It’s astonishing how many times we’ve been on the cusp of Armageddon following the creation of the hydrogen bomb.
Sixty-six years ago today, on January 31st, 1950, President Harry Truman told the American public that he was pushing forward the creation of a “super-bomb.” This would be the world’s first hydrogen bomb, and it would be a thousand times more powerful than the nuclear weapons the United States had dropped on two Japanese cities at the end of World War II. Truman’s announcement came months after the Soviet Union tested First Lightning, their inaugural nuclear warhead. The arms race had begun.
What followed—the creation and stockpiling of tens of thousands of nuclear weapons—has made the world a far more dangerous place. A snap reaction or a simple mistake could lead to the instantaneous annihilation of hundreds of thousands of human lives — and that hair-trigger moment has occurred uncomfortably often. Here are five of them: