[…] Why is it so hard to talk about nuclear weapons the way we did 30 years ago?
For starters, nuclear weapons have always been synonyms for death, and people don’t like thinking about death. (This goes triple for “megadeath,” the unit-measure for every million people killed in a nuclear war.) Nuclear weapons also involve, not one, but two apparent paradoxes. The first cuts through morality and human nature: How can we be so smart, and yet so dumb? How can we barrel down a highway lined with flashing neon signs reading, “Horrific Mass Suicide, 1 mile”? The second paradox is just the physics mindfuck of it all: An atom can flatten a city. Like the vastness of our expanding universe, it doesn’t seem real. It can’t be.
Even during the Cold War, nobody wanted to think about nukes. It took Hiroshima, Nagasaki, a series of major crises, a superpower standoff, and a media focused on the gruesome details of nuclear war to spark even a modest global disarmament movement. The world of 2017 is a different place. There is no binary Cold War frame. The shared culture that could focus a conversation with something like The Day After is no more. The attention span required for sorting through our nuclear dilemma—also pretty close to gone. Nothing embodies this better than the devolution of the “peace” symbol: Born as the logo of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, a group that organized mass sit-ins in downtown London, it is now hippie marketing shorthand used to sell hazy nostalgia for a nonpolitical counterculture.