GILLIS: This new normal can't be accepted as normal
With a brief but welcome respite from the Arctic temperatures of the last two weeks, and most of the snow melted, we used Saturday morning to begin deconstructing Christmas outside the house. That was followed by catching up on some computer work.
A little after 2 p.m., my wife called me from downstairs. The last few years both of us have become serious news viewers, so it’s not unusual for one of us to call the other about some breaking news — more often than not about the current administration and goings on in Washington, which we follow closely.
And that’s when Susan yelled something about missiles and Hawaii. My head shot up from my computer world and I realized later I was already running down the stairs taking the steps two at a time, as I distinctly heard the words ballistic missiles and Hawaii.
And there it was on every news network:
“BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL”
It took a few minutes for me to process that the news anchor was explaining this alert was sent in error. Hawaii was in no danger, Hawaii Emergency Management Agency had responded on Twitter, saying, “NO missile threat to Hawaii.”
News reports indicate that for 38 minutes in Hawaii, people took shelter in basements, bathtubs, under manholes, and they prayed, panicked, called family and friends to warn them (and presumably say good-bye) and waited for the end. For others, the word didn’t even reach them so they stayed on the beach and played, or worked, and went about their business.
Looking back on those few minutes, I realized that I was simply standing next to Susan at the television, and my only thought was, “it’s finally happened. He provoked North Korea into pushing the button. Is the incoming warhead nuclear? If it is, it’s the end of everything. I actually started thinking about radioactive fallout, contamination of the oceans and atmosphere, the beginning of the end. I then wondered if the warhead was conventional. The loss of life and devastation would be catastrophic, but recoverable, maybe.
Are we at war? Should I call my mom? Should I grab my rosaries and start praying? Should I just hold Susan?
What I found most disconcerting — and I only realized this later — was my acceptance that this unthinkable event had actually occurred.
I didn’t consider that perhaps more missiles were coming, that ICBMs might be heading for the East Coast even as I was watching. I didn’t give any thought to getting Sue and the babies and sheltering into the basement. I didn’t give any thought to our own safety. Was Boston next? Providence? Washington, DC? New York? I thought of none of that.
For those brief moments, I just accepted that I was watching the start of a nuclear war. I was too stunned to do anything else. I just stared at the TV. I just stood there in silent horror.
The news people clarified: It was an error. Human error. There were no missiles heading toward Hawaii. There had been 38 minutes of great confusion, and the repeated news was that everything was okay.
38 minutes after the initial alert, it was over. From the reports I watched on television, people went back to their lives. Another breaking news all but forgotten in a few hours. To emphasize how normal this is in our age of “new normal” — On our way to see family, we tuned into WBZ 1030 News Radio — lead story was the New England Patriots game. No word whatsoever about the erroneous ballistic missile threat to Hawaii.
These are the times we live in. This is the new normal.
I was born after the Cuban Missile Crisis. My mom and dad both told me that during those 13 days in October 1962, people went to church every day. The likelihood of nuclear war with Russia was very real and imminent.
But I did grow up in the ‘70s and ‘80s and do remember the ever-present talk of nuclear war with with Russia. Thankfully, previous leaders from both the U.S. and Russia avoided nuclear conflict.
Today, we have a president of the United States bullying and taunting the leader of North Korea, daring him to push his nuclear “button” — adding that his button is bigger. The leader of North Korea keeps testing missiles. Our president responds with derogatory nicknames, taunts, and threats of fire and fury.
So because of the times we live in, because of who’s in charge, my very first thought was “This is really happening.”
Completely putting aside any other controversies or discussions about the current administration, and that’s a big ask, I would respectfully ask our Commander-in-chief to please stop provoking and bullying North Korea to launch missiles at the United States. Respectfully, sir, please don’t do that. This isn’t a schoolyard. It’s the global stage and millions and billions of lives are at stake. You’re scaring the hell out of the world. And when something like this happens, we think it’s real. Because it’s very possible.
The United States, historically, has proven resilient no matter what we go through, somehow we always are able to stand up again every time we get knocked down. We weather every crisis, every attack, every problem that comes our way, and somehow we persevere.
We will not survive a nuclear exchange with anyone. That would be game over.
Think about it. Think politics and the news don’t matter to you or affect you? Tell that to the people in our 50th state waiting for the ICBMs to explode over the Hawaiian Islands.
Wake up people. The new normal cannot be accepted as normal.
End of speech. We now return to the football game pre-show, already in progress.