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Nuclear War: Will Mankind Destroy Itself?

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Nuclear War: Will Mankind Destroy Itself?

The latest nuclear threat hearkens back to the Cold War and brings a renewed sense of hopelessness. Does Bible prophecy hold a bleak or bright picture of mankind’s future?

Learn the why behind the headlines.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin put his country’s thousands of nuclear warheads into “special combat readiness” as a part of his strategy when invading Ukraine in February. The entire world went on high alert.

Those watching are still unsure how far Mr. Putin is willing to go after his forces encountered tougher-than-expected resistance from Ukrainian forces.

“Given the potential desperation of President Putin and the Russian leadership, given the setbacks that they’ve faced so far, militarily, none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons,” CIA director William J. Burns said.

The former ambassador to Russia said he believes Mr. Putin could order the use of low-yield nuclear weapons as a warning shot to remind Ukraine—and the rest of the world—of the Kremlin’s capability.

Moscow has long been open to the use of relatively small nuclear blasts to offset battlefield losses, The New York Times reported. The outlet added that some military experts are concerned over what Mr. Putin might do to uphold his reputation for edgy ruthlessness.

United States President Joe Biden has repeatedly said that America’s armed forces “will not fight the third world war in Ukraine.” As the war grinds on, such words offer little reassurance.

Roughly 9 in 10 Americans are at least somewhat concerned that Russia might use a nuclear weapon against Ukraine, including about 6 in 10 who are very concerned, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Seventy-one percent of Americans said the invasion has increased the possibility of nuclear weapons being used anywhere in the world—including against the United States.

The same poll shows that close to half of Americans said they are very concerned Russia would directly target the U.S. with nuclear weapons, and an additional 3 in 10 are somewhat concerned about that.

Mr. Putin “is out of control, and I don’t think he really has concern for much of anything but what he wants,” said Robin Thompson, a retired researcher from Amherst, Massachusetts. “And he has nuclear weapons.”

Fear of nuclear war has been a fact of life for decades. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has published its “Doomsday Clock” since 1947, showing a theoretical countdown to nuclear annihilation of the planet. The latest update, in January, put the time at 100 seconds to midnight, leaving us closer than ever to global catastrophe.

Many live on edge believing nuclear destruction of the world is inevitable. Yet the Bible, God’s Word, also speaks of the future of mankind. The book directly answers the question of whether the Earth and all the people who inhabit it are slated for nuclear extermination.

Red Alert

On its face, the world looks much safer than it did during the height of Cold War tensions. Nuclear stockpiles have diminished by 86 percent since 1986, down from a peak of 70,300. The U.S. and Russia shed most of those numbers, though both still hold the largest stockpiles.

Globally, there are now around 12,700 nuclear weapons, with about 90 percent held by Russia and the U.S.—between 5,000 to 6,000 weapons each.

China, the United Kingdom and France have a few hundred nuclear weapons each, while newer nuclear nations of India and Pakistan have around 100 each—with Israel reportedly being in the same category. North Korea has around 20.

Diplomatic efforts to reduce the odds of atomic mayhem have limited new nations from getting nuclear weapons and prohibited nuclear weapon testing.

Despite these advancements, there is still much to fear.

The renewed nuclear threat centers on the development of low-yield nuclear weapons. These munitions are also called tactical nuclear weapons since forces can better pinpoint a target and limit the radius of destruction if used in combat.

Tactical nukes are much less powerful than traditional nuclear warheads. But this makes them much more dangerous.


Low-yield nuclear arms erode the concept of mutually assured destruction (MAD)—the idea that two nations can annihilate each other, regardless of who attacked first. Until now, this doctrine has largely been credited with preventing a full-scale nuclear war. The MAD philosophy, which has also been called “mutually assured deterrence,” rests on the conviction that conventional nuclear weapons are so destructive, so globe threatening, that no government would ever actually consider using them.

The diminished power of a tactical nuclear weapon actually increases the chance of a nuclear strike since the attacker feels it can limit the damage enough to get away with using it. The reduced area of destruction essentially weakens the delicate balance of mutually assured deterrence, making the line between conventional war and nuclear war far less easy to define.

This all said, the term “low-yield” is a misnomer. Even a small tactical nuclear bomb rivals the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II. These so-called “smaller weapons” contain explosive power up to 50 kilotons of TNT. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima measured about 15 kilotons.

Add to this that nuclear-armed nations are likely to respond to low-yield nuclear weapon attacks with ones of their own. That is all it takes for the bigger warheads to be used, leading to the nuclear holocaust the globe has feared for more than 70 years.

Another challenge is there are currently no international agreements that limit the use of nuclear warheads on short range missiles. This appears to be based on a time when the U.S. and Soviet Union, which were on opposite sides of the globe, were the only nuclear threats. This short-range missile loophole puts much of Europe in danger from a Russian nuclear attack. And that still leaves the world as vulnerable to nuclear destruction as it has ever been.

When military and civilian experts have war-gamed Russian-U.S. nuclear tensions in the past, exercises climax with nuclear missiles arcing across continents and oceans, striking the capitals of Europe and North America, and killing millions within hours.

Despite constant efforts, mankind has been incapable of achieving peace. Even in times of relative calm, the threat of war looms.

The Bible explains: “The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goes therein shall not know peace” (Isa. 59:8).

Left to his own devices, the worst outcome for man appears inevitable.

A Horrifying Experience

Rod Buntzen, author of “The Armageddon Experience: A Nuclear Weapons Test Memoir” wrote in The New York Times what it was like to experience a nuclear explosion. An excerpt of his experience is included here to convey a tiny taste of the devastation that could come from a war that spirals into nuclear conflict.

“In 1958, as a young scientist for the U.S. Navy, I witnessed the detonation of an 8.9-megaton thermonuclear weapon as it sat on a barge in Eniwetok Atoll, in the Marshall Islands. I watched from across the lagoon at the beach on Parry Island, where my group prepared instrumentation to measure the atmospheric radiation. Sixty-three years later, what I saw remains etched in my mind, which is why I’m so alarmed that the use of nuclear weapons can be discussed so cavalierly in 2022.”

“In a nuclear detonation, the thermal and shock effects are the most immediate and are unimaginable. The fission-fusion process that occurs in a thermonuclear explosion happens in a millionth of a second. As I watched from 20 miles away, all the materials in the bomb, barge and surrounding lagoon water and air had been vaporized and raised to a temperature of tens of millions of degrees.”

Mr. Buntzen described the explosion as an expanding radioactive fireball that eventually grew to a radius of 1.65 miles. He then described the intense heat he felt moments after detonation.

“The heat was becoming unbearable. Bare spots at my ankles were starting to hurt. The aluminum foil hood I had fashioned for protection was beginning to fail. I thought that the hair on the back of my head might catch on fire. The brightness the detonation created defies description. I worried that my high-density goggles would fail. Keeping my eyes closed, I turned until I could see the edge of the fireball.”

“About 30 or 40 seconds after detonation, I took off the goggles and watched the angry violet-red and brown cloud from the fireball.

“As the rising cloud started to form a mushroom cap, I waited for the shock wave to arrive. In the distance, I could see a long vertical shadow approaching. I instinctively opened my mouth and moved my jaw side to side to equalize pressure difference across my eardrums, closed my eyes and put my hands over my ears.


“It hit me like a full body slap, knocking me back. I opened my eyes to see another shadow approaching from a slightly different direction. Over the next few seconds, I felt several smaller blows created by reflections of the pressure wave off distant islands.

“The fireball kept expanding and climbing at over 200 miles per hour, reaching an altitude of about 2 miles. The boiling mass 20 miles away turned into a mixture of white and gray vapor and continued its climb until it reached somewhere about 100,000 feet.

“Meanwhile, the lagoon water had receded like a curtain being pulled back, and the sea bottom slowly appeared. Shark netting that usually protected swimmers lay on the bottom.

“Finally, the water stopped receding and appeared to form a wall, like pictures of Moses parting the sea. The wall seemed to remain motionless before finally roaring back.”

Mr. Buntzen’s experience was of a controlled test. If that kind of power were unleashed on unsuspecting, unprotected masses, few would survive. Those who did would eke out an existence in crumble ruins and radioactive ashes.

Is this our inevitable, bleak future?

Peering into Prophecy

For those who grew up during the Cold War era, the modern nuclear threat brings back vivid memories. Now in their 60s and older, many Americans recall hiding under their desks in school and other drills they practiced in case of a nuclear strike.

Today’s children, who hear about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on social media and in classrooms also wonder what a nuclear war would mean. Unlike in the past, however, today’s kids have greater access to accurate images, video and information that make the threat all the more real.

Fear of nuclear devastation can have a lifelong impact on children, said Nathaniel N. Ivers, an associate professor of counseling at Wake Forest University. During the Cold War, studies revealed that vulnerable populations, including children and caregivers, experienced greater fear and anxiety over the nuclear threat than others, he said.

And parents who expressed more anxiety about a nuclear threat, he said, “tended to have children who were more anxious about nuclear bombs.” Times of heightened threat for nuclear detonation such as during the Cuban Missile Crisis can generate a profound awareness of their mortality and vulnerability.

“Children know there is very little they can do to protect themselves if a nuclear bomb were to hit their area, which can create feelings of helplessness and hopelessness,” Mr. Ivers said. “It also can create a sense of nihilism, especially in older children and adolescents.”

Nihilism—which literally means “nothing”—may be the saddest outcome of mankind’s ability to destroy itself. Nihilism endorses the idea that human existence is senseless and useless. Nihilists reject all morality and religious principles in the belief that life is meaningless. As a result, they throw out all objective truth, knowledge, morality and values.

While this extreme viewpoint remains fringe, it is growing in popularity. Nihilistic thinking is how more people are coping with threatening realities. They see little to no hope for mankind’s future.

Even those who are religious tend to think the Bible says people’s end is nothing but doom and gloom. The terms apocalypse, Revelation, final judgment and even prophecy always seem to trigger one ultimate outcome: total annihilation of all life on Earth in nuclear destruction.

But is this what the Bible really states?

On the contrary, God wants people to know that there is hope for the future. Life is not senseless or useless. It does have meaning and purpose.

Here are just two verses that those who reject the Bible as the true Word of God have no chance to appreciate. The first is Matthew 5:5: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the Earth.” Jesus Christ used His first recorded sermon to explain that human beings have the opportunity to receive the Earth as an inheritance. (Notice mankind’s future is not eternity in heaven.)

Everyone knows what an inheritance is. The second verse, Daniel 7:27, explains more about the inheritance: “And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him.”

The “most High” is God the Father, and He promised to give an inheritance—an everlasting Kingdom—to all His children who dutifully serve and obey Him. This truth should destroy any idea that life has no purpose or meaning! And just as consequential, this truth eliminates any idea that God will allow mankind to use nuclear weapons to completely destroy itself or the Earth it is set to receive.

Yes, the Bible does describe worldwide calamity coming in the form of punishment, yet none of this comes from nuclear weapons. While Old Testament prophets and the book of Revelation are filled with catastrophic descriptions, none of these events are to wipe man from the face other the Earth. Rather, they are to get people’s attention so that God can work with them. Note His ultimate purpose is to “have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:4).

More than you know, mankind’s potential is awesome, and God made the Bible to tell human beings all about it.

To read all the places in Scripture where God explains His purpose and future for His most magnificent creation, look up our free online book The Awesome Potential of Man. Reading this with an open Bible will change your life and renew (or establish) your faith in mankind’s bright future.

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