Imagine a man wearing a TNT vest were to come into the room and, before you could escape, managed to tell you that he wasn’t a suicide bomber. He didn’t have the button to set off the explosives. Rather, there were two buttons in very safe hands. One was with President Obama and the other was with President Medvedev, so there was nothing to worry about. You’d still get out of that room as fast as you can!

Just because we can’t see the nuclear weapons controlled by those two buttons, why do we stay in this room? As we would if confronted by the man in the TNT vest, we need to be plotting a rapid escape. Instead, we have sat here complacently for roughly 50 years, trusting that because Earth’s explosive vest hasn’t yet gone off, it never will.

Before society will look for an escape route, we have to overcome its mistaken belief that threatening to destroy the world is somehow risk free. Changing societal thinking is a huge task, but as with achieving the seemingly impossible goals of ending slavery and getting women the vote, the first step in correcting this misperception is for courageous individuals to speak the truth: The nuclear emperor has no clothes — except for that stupid vest!

You have an advantage that the abolitionists and the suffragettes did not. You can propagate the needed message to all your friends merely by emailing them a link to this page, or whatever you think would be most effective. While communicating with friends may seem trivial compared to the immense task we face, as explained in the resource section below, at this early stage of the process it is the essential action. I hope you will consider doing that, so that Earth’s explosive vest can become but a distant nightmare to future generations.

Drawing of a man with a vest made of nuclear missiles

Illustration is ©2009

This article was originally published at the Nuclear Risk website
Martin E. Hellman is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and Professor Emeritus at Stanford University. His current project applies risk analysis to nuclear deterrence, and is described in detail at