I saw tweets this morning about Donald Trump and nuclear weapons and my defensive antennae perked up. Yes, his campaign has denied that Trump asked repeatedly in a briefing why we don’t use the nuclear weapons in our arsenal, but after reading the transcript of his interview with the Washington Post, I’m not as inclined to believe his spokespeople. Regardless, this is not something I take lightly, having grown up in the shadow of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles.
I remember going to the beach at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to see missile launches leave trails of whipped-cream smoke in the blue sky. I don’t think these were nuclear missiles, but at my young age, I didn’t know the difference. I knew Daddy had missile patches on his flight suits and bomber jacket, and the Strategic Air Command logo–a metal-clad fist squeezing lightning rods that looked like missiles to me–was more familiar than the Golden Arches of McDonald’s.
I remember moving to Nebraska at 8 years old and the other Air Force kids at school telling me that our base and city was #2 on the U.S.S.R.’s nuke list. Why? Because of SAC underground–a giant missile control facility housed stories beneath the Nebraska prairie. Fun fact: my dad worked in the SAC underground, so the kids at school unwittingly gifted me with years of terror, wondering if my dad would survive a Russian nuclear attack safe underground while my mom and siblings vaporized into nothingness.
I was ten years old when, in a creative writing class, I had to identify my greatest fear. “Nuclear war,” I wrote, and pasted a bright orange mushroom cloud cut from a magazine next to the words. I was ten. At various times, I’ve asked my nieces and nephews when they’ve been around ten years old what they are afraid of. The high dive. Bees. Squirrels. Human extinction never made their lists. And I credit that to the work of my dad and countless other men and women who pulled alerts in various missile silos all over the United States. My dad spent his entire Air Force career “keeping the world safe for democracy”–a phrase he often said light-heartedly–a phrase that now, in the face of Trump’s complete lack of understanding of nuclear deterrence, is quite grave.
An adviser to Jeb Bush sent out a threaded tweet today about nuclear deterrence theory and what Trump does not understand. Start with this one, and read upthread until you hit #20. As I read his tweets, pictures of my dad in his flight suit flashed in my head. Memories of events he missed because he was pulling alerts crossed my mind. Stories he only recently started to tell me–because of legit national security reasons–flooded my brain.
I get that people hate Hillary with the fires of Mount Doom. I get that people are sick of establishment politics (which to them I say, STOP REELECTING THE SAME TWITS TO CONGRESS). I get that this election is like none other we have witnessed in our lifetime. But seriously. Consider the cost. My dad did not spend his Air Force career holed up in missile silos or in SAC Underground or on the National Emergency Airborne Command Post so that a twitchy lunatic could, 20 years later, undo all the work my dad and his squadrons spent decades doing.
I’ve been incredulous at and mocking of Trump’s behavior for the past year. Today is the first time I’m absolutely terrified and incensed.