Twenty minutes. That’s how long it will take for a nuclear missile from North Korea to reach Hawaii. It will take at least five minutes for officials there to determine if it is indeed on its way. That gives the people of the state of Hawaii about 15 minutes to decide if taking shelter is prudent or meaningless.

As I recently listened to the story of nuclear alert drills in our 50th state, a chill came across me. I grew up in the middle of the Cold War. I was stationed along the Soviet border for a time during my Air Force days. I was a radio reporter during the Reagan administration when tensions were high once again. A popular song in those days was “I Hope the Russians Love Their Children Too.”

Once the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union collapsed, my anxiety eased. Even when the War on Terror began after 9/11, the specter of nuclear annihilation was not a part of it, at least not then.

Now we stand once again on the precipice of catastrophe and my old Cold War anxiety has come back to haunt me because of the uncertainty involved with North Korea.

First, the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, is as erratic as he is ruthless. I recently read a book written by a defector from that Stalinist state who, as an elementary student, was required to attend the public executions of those deemed as enemies of the state. His people are starving to death, yet Kim lives in luxury and is spending all that he can to obtain nuclear weapons.

Secondly, our own leadership is unstable. President Trump conducts affairs of state through Twitter. Just when we think things are settling down, he tweets some off-the-wall comment that has the world scratching its head. He recently retweeted an anti-Muslim video that was posted by a British far-right group (equivalent to our KKK, said one member of Parliament). How is this appropriate for the leader of the free world?

On the subject of North Korea, President Trump promised in September to “totally destroy” them.

A promise of destruction from Kim I understand. He cares nothing for his own people, so why would he care for the people he may harm elsewhere. But President Trump? How can he not see that a strike against North Korea will unleash a firestorm, one that could plunge the world into darkness?

We are not talking about a few hundred deaths here. We’re talking deaths in the thousands or even millions. We’re not talking about us against them. We’re talking about other nations becoming involved, including China and Russia. We’re not talking about a blip on the stock market. We’re talking about economies in turmoil, including South Korea’s, which is the 11th largest in the world.

I wonder sometimes why China and Russia don’t do more to intervene in North Korea. China, especially, has the power to influence or even change the situation there. The more I think about it, the more I realize that they are waiting to see what President Trump will do. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain if we go to war.

In his inaugural address, President John Kennedy said, “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.” In 1962, he faced nuclear annihilation during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Through strong leadership and intense negotiations, the crisis was averted. Unfortunately, in this situation, that is exactly what we are missing: strong leadership and intense negotiations. There seems to be nothing but fear.

This situation is far more complicated than we know. We have the military might. We have the strength and the reach to destroy North Korea. But at what price?

So our countrymen in Hawaii are preparing Christmas while participating in nuclear preparedness drills. The rest of the world waits and wonders what President Trump will do. It is apparent we are coming to a tipping point in the history of our nation – and I honestly don’t know which way it will go.

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