Dooms­day de­ferred

Trump is a loose can­non, but he’s not the Apoca­lypse

Cape Breton Post - - OP-ED - Gwynne Dyer Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist whose ar­ti­cles are pub­lished in 45 coun­tries.

“Without a proper sense of ur­gency, we will be even­tu­ally de­feated, dom­i­nated and very likely de­stroyed,” wrote for­mer gen­eral Michael Flynn, Pres­i­dent Trump’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser, last year. “They are dead set on tak­ing us over and drink­ing our blood.”

It’s so early in the new year that nom­i­na­tions for Year’s Most Ridicu­lous State­ment are not even of­fi­cially open yet, but this has to be a strong con­tender. Flynn was talk­ing, be­lieve it or not, about the “Is­lamic ter­ror­ist threat.”

He was pre­dict­ing that the United States, de­spite hav­ing the world’s big­gest econ­omy, 325 mil­lion peo­ple, the world’s most ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy, and more than 4,000 nu­clear weapons, faces de­feat, dom­i­na­tion and prob­a­bly de­struc­tion at the hands of 10,000 or 20,000 Is­lamist ter­ror­ists – un­less, pre­sum­ably, it gets se­ri­ous and starts tor­tur­ing peo­ple again.

Even if all of the world’s 1.6 bil­lion Mus­lims were po­lit­i­cally and mil­i­tar­ily united – a event less likely than their mass con­ver­sion to the Jedi faith – and they were all com­mit­ted to a cold or even a hot war against Amer­ica, the United States would sur­vive. This is not just Dooms­day talk. It is ex­tremely stupid Dooms­day talk. But there is a lot of it around at the mo­ment.

Take, for ex­am­ple, the fa­mous Dooms­day Clock, a metaphor­i­cal de­vice con­cocted by the Bul­letin of Atomic Sci­en­tists in 1947 to sig­nal how close we are to the end of the world. Mid­night was the apoca­lypse, all-out nu­clear war. Last week the Bul­letin moved the minute hand of the Clock to two-and-a-half min­utes to mid­night, the clos­est it has been since the depths of the “Sec­ond Cold War” in 1984.

I was al­ready a jour­nal­ist in 1984 (a much bet­ter-look­ing one than I am now), and I had al­ready in­ter­viewed the com­man­ders and the op­er­a­tors of the nu­clear forces on both sides of the Iron Cur­tain. And I was 10 times more fright­ened then than I am now.

What’s go­ing on here is sim­ply in­fla­tion. Ter­ror­ism is strate­gi­cally a mere nui­sance, and in terms of your per­sonal threat level it is sta­tis­ti­cally ir­rel­e­vant. An Amer­i­can, for ex­am­ple, is 10 times like­lier to drown in the bath than to die in a ter­ror­ist at­tack.

Yet ter­ror­ism gets as much me­dia at­ten­tion to­day as the threat of a global nu­clear war got back in the Cold War. To para­phrase Parkin­son’s Law, threats ex­pand to fill the (me­dia) space avail­able.

The sci­en­tists who cal­i­brate the Dooms­day Clock are se­ri­ous and sin­cere peo­ple, but they are not im­mune to the in­fla­tion­ary trend. The Clock was set at seven min­utes to mid­night dur­ing the Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis of 1962 (which came close to trig­ger­ing global nu­clear war and killing hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple). Now, they say, it’s only two-anda-half min­utes to mid­night. Re­ally? Are you sure?

Non­sense. The world is a bit more dan­ger­ous than it was just af­ter the end of the Cold War in 1991, when the Clock was set back to 17 min­utes to mid­night, but no year in the past 25 has been as dan­ger­ous as any of the years be­fore 1991. Nu­clear war be­tween great pow­ers is still the real Big Deal.

How­ever, the peo­ple who run the Clock have greatly ex­panded the range of threats they worry about since the risk of a nu­clear war de­clined. They in­clude cli­mate change now, and the resur­gence of old-fash­ioned na­tion­al­ism from Amer­ica and Bri­tain to In­dia and Ja­pan, and pretty well ev­ery­thing else down to acne and hang­nail. There is no fate worse than be­ing ig­nored.

That’s how we got to this point, al­legedly two-and-a-half min­utes to mid­night. From 17 min­utes af­ter the end of the Cold War, they pushed the minute hand for­ward every time any­thing wor­ri­some hap­pened – and only once pushed it back, by one minute, for only two years.

So when Don­ald Trump came to power two weeks ago, fright­en­ing peo­ple with his reck­less talk and im­pul­sive ac­tions, the Clock was al­ready at three min­utes to mid­night, and they could only push it for­ward by an­other 30 sec­onds.

That’s about right in terms of the ex­tra threat Trump rep­re­sents. It’s com­pletely wrong in terms of where the global threat level is now. Trump is a loose can­non, but he’s not the Apoca­lypse, and most other world lead­ers are still grown-ups. Let’s say 10 min­utes to mid­night.

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