implosion-type plutonium bomb, of the same design as the bomb which was eventually dropped on Nagasaki, and completely different than the originally planned device which was a projectile fired design like the type dropped on Hiroshima. More on these types later.

The test was conducted at 5:29am on July 16, 1945. The first ever detonation of an atomic bomb was on U.S. soil, and it was an unequivocal success.

Here’s a picture of the explosion taken by Berlyn Brixner at sixteen thousandths of a second after the explosion.

The top of that spherical shockwave reaches about 500 feet high. Sixteen thousandths of a second after detonation. Incredible.

Before we discuss the blast yield of The Gadget, let’s talk about what blast yield actually means.

Blast yield for explosions is usually measured in the equivalent amount of TNT that would generate the same explosive force. TNT is short for trinitrotoluene, and it’s created from a mixture of various chemical compounds. It’s slightly less powerful, and NOT the same thing as dynamite, despite what I was led to believe from early childhood.

When we’re talking about nuclear-quality explosions, blast yield is measured in metric tons of TNT. A metric ton is 1000 kilograms, or about 2200 pounds. So, a blast yield of one ton would be the same as the blast that would be created by 2200 pounds of TNT.

A kiloton is 1000 metric tons. 1000 tons multiplied by 2200 pounds per ton means that an explosion measured at one kiloton of blast yield would be the equivalent of blowing up 2.2 million pounds of TNT. That’s a lot.

A megaton would be one million metric tons of TNT. Expressed in pounds, that’s the equivalent of…well, a ton. Lots of tons actually. I don’t want to get into these kind of ridiculous numbers yet, but we will later.

So, anyway, one kiloton would be a massive explosion. At the time of the Trinity test, the largest man-made explosion had been the maritime accident known as the Halifax Explosion on December 6, 1917. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s an incredible story. We know the blast yield of the Halifax Explosion because we know exactly what blew up – 2900 tons of TNT, making the blast yield around 2.9 kilotons. It resulted in approximately 2000 deaths and 9000 injuries.

If you were alive at the time and thought the Halifax Explosion was the mother of all explosions, the scientists at the Trinity test were about to ask you to hold their beers.

The Gadget detonated with a yield of approximately 20 kilotons. Seven times the Halifax Explosion. The equivalent of 20,000 metric tons of TNT, or 44 million pounds.

Eventually, we’re going to discuss the radiation exposure and fallout from this test, as well as the long-term effects it had on the test area, including what you can expect to find if you go right to ground zero today, but first, I want to talk about exactly how this bomb worked.

I mentioned earlier that it was an implosion-type plutonium bomb, and it was different from the original conceived model which was a gun-type fission uranium bomb. Since it was so difficult to extract uranium-235 from the natural uranium-238, and since they’d managed to enrich only enough uranium for one bomb at that time, they’d reverted to the plutonium bomb for the test.

As I mentioned earlier, plutonium is created in nuclear reactors. The plutonium for The Gadget, and the other bombs of that time, was all created at Hanford in Washington State.

The main difference between the gun-type bomb and the implosion-type bomb, other than the fissile material used, is the way in which the fission reaction is instigated. Uranium-235, plutonium-239, and plutonium-240 all have the ability to go super-critical under the right conditions: generally meaning when they are compressed or when they are slammed together at high speeds. This gives us the two earliest types of atomic bombs.

A gun-type fission bomb is about the simplest type of atomic bomb out there. It’s also the type of bomb we dropped on Hiroshima, the one known as Little Boy. It’s regarded as one of the highest risks for proliferation and terrorism because it’s so simple in design. If one has enough quantity of uranium-235, they can create a gun-type bomb with little manufacturing or fine engineering.

A gun-type bomb takes one slug of uranium-235 and fires it, using conventional explosives or propellants, into a target spike of the same material. The slamming together of the two chunks of uranium causes a critical mass, which results in nuclear fission, the splitting of the nucleus of an atom, which results in enormous releases of energy. And that’s it. That’s all it takes to make a nuclear explosion.

The science behind nuclear fission is too complex for my brain, despite the fact that I’ve spent dozens of hours trying to comprehend it, but the important part is, it causes a really big explosion as the fission works its way through the critical mass of the enriched uranium. All-in-all, the gun-type design is a very simple design, and quite dangerous as there are a number of ways the two chunks of enriched uranium could accidentally slam into each other (i.e., a crash of the airplane or vehicle hauling the bomb, or the striking of the ground in an accidental drop, or even the acceleration of a missile were you to try to mount this type of weapon on a missile) which could result in a nuclear explosion.

The other type, using explosive compression, is more complex, but necessary for both stability and safety, and for the use of plutonium as the fissile material. Because plutonium-239, when it’s created in a nuclear reactor, contains large amounts of plutonium-240, and because plutonium-240 is dangerously unstable and ready to go super-critical just from early triggering of the gun reaction, it can’t be used in a gun-type fission bomb. This is what led to the development of the implosion-type fission device, which is the type of bomb The Gadget, and Fat Man, the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki were.

In an implosion-type device, the fissile material is surrounded by carefully manufactured explosives in a sort of cocoon. (In modern designs, we use lenses, which we’ll discuss later.) Those explosives fire simultaneously, compressing the uranium or plutonium to two or three times its original density, which causes it to go supercritical and explode.

This type of device was the basis for all future nuclear weapons due to its versatility. The basic design of the implosion bomb is used for thermonuclear weapons, both single stage, and in the Teller-Ulam design, both of which we’ll discuss in great detail later on.

Approximately three weeks after the Trinity test, on August 6th, 1945, the Enola Gay, piloted by Colonel Paul Tibbets, dropped Little Boy, the first gun-type atomic bomb created, on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The device had never been tested because the U.S. hadn’t produced enough enriched uranium to create more than one device, and because it was such a simple design, the scientists were convinced there was nothing that could really go wrong. And they were right. Little Boy detonated at an altitude of almost 2000 feet above the ground, and it was a tremendous success (depending on your perspective), creating an explosive yield of approximately 15 kilotons, only 75% of the yield of The Gadget, but enough to immediately kill an estimated 66,000 people, including 20,000 members of the Japanese Imperial Army.

The interesting thing about the yield is that it was very nearly a dud. In fact, there was 141 pounds of uranium-235 in the fused pit of the bomb, and only 2 pounds of that actually underwent fission and contributed to the yield. That’s less than 1.5% of the fissile material that actually went critical and exploded, and it created a 15-kiloton yield. The remaining 98.5% of the highly enriched uranium contributed nothing.

A couple of notes about Little Boy:

  1. The entire bomb weighed 9700 pounds, the majority of which was the weight of the casing.
  2. The blast detonation is spherical, thus the desire to detonate it at an altitude of 2000 feet — by doing that, you’re able to utilize the full effect of the spherical blast wave.
  3. It was determined that although the yield was the equivalent of 15,000 tons of TNT, the same destruction could have been realized by dropping just 2100 tons of conventional weapons, due to much of the spherical blast wave being wasted into the atmosphere and surrounding, sparsely populated areas.
  4. It would have taken 220 B-29 bombing runs consisting of various types of conventional bombs to achieve that 2100 tons and achieve the same effect as the one Little Boy weapon.

So, 66,000 people were killed right away. In fact, the total number of deaths in the first few months following the explosion is estimated in the 90,000 to 140,000 range. In order to take a look at exactly what killed all those people, we have to look at how a nuclear device of this type and era actually kills.

The initial causes of death are from the fireball, the over-pressure/blast wave, and from the radiation. In Hiroshima, almost everything in a three-quarter mile radius under the point of the explosion was immediately destroyed by the pressure wave and fireball. There were some reinforced concrete structures that remained standing, and interestingly, in one of them, just 560 feet from ground zero, a man survived the blast, as well as the aftereffects, living for decades after.

Other than that guy and a few other exceptions though, nearly all of the people within that three-quarter mile radius of ground zero were killed immediately. Later testing determined that an over-pressure blast wave of just 5 PSI will kill 100% of people in its path.

In Hiroshima, this blast wave destroyed nearly every building, most of which were made of wood or paper products. The explosive fireball touched off a massive firestorm which caused even more destruction, killing thousands more people, and destroying nearly all the homes and buildings in an area of nearly five square miles.

Let’s talk about radiation. Much of the lethal radiation produced by a nuclear explosion survives only for as long as the fireball – mere seconds. It’s known as initial radiation, and it’s mostly gamma and neutron radiation. This is bad radiation. The kind that kills you very quickly. However, for most people exposed to it, they’re being killed by the fireball and the over-pressure wave anyway, so it’s mostly irrelevant and redundant. Anybody lucky enough to survive the fireball and over-pressure though, will usually die from this lethal dose of radiation. In Hiroshima, the lethal dose radius was close to one mile, and many people were able to survive the blast wave in that radius. Most of those inside that one-mile radius who received that lethal dose died immediately after the blast in the firestorm that followed, unable to escape the flimsy wooden structures, and so the effects of the radiation were not actually realized. The firestorm was so powerful that it cremated the bodies and destroyed all evidence of their existence, (birth and residence records were destroyed as well) which makes accurate death figures impossible to determine.

After initial radiation, the next concern is residual radiation. One of the benefits to the high-altitude air-burst of the bomb, was the lack of nuclear fallout. Most of the fallout from a nuclear explosion is due to the contamination of particles from the ground soil. After the initial fireball expands, it then has to contract, and that causes a suction effect that sweeps everything up into it and pulls it into the air — becoming the iconic nuclear mushroom cloud.

When that happens near the ground, particles of soil are pulled into the soup and become irradiated. They’re lofted into the air where wind currents take them along for a while before dropping them again, causing the radiation to spread far and wide. Some mushroom clouds actually reach into the stratosphere where particles can remain sometimes for years, circling the planet before falling to earth. This actually ends up being a good thing as it spreads the radiation far and wide, depositing it in non-lethal doses around the globe.

The higher the air-blast, the less particles of soil that will be pulled into the radiation, and the less fallout there is. In the case of Hiroshima, with the air-blast at nearly 2000 feet of elevation, nuclear fallout was quite small. There was still that ~140 pounds of subcritical uranium, plus the ~9600 pounds of bomb casing material, plus particles that were in the air already, and so forth, but the amount of nuclear fallout was minor due to the absence of soil particles.

One of the most common misconceptions surrounding a nuclear explosion deals with the level of residual radiation at the blast site. Most people believe that blast sites are uninhabitable for decades or even centuries. In Hiroshima, it’s been shown that the only radiation deaths that occurred were people who were directly exposed to the bomb detonation itself. None of the aid workers, doctors, firefighters, or anybody else who entered the blast area after the bombing were killed or even injured by residual radiation. Don’t get me wrong, there was some measurable increased radiation in the bomb area, particularly in the first day or two after the explosion, but it dissipated rapidly and wasn’t significant enough to kill or injure anybody.

There weren’t any standing houses left within one mile of the bomb epicenter, but had there been, residents of Hiroshima could have moved back into their homes directly under the blast area just days after the firestorm subsided, and they would have lived without a dangerous increase in radiation exposure. In fact, many people today live in Hiroshima and in Nagasaki, and they have the same level of exposure to radiation as the rest of the general population.

This is not meant to trivialize the effects of the radiation. For those exposed to the bomb blast who didn’t die from the blast itself, the radiation levels were often deadly, killing many within the first 30 days after the explosion. Others died years later from various cancers, leukemia being the most prevalent. However, all of those who died from radiation illnesses were exposed to the bomb blast itself, and all were close to the epicenter of the blast.

The British Mission, which went to the sites of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to study the effects found that at three-quarters of a mile from the blast epicenter, the radiation survival rate was greater than 50%. At one mile and beyond it was more than 75%, and at two miles distance, there were some reports of radiation sickness, but no reported deaths, and the residual cancer rates were statistically the same as the rest of the world.

There were no higher incidents of cancers or other mortalities from any person not exposed to the actual bomb, nor from any person outside of two miles from the epicenter, nor from any person who entered the actual bomb area immediately after the explosion.

For many years, even decades, reports of birth defects from pregnant survivors were reported. They were all shown to be false. In 1985, Johns Hopkins University human geneticist and professor of genetics from the University of Wisconsin, James Crow, completed a study that confirmed the number of birth defects from survivors of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not significantly higher than those of the general population. A pregnant woman could have moved into a house directly under the epicenter of the bomb, a week after the explosion, and both her and the baby would have been fine.

I mention this because of the common misconception that nuclear bomb sites are uninhabitable for generations. I grew up with the misinformed teachings that nuclear sites are graveyards, with images of zombie children with three arms living in the green glow of Hiroshima for years after the bombing.

It’s just simply not true. Now, there are ways to use nukes to make a place uninhabitable, and we’ll discuss those later, but other than intentionally irradiating an area, simply detonated a nuclear weapon on a city does not leave lasting long-term radiation effects.

Three days after the Hiroshima bombing, with the Japanese still refusing to surrender, the U.S. dropped Fat Man onto the city of Nagasaki. Fat Man was a plutonium compression bomb, similar to The Gadget detonated in the Trinity test. The blast yield was also similar to The Gadget, at an estimated 20 kilotons of TNT. Because the bomb was dropped slightly off-target, and because hills confined the blast to one narrow valley the death toll was less than at Hiroshima, even though Fat Man was more powerful than Little Boy. Estimates for the death toll seem to vary widely due to poor record keeping, but it’s likely they were somewhere between 35,000 and 80,000 total deaths.

The Nagasaki bomb was the final straw for the Japanese, who quickly realized that more of their cities would be destroyed by this awesome technology in the coming days and weeks. Emperor Hirohito unofficially surrendered on August 14th, just a few days before the next bomb was due to be dropped.

Debates have raged for decades as to whether or not the bombs were necessary, and that argument is well beyond the scope of this blog, however, it’s important to note that the Japanese were not going to surrender anytime soon, and that, as mentioned above, it would have taken 220 successful B-29 bombing missions to equal the destruction and death achieved with one atomic bomb. Who knows how many unsuccessful missions it would have taken to achieve 220 successes, and how many Americans, Japanese, and other nationalities fighting would have died in the other Pacific theaters during that time, or if that drawn-out destruction would have even been an encouragement for Japan to surrender. It seems unlikely to me that it would have.

In the next blog in this series, I’ll briefly discuss atomic testing after the war, as well as the Cold War and the arms race, all in a lead-up to present-day thermonuclear weapons and the types of bombs that North Korea has likely achieved, as well as the effect of a nuclear attack by the DPRK on America, and the likely result of an American nuclear counter-attack.

What would a nuclear war between North Korea and the United States look like? (part ONE)

Well, it would be over really quickly. You can insert your own joke here about just how quickly. Most people, including Kim Jong-un understand that North Korea could never hope to emerge victorious from a nuclear conflict. So why does he continually bluster and threaten the United States? Why does he take the chance that his words and actions will escalate an already tense situation to a potential disaster?

Kim Jong-un, http://jbpress.ismedia.jp

Most likely it’s because he can’t win that he continues to crow in the face of his impending annihilation. He knows that he never has to worry about a preemptive first strike from the United States because we have a great fear of nuclear weapons, and all weapons of mass destruction. So if he makes us think he can reach out from his throne in his little impoverished country and strike at our homeland at will, he feels it will garner him a level of respect, driven by fear, and that his actions and words will have no ultimate consequence.

Which brings us to the question – why do Americans fear nuclear weapons so much? Why do most of us just want to continue to allow the little man to spout off about our destruction and allow him to continue to develop his nuclear weapons program with no consequence?

I think we fear nukes with something akin to the fear we get when we stand in front of a mirror in a dark bathroom, or when we see a clown in the woods. The same fear that caused my mother to tell us kids not to play with Ouija boards. The same fear that makes us hurry to our car at night in a deserted parking garage. It’s a combination of fears, including fear of the unknown, and, even more prevalent, anecdotal fears from our childhood.

Some of us grew up during the Cold War. If you didn’t grow up during the Cold War, then your parents did. There were many times during this conflict between the United States and the now defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, when the possibility of nuclear war was more than prevalent. There were moments when it could have actually been considered imminent. And that would have been a war that nobody would have won.

War Games, https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/190628996699276787

The United States and the Soviet Union each has thousands of warheads, many mounted on intercontinental ballistic missiles with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs), which gives each missile the capability to hit multiple different cities with a nuclear tipped warhead. (As many as 14 warheads on the submarine-mounted Trident system) Many of them are mobile and can be driven around to different locations, making targeting them with a first-strike difficult or impossible.

Russian mobile missile truck – Vitaly V. Kuzmin

The truly terrifying part of this was in that any single launch from one country, intentional or accidental, would have likely triggered an all-out response of the launch of every warhead from the other country. The entire planet would have been altered or even destroyed as a result. In the Soviet Union, they even had a program known as Dead Hand or Perimeter that would have triggered a comprehensive nuclear retaliatory launch in response to any launch from the U.S., regardless of whether or not anybody in the leadership was still alive or capable of giving the actual order. (BTW, this program is probably still active and operational in Russia today, and the U.S. has a similar, though safer one.)

And we all either grew up with those fears, or our parents did, and they passed those fears on to us.

But this is not what a nuclear war with North Korea would look like. They don’t have the technology the Soviets had, they don’t have the ability to destroy our country. A single city? Maybe. We’ll get into that. But our country? Nope.

So why do I see posts from people who seem to think that any nuclear attack would be the end of the world as we know it? Why are people so fearful of nuclear weapons, as evidenced by memes such as this:

And by the outcry to President Trump when, during his campaign, he wouldn’t say that nuclear weapon usage was never an option?

TRUMP: Well, I don’t want to take cards off the table. I would never do that. The last person to press that button would be me. Hey, I’m the one that didn’t want to go into Iraq from the beginning. The last person that wants to play the nuclear card believe me is me. But you can never take cards off the table either from a moral stand — from any standpoint and certainly from a negotiating standpoint.

The left had a field day with this one. A person running for President of the United States publicly stated that he wouldn’t take the nuclear card off the table.

Well of course he wouldn’t. No president has ever, or will ever (honestly) state that nuclear weapons are never an option. Now, what got so many people up in arms was the implication that nuclear weapons could be used as a first strike, as opposed to as a defensive retaliatory strike. And, as Americans, for some reason that thought is appalling to us. Even though we’re the only country who ever has used a nuclear weapon on an enemy, the thought of doing it again leaves us aghast.

But should it?

I believe one of the reasons we fear nuclear weapons so much is that most of us don’t actually understand what they are and how they work. We know they’re super powerful and they create great destruction, but most of us don’t know how they do that and what makes them so different from any other super-powerful bomb. I know people don’t understand what a nuclear weapon is when I hear comments like, “You won’t be able to visit Korea for the next ten thousand years.”

Our fear of nuclear weapons, much like our fear of dark parking garages, mirrors in dark bathrooms, and Ouija boards, comes partly from our natural and biological fear of the unknown and that which we don’t understand, along with our lingering fears from the Cold War, either through personal memories, or through history class lectures and anecdotes.

And that’s why, in this series of blog posts, I’m going to explain exactly what nuclear bombs are and how they work. I’m going to talk a little bit about the history of nuclear weapons, and what the weapons of today look like and are capable of. I’m going to discuss the types of weapons North Korea has, and what the launch of those weapons would mean to us and to the DPRK.

I’m going to attempt to alleviate some of the fears of the unknown; to put to rest some myths about what launching a nuclear weapon would mean, both as a first-strike option, and as a retaliatory option. I’m going to compare a nuclear blast to a blast from some of the powerful conventional weapons of today and weapons through history, including the original atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I’m going to explain the difference between those WWII bombs, which were atomic bombs, and the hydrogen bombs of today. I’m also going to explain why people live happily and free of radiation exposure in Hiroshima and Nagasaki right now.

This is going to be a long series of blog posts with a ton of information. If you don’t have any interest in nuclear weapons and how they work, and you don’t have any fears of a nuclear war with North Korea, and you understand perfectly why Donald Trump has made the comments and threats he has with regard to nuclear weapons in general, and North Korea in particular, then you don’t need to read them.

Otherwise, buckle in. Because nuclear weapons are fascinating, and the science and technology behind what makes them work, and what makes them so terrifying, is engrossing. I’m going to do my best to bring it to you in a way that will make you understand them a little better, and maybe even fear them a little less.

An introduction to my new novel, TRANSIENT

When I first had the idea for Transient, I envisaged a series of novellas about a homeless man who was on the run from the police for a crime he didn’t commit. I thought it would be five separate stories, each having its own story arc, with one all-encompassing story arc that would be resolved at the end.

After writing the first two novellas, I came to realize that I liked the story better as a full length novel. So I changed it. I adapted the original two novellas to make them more relevant as a novel, and then wrote the remainder of the story which I’ve just recently finished.

I’m happy with the way it turned out, and thrilled with the decision to turn several novellas into a single novel!

Transient is an exciting suspense novel that tells the story of David Sands, a former police officer on the run from the law and living on the streets of Las Vegas. He’s accused of a heinous crime that he didn’t commit, and his intention is to find the actual perpetrators. One problem though: he’s dealing with enormous emotional trauma, and falling into the pitfalls of life on the street, namely, alcoholism.

Check out a preview of the first chapter of Transient below, and I look forward to being able to share it with all of you sometime soon!

TRANSIENT

Chapter 1

I remember when I saw my first murder.

I say first as though I’ve seen a lot of them. The truth is I’ve only had two happen right in front of me. The first was two years ago and I don’t talk about that one. I remember it—I’ll always remember it—but I don’t talk about it.

The second was about an hour ago.

I take a drink from my beer bottle, the liquid warm and somewhat flat as it slips over my tongue and down my throat. It leaves an acidic and bitter feeling in my stomach as it sits there. I know bitter is a taste, or possibly an emotional reaction and not actually a physical feeling, but I can’t think of a better word to describe the daggers in my stomach as the beer churns in my gut. I haven’t eaten today and that’s probably part of the reason the tepid beer isn’t sitting well with me.

Lyrics from Paul Revere, the old Beastie Boys song, suddenly come unbidden into my mind:

One lonely Beastie I be,
All by myself without nobody.
The sun is beating down on my baseball hat,
The air is gettin’ hot, the beer is getting flat.

There’s a line later in the song about a sheriff’s posse being on his tail. That line is even more apropos to my current situation.

I need to figure out what to do about the murder I just saw.

There are options of course. There are always options. Mine are more limited than yours would be though.

If you witnessed a murder—saw it happen right in front of your eyes—what would you do?

I’m guessing some of you are tough guys and you’re thinking you would have done something to stop it. You would have played the hero; you’d have jumped at the killer and wrestled the gun away from him and then held him until the police arrived.

I snort at that thought, some of the beer coming back up my esophagus, burning my throat as it tends to do. This is the worst part about drinking warm beer. It doesn’t want to stay where it belongs, always bubbling around down there, threatening to rise back up. I read somewhere once that Germans drink their beer warm on purpose. They don’t have a history of good decision-making skills though, do they?

It’s rare that I actually have a good, cold beer, so you’d think I’d be used to the warm stuff. I suppose there are some things a civilized person was just never meant to get used to.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m no hero. I didn’t even consider trying to stop the murder I just witnessed. My life may not seem like much to you, but it’s the only one I’ve got and I’d rather prefer to keep it.

Be a good witness. That’s what the cops always tell civilians when the civilians ask what they should do when they see a crime happening. Be a good witness. Don’t get involved.

Those of you who aren’t heroes—like me—are probably thinking that if you witnessed a murder you would be a good witness, just like the police recommend. You would watch the murder happen, and then take note of the killer’s appearance: his clothing, height, weight, complexion, hair color and style, any facial hair, any noticeable scars or visible tattoos. You’d take note of the gun, filing away whether it was an automatic or a revolver, stainless or blued. Perhaps you’d even notice the make and model of the gun (stainless Beretta 92FS in this case). You’d take note of anything unusual, like the thing he’d been carrying in his left hand, something he grabbed from the car after he fired the fatal shot. I couldn’t see what it was as it was blocked by his body, but it was small and white in color, and if you’d seen that, you would add that to your mental report.

Once you’d filed all that information away in your memory, you’d then pay attention to the killer’s escape method. If he left the scene in a car, such as he did in this case, you’d note the make, model, color, any distinguishing characteristics such as body damage or custom equipment, and, if you could safely get close enough, you’d take note of the license plate number, memorizing it or typing it into your phone so you didn’t forget. And of course, you would note the direction of travel after he left the scene.

Then you would call the police, giving the critical information to the dispatcher so he or she could relay it to the responding police officers. When they arrived on the scene, you would give a detailed statement of what you had witnessed. With your superior powers of observation, there would be an excellent chance of the killer getting caught.

I’m a superb witness and I did everything listed above…with one exception.

I didn’t call the police.

 

A really annoying Facebook trend

I’ve noticed a really disturbing trend on Facebook recently. Although I’ve seen this lots of times over the years, it seems to be getting worse and worse, and it needs to stop!
Here’s what it is.
Random Facebook post whenever someone is within any proximity to a violent act:
 
“Oh my God! (X) happened and I was only (Y distance) away!”
 
or:
 
“Oh my God! (X) just happened at (Y) location! I was just there yesterday at the same time!!
How do these posts make any kind of sense? This person is nothing but a tragedy hijacker. They were not in danger, they are simply trying to get attention. 
 
Here are some examples of actual posts I’ve recently seen:
 
“I was on a layover at Fort Lauderdale Airport just an hour before the shooting happened!”
 
You were on a layover. In a secure and protected area. The shooting happened in baggage claim, in a different terminal. Let’s also keep in mind, you were on a plane at the time of the shooting, not actually at the airport. You were like 400 miles away! You’re commandeering someone else’s tragedy. Stop it.
 
“I was in the parking lot of the Alderwood Mall when that clerk got stabbed!! So scary!!”
 
No. Not scary. You were hundreds of yards away and the assault suspect was after one person in particular. You had hundreds of people and hundreds of cars, and walls and doors and everything else between you and the violence. Unless the knife wielder was on a killing spree and could move at the speed of Flash Lightning, you were not in danger. You’re an attention whore. Stop it.
Even worse than these posters are the people who write the following replies:
“Thank God you’re ok!”
“Oh wow, so glad you’re safe!”
“That’s so scary! Praying for your safety!”
What’s wrong with you? You’re doing nothing but pandering to the attention hijacker. They were not in danger, it was not scary for them, and they sure don’t need your prayers. What they need is an intervention. They’re attempting to make someone else’s bad day their own. You encourage this atrocious behavior by pretending this person was in danger and you’re so thankful they’re safe.
And, the worst of the worst? This guy:
“Are you okay??”
No, idiot. They’re bleeding out but decided to take the time to update their Facebook status instead of applying pressure to the wound.
So why does this bother me so much? I don’t really know. All I know is that the people who do this are usually drama queens looking for a safe space where they can discuss their feelings.
I have to go think about my good fortune. I recently visited Auschwitz where 1.5 million people were murdered just 70 years before I got there. So scary, but thank God I made it out okay and just barely missed the genocide!

Introducing my new novel, CHESAW

It’s finally here…the follow-up to my first novel, DRAWING DEAD is finished and available on Amazon! It’s called CHESAW, and it takes off from where Drawing Dead ended, with the protagonist, Detective Ryan Tyler, wounded and recovering from the two bullets he took in the gunfight at his condo.

Tyler has elected to convalesce at his family cabin in rural Washington State, near the town where he grew up and went to high school. There’s no phone service, cell or landline, no internet, no television…nothing to interrupt his day except the occasional deer that passes by, and the chipmunks playing in the woodpile. He’s content to sit on the porch and drink beer, with a nightly trip into the nearby town of Chesaw for a steak or a burger and a few more beers.

Tyler is enjoying another beautiful summer day when the stillness is broken by the arrival of a vehicle. It’s the Okanogan County Sheriff, an old acquaintance of Tyler’s from high school. He’s heard Tyler is back and he’s stopping by with a request. A man has been found murdered, and Tyler knows the victim–a drinking buddy of his from the tavern in Chesaw. The sheriff wants to know if Tyler is willing to take a look at the crime scene, maybe offer some advice and guidance to the inexperienced homicide detectives taking on the case.

Tyler reluctantly agrees. He visits the crime scene and discovers this isn’t an ordinary murder, not one of the mundane type that typically occur in rural America. This one has the earmarks of a setup, and Tyler immediately realizes that someone has planted false flags to distract the detectives and to hide the true motives behind the killing.

When he finally discovers the true reason for the murder, he realizes that it has implications that extend well beyond little Okanogan County. He’s uncovered something that may have a huge impact on science, and put the little town of Chesaw into the public eye forever.

CHESAW is available now on Amazon, both in ebook format, and in paperback. I look forward to reading your comments and reviews once you’ve read it, and I look forward to writing the next Ryan Tyler book sometime next year!

Guilty until proven innocent

It seems that everywhere I look on Facebook today there is outrage over the recent shootings of two men by police officers. Notice I didn’t say “two black men” because I’ll try to keep this post about police misconduct rather than about race, although I acknowledge that both of the men were black and I acknowledge that this is the primary reason for the social outrage. You’ll also notice I didn’t say “two unarmed men.” That’s because both of the men were armed, or at least that’s what it seems according to the information known and available at the time of this post.

The reason for this blog is because it’s difficult for me to sit and read all the blatantly ignorant posts that I see popping up all over, without responding in some way.

For those of you who know me, you’ll know that I’m strongly pro-police in most situations. More importantly than that though, I’m strongly “pro-let’s get all the facts before we judge the situation.”

Mostly though, what I want to talk about is the extreme misconception that police officers can do whatever they want without repercussions.

A friend, who I know to be of above average intelligence, made a post on Facebook today that there were 1200 police shootings last year and zero officers were convicted of murder or manslaughter. He then went on to say that if you have a high school diploma (a subtle jab implying that police officers aren’t capable of higher education degrees) and you want a job where there’s no accountability for your actions, you should become a cop.

I will say this much, he’s correct that zero officers have been convicted of murder or manslaughter from shootings that took place in 2015. What he failed to add (intentionally or ignorantly) is that fifteen officers have been charged and are awaiting trial on murder or manslaughter charges, and that many investigations are still open with charges potentially pending. In fact, already in 2016, two police officers have been charged and sentenced to prison for shootings that took place in 2013.

ALL police shootings result in a thorough investigation into that shooting, and, to the best of my knowledge, that investigation is done 100% of the time with an outside agency for impartiality. Many jurisdictions even use a citizen’s review board into all shootings, just so there’s not even a hint of impropriety. That’s right, a board made up of citizens gets to determine if the officer acted appropriately. The fact is, police officers are held to an extremely high standard in everything they do, and use of force elevates that standard even higher.

Philando Castile was shot on a traffic stop in Minnesota and the aftermath was caught on video by his girlfriend who was driving at the time. What we see in that video is a man who has been shot and is dying. He’s seated in the passenger seat, with his seatbelt on, and he’s slumped over, still breathing but obviously struggling. If you’re not used to seeing violence and blood, it’s probably not a pleasant thing to watch. What we don’t see, is what happened. We don’t see what led to the shooting and we don’t see the actual shooting itself because the video is started after it happens. The girlfriend claims that Castile was reaching for his wallet to get his identification, while the police officer (apparently) thought he was reaching for the gun he had concealed (legally, with a permit it seems) on his side.

Is this a tragedy? Probably. Did the officer act inappropriately? Maybe. We don’t know because we don’t have any other information. We don’t know what happened before the video was turned on. Hopefully the officer was wearing a body camera, or had dashboard video and audio because then we’ll have a better idea of what happened. Unless you believe that this officer came on duty that day and decided he was going to kill the first person who gave him any reason to do so, then you have to admit this is going to suck for everybody involved, including the officers, the department, and the community. Because if that officer thought Castile was going for his gun when he was actually going for his wallet, right now that officer is going through a living hell. If he killed a man without cause, after a split-second decision, he will be devastated and will have to live with that for the rest of his life. And he’ll probably be prosecuted and very possibly face prison time for his mistake.

Again, unless you believe the officer set out to murder somebody that day, this is either a justifiable shooting, or a terrible and tragic mistake made by an officer who made a bad decision in a split-second situation. But here’s the point…He will face an inquiry and he will be held accountable for his actions, right or wrong. We CAN NOT judge him or the situation until all the facts have been presented and the investigation is finished, and that will take some time.

The other shooting involved a man who was also armed, and who resisted arrest. The police in this case, responded to a call of a man who presented a gun in a threatening manner (a crime known as brandishing in many locations). Upon arrival, they attempted to arrest Alton Sterling and during that arrest, he was shot. Here, we have a different scenario for sure. We know Sterling was armed and we know that he resisted arrest. Those facts are evident in the video. What’s not evident is whether or not Sterling tried to draw his weapon while he was fighting with the police officers.

Proponents of Alton Sterling on social media will tell you how he was known affectionately as CD man. Even “news” outlet headlines, in an astonishing lack of journalistic integrity, use such headlines as “Police kill man selling CD’s on street.” Opponents of Sterling will tell you about his lengthy criminal rap sheet that includes several felonies and resisting arrest charges. Neither of these are valid points whatsoever. It doesn’t matter if Sterling was a nice guy who sold CD’s and it doesn’t matter if his rap sheet was a mile long. He doesn’t deserve to be killed by the police either way, unless he did something in that moment that justifies their actions. And we don’t know if he did because his actions while he’s fighting with the police do not come through on the video. One of the officers shouts out that he has a gun, the other officer draws his weapon (appropriately), and warns the man that he’ll be shot if he moves. We see one of the officers jump away, falling over Sterling in his attempt to get out of the way. We hear a gunshot of unknown origin, the camera moves away, and we hear more gunfire. Then the camera switches back and the officer is trying to slide away on his back with Sterling immobile and dying. Another officer comes up and removes something from the man’s pocket (that appears to indeed be a gun).

Again, a full inquiry and investigation will be performed here, and if the officers acted inappropriately, they will likely be charged with a felony. We can’t judge them though, without all the evidence, and just based on a partial video of the incident. NOBODY IS QUALIFIED TO JUDGE THESE OFFICERS BASED ON WHAT IS SHOWN IN THOSE VIDEOS.

Neither of these cases even remotely resembles the case of the Michael Slager, the officer in Georgia who shot Walter Scott in the back while he was running away. In that case, the video turns on while Officer Slager is engaged in a physical confrontation with Scott who then disengages and runs. Slager draws his firearm and opens fire, striking Scott several times in the back. He then handcuffs Scott, returns to the scene of the fight where he appears to pick up a fallen weapon (Taser I believe) which he then carries over to Scott and throws on the ground next to him. Officer Slager has been charged with murder, and guess what? He’s probably going to be convicted, just based on the video evidence alone. And I’ll be honest, I have a tough time not judging his guilt, even with my stand that nobody should be judged until all the facts are in, just because the video is so clear and so damning.

But these other two? Nope. Sorry. Not going to judge either officer until we know all the facts, and certainly not based on some crappy video. For those of you who think you can sit and judge those officers, I challenge you to take on what they have. Police communities everywhere are hiring officers; go apply. Go change things from within and go walk a mile in a police officer’s boots and then try to judge them for their decisions. Because the job is a little tougher than all you social media judges might think.

Police officers live in fear of the accountability they’ll be held to every day. I’m not saying they are afraid of their intent being judged. What they’re afraid of is their decisions, often made with partial information and no time to think, being judged after the fact, with full information and disclosure of facts. The fear they live with every day is that they’ll make a mistake; that they’ll be forced to make a decision that will turn out to be wrong and that they’ll kill an innocent man. Sometimes that happens and they’re not charged. They’re not charged because logical people understand the difference between a light-of-the-day analysis of an encounter, and a split-second life or death decision with partial information. But even when they’re not charged, they still have to live with the guilt of a decision that could have been made differently. And they often have to face a civil trial where they can be held financially accountable even if they’re not criminally accountable.

I’m friends with many good police officers, and I dread the day one of those officers is faced with such a decision. Because the average public will never understand the fear that police officers go through every time they have an encounter with a member of the public that doesn’t go smoothly. Every time somebody decides to run or decides to fight. The delicate balance between not using enough force in an escalating situation that results in them getting hurt or killed, and using too much force that results in the citizen getting hurt or killed. It’s not easy and I will not judge based on a few seconds of a shaky camera phone video. Neither should you.

An interesting review of G.O.T.

A Song of Ice and Fire is one of my favorite series of all time and one of only four or five that I’ve read in the Fantasy genre. (The others were LOTR and Harry Potter, so I’m a fame fan at best.)

I’ve never heard anybody say anything bad about the A Song of Ice and Fire series but I came across a bunch of negative reviews lately on Goodreads that I thought were quite interesting. Here is an example of one and I’d love to hear thoughts from anybody who’s read the series. (Warning: this review is LONG)

From J.G. Keely on Goodreads  1-star review

There are plenty of fantasy authors who claim to be doing something different with the genre. Ironically, they often write the most predictable books of all, as evidenced by Goodkind and Paolini. Though I’m not sure why they protest so much–predictability is rarely a death sentence in genre fantasy.

The archetypal story of the hero, the villain, the great love, and a world to be saved never seems to get old–and there’s nothing wrong with this story when it’s told well. At the best, it’s exciting, exotic, and builds to a fulfilling climax. At the worst, it’s just a bloodless rehash, and the worst are more common by far.

Perhaps it was this wealth of predictable, cliche romances that drove Martin to aim for something ‘different’. Unfortunately, being different isn’t something you can choose to do, any more than you can choose to be creative. Sure, Moorcock wrote Elric to be the anti-Conan, but at some point, he had to stretch out and find a core for his series that was more than just that–and he did.

In similar gesture, Martin rejects moralistic romance, tearing the guts out of epic fantasy: the wonder, the ideals, the heroism, and with them, the moral purpose. Fine, so he took out the rollicking fun and the social message–what did he replace them with?

Like the post-Moore comics of the nineties, fantasy has borne witness to a backlash against the moral hero, and then a backlash against the grim antihero who succeeded him. Hell, if all Martin wanted was grim and gritty antiheroes, he didn’t have to reject the staples of fantasy, he could have gone to its roots: Howard, Leiber, and Anderson.

Like many authors aiming at realism, he forgets that ‘truth is stranger than fiction’. The real world is full unbelievable events, coincidences, and odd characters. When authors remove these elements in an attempt to make their world seem real, they make their fiction duller than reality; after all, unexpected details are the heart of verisimilitude.

When Chekhov and Peake eschewed the easy thrill of romance, they replaced it with odd and exciting characters–things strange enough to feel true. In comparison, Martin’s world is dull and gray. Instead of innovating new, radical elements, he merely removes familiar staples–and any world defined by lack is going to end up feeling thin.

Despite trying inject the book with history and realism, he does not reject the melodramatic characterization of his fantasy forefathers, as evidenced by his brooding bastard antihero protagonist (with pet albino wolf). Apparently to him, ‘grim realism’ is ‘Draco in Leather Pants’. This produces a conflicted tone–a soap opera cast for an existentialist film.

There’s also lots of sex and misogyny, and ‘wall-to-wall rape’–not that books should shy away from sex–or from any uncomfortable, unpleasant reality of life. The problem is when people who are not comfortable with their own sexuality start writing about it, and it seems to plague every mainstream fantasy author.

Their pen gets away from them, their own hangups start leaking into the scene. It’s not about the characters anymore, it’s the author cybering about his favorite fetish–and if I cyber with a fat, bearded stranger, I expect to be paid for it.

I know a lot of fans probably get into it more than I do (like night elf hunters humping away in WOW), but reading Goodkind, Jordan, and Martin–it’s like seeing a Playboy at your uncle’s where all the pages are wrinkled. That’s not to say there isn’t serviceable pop fantasy sex out there–it’s just written by women.

Though I didn’t save any choice examples, I did come across this quote from a later book:

“… she wore faded sandsilk pants and woven grass sandals. Her small breasts moved freely beneath a painted Dothraki vest . . .”

Imagine the process: Martin sits, hands hovering over the keys, trying to get inside his character’s head:

“Okay, I’m a woman. How do I see and feel the world differently? My cultural role is defined by childbirth. I can be bought and sold in marriage by my own–Oh, hey! I’ve got tits! Man, look at those things go. *whooshing mammary sound effects* Okay, time to write.”

Where are the descriptions of variously-sized dongs swinging within the confines of absurdly-detailed clothing? There are a set of manboobs–which perhaps Martin has some personal experience with–but not until book five. Even then, it’s not the dude being hyperaware of his own–they’re just there to gross out a dwarf. Not really a balanced depiction.

If you’re familiar with the show–and its parodies on South Park and SNL–this lack of dongs may surprise you. But as Martin himself explained, when asked why there’s no gay sex in his books, though there are gay characters,‘they’re not the viewpoint characters’–as if somehow, the viewpoints he chooses to depict are beyond his control. Apparently, he plots as well as your average NaNoWriMo author: sorry none of my characters chose to be gay, nothing I can do about it.

And balance is really the problem here–if only depict the dark, gritty stuff that you’re into, that’s not realism, it’s just trying to hide a fetish. If you depict the grimness of war by having every female character threatened with rape, but the same thing never happens to a male character, despite the fact that more men get raped in the military than women, then your ‘gritty realism card’ definitely gets revoked.

The books are also notorious for sudden, pointless deaths, which some suggest is another sign of realism–but, of course, nothing is pointless in fiction, because everything that shows up on the page is there because the author put it there. Sure, in real life, people suddenly die before finishing their life’s work (fantasy authors do it all the time), but there’s a reason we don’t tend to tell stories of people who die unexpectedly in the middle of things: they are boring and pointless. They build up for a while then eventually, lead nowhere.

Novelists often write in isolation, so it’s easy to forget the rule to which playwrights adhere: your story is always a fiction. Any time you treat it as if it were real, you are working against yourself. The writing feels the most natural is never effortless, it is carefully and painstakingly constructed to seem that way.

A staple of Creative Writing 101 is to ‘listen to how people really talk’, which is terrible advice. A transcript of any conversation will be so full of repetition, half-thoughts, and non-specific words (‘stuff’, ‘thing’) as to be incomprehensible–especially without the cues of tone and body language. Written communication has its own rules, so making dialogue feel like speech is a trick writers play. It’s the same with sudden character deaths: treat them like a history, and your plot will become choppy and hard to follow.

Not that the deaths are truly unpredictable. Like in an action film, they are a plot convenience: kill off a villain, and you don’t have to wrap up his arc. You don’t have to defeat him psychologically–the finality of his death is the great equalizer. You skip the hard work of demonstrating that the hero was morally right, because he’s the only option left.

Likewise, in Martin’s book, death ties up loose threads–namely, plot threads. Often, this is the only ending we get to his plot arcs, which makes them rather predictable: any time a character is about to get enough influence to make things better, or more stable, he will die. Any character who poses a threat to the continuing chaos which drives the plot will first be built up, and then killed off.

I found this interview to be a particularly telling example of how Martin thinks of character deaths:

“I killed [Ned (hide spoiler)] because everybody thinks he’s the hero … sure, he’s going to get into trouble, but then he’ll somehow get out of it. The next predictable thing [someone] is going to rise up and avenge his [death] … So immediately [killing [Robb] (hide spoiler)] became the next thing I had to do.

He’s not talking about the internal motivations of the characters, or the ideas the characters represent–he isn’t laying out a well-structured plot–he’s just building up a character then killing them to defy expectation. But the only reason we think these characters are important and expect them to succeed is because of how Martin sets them up.

He treats them as central heroes, spending time and energy on them, but it all ends up being a red herring so he can get rid of them for a cheap twist. It’s like the mystery novels of the 70’s, when all the good plots had already been done, so authors added ghosts or secret twins in the last chapter–it’s only surprising because the author has torn up the structure of their own book, and with it the relationship between author and reader.

All authors begin by writing plot arcs that grow and change, building tension and purpose. Normally, when such arcs end, the author must use all the force of his skill to deal with themes and answer questions, providing a satisfying conclusion to a promising idea that his readers have watched grow.

Or you could just kill off a character central to the conflict and bury the plot arc with him. That way, you never have to worry about closure, you can just hook your readers by crafting a new arc from the chaos caused by the dissolution of the previous one. Start to make the reader believe that things might get better, to believe in a character, then wave your arms in distraction, yell and point, ‘look at that terrible thing, over there!’, and hope your audience becomes so caught up in worrying about this new problem that they forget that the old one never actually resolved.

By chaining false endings together, you can create a perpetual tension that never requires solution–like in most soap operas–plus, the author never has to do the hard work of finishing what they started. If an author is lucky, they die before reaching the Final Conclusion the readership is clamoring for, and never have to meet the collective expectation which long years of deferral have built up. It’s easy to idolize Kurt Cobain, because you never had to see him bald and old and crazy like David Lee Roth.

Unlucky authors live to write the Final Book, breaking the spell of continual tension and expectation that kept their readers enthralled. Since the plot has not been resolving into a tight, intertwined conclusion (in fact, it’s probably been spiraling out of control), the author must wrap things up conveniently and suddenly, leaving fans confused and upset. Having thrown out the grand romance of fantasy, Martin cannot even end on the dazzling trick of thevaguely-spiritual transgressive Death Event on which the great majority of fantasy books rely for a handy tacked-on climax (actually, he’ll probably do it anyways, with dragons).

The drawback is that, even if a conclusion gets stuck on at the end, the story fundamentally leads nowhere–it winds back and forth without resolving psychological or tonal arcs. But then, doesn’t that sound more like real life? Martin tore out the moralistic heart and magic of fantasy, and in doing so, rejected the notion of grandly realized conclusions. Perhaps we shouldn’t compare him to other writers of romance, but to Histories.

He asks us to believe in his intrigue, his grimness, and his amoral world of war, power, and death–not the false Europe of Arthur, Robin Hood, and Orlando, but the real Europe of plagues, power struggles, religious wars, witch hunts, and roving companies of soldiery forever ravaging the countryside.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t compare very well to them, either. His intrigue is not as interesting as Cicero’s, Machiavelli’s, Enguerrand de Coucy’s–or even Sallust’s, who was practically writing fiction, anyways. Some might suggest it unfair to compare a piece of fiction to a true history, but those are the same histories that lent Howard, Leiber, and Moorcock their touches of verisimilitude. Martin might have taken a lesson from them and drawn inspiration from further afield: even Tolkien had his Eddas.

More than anything, this book felt like a serial melodrama: the hardships of an ensemble cast who we are meant to watch over and sympathize with, being drawn in by emotional appeals (the hope that things will ‘get better’ in this dark place, ‘tragic’ deaths), even if these appeals conflict with the supposed realism, and in the end, there is no grander story to unify the whole. This ‘grittiness’ is just Martin replacing the standard fantasy theme of ‘glory’ with one of ‘hardship’, and despite flipping this switch, it’s still just an emotional appeal. ‘Heroes always win’ is just as boring and predictable as ‘heroes always lose’.

It’s been suggested that I didn’t read enough of Martin to judge him, but if the first four hundred pages aren’t good, I don’t expect the next thousand will be different. If you combine the three Del Rey collections of Conan The Barbarian stories, you get 1,263 pages (including introductions, end notes, and variant scripts). If you take Martin’s first two books in this series, you get 1,504 pages. Already, less than halfway through the series, he’s written more than Howard’s entire Conan output, and all I can do is ask myself: why does he need that extra length?

A few authors use it to their advantage, but for most, it’s just sprawling, undifferentiated bloat. Melodrama can be a great way to mint money, as evidenced by the endless ‘variations on a theme’ of Soap Operas, Pro Wrestling, Lost, and mainstream superhero comics. Plenty of people enjoy it, but it’s neither revolutionary nor realistic.

Some have tried to defend this book by saying “at least Martin isn’t as bad as all the drivel that gets published in genre fantasy”, but saying “he’s better than dreck” is really not very high praise. Others have intimated that I must not like fantasy at all, pointing to my low-star reviews of Martin,Wolfe, Jordan, and Goodkind, but it is precisely because I am passionate about fantasy that I fall heavily on these authors.

A lover of fine wines winces the more when he is given a corked bottle of vinegar, a ballet enthusiast’s love of dance would not leave him breathless at a high school competition, and likewise, having learned to appreciate Epics, Histories, the Matter of Europe, Fairy Tales, and their modern offspring, the fantasy genre, I find Martin woefully lacking.

There’s plenty of grim fantasy and intrigue out there, from its roots in epic poetry to the Thousand and One Nights to the early fantasies of Eddison, Dunsany, Morris, Macdonald, Haggard, and Kipling. Then there are more modern authors: Poul Anderson, Moorcock, M.John Harrison, Vance, Susanna Clarke, Neil Gaiman, Mervyn Peake, China Mieville, Phillip Pullman, Howard, Lovecraft, and Leiber.

There seems to be a sense that Martin’s work is somehow revolutionary, that it represents a ‘new direction’ for fantasy, but all I see is a reversion. Sure, he’s different than Jordan, Goodkind, and their ilk, who simply took the pseudo-medieval high-magic world from Tolkien and the blood-and-guts heroism from Howard. Martin, on the other hand, has more closely followed Tolkien’s lead than any other modern high fantasy author–and I don’t just mean in terms of racism.

Tolkien wanted to make his story ‘real’–not ‘realistic’, using the dramatic techniques of literature–but actually real, by trying to create all the detail of a pretend world behind the story. Over the span of the first twenty years, he released The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings, and other works, while in the twenty years after that, he became so obsessed with worldbuilding for its own sake that instead of writing stories, he filled his shed with a bunch of notes (which his son has been trying unsuccessfully to make a complete book from ever since).

It’s the same thing Martin’s trying to do: cover a bland story with a litany of details that don’t contribute meaningfully to his characters, plot, or tone. So, if Martin is good because he is different, then it stands to reason that he’s not very good, because he’s not that different. He may seem different if all someone has read is Tolkien and the authors who ape his style, but that’s just one small corner of a very expansive genre. Anyone who thinks Tolkien is the ‘father of fantasy’ doesn’t know enough about the genre to judge what ‘originality’ means.

So, if Martin neither an homage nor an original, I’m not sure what’s left. In his attempt to set himself apart, he tore out the joyful heart of fantasy, but failed replace it with anything worthwhile. There is no revolutionary voice here, and there is nothing in Martin’s book that has not been done better by other authors.

However, there is one thing Martin has done that no other author has been able to do: kill the longrunning High Fantasy series. According to some friends of mine in publishing (and some amusingly on-the-nose remarks by Caleb Carr in an NPR interview), Martin’s inability to deliver a book on time, combined with his awful relationship with his publisher means that literary agents are no longer accepting manuscripts for high fantasy series–even from recognized authors. Apparently, Martin is so bad at structuring that he actually pre-emptively ruined books by other authors. Perhaps it is true what they say about silver linings . . .

Though I declined to finish this book, I’ll leave you with a caution compiled from various respectable friends of mine who did continue on:

“If you need some kind of closure, avoid this series. No arcs will ever be completed, nothing will ever really change. The tagline is ‘Winter is Coming’–it’s not. As the series goes on, there will be more and more characters and diverging plotlines to keep track of, many of them apparently completely unrelated to each other, even as it increasingly becomes just another cliche, fascist ‘chosen one’ monomyth, like every other fantasy series out there. If you enjoy a grim, really long soap opera with lots of deaths and constant unresolved tension, pick up the series–otherwise, maybe check out the show.”

What does this poem mean?

In my new novel, Reasonable Doubta man is murdered over the following poem…

They say youth’s folly is the pursuit of wealth,

It’s the theif of that which is not slowed.

The most precious thing you own is your health,

And you’ll need it to recover this lode.

 

Your search begins where rocks once grew,

And the music man, he spins through the night.

The pitcher’s goal, in his name replaces two,

The Lincoln Logs of life must give him a fright.

 

Smog without air makes no sense at all,

But adding gold makes him mighty and great.

A place such as this, a home he might call,

‘Lo he ignore the ghosts of those working the freight.

 

Protected from the Arctic’s wet kiss you’ll find,

As you begin the true quest from here.

The stalwart kid of course is kind,

But only trustworthy as far as the mirror.

 

Now a mile is the goal, are your legs burning yet?

Don’t worry, you’ve nearly arrived.

A heavy load, a truly great get,

I was amazed at how they had thrived.

 

Go quickly now, for the end draws nigh,

All great adventures must come to a close.

The entrance you seek, low and yet dry,

The chest in a trunk, protected by a rose.

 

If you’re persistent enough to have come this far,

The gold, I bequeath all to you.

A paragon of honor, I have no doubt that you are,

Though if not, this day you shall rue.

What does the poem mean? What are the clues? Check out Reasonable Doubt on Amazon in ten days and find out!!

Meet the characters of “Reasonable Doubt”: Detectives Monika Sodafsky and Bruce Norgaard

It’s time to meet the characters of my new novel, Reasonable Doubt, due to be published in March.  Next up: Homicide Detectives Monika Sodafsky and Bruce Norgaard.

 

Detective Monika Sodafsky took a sip of her coffee while she stared at her partner over the rim of the cup. Detective Bruce Norgaard was currently engaged in trying to maneuver a huge spoonful of scrambled eggs onto the edge of a toasted cinnamon-raisin bagel that was smothered in cream cheese. She watched as he pushed the scrambled eggs into the cream cheese with his plastic spoon, the cream cheese bulging out around the eggs. A large glob of it fell off the bagel and was about to land in his lap when he whipped the spoon down and caught it. He licked the cream cheese off the spoon and then bit off a huge chunk of bagel, cream cheese, and scrambled eggs.

“You’re disgusting,” Monika said to him, setting her coffee cup down on the table and pulling off a small, bite-sized piece of her blueberry muffin, popping it into her mouth.

Bruce shrugged and chewed rapidly until he had made enough room in his mouth to be able to speak.

“It’s all about ratios, Monika. You see, every item on this plate is, by itself, inedible.” He paused while he finished chewing and then swallowed the food in his mouth. She was grateful for that, at least; his habit of talking while he was chewing was enough to make her want not to eat her own breakfast.

Bruce continued. “Take this bagel.” He pointed down at his plate. “This thing is just barely edible. Sure, it’s got cinnamon in it, which is delicious, and raisins, which are great, but they’re all mixed in with dough that was made in some factory in massive quantities by some minimum wage worker using the cheapest ingredients they can bulk buy. Then the cream cheese. Sure, it’s a type of cheese, which automatically makes it delicious, but you can’t just grab a spoon and start eating cream cheese out of a container. That would be socially unacceptable.”

Monika arched her eyebrows. Did Bruce actually care about whether or not something was socially unacceptable?

“Then we get to the eggs. Look around this place.” He waved his hand toward the kitchen of the deli where they were eating. “Who the fuck knows what happens back there? When do you think an inspector was last here checking on the sanitation conditions? Probably never. Then you have the fact that these scrambled eggs are made from some kind of dehydrated powder with God only knows what in it. The guy back there adds water and cooks it on a stove and then serves it to us calling it eggs, because if he called it ’rehydrated, yellow, egg-like powder with monosodium glutamate and a touch of cockroach carcass‘ nobody would buy it.”

“So why in the world are you eating it then?” she demanded.

Bruce smiled. “For two reasons. Number one, I’m a cop. I don’t make enough money to go to the nice restaurants and eat the good food. And number two, when you put them together in the right proportions, it’s delicious!” He spooned up another heaping load of rehydrated egg-like powder, balanced it on the cream cheese smothered bagel, and took another huge bite.

“Delicious!” he mumbled around the mouthful of food.

Monika sighed and ate another small bite from her muffin. As disgusting as the eating habits of her partner were, he actually managed to stay somewhat trim and in decent shape. In fact, he wasn’t bad looking and in another time of her life, she might have been interested in some kind of romantic involvement with him. As it was, though, she was entirely focused on her career.

Monika Sodafsky was thirty-five years old and had been a cop for ten years now. She loved being a detective and she loved working in homicide, the pinnacle of detective work, at least in her mind. She’d never been married and wasn’t planning on getting married for some time. Companionship was great and she missed it sometimes, but her career came first.

She sipped her coffee and tried to tune out the sound of Bruce eating as she stared out the window at the rain coming down. She had worked hard to get to where she was, and relationships were often distracting. In fact, her motto was Comfort is the enemy of success. She usually applied that motto just to her work, but she had come to realize that it applied to her personal life as well.

She had been in exactly three serious relationships in her life. The first had been during college at the University of Washington where she had dated the same guy for her entire sophomore and junior years. He’d been a soccer player and had decided not to return for his senior year, instead opting to try to make it as a professional. He’d wanted to continue dating, but they both knew it wasn’t going to work and they’d called it off.

The second serious relationship had been during her rookie year as a police officer. She’d begun dating another recruit from her same academy class. She thrived during her field training period, the time after a cop graduates from the police academy when they ride with a training officer to learn how actual police work is done. Her boyfriend, Nate, didn’t thrive. In fact, he struggled and, after six months of field training, he was fired by the department.

She still would have tried to make that relationship work, but Nate was threatened by her success in the same arena as his failure. She’d tried to make it easy on him, commiserating with him about the bad luck he’d had in training officer assignments and trying to make up complaints of her own in an attempt to sympathize with him. The problem was, Monika loved her job and she loved the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. Coming home every day after Nate was fired and trying to pretend she’d had a terrible day became a chore. It brought her down and she knew it was affecting her career.

That was the first time she realized that relationships are bad for a career. She did some soul searching and came to the conclusion that in order to be everything she wanted to be in a cop, she had to lose the baggage. The baggage in this case had a big tag on it that read Nate.

After a nasty breakup, she spent three years being single before giving a relationship one more try, this time with a prosecuting attorney named Jacob who had hit on her relentlessly for months. She had finally acquiesced to his date requests and they’d gone out for the next three months.

The only reason Monika considered this a serious relationship was because she’d told Jacob that she loved him. It hadn’t been true, but what do you say when a guy says, “I love you”? “Thank you. That’s really sweet of you,” just doesn’t cut it. So she’d said, “I love you too,” just like a good girlfriend was supposed to do. A month later, he’d begun talking to her about moving in together and him taking care of her. He was surprised and hurt and angry when she broke up with him. She tried to explain that she’d made the decision to work on her career and that the relationship was doing nothing but interfering with that. He’d made a bunch of accusations that there was another guy (there wasn’t, of course) and had actually cried when she started to leave.

To Monika, that was a manifestation of weakness, something she despised in a man. She knew that some women thought a man crying meant that he was sensitive and that it was a redeeming quality, but Monika didn’t see that at all.  She certainly didn’t cry, almost never anyway, and she could only look at Jacob with contempt when she saw the tears.

That had been nearly five years ago and since then she’d never been happier. She still dated; after all, a girl needs to get laid on occasion, but she never allowed herself to develop an emotional attachment to anybody.

This policy had been very beneficial for her career. She’d made the rank of Master Patrol Deputy after five years on the road, the minimum amount of time required to achieve that rank, and had then moved into Investigations. She’d planned on just a short stint there before testing for Sergeant and moving back to patrol, but she’d discovered she loved being a detective. Moving into Major Crimes two years before, she had been the lead detective on eight homicide cases, nine if you count the case she’d pulled just yesterday morning, and so far she’d achieved a conviction on 100% of them.

The homicide case she’d pulled yesterday didn’t seem like it was going to be the one that would break her perfect record, though she knew better than to give voice to that opinion, lest her words come back to haunt her.

Bruce Norgaard had been assigned to assist her with this one, a random draw in the rotation that all detectives go through. It wasn’t a bad draw either; as detectives go, Bruce was a great one, despite his questionable eating habits. He was intelligent and inquisitive and, unlike a few others in the division, he wasn’t lazy. Monika despised laziness and couldn’t stand anybody who thought it was even remotely acceptable, especially in this business.

She glanced at Bruce who was just finishing his last mouthful. She hadn’t wanted to try discussing the case with him while he was eating, knowing that food in his mouth wouldn’t have kept him from talking, but now seemed like a safe time.

“Now that you’re done poisoning your body, can we talk about the Conner case?”

Bruce smiled. “You have my undivided attention.”

Meet the characters of “Reasonable Doubt”: Franklin D. Richardson

It’s time to meet the characters of my new novel, Reasonable Doubt, due to be published in March.  First up: Defense Attorney, Franklin Daniel Richardson.

***

It was only 9:20am, but Franklin Daniel Richardson was already having a shitty day.

Pulling up to his office, his eyes scanned the street looking for a parking spot. He could have parked in the lot back on Hewitt Avenue, but he was boycotting them because he’d gotten in a fight with the lot attendant the previous week.

The lot was supposed to have in and out privileges, and he’d left for lunch. When he returned, a new lot attendant had wanted to charge him for another day, and nobody was going to screw Franklin Daniel Richardson out of eight bucks. He’d gotten in a screaming match with the lot attendant, got back in his car, and threw rocks and gravel at the stupid little shack they stand in as he burned out of there. His current stand was that he wouldn’t be back unless he got a refund of the earlier charge and an apology. If history was any predictor, that stand would not be a lasting one.

Even if he hadn’t been in full boycott mode, the lot was two blocks from his office, and it was currently raining. Of course it was raining, Franklin thought, it was always fucking raining here, especially in January. And naturally, when it wasn’t fucking raining, it was fucking snowing.

Franklin hated the rain and he hated the snow, but what he hated most was when it was fucking raining or fucking snowing and he forgot his fucking umbrella.

His shitty day, of course, had nothing to do with the rain that was drizzling down. If he allowed the weather to significantly affect the quality of his day, he’d have suck-started a shotgun years ago. You don’t decide to live in the western part of Washington State if rain ruins your day, even though you may hate it.

No, his shitty day was a direct result of a conversation he’d been forced to have this morning with his bitch of an ex-wife who was trying to extort more money out of him. That phone call and the screaming match that ensued with the bitch, had made him late getting on the road to his office, which in turn had made him hit horrendous rush-hour traffic, amplified in magnitude by the relentless rain.

Actually, “Bitch” was too nice of a title for Erica. He had a different designation for her… a word he used with nobody else of course, even though he secretly liked the word and mentally used it to describe a lot of people, both men and women, who pissed him off. He would never use the word out loud though. Except maybe on the rare occasion when his law school buddies got together for drinks and he tipped back a few too many. But there was no harm in yelling it out when he was with those guys; they understood him.

So Erica had her own moniker, though he’d never actually worked up the courage to say it directly to her. It gave him great pleasure to sign off all text message conversations to her with, “C U Next Tuesday!!” even using the capital letters in “Next” and “Tuesday” in case she was too dense to understand the hidden context without them.

Erica never replied to those messages; she always let him get the final word in their text message battles, so Franklin couldn’t actually be sure she did understand what he was implying or if she always thought he was trying to meet up with her next Tuesday.

His eyes continued to search for a parking spot as he turned up Oakes Avenue and approached the courthouse. He could have parked in the small lot right in front of his office, but he wouldn’t allow himself that luxury. He was, unfortunately, a little cash tight at the moment, so his current mode of transportation was a thirteen year-old Honda Accord that had seen better days. There was no way he was going to attract the type of clientele he hoped for, and by that he meant the rich kind with a bunch of legal problems, if this piece of shit Accord was the only vehicle parked in the space in front of his office.

As it stood now, Franklin’s standard response to potential clients who asked, “How come there’s no cars in the parking lot?” was to claim that his Tesla was currently charging at the Tesla service center down the street. The fact that there was no Tesla service center down the street didn’t seem to be a point of contention for any of them.

A few months ago, he’d worked out a deal with a doctor who had an office one block over, to let the doctor park his Mercedes in the lot for free. For a few weeks, Franklin had had a great time claiming ownership of that car to anybody who asked. Then one day the doctor saw him pretending to get in the car while one of Franklin’s potential clients took his own goddamn sweet time driving away after an end-of-the-day appointment. Franklin hadn’t wanted to be seen walking up to his piece of shit Accord that he’d parked in a fortuitous spot on the street one door down from his office. The doctor and his Mercedes hadn’t returned.

Franklin was usually in his office by 8:30am, and that meant he usually had a plethora of parking choices. But today he was late thanks to his C U Next Tuesday of an ex-wife, and now he couldn’t find a goddamn parking spot.

Just as he was about to spin a U-turn and drive back to Hewitt Avenue, he saw the sweet sight of white back-up lights come on in one of the spaces reserved for courthouse parking.

Franklin hit the gas and stopped just short of the car preparing to back out. The jackass was taking his fucking sweet time and Franklin impatiently thrummed his fingers on the steering wheel, muttering under his breath. When the car finally moved, Franklin flipped the driver the bird and then whipped into the spot, killing the engine just as his cell phone started to ring…

An introduction to “Reasonable Doubt”

I just finished writing my second novel and I thought you guys would like to see a quick little preview to get an idea of what its about. Enjoy these first two chapters of Reasonable Doubt!

 

 

PROLOGUE

Heaving the backpack to the ground, Richard Frost sat on a log to catch his breath. Time was short, but he was exhausted and desperately needed a break. He took a great gasping breath that caught in his lungs. Coughing strenuously, he leaned forward, covering his mouth with his gloved hand, a habit ingrained in socially accepted standards, though there was nobody around to take offense. Getting the coughing under control, he looked down at the palm of the glove and paused for a moment staring at the blood splattered on it. Shaking his head, he wiped the glove in a patch of snow, spitting to clear his mouth before opening his water bottle and drinking the last drops.

He took just another moment, enjoying the solitude, the quiet and the beauty of the natural world surrounding him. This is what had sustained him throughout his life, what had allowed him to work so hard for so many years. Knowing the wilderness was always waiting had let him push through the long weeks, looking forward to the one day each week he always set aside to spend in the woods. He was sorry his life was coming to an end like this, but glad he’d found a small path to immortality in the backpack at his feet.

Standing at last, he suffered through one more coughing spell, saying a quick prayer that it was the last or that the next would hold off at least for a couple of hours. He still had a lot of work to do and darkness was fast approaching.

He grabbed the backpack and gingerly picked his way down the embankment to the place he’d chosen so carefully. He’d spent months looking for just the right spot. The conditions he’d set as the standard while searching for the perfect location had required a lot of thought. He had no idea how long it would be before someone came looking for this cache, and it needed to survive years, probably, and quite possibly decades.

He opened the backpack and then leaned into the concealed cavity, dragging out the titanium box, grunting under its significant weight. He felt another coughing spell coming on and he paused while he fought it down. The spells had recently become serious enough that he’d passed out on two occasions, unable to control his breathing, blood spraying in the air as he fell to the ground. A recurrence of that here would be disastrous.

After a brief moment his lungs began to work smoothly and he said a silent prayer of thanks. The danger averted, he swallowed down the small amount of blood that had bubbled up from his ravaged lungs and then returned his attention to the box. He opened it and smiled at the sight; he’d worked hard his entire life and he never tired of looking at the fruits of that labor. He turned to the backpack and, reaching in, removed seven small objects, one at a time. Though small, the objects were heavier than they appeared to be. Each item was perfectly shaped, manufactured to be exact in size and weight.

He added the seven items to the box that already contained thirteen identical objects he had packed up on two earlier trips. He then pulled three small sacks from the backpack. The sacks were made of oilskin which he hoped would protect them for many, many years. He made sure they were closed securely and then piled them in around the twenty heavy objects, pushing the sacks down with his hands so the lid would be able to close securely. It was surprising even to him, a man used to dealing with items such as this, how small a box was required. Someday in the future, somebody would be surprised at how heavy such a small box could be.

Before he closed the lid, he removed a piece of paper from the backpack, the paper laminated and enclosed in a Ziploc bag. He placed it on top of the items in the chest, smiling at the thought of someone reading the words sometime in the future.

There was no point in locking the box, none at all actually, but old habits die hard, and Richard found himself fighting the urge to snap the padlock onto the reinforced clasp. He’d wanted the complex, secure lock when he originally had the box made, but it wasn’t needed anymore. He would have given the padlock a symbolic toss into the lake but, being a lover of nature and a hater of those who would despoil it in any way, he turned and dropped the lock into the backpack instead. He would pack it out, along with any other evidence of his presence, just as he’d done his entire life.

He turned back to the box and, leaning down, put his entire body into it, shoving it back into the place he’d discovered, the place that would keep it safe for as long as necessary.

Moving all of the logs and sticks back exactly as he’d found them, he stood and surveyed the scene. There were definite signs that someone had been here…footprints and drag marks, vegetation crushed, a rock unearthed, but he wasn’t worried about that. It was getting dark and it would snow tonight, covering all signs of his having been here.

Richard Frost picked up the nearly empty backpack and slung it over his shoulders. This part of his life’s journey was nearly over. He’d never see this place again and he took just a moment to enjoy one last look around before he began working his way back to the path that led to his car.

The distance wasn’t far but, in his weakened condition, it had taken him the entire day to make the three trips needed to carry it all here. He smiled to himself as he remembered a time when he would have carried a load like that in just one trip. He missed the days of his youth when nothing had seemed impossible and the world lay at his feet.

Richard worked his way down the slope, finding the trail and following it to his car, arriving right at dark. A few snowflakes began to fall as he unlocked the door. He got in and drove away and didn’t allow himself the luxury of one final look back. The deed was done, the past was the past, and the future belonged to somebody else.

Chapter One

Eight years later

The killer, dressed all in black, looked down at the man tied to the chair. His expression reflected sadness mixed with satisfaction: sadness at what he’d had to do (killing someone was no small feat after all) and satisfaction at what he’d discovered just before he’d pulled the trigger.

The man in the chair moved just slightly, a twitch really, his head lolled over toward his right shoulder, his chin nearly touching his chest. He was dead already, though his body was still trying to fight that finality. The two bullet holes in his chest, a moment before gushing blood, were now releasing just a trickle.

After a few seconds, the man in the chair finally relaxed fully, his body sagging forward, the bonds tying him to the chair the only thing keeping him from falling to the floor. The killer lowered the gun. He was glad the man in the chair hadn’t resisted too much, hadn’t forced him to use measures he’d been willing to use but would have found distasteful in the extreme.

He knelt down and carefully placed the gun into the backpack he’d brought, a few tools rattling around inside as he did so. It wasn’t until then, crouched on the floor by the dead man’s feet, that he finally took the time to look at the piece of paper in his hand.

The man in the chair had hidden it, and the events tonight were a result of that unfortunate decision. Of course, he’d quickly revealed the location and a whole lot more when he’d realized his life was in danger. The decision to end that life had already been determined though. It was only the manner of his death that had been left up to him.

One side of the paper was covered with notes, painstakingly written; cross-outs littering the page, along with question marks, underlines, and circled words.  This was all the work of the man in the chair and the man in black took a moment to admire it.

“I couldn’t have done it myself,” he said quietly to the man in the chair, admitting it for the first time.

He flipped the page over and examined the words written there, words that he was intimately familiar with. The words printed on this page had consumed the last six months of his life, ever since he’d discovered them while reading an interesting news story online:

They say youth’s folly is the pursuit of wealth,

It’s the theif of that which is not slowed.

The most precious thing you own is your health,

And you’ll need it to recover this lode.

Your search begins where rocks once grew,

And the music man, he spins through the night.

The pitcher’s goal, in his name replaces two,

The Lincoln Logs of life must give him a fright.

Smog without air makes no sense at all,

But adding gold makes him mighty and great.

A place such as this, a home he might call,

‘Lo he ignore the ghosts of those working the freight.

Protected from the Arctic’s wet kiss you’ll find,

As you begin the true quest from here.

The stalwart kid of course is kind,

But only trustworthy as far as the mirror.

Now a mile is the goal, are your legs burning yet?

Don’t worry, you’ve nearly arrived.

A heavy load, a truly great get,

I was amazed at how they had thrived.

Go quickly now, for the end draws nigh,

All great adventures must come to a close.

The entrance you seek, low and yet dry,

The chest in a trunk, protected by a rose.

If you’re persistent enough to have come this far,

The gold, I bequeath all to you.

A man of honor, I have no doubt that you are,

Though if not, this day you shall rue.

Seven stanzas, four lines per stanza with alternating rhymes.  230 words, 963 characters, 1166 characters counting the spaces, and one misspelled word. The man in black knew every single detail about this poem, inside and out. He’d studied it, dissected it, looked at it backwards, forwards, upside down and in a mirror. He’d looked up the definitions and synonyms and antonyms of every word. He’d changed every letter to its reciprocal number and tried to find meaning that way. He’d done research with cipher keys, trying to find hidden meaning in the text.

The only thing he hadn’t known about this poem, and really the only thing that mattered, was what the poem meant.

That misspelled word alone had consumed the killer for weeks, trying in vain to figure out why just that one of all 230 words had been misspelled.  Every available hour of every day for weeks, just trying to unravel the meaning behind the spelling of that one word.

For this poem, and in particular for the solution now written on the back and divulged by the man in the chair, the killer had risked much. A calculated risk, but one with potentially dire consequences should he fail.

He carefully folded the piece of paper and tucked it away in a zippered pocket of his black leather jacket. He then bent down to the backpack and, opening a separate zippered compartment, began removing items and placing them on the floor. He had a lot of work still to do and time was short.

Two hours later, the killer looked out the back door, making sure there was nobody watching, and quickly walked through the rear alley. He cut across the golf course to his car which he’d left parked on a street, well away from the victim’s house. Checking once more for any observers, he opened the car door and tossed the backpack inside. Getting behind the wheel, he drove through back streets, following a carefully planned route. As he approached his destination, he picked up his prepaid cell phone and hit a number that was programmed in.

The man with the scar on his face answered on the first ring.

“Go ahead and make the call,” the killer said to the man with the scar on his face.

The phone went dead in his hand. He hit the button to lower the window on his side and carefully tore the phone apart, dropping the battery out first, then the SIM card, and then the two halves of the phone, the parts scattering behind him on the highway.

The deed was done, but the fun was just beginning. The man in black smiled to himself in the rearview mirror as he carefully turned off the highway and headed toward home.