Nukemap 3D: Bringing Nuclear War to your Home!

nukemap3Ever wonder what it would look like if a thermonuclear device hit your hometown? Yeah, me neither! But let’s pretend for a moment that this is something you’ve actually considered… sicko! There’s an online browser-based program for that! It’s called Nukemap3D, and uses a Google Earth plug in to produce a set of graphics that show the effects of a nuclear weapon on your city of choice.

All you have to do is pick your target, select your favorite thermonuclear device, and you can see an animated mushroom cloud rising over ground zero. The creator was Dr. Alex Wellerstein, an Associate Historian at the Center for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics in College Park, Maryland, who specializes in the history of nuclear weapons and nuclear secrecy.

nukemap3-1Interestingly enough, Wellerstein’s inspiration for developing Nukemap 3D came from his experience of trying to teach about the history of nuclear weapons to undergraduates. As people who had completely missed the Cold War, these students naturally didn’t think about the prospect of nuclear war much, and had little to no cultural association with them.

Events like Hiroshima and the Cuban Missile Crisis were essentially ancient history to them. For him and his wife, who teaches high school, it was always a challenge to get students to relate to these issues from the past and seeing how they related to the present. Specifically, he wanted his students to address the larger issue of how one controls a dangerous technology that others find desirable.

nukemap3-2And given how inundated young people are today with technology, he believed an online browser that allowed children to visualize the effects of a nuclear attack seemed just like the thing. The concept originally grew out of his own research to determine the size of the Hiroshima bomb versus the first hydrogen bomb versus a modern nuclear weapon.

After producing a web page with the relevant info in 2012, he began receiving millions of hits and felt the need to expand on it. One of the things he felt was missing was info on additional effects of nuclear blasts, such as radioactive debris that comes down as fallout, contamination that can extend for hundreds of kilometers in all directions, and how this can spread with prevailing winds.

NuclearDetonationsIn addition to being a pedagogical tool which can help students appreciate what life was like during the Cold War, Wellerstein also hopes his site could help combat misinformation about modern nukes. All too often, people assume that small devices – like those being developed by North Korea – could only cause small-scale damage, unaware of the collateral damage and long-term effects.

Another use of the program is in helping to combat ideas of “instant apocalypse” and other misconceptions about nuclear war. As we move farther and farther away from an age in which nuclear holocaust was a distinct possibility, people find themselves turning to movies and pop culture for their information on what nuclear war looks like. In these scenarios, the end result is always apocalyptic, and by and large, this is not the case.

nuclear1In a war where nuclear confrontation is likely, civilization does not simply come to an end and mutants do not begin roaming the Earth. In reality, it will mean mass destruction within a certain area and tens of thousands of deaths. This would be followed by mass evacuations of the surrounding areas, the creation of field hospitals and refugee camps, and an ongoing state of emergency.

In short, a nuclear exchange would not means the instantaneous end of civilization as we know it. Instead, it would lead to an extended period of panic, emergency measures, the presence of NGOs, humanitarian aid workers, and lots and lots of people in uniform. And the effects would be felt long after the radiation cleared and the ruins were rebuilt, and the memory would be slow to fade.

Hiroshima, after the blast
Hiroshima, after the blast

Basically, Wellerstein created Nukemap 3D in the hope of finding a middle ground between under exaggeration and over exaggeration, seeking to combat the effects of misinformation on both fronts. In a nuclear war, no one is left unaffected; but at the same time, civilization doesn’t just come to an abrupt end. As anyone who survived the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki can attest, life does go on after a nuclear attack.


The effects are felt for a very long time, and the scars run very deep. And as those who actually witnessed what a nuclear blast looks like (or lived in fear of one) grow old and pass on, people need to be educated on what it entails. And a graphic representation, one that utilizes the world’s most popular form of media, is perhaps the most effective way of doing that.

In the meantime, be sure to check out Nukemap 3D and see exactly what your hometown would look like if it were hit by a nuclear device. It’s quite… eye-opening!



Relaunching an Idea: Red Sky At Night

Many months ago, I was struck by an idea. It is one which has been percolating in my mind for some time, but never really occurred to me as a reason to write. But then, I began to get into the whole “Alternate History” sub-genre of science fiction, examining such works as The Man In The High Castle, Fatherland, The Guns Of The South, and A Rebel In Time. It made me think that there was a good precedent for this kind of idea, and room for expansion.

But first, let me explain what I was thinking. Ever since University I’ve been fascinated by Russian history, particularly the interwar years. It was at this time that the most auspicious achievements and crimes took place in the former Soviet Union, after the death of Lenin and the ascent to power of Joseph Stalin, one of history’s greatest monsters.

Shortly thereafter, Russia became involved in World War II, during which time another monster – Adolf Hitler – committed unspeakable crimes against the Russian people. Over twenty six million people died on the Eastern Front, most of them civilians who had already witnessed such terrible suffering at the hands of their own dictator. In addition, many were victims of Soviet wartime oppression, killed by Stalin for the crime of not fighting hard enough or attempting to find liberation from their Nazi invaders.

From the point of view of Soviet propaganda, the years between 41 and 45 were portrayed as a the “Great Patriotic War”, a heroic struggle for the defense of the Motherland. In some respects this was true, but mainly it was a war between two nations being led by very petty and cynical men, with countless good and innocent souls caught in between. Those Germans who died in the East did so because of a fool’s dream of Lebensraum and racial purity, whereas the Russians who died did so in the defense of their families from both the invaders and the reprisals of NKVD officers.

Reading of all this, I often wondered, what if Leon Trotsky, Lenin’s intended successor, had led Russia during the interwar years? What if he had won the leadership race, instead of the scheming Stalin, and became the man to lead Russia against the Nazi invaders? Would things have worked out differently? Would Russia have still stood and ground up the Nazis, but in a way that didn’t lead to the death of so many millions of innocent Russians. The question is not a new one. In fact, historians have been pondering it for some time, and the entire question hinges on a single event.

This is where the concept of my own alternate history came in. In my story, a single event happens differently, thus giving rise to an alternate history. At the 13th Party Congress in Russia 1924, Trotsky had an historic opportunity. Lenin, before his death, had published his “Last Will And Testament” where, amongst other things, he singled out Stalin as a rude and ruthless character who should never be allowed to come to power. During the years following Lenin’s death, Trotsky was seen as the natural successor, which made him the natural rival of Stalin and his followers.

During the 12th Party Congress, Stalin’s allies helped suppress news of the Testament, but by the 13th, Trotsky was in possession of it and could released it, causing irreparable harm to Stalin’s reputation. Why he did not, and instead chose to make a conciliatory speech calling for unity, is something which historians have debated ever since. In so doing, he essentially guaranteed Stalin’s rise to power and his own exile, which culminated in his murder in Mexico some years later.

Red Sky At Night:
This is the basis of my idea. Instead of asking for reconciliation, Trotsky released Lenin’s Testament to the Party and asked for Stalin’s removal. He was successful, which guaranteed that it was he who would become the new leader of Soviet Russia and its chief planner during the interwar years. As a result, Stalin’s crash industrialization programs (aka. the Five Year Plans) were never launched.

Instead, he maintained Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP) and even appointed Bukharin (whom Stalin murdered) to oversee reform and expansion of state-owned industry. This led to a degree of slow recovery for the Soviet economy and improved the lot of its farmers and small private enterprises. And when the Great Depression hit in 1929, Russia would still spared the worst ravages of it while similarly showing signs of growth.

What’s more, Trotsky maintained close ties to foreign communist movements, rather than focusing so heavily on matters at home. As a result, in 1933 when the Nazis demanded a non-confidence vote against the Social Democratic Party, Trotsky ordered the KDP (Communist Party of Germany) to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Social Democrats, a move which did not alter the Nazi seizure of power, but which ensured that they were aligned with the anti-Nazi movement from early on.

In China, rather than advising Mao to go along with the Nationalist government (which turned on them) Trotsky advised that Mao and his cadres remain committed to resisting Japanese invasion and not trusting in Chiang Kai Shek. This prevented the massacre of Chinese Communists, which came in handy when the Sino-Japanese war began in 1937.

When the Spanish Civil War began, Trotsky and the Comintern became the most vocal and committed supporters of the Loyalists, sending them weapons, advisers, volunteers and funds. Much as in our own timeline, this had the effect of making the Soviets look like the chief supporters of anti-fascism, but since the effort didn’t suffer from Stalin’s paranoia and cynicism, the efforts were much more effective and popular. And thanks to Trotsky’s focus on foreign affairs, Commissar Maxim Litvinov, the champion of Collective Security, received the support he needed when he made his pitches to the League of Nations.

But most importantly of all, no purges or Great Terror took place during the late 30’s, which had the effect of undermining Russia’s efforts abroad, embarrassing Russia politically, decimating the Soviet officer corps, and devastating Russia’s agriculture. Russia therefore was in a much better position to coordinate alliances with the Czechs, the French, and rally public opinion towards ensuring that the Nazis were contained rather than appeased.

However, things really came down to the 1938 Sudetenland Crisis. For years, the Russians had been railing against coming to an accommodation with Hitler, largely for their own purposes. However, when Hitler demanded that Prime Minister Benes of Czechoslovakia cede the Sudetenland under threat of war, things finally came together for them. Facing harsh public opinion, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain found that he had little support for his policy of appeasement. French, Czech and League opinion were similarly opposed to any deal with Hitler, having been empowered by Russia’s example. As a result, instead of demanding that Benes give Hitler what he wanted, England and France instead demanded that Poland and Romania agree to allow Russian troops to pass their territory to mobilize against Germany, should the need arise.

These efforts did not materialize, but the appearance of unity on behalf of the League gave Hitler pause. His Generals advised that he back down, facing the likely prospect of war on all fronts, and Hitler was forced to concede. Afterward, Germany suffered from renewed economic problems, and Hitler lost virtually all support. The Nazis fell from power, World War II did not happen, the Holocaust never occurred, and the post-war division of the world between two superpowers not happen.

In the East, Japan found itself trapped as the League closed in to issue economic sanctions and demand that it withdraw from China. Soon, the Japanese Imperial government fell as well, and the threat of war was neutralized. In Italy and Spain, Mussolini and Franco remained in power, but were sure to behave themselves and even rejoined the League of Nations. And of course, Mao and his cadres did not seize power in the immediate post-war years, but instead came to an accommodation with the Nationalists, forming a powerful bloc within the government.

However, there was a downside to all of this as well. For starters, the economic boom caused by the war did not happen. Instead, the global economy recovered slowly throughout the 1940’s and 50’s. What’s more, the accommodation that took place between Russia and mainland Europe after the war, which saw the election of Social Democratic parties in every country and the de-radicalizing of Soviet power at home, caused a rift to form between the Anglo-American world and Eurasia. By 1950, fearing socialist revolution at home, England and America withdrew from the League and formed their own bloc, the Anglo-American Alliance.

Towards the end of the 1950’s, relations began to worsen, as the Alliance condemned what they saw as attempts at subversion in their own sphere while the League condemned the persecution of dissidents and revolutionaries. Both sides became retrenched and a new arms race began, the League and the Alliance scrambling to recruit the best and brightest minds to help them create new and better weapons. By the end of the 1950’s, scientists on both sides of the Atlantic were close to creating the first atomic weapons.

This is where the story opens. It’s 1963, twenty-five years since the Sudetenland Crisis took place, and the world is putting aside its difference to mark the occasion. East and West are coming together in a series of festivals, diplomatic summits, and tourist expos. However, behind the happy veneer of entente, the usual preparations for war continue. And in time, a series of events will trigger a crisis that could very well lead to another war. Much like in 1914, the world is sitting on a powder keg, and all that’s needed for another Great War to take place is for someone to provide the spark.

This idea got back-benched with my coming to join Writer’s Worth and all our anthology work, but I want to pick it back up. Much like Fascio Ardens (that’s its new title), I’m in the mood to write some genuine alternate history. It requires some staggering research to make these kinds of speculative works seem authentic and plausible, but I want to make it work. Call me crazy, especially since I’ve got it in my head to tackle two separate ideas. But as my grandpa used to say, “Lord hates a coward!”

Sickness, more Alternate History, and some coming reviews…

Sickness, more Alternate History, and some coming reviews…

I hate being sick! Whenever the seasons change for me, I tend to come down with one of those colds that comes on hard and takes forever to leave. Well, this Fall season has been a double whammy, seems I’ve gotten sick twice in the last four weeks, which has meant a month of convalescing I could totally do without! But at least its given me time to ponder future writing projects.

For starters, I had an idea for an alternate history novel of my own. Its been something I’ve been interested in of late, as my reviews of Man in the High Castle, Fatherland and Guns of the South will attest. Reviewing Rabbletown by Mr. Attwood also gave me another push; somehow reading other people’s work always inspires me to write more of my own. And if there’s one thing I learned from reading other works of historical fiction, it is that there are two basic trends to every story.

1. History diverges due to key events happening just a little bit differently.
2. Ultimately, things converge again and familiar patterns reassert themselves.

Or, to put it mathematically, H = (Ce + Ha) / Env, where H is history, Ce is the Confluence of Events, Ha is human agency and Env is environmental (i.e. external) mitigating factors. Alteration of one (i.e. human agency) is what allows for divergence, but in the end, the other factors assert themselves and balance is restored. Okay, I totally made that up and it was unbelievably geeky! But also kinda cool, right? Ah whatever, my idea:

Red Sky At Night:

A working title, but one which was suggested to me by the maestra of title work (hi Katrina!) And given the title, one might suspect that Communism and/or Communists are the focus. They would be right! My story deals with a question that I’ve been pondering for a long time and with all the fiction I’ve read of late, stuff that deals with similar questions and “what ifs”, I began to turn it into an idea. In short, my story is based on the question of what would have happened had Leon Trotsky come to be leader of the Soviet Union instead of Stalin?

To be fair, this question has been asked by generations of historians and communists alike, particularly the latter group who wanted to distance themselves from Stalin after the full weight of his crimes and megalomania had been exposed. But for historians, the question is more academic, motivating by genuine interest instead of personal beliefs. Overall, they are simply interested in whether or not Trotsky would have been any gentler, or the course of Soviet history any different, had he been in charge.

But first, a little preamble. You see, it is one of the great questions of history why Trotsky did not disavow Stalin when he had the chance. Before his death, Vladimir Ilyich Ilyanov (aka. Lenin) wrote in his “Final Will and Testament” that Stalin was a rude, ruthless man who should never be allowed to have power. Trotsky was seen as the natural successor, and this Will could have shattered Stalin’s support. Stalin’s allies helped him to prevent the Will from being revealed at the 12th Party Congress; however, at the 13th, Trotsky could have revealed it to the Party and done irreperable harm to Stalin’s reputation. Instead, he made conciliatory speech that was intended to heal the rift between himself and Stalin’s followers.

However, this did not prevent Trotsky from being ejected from the Party, put into exile and murdered some years later. So the question of why – why DIDN’T Trotsky denounce Stalin when he had the chance? – has never been successfully answered. We can assume any number of things, but it is at this point irrelevant. The real question, as far as my idea is concerned, is what would have happened had he gone through with it? And that’s where things get fun… if you’re a history geek anyway!

For one, Trotsky wouldn’t have launched Stalin’s crash industrialization programs (aka. the Five Year Plans) in the later 20’s. In all likelihood, he would have continued Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP, which allowed for a degree of privatization) and when the big economic crisis loomed, have appointed Bukharin to deal with it (as opposed to purging him as Stalin did). This would have led to the slow recovery of the Soviet economy, and when the Great Depression hit in 1929, Russia would have continued to be spared the worst ravages of it while similarly showing signs of growth.

In addition, the Communists in China would not have been cut off as they had been by Stalin in the 1920’s. Chiang Kai-shek would have continued to fight them, but there would have been no massacre, meaning the Chinese communists would have been stronger and in a better position to dictate terms to Chiang when the Japanese invaded in the late 20’s. As a result, the Japanese army would have encountered stiffer, unified resistance as it fought its way south years later.

Similarly, in Europe, when the Nazi’s come to power in 33, Trotsky would have thrown his country’s support behind the German Social Democrats and would have committed the Comintern (Communist International Organization) to fighting Hitler once he seized power. Over the course of the next few years, during the re-militarizing of the Rhineland, the Anschluss, the Spanish Civil War, and the Sudenten crisis, Russia would have been the most outspoken advocate for resistance.

This had the effect of inspiring people from other nations, particularly France, England and Czechoslovakia, into doing the same, often in defiance of their own governments who sought accommodation. Combined with the fact that Russia’s heavily regulated economy had avoided the scourges of the Depression, these acts of support would convince many foreign nationals of the need to stand with Russia. And without Stalin’s own paranoia and megalomania to discredit and embarrass the Soviet Union and its supporters, these efforts were far more successful.

Finally, after years of advocating Collective Security through the United Nations, Trotsky’s Foreign Commissar – Maxim Litvinov – saw his efforts to create an anti-fascist alliance comes together. During the Sudeten Crisis of 38, Hitler found himself being resisted on all sides. France declared that it would mobilize to help the Czechs since Russia was promising the same. Britain, fearing a Communist victory in the next election, mobilized to pressure Poland and Romania to come to a right of passage agreement with Russia, rather than pressuring Czech president Benes to concede the Sudetenland to Germany. As a result, Hitler was overruled by his own commanders and forced to stand down.

Hilter was unable to recover from this political setback, and when Germany similarly suffered an economic recession a year later, his support dwindled further. By the end of 1939, he found himself ousted from power and the SPD was restored. Mussolini and Franco, one-time allies of Hitler’s, were also brought to heal, the Italian dictator going as far as to relinquish his countries control of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and remove all his troops from the Balkans. In Asia, Japan also found itself without a friend and was forced to withdraw from the Chinese mainland. Europe and the world celebrated as it seemed that the aggressors had been contained and another world war had been averted.

But this jubilant mood did not last long. Without World War II and the post-war reconstruction to stimulate the economies of the western nations, the Depression continued for several more years. The post-war population boom similarly did not take place. Instead, Europe and the Anglosphere witnessed slow recovery as nations on the continent resorted to increasingly socialist measures to address their economic woes and closer trade ties were established with Russia. Russia, now enjoying cordial ties to most European nations, similarly began to open its economy and its borders to foreign investment and tourism. By the late 40’s, most economies had pulled out of the Depression through a combination of social programs and regulated trade.

This had the added effect of creating a rift between the Continent and Britain, a country that prided itself on its free markets and traditional liberal approach. As socialism began to take root from Lisbon to Vladivostok, Britain sought new alliances to protect its way of life. They found it in the US, which was once again experiencing a Red Scare and cracking down on communists, labor leaders and protesters. Together, they created a secret alliance to protect their mutual interests and continued to eye the Continent with suspicion.

Relations were further strained when in the 1950’s, India began to demand independence. Without the threat of Hitler, the British government had never come to an agreement with Ghandi for the sake of independence. What’s more, agitation on behalf of Europe’s new socialist organizations became a constant source of irritation. Though France was loath to give up its own Empire, pressure from the League and its own populace was mounting. In time, France gave up trying to work with Britain to find a common solution, began disbanding its own empire and urged Britain to do the same. Britain refused and held on to its possessions, but by the early 60’s, virtually every French speaking colony was free and joined the League of Nations.

Which brings me to the opening of my story. It is the early 60’s, the world is divided between two major blocs – the League of Nations and the Anglo-American Alliance – and in between are dozens of nations that are either neutral or part of one or the others sphere of influence. Relations between the two sides are strained as competition for markets, alliances and weapons have reached a tipping point, and some are beginning to fear the possibility of open war. Within this talk of war are even more frightening rumors that both sides are researching advanced technologies – rockets, jet engines, super computers, and even (God forbid!) atomic weapons…

So as you can see, history unfolded quite differently due to the presence of one man instead of another. However, in time, the familiar patterns reasserted themselves. While World War II did not take place from 39-45, it does appear on the horizon by 1960. While there was no Cold War to speak of after 45′ between two nuclear-armed superpowers, a state of detente exists between two similar global powers by the late 50’s with the prospect of a nuclear war by the early 60’s.

That’s all I got for now. More to follow just as soon as Data Miners is complete and my others ideas have panned out. That’s the fun thing about alternate histories though isn’t it? Since they have to do with past events, no one can ever accuse you of not being “current”, right? Who knows? If its successful, I might even write a sequel, Red Sky At Morning, about the aftermath. Thank you honey (my wife) for THAT title idea!

Coming Reviews:

On top of that, tackling “McDune” franchise in a more comprehensive way inspired me to do a more in-depth review of both the Legends and Hunters/Sandworms of Dune series. I’ve shellacked the latter ones before, but I’d like nothing better than giving them a good, specific thrashing! Fans of the elder Herbert, unite and hear me shellack! So, in the coming weeks, I hope to do a review of Hunters, the Machine Crusade, and possibly the Battle of Corrin and Sandworms as well. And since I’m almost finished with the A Song of Fire and Ice series (i.e. Game of Thrones, etc) I might publish some thoughts on them too. Can’t wait for season two of the miniseries! Go Starks! Screw the Lannisters!

P.S. for those who don’t know, Katrina runs a fun and fascinating website named Were You Wondering? She even lets me contribute for some reason… Here’s the link:

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