By Horus Alas
Ask a millennial to enumerate all the virtues and vices of Twitter, and you’ll undoubtedly precipitate an internal Manichean struggle.
This is, after all, the platform that granted us the ability to “slide into DMs,” proved a fertile ground for the swift proliferation of memes, and helped launch youth-oriented political movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter.
For as much as Twitter has played a key role in the cultural lives of this generation’s 20-somethings, however, it’s also found an unlikely devotee in a septuagenarian man with access to the United States’ nuclear codes.
President Donald Trump tweets avidly. This is no secret, even if you live as far away as Australia. For the most part, his 280-character feed is peppered with rantings and ravings as to his administration’s supposed accomplishments, condemnation of enemies, grandstanding, etc.
Hours into the new year, however, President Trump issued a tweet that, for all its reckless bravado, inched the world as we know it ever closer to nuclear holocaust.
On New Year’s Day, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un declared that he had a nuclear button on his desk that put the entire United States within his range for a nuclear strike.
“[The United States] should properly know that the whole territory of the U.S. is within the range of our nuclear strike and a nuclear button is always on the desk of my office,” Kim said.
On the evening of the following day, President Trump issued a bellicose retort via tweet.
“Will someone from [Kim Jong Un’s] 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!” the president declared.
The past year has proven especially tense for U.S.-DPRK relations, with ever-tightening U.N. sanctions proving ineffective at deterring the North’s swiftly-moving nuclear development.
And although we have now seen—for the first time in human history—a world leader threatening another regime with a nuclear strike over social media, Trump’s outburst was likely not the most dire situation in the United States’ history with nuclear weapons.
Over 55 years ago, our nation faced what was most likely its darkest hour of possible nuclear confrontation in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Under the masterminding of the Soviet Union, nuclear missiles had been installed in Cuba. In Oct. 1962, they were discovered to have been operational.
In his Oct. 22 speech to the nation on the unfolding crisis, President John F. Kennedy remarked, “The 1930’s taught us a clear lesson: aggressive conduct, if allowed to go unchecked and unchallenged, ultimately leads to war. This nation is opposed to war … ”
“We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the costs of worldwide nuclear war in which even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth; but neither will we shrink from that risk at any time it must be faced.”
In 1962, Kennedy’s statement was issued via television, then a relatively new medium that allowed viewers throughout the country to be briefed on one of the worst geopolitical crises of the twentieth century in real time.
In 2018, Trump’s dictum was delivered via Twitter—the same platform typically used by a much younger crowd for dank memes, DMs and gifs. Who could have foreseen in the halcyon days of 2012, for example, that a millennial social networking tool par excellence could be used to brag about the ability to launch nuclear weapons?
It could be that, like nuclear weapons themselves, we simply didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into with Twitter. A Twitter account in the hands of a capable, competent head of state like former president Obama could lend itself to communiques along the lines of FDR’s “fireside chats.”
Today, and for the past year, however, we’ve seen tweets used by our current head of state to berate and bully foes, decry investigations as witch hunts, spew lies and untruths and ultimately serve as a propaganda platform. Is it so outlandish to imagine President Trump using them to threaten nuclear war?
The tools at humanity’s disposal in our time are formidable. It’s regrettable that they’ve fallen into the hands of an individual so unhinged as to potentially destroy their creators.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Gage Skidmore’s Flickr account.
Horus Alas is a freelance writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.