For American youth, nuclear weapons have seemed like relics of the past — till now.

By Kristie Moore, Outrider

For many of us, Feb. 24, 2022, was a typical Thursday — until it wasn’t. While some had been following the complex political situation in the region, the immediacy of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shocked us all. This was soon accompanied by the cancelation of my Russian language class in observance of the tragedy, messages of confusion and surprise, and protests across campus in support of Ukraine. For the first time in my life, the possibility of war and nuclear weapons became very real. This continues to be the case as President Vladimir Putin threatens the use of nuclear weapons against Ukraine and shows little intention of slowing down or heeding international critics.

teen in nuclear disaster zone

Nuclear weapons have only been used twice in combat — both times decades ago by the United States on foreign soil and never within its borders. Since the end of the Cold War, we have never lived on the brink of nuclear war. We certainly didn’t think of it as a tangible possibility. This disconnect has shaped my generation and conditioned us to ignore the threat of nuclear weapons by dismissing them as relics of the past. This means nuclear scares, both in the recent past and in the current nuclear moment, have taken us by surprise and caused us to question our entire understanding of nuclear security.

Creating an understanding of the Cold War

Like many my age, I was first introduced to the world of nuclear security through the Cold War in a high school class. As we discussed the history of the war, considered its causes and effects, and dissected the potential consequences of a nuclear attack, the entire concept of nuclear warfare segmented itself into my mind as something of the past that was no more — a threat that supposedly ended with the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union. We were told that this post-Cold War world was more peaceful and devoid of nuclear threats. After all, treaties and agreements were made to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, and we were slowly inching closer to a denuclearized world.

The reality, however, is different — and our optimism is misplaced.

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