Caps Lock & Trash Talk: U.S. Irresponsible in Modern Nuclear Age


This is the text that went out to all cell phones, TV screens, and laptops on January 13. It took the Hawaiian government 38 minutes to correct the mistake and sent out another alert informing citizens that there was not a missile headed to Hawaii. (Picture courtesy of CNN)

When I receive a text in caps lock, I panic. I immediately run through everything I have ever done in my 18 years of living to warrant me that text. If this is how I feel, then I can’t imagine how everyone in Hawaii felt after reading this text from their government: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

Nothing about that text is reassuring in the slightest. The only feeling I got after reading that text is hysteria, which is exactly what resulted when it popped up on every screen in Hawaii on Jan. 13. For the 38 minutes it took for the Hawaiian government to correct the mistake, citizens ran around in a mass frenzy. People texted their loved ones goodbye and filled bathtubs up with water. 911 was flooded with calls. Some people even went to the airport, which did not know what the proper protocol is for flying when a missile is headed your way. Cars were abandoned on the sides of roads as people stampeded to the nearest building, you know, just your average Tuesday activities.

This response to the accidental nuclear threat message broadcasted across Hawaii proves that we are not treating our nuclear weapons and emergency working systems responsibly in the modern day. First, no one in the island state knew what to do because there is no set protocol for an incoming nuclear missile. The current protocol is to run around with our hands in the air, screaming like a chicken with its head cut off, which is not very effective. If you notice in that emergency alert text, the source hardly provided any advice for what to do. I’m not saying that we should go back to doing nuclear attack drills in schools, but it wouldn’t kill us as a country to prepare a little bit for the very real possibility of nuclear war due to the increased stockpiling of nuclear weapons in countries like our own, North Korea, and India.

As some people seemed to have forgotten in the years since the Cold War, nuclear war is not a joke. I’ll even put it in caps lock as long as you promise not to jump out of your car to seek shelter immediately. NUCLEAR WAR IS NOT A JOKE. The fear once associated with nuclear bombs seems to have dissipated.

Our President may be one of the worst of all when it comes to modern nuclear rhetoric. He tweeted this at Kim Jong-un: “North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food-starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my button works!”

I don’t appreciate my President being involved in a pissing match involving weapons that could literally melt my skin off, but what is most concerning about this tweet is his mention of a nuclear button. Buttons are what got us into this Hawaii mess. The false missile text was sent by a Hawaii Emergency Management Agency employee who literally thought there was a nuclear missile on its way. Somehow this employee missed the crucial fact that this text was supposed to be a drill. This was a management and human error. As the Federal Communications Commission said in a recent report: the state “didn’t have reasonable safeguards in place to prevent human error from resulting in the transmission of a false alert.”  I know that we aren’t perfect, but when it comes to nuclear weapons there is no room for human error. There should have been fail safes to stop a slip up like this from happening, like hopefully not being able to send out the text with just one click. Also, the government in Hawaii and in D.C. had no idea what to do to fix the problem. How does it take 38 minutes to inform the public that there isn’t a missile coming that could kill them?

If this disaster is any indication of the care we take regarding our nuclear weapons, then I’m praying we don’t all die tomorrow. If a nuclear button does exist then I hope it’s under lock and key and behind at least four steel doors.

However, I cannot fully blame the government for this slip up. It’s human nature to assimilate to our surroundings. Take school shootings for example. After Sandy Hook Elementary, the entire nation grieved and demanded better protection for our school kids. However, in the month of January alone, there have been eleven school shootings and I for one have not seen them on the front of the newspapers. It’s not because we don’t care about school shooters. It’s because we’re used to it. The same goes for nuclear missiles.

The last time there was mass civilian death due to a nuclear weapon was in 1945 at the close of World War II. As a result seem to have lost touch with the consequences of nuclear war, and it doesn’t help that people like our President talk about it so casually. The people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki didn’t just die. They were vaporized as in “poof!,” Leaving nothing behind but their shadows where they were standing. And those people were the lucky ones. The souls who lived through Hiroshima and Nagasaki had to deal with radiation poisoning, cancer, and a whole host of medical issues.

I don’t think any person in any country should have weapons that do this kind of destruction, but if the United States wants to take the nuclear risk, then the least the government can do is turn off the caps lock.