In 1961, a B-52 carrying two nuclear weapons missed its connection with a tanker aircraft. As fuel ran hopelessly low, the B-52’s commander ordered his crew to bail out. He stayed with the craft until 4,000 feet, piloting it away from populated areas, then bailed out himself. When the plane hit the ground, the nuclear weapons had the common courtesy not to detonate. Phew.
All this occurred near Yuba City, California, a place otherwise untouched by notable events in nuclear history. Yet the Appeal-Democrat, the main newspaper serving Yuba City and its smaller companion Marysville, led its Sunday edition this week with a story headlined “Nuclear worries? Global tensions bring concerns to the forefront.” Essentially, the Appeal-Democrat attempted to determine whether local residents should be concerned about nuclear war (maybe, maybe not) and whether local officials had plans in place to contend with a nuclear emergency (not really). The paper acknowledged in an accompanying editorial that nuclear risk and civil defense are “pretty hard topic[s] for a small-town newsroom to tackle.” Well, covering nuclear risk presents challenges even for publications that specialize in doing just that.
What’s noteworthy here is that nuclear weapons are back in public consciousness and back on the agenda—not just in Washington, New York, Chicago, Cambridge, and Palo Alto, but even in unexceptional corners of California’s Central Valley. Suddenly, Kim Jong-un strikes terror into hearts across Yuba and Sutter Counties. Just the way he likes it.