During the Cold War, proponents of the “MAD” (mutually assured destruction) doctrine argued that the United States and the Soviet Union — for all the animosity between the two superpowers — both had enough common sense to avoid a nuclear confrontation and the catastrophe it would bring. They warned, however, that some extremists and fanatics might not see things that way.

The Cold War ended in the early 1990s when the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc fell apart, but nuclear weapons are still plentiful in the world — a fact that historian/journalist Annie Jacobsen addresses in her new book “Nuclear War: A Scenario.”

Jacobsen offers a fictional scenario in which World War 3 starts with a nuclear confrontation between the U.S. and North Korea.

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The Washington Post’s George Will discusses the book in his May 1 column, describing it as a wake-up call about “the intensifying danger of global incineration from nuclear war.”

One of the conservative journalist’s big takeaways is how severe the destruction could be in a very short amount of time if a nuclear war were to occur.

“High anxiety is unsustainable,” Will argues, “but in a presidential election year, it can temporarily concentrate minds. Reading ‘Nuclear War: A Scenario’ by reporter and historian Annie Jacobsen will take you much longer than the 30 or so minutes — 1800 seconds — that would elapse between the launch of a single nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile in North Korea and its detonation on the Pentagon. Thereafter, in Jacobsen’s scenario, cascading and irreversible events extinguish civilization in two hours.”

Will continues, “A few tenths of a second after the launch, a bus-size U.S. satellite 22,300 miles above Earth detects the missile’s plume. Six seconds later, computers in the command center beneath the Pentagon are predicting its destination: the Pentagon. Twenty-four seconds later, at the military’s Cheyenne Mountain Complex in Colorado, computers generate this message: ‘NUCLEAR LAUNCH ALERT.'”

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Will notes that on August 31, 1946, The New Yorker published journalist John Hersey’s 30,000-word cover story “Hiroshima” — which came a year after the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan under President Harry Truman.

Hersey, Will recalls, offered “stomach-turning descriptions of what one small, relative to today’s weapons, bomb did to one city’s inhabitants.” And the conservative columnist goes on to say that the type of destruction Jacobsen describes in “Nuclear War: A Scenario” is much worse and much more widespread.

“Jacobsen vividly imagines the horrors of unconstrained nuclear onslaughts: metal-melting heat, beyond-hurricane-level winds, radiation poisoning, the end of agriculture, social disintegration because of electric Armageddon — the electric grid vanishes, and with it the nation’s communications and financial infrastructure — and ecological collapse: swarms of disease-bearing mosquitos, the birds that preyed on them being dead, feast on sewage, garbage and the dead,” Will warns. “Jacobsen cannot be faulted for not proposing ‘solutions’ to the dilemma of living with what physics hath wrought.”

The Never Trump conservative continues, “Her point is that for a while now, and from now on, humanity’s survival depends on statesmanship and luck — as much the latter as the former. Remember that on November 5.”

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George Will’s full Washington Post column is available at this link (subscription required).