What will happen to society if a nuclear weapon is used somewhere in the world, particularly against the United States?
While no one can say for sure what the social consequences of one or more nuclear detonations might be, we can make some educated guesses by examining the reaction to the September 11 attacks by Al-Qaeda against targets in New York City and Washington D.C.
The 9/11 attacks led to the launching of two wars costing trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives. One of those wars is still underway today 20 years later.
Another result of the 9/11 attacks was a substantial re-organization and enhancement of the national security state, including an expansion of the National Security Agency’s ability to monitor electronic communications.
Although it was a big media story when Edward Snowden leaked a pile of classified documents in 2013 revealing the extent of government intrusion in to our communications, most of us have since moved on to other subjects, and more or less made peace with the possibility that the government may to some degree or another be tracking what we say and who we say it to.
The point here is the death of 3,000 Americans by terrorist attack led to a substantial loss of our privacy, a new reality which we’ve more or less gotten used to.
If a terrorist nuclear attack were to kill ten times or a hundred times as many people, it seems likely the same kinds of reaction would unfold, except on a much larger scale. The national security state would almost certainly be further expanded, with government monitoring of our communications and activities further deepened.
Yes, there will also be more whistleblowers, more leaked documents, and more breathless media stories about the threat to privacy.
But just as we did after 9/11 most of us will probably sigh, shrug, get on with our lives, and let it go. After all, we already give away tons of personal information about ourselves on Facebook just so we can post photos of our recent vacation, right?
Nuclear weapons, along with other emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, are likely part of a historical process which will see the dividing line between the individual and collective steadily diluted.
In his eccentric sixties song I Am The Walrus, the ever insightful John Lennon penned the words…
“I am he as you are he as you are me. And we are all together.”
Once the full horror of a nuclear detonation in a city is splashed across our TV screens and monitors, a further lack of our privacy may very well come to be seen not as something the government is doing to us, but rather something we demand that the government do for us.
We are all together. Like it or not.