Is there really a nuclear button? As the U.S. approaches the presidential election and the U.S.-dominated NATO has expanded to Russia's borders, creating nuclear tension, more and more people seem to be talking about nuclear weapons and the whereabouts of the "nuclear button."

According to the Smithsonian Magazine, the U.S. president is always accompanied by an innocuous-looking briefcase. The so-called nuclear "Football" is portable and hand carried. The Football does not actually contain a big red button. Its primary purpose is to confirm the president's identity, and it allows the president to communicate with the National Military Command Center in the Pentagon, which monitors worldwide nuclear threats.

According to Bruce Blair, nuclear security expert at the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, on a day-to-day basis, the U.S. nuclear forces can deliver nearly 900 warheads to targets around the globe. Given a couple more days to get ready, the number of deliverable warheads would grow to nearly 2,000. In either case, these arsenals would allow for extensive strikes against opposing nuclear forces, war-supporting industries and key command posts of the opponent's top political and military leadership.


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What about other nations' weapons? According to Blair in Politico magazine, nine countries together possess more than 16,000 nuclear weapons. The United States and Russia maintain roughly 1,800 of their nuclear weapons on high-alert status — ready to be launched within minutes of a warning. Most are many times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. "It is of course not unreasonable to believe that the nuclear responsibilities of any president are above the pay grade of every living human being — that no one is really up to the task. The only real protection against nuclear disaster is total elimination of nuclear weapons," Blair said.

Wikipedia spells out the potential devastation: "A thermonuclear war could result in the end of modern civilization on earth due to the widespread devastation from nuclear blasts, firestorms and radiation sickness; the temporary loss of much modern technology due to electromagnetic pulses; and the hypothetical long-term effects of a nuclear winter."

Anyone left alive will be humming "We'll Meet Again," which was used in the final scene of Stanley Kubrick's 1964 film "Dr. Strangelove."

The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center's "Peace Train" runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.