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Nuclear War: A Scenario: Meticulously researched fictional account of N Korea attacking US

Annie Jacobsen weaves a terrifyingly believable tale of a thermonuclear weapon destroying civilisation in mere minutes

Nuclear War: A Scenario
Nuclear War: A Scenario
Author: Annie Jacobsen
ISBN-13: 978-1911709596
Publisher: Torva
Guideline Price: £20

The nihilistic phrase “Après moi, le déluge” is usually attributed to Louis XV and was appropriated by Karl Marx in Das Kapital to indicate how capitalism “is reckless of the health or length of life of the labourer”. While it seems unlikely that Napoleon would borrow anything from a French king, Pulitzer Prize nominee Annie Jacobsen associates le petit caporal with the comment through thermonuclear weapons designer Richard Garwin’s warning that “There are those who are like Napoleon”. “Not all adversaries are sane” in other words.

Ever since the nuclear arms race began when the Soviet Union tested First Lightning in 1949 in response to the US bombs dropped on Japan, the notion of mutually assured destruction has kept the powers in check. As the acronym suggests, launching a strike only to be in turn obliterated is madness but “not all adversaries are sane”. Some adhere to Jacobsen’s “mad king logic”.

Jacobsen imagines a North Korean attack on the United States. It takes a mere 72 minutes to reverse thousands of years of civilisation. “The survivors,” as Nikita Khrushchev put it, “will envy the dead.”

The prologue, appropriately titled Hell On Earth, opens with a one-megaton thermonuclear weapon striking the Pentagon. A flash of blinding light superheats the surrounding air “four or five times hotter than the temperature that occurs at the centre of the Earth’s sun”. Nothing within the fireball remains, humans “instantaneously convert into combusting carbon”.


At the same time, the North Koreans violate rule 42 of the Geneva Convention and create the “Devil’s Scenario” (“If you win, you need not have to explain,” that other mad king, Adolf Hitler, is reputed to have said) by bombing a nuclear power plant, causing a core meltdown and a “thousands-of-years-long nuclear catastrophe”. The US levels Pyongyang but ICBMs can’t reach east Asia without overflying Russia and the US president cannot contact his counterpart in Moscow. Russian missiles are deployed towards Europe and America. Because of the geographical location of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, China also joins the fray. The world ends with a thousand bangs and a billion whimpers.

Meticulous research and the matter-of-factness of the unfolding events make Jacobsen’s step-by-step account, which has already been optioned for a potential film adaptation involving Dune director Denis Villeneuve, as gripping as it is terrifyingly believable. You’ll stay up half the night to finish it and then spend a sleepless dawn mulling it over.