On Saturday morning, Hawaii residents and tourists were woken up by an emergency alert telling them that a ballistic missile was on its way, and to seek immediate shelter. "THIS IS NOT A DRILL," it warned.
Then, after 38 agonizing and panicked minutes, a second alert claimed that the whole thing was a mistake. It turns out an employee mistakenly hit the wrong button during a shift-change. Whoops.
And while everyone eventually settled down and life went back to quasi-normal, New York Times editor Max Fisher took to Twitter to remind everyone that the error could have had a much more disastrous result.
Fisher pointed to a 1983 incident in which a Korean airliner was shot down over Russia, almost instigating a nuclear war:
You need to know the story of KAL-007, a Korean airliner shot down in 1983, to understand why those 38 minutes in Hawaii put the whole world in danger.— Max Fisher (@Max_Fisher) January 13, 2018
When they shot it down, killing 269 people, Washington said it’d been a mistake. But US officials also worried the whole thing could be a prelude to war.— Max Fisher (@Max_Fisher) January 13, 2018
Dangerous things can happen when confusion abounds:
The Americans knew that the Soviets were lying and thought: What are they up to? Is this meant to provoke a war?— Max Fisher (@Max_Fisher) January 13, 2018
The Soviets “knew” that the Americans were lying and thought: they’re trying to create casus belli for a massive attack on us
Fisher noted the similarities to what was happening during the time and how Trump has been dealing with North Korea as of late:
Some in Moscow, believing this was all a smokescreen for an imminent American attack, wanted to strike first.— Max Fisher (@Max_Fisher) January 13, 2018
They had good reason to argue as much: if they were facing possibly extinction, better to launch first and maybe survive.
Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, but they might not have. The confusion over KAL-007 literally could’ve ended the world.— Max Fisher (@Max_Fisher) January 13, 2018
Imperfect information, mutual distrust, and minutes-long response times. They all existed in 1983 and only more so today.
But would "cooler heads" necessarily have prevailed in North Korea? It isn't a guarantee:
Might North Korea have had reason to fear, if only for a moment, that the alarm was cover was a US attack on North Korea?— Max Fisher (@Max_Fisher) January 13, 2018
Recall the US has been threatening such an attack for weeks.
What if they’d said “this could be it, better launch to stop them before it’s too late?"
The fallout from a nuclear war could be disastrous, even if mankind managed to somehow survive it:
Even the White House was unsure whether it was a drill or an error, although they had no problem declaring it an "exercise":
Which Twitter was quick to call out:
there is no possible way of receiving news other than from fox and friends so when trump is playing golf the white house is in a virtual information black hole i'm sorry but this is the only way it can be— Ashley Feinberg (@ashleyfeinberg) January 13, 2018
Ugh. Even the White House is confused as to whether this was an exercise or an error.— Max Fisher (@Max_Fisher) January 13, 2018
If we have shoddy information about our own military's mix-up, how much more confused must the North Koreans be? At what point does their confusion become dangerous? https://t.co/bbswMZXbCS
Fisher's story brings up a worrying point about the dangerous precipice we currently stand upon with North Korea. We don't need to be living in 1983:
Many people who remember the incident chimed in, regaling how awful it truly was:
Including those who lost loved ones on the flight:
One of them was a black judge from Michigan who was a friend of my family—and this was her first vacation in years. I didn’t know the background information...I just knew my parents grieved her and her friendship.😓— Judy Whitney-Davis (@jwhitneydavis) January 13, 2018
In seats 37G and 37D were Stuart and Irene Steckler, both 32 and both transplanted New Yorkers on their way to a home they loved near Osaka, Japan.— Zen Moments (@Zen_Moments) January 13, 2018
They were friends of mine
And it turns out the U.S. shot down a civilian airplane a few years later:
Clearly, nothing good can come of this: