Can reading a book save us from nuclear war?

Pedestrians walk past a huge screen in Tokyo displaying news footage of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un on Wednesday. Kazuhito Nogi/AFP/Getty Images.

Well, now, there’s a headline I can’t say I thought I’d write someday but there it is. Not since 1962 — at least as far as we know officially — have Americans woken up wondering whether it was worth doing the long-term financial planning this week or not, considering the life expectancy of the planet.

Two world leaders are now hurling hyperbole missiles (so far) at each other. We’re used to hearing it from North Korea, but it was a stunner on Tuesday when Donald Trump threatened “fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before” if North Korea continues to make nuclear threats against the United States.

It didn’t work, of course. Overnight North Korea responded by suggesting they’d nuke Guam first.

What’s the next move?

Nothing has worked with North Korea and the president’s indelicate threat reflects the frustration world leaders experience when trying.

This might be, Sarah Vowell writes in the New York Times today, a good time to read a book.

President Kennedy got lucky during the Cuban missile crisis. But he’d also just read Barbara Tuchman’s book, The Guns of August, about the opening events of World War I.

Would a more curious mind like Kennedy have made different decisions from Truman in 1945? Probably not — once “the Gadget” worked, it was going to be used. But he might have asked more questions beforehand. What we do know is that in 1962, nuclear holocaust was averted in part because a president read a book and learned from it.

We know that our current president reads neither books nor the Australian prime minister’s mood. And thanks to a leaked talk to congressional interns last week, we know that his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, the administration’s supposed voice of reason who is charged with ending the opioid epidemic, brokering peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and presumably proving the existence of God, actually said these words, out loud, to people with ears: “We’ve read enough books.”

No doubt the president has been briefed by experienced and learned military leaders. Truman listened to his. Kennedy didn’t.

The world seems closer to nuclear war this morning than it has for 55 years.

What book might calm tensions?

A commenter suggests “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes,” a story about a girl who develops leukemia 10 years after Hiroshima.

When I reached the end, I cried for what felt like hours. I remember a heavy, horrible feeling, as though 50 years later and a continent away, I was being suffocated under the weight of her suffering. I couldn’t bear it.

The long-term consequences of war were clear to me, a 10 year old boy, then. And while I see slightly more nuance now, as an adult, I find my opinion is more-or-less unchanged. We cannot foresee all the consequences of an atomic war, but we can feel certain that it will involve decades of pain.

It’s impossible to imagine that there’s anyone walking the planet who doesn’t realize that, and for decades that fact alone has been enough to keep earthlings from waging a nuclear war that destroys the blue dot. And yet, here we are, comforted only by the thought that two of them can’t possibly be insane enough to try.