I can't stop worrying and I don't love the bomb
April 12, 2017 9:31 PM   Subscribe

I'm a new mom living in LA, and recent events have made me terrified of nuclear war with North Korea. What can I do to feel less worried and more prepared?

I'm worried about the recent escalation of tensions between the US and North Korea this time around. Trump is shooting off aggressive tweets, China is sending troops to the border, and hedge funds are betting against South Korea's solvency. It seems increasingly possible that the US could end up being the victim of a nuclear attack very soon.

I live in Los Angeles. While it's not a target per se, it's on the West Coast and close enough to existing targets (San Diego) to be in danger in the event that Jong Il ISN'T bluffing and does have the ability to launch long-range missiles into the US mainland. I also have a husband, a cat, and a 6-week old baby. If it were just me, I'd consider a nice long trip to visit my family in the midwest, but it's not just me. My baby hasn't had his shots yet, my husband has work, and my cat hates travel. Also, I may be acting a bit paranoid. I don't want to live in fear, but I don't want to be totally blindsided by catastrophe.

My question, then, is this: what can I do to feel less paranoid and still prepared? And what can I do to protect my baby in case something terrible does happen?
posted by MsMartian to Human Relations (24 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Nuclear war is not something you can meaningfully prepare against, and many people have distorted their lives horribly trying to. You should, of course, make the standard preparations against a few days' disruption in essential services that every household that can afford to should. Losing access to clean water for a few days is far FAR more likely to happen to you than a nuclear attack and can have plenty of unpleasant conseuqences. But there isn't anything you can do about the bomb. Realistically, LA would be a target if the goal is to kill as many people as possible. Which means you would probably never even know what happened.

I would also gently like to ask whether you are feeling especially uncontrollably anxious since the birth of your baby. Post-partum anxiety is a known phenomenon, and it might be worth speaking to your obstetrician or pediatrician to get screened.
posted by praemunire at 9:51 PM on April 12 [38 favorites]

North Korea has an extremely crude missile program, and an extremely crude nuclear program. The most likely result of a NK attempt at a nuclear attack is radioactive sushi, on par with Fukushima.

China has far more to worry about than the US. A NK missile could easily land in Chinese territory - accidentally or on purpose.

Like terrorism, this is not a thing worth worrying about.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:00 PM on April 12 [20 favorites]

Relax. If you were in Seoul, 30 miles from the DMZ, you would have reason to be a little concerned (and not really much more than a little concerned even then; NK chest-thumps like this whenever they feel like the international mood is shifting in a way which may inconvenience them, but they know it would be suicide to start a war). Leaving aside the geopolitical situation and just looking at the logistics of a strike against the US, North Korea has few nukes and those which they do have aren't that good. They also don't currently have a workable trans-Pacific delivery mechanism for their warheads.

As it is, you're a lot safer, moment to moment, then you ever would have been in the 1980s with Soviet ICBMs targeting LA and flaky computers throwing up scary false first-strike alerts in the middle of the night at some launch bunker in the Urals.
posted by killdevil at 10:11 PM on April 12 [12 favorites]

For what it's worth, there is a unit of the missile shield system located just up the coast at Vandenberg. It's been designed to protect against the smaller NK sort of threats. The track record isn't that great but neither is that of NK's missile program.
posted by feloniousmonk at 10:13 PM on April 12 [3 favorites]

Respectfully, from one Angeleno to another, the fact that you are actively concerned about this and are rattling off facts about hedge funds and San Diego and your baby's vaccination schedule makes me think that you should 1) reevaluate your news consumption/sources and 2) speak to your doctor. It's a generally scary/stressful time for us all and I'm sure that's compounded by your new baby, but the specificity and depth of your concern is not healthy. Think of it this way: there's an incredibly remote chance that a nuclear weapon (or any act of war, or even natural disaster) will ever harm you or your baby. But your paranoia, anxiety and irrational thinking will almost definitely harm your child if left to fester.

If you really want to do something to protect against disaster, may I suggest re-evaluating your earthquake preparedness kit?
posted by acidic at 10:18 PM on April 12 [44 favorites]

Yeah, seconding everyone. You're catastrophizing.

Look, I'm Indian. For the majority of my life, I have lived within firing range of Pakistan's nukes. It's scary, I get it. But at the same time... honestly, you're at more risk of earthquakes, forest fires, or some disaffected white boy getting his hands on an assault rifle.

I agree with the suggestion to speak to your doctor, and possibly a therapist. While I'm not saying NK is harmless, it's nowhere near the top of the threat list right now.
posted by Tamanna at 10:31 PM on April 12 [11 favorites]

Hi. I'm guessing you're younger than I am (I'm fifty, holy shit). I grew up thinking I was going to die in a nuclear holocaust with what was then the Soviet Union, because Reagan thought it was funny to joke about pushing The Button. So I hear you.

1. You have to stop reading the news every day. Stop it. Panic never did anyone any good in an actual emergency, and news is often geared to make you panic. So cut it out.

2. Call your congresscritters every day. Every. Day. Call Dianne's SoCal, NorCal, and DC numbers, and Kamala's. Look up the number(s) for your House rep. Tell them to push back against 45's madness, and thank them when they do.

3. Make sure your earthquake prep kits and procedures are up to date and everyone in your household knows where/what they are.
posted by rtha at 10:58 PM on April 12 [10 favorites]

You and your baby would stand a worse chance dying by getting in the car and going cross country than you would from North Korea shooting a nuke, statistically speaking.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:00 PM on April 12 [6 favorites]

> But at the same time... honestly, you're at more risk of earthquakes, forest fires, or some disaffected white boy getting his hands on an assault rifle.

These are all pretty unlikely, too. Worry more about wearing seat belts, diet and exercise. Watch your baby at bathtub and around pools, and have the kid wear a helmet when doing anything dangerous. These are realistic worries. Terrorism, North Korean nukes and a random shooting are not realistic worries.

I've tried to follow the news more because I want to keep Trump accountable and fight back, but if it's losing you sleep, I would absolutely avoid the news. Just stop reading it. In the past I resorted to blocking certain news sites from my browser. Your life, honestly, will be same whether you follow what's going on or not, and if there ever is an actual pressing national security issue, the news will get to you.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:28 PM on April 12 [6 favorites]

People tend to overestimate the chances of something catastrophic happening.

And underestimate the chances of something going wrong in an everyday incident.

To echo the above statements, here are some hard numbers.

Chances of you or your kid dying in a car crash each year: 1 in 9000
Chances of you or your kid dying in a car crash in your lifetime: 1 in 113
Chances of you or your kid dying by firearm in your lifetime: 1 in 313

For more delightful statistics, please find this page

If you think nuclear war with North Korea is more likely than 1 in 100, then you should be worried.

Otherwise, you should worry about nuclear war about the same level as you would when you're in a car -- that is, for most people, not at all.
posted by moiraine at 1:05 AM on April 13 [4 favorites]

Have you had your six week checkup yet? Please bring this to your doctor's attention. PPA is a thing, and you don't have to deal with it alone.
posted by snickerdoodle at 1:34 AM on April 13 [7 favorites]

Check your memail. You don't have to feel like this!
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 4:18 AM on April 13

If it makes you feel any better at all, LA isn't that much closer to NK than many places in the upper Midwest thanks to spherical geometry. Honolulu and Seattle would be much more likely targets for long-shot long-range missiles from North Korea.
posted by hwyengr at 4:43 AM on April 13 [3 favorites]

If you want to take one practical precaution to protect your loved ones in the very unlikely chance that NK manages to bomb us, you could keep a few potassium iodide tablets in your purse or go bag. Taken as recommended after a nearby release of radiation, they can prevent thyroid cancer.
posted by nicwolff at 4:44 AM on April 13 [1 favorite]

I had been a little worried about things but then I talked to a South Korean acquaintance of mine from from Seoul. Usually when I ask her stupid questions (because I like to confirm what I hear in the news from people who actually know a place, and because she doesn't mind talking to me about Korea) I get her very polite face while she explains. When I asked her if she were worried about North Korea, she started openly laughing. She said they've lived under that threat for fifty years and the Korean perspective (according to her) is that nothing is new or elevated and this is just another Americans flipping out thing. She agreed that China would not be amused by any NK shenanigans and that Asia is quite capable of managing its own business even if the Americans are goofing around on the international diplomacy front. If the people thirty miles away from the DMZ with a much better understanding of the situation aren't worried, then I probably shouldn't worry either. I do have a child, but I'm not on the American West Coast. In terms of the future, there are other things about which I worry more.

So my advice would be to talk to someone from South Korea (or maybe the close parts of China) and also mention this to your doctor or your pediatrician.
posted by arabelladragon at 5:21 AM on April 13 [9 favorites]

I would like to Nth the suggestion that this is not about NK or nukes but about your baby. I have two little ones and, especially about 4-12 weeks post-partum, the paranoia can ramp up to obscene levels.

I worried they might catch every rare disease on the planet. The thought that our carbon monoxide detector might have malfunctioned and that we were all going to die kept me up at night. I had a friend who was terrified of throwing her kid down the stairs (no impulse to do so, just the thought that she might at some point THINK to want to). The anxiety can be really brutal and doesn't necessarily go away on its own.

Talk to your doctor, they have pointers and potentially medication if it gets bad, but I just want you to know that it's not you and it's not NK: it's motherhood and hormones and stress.
posted by lydhre at 6:07 AM on April 13 [9 favorites]

I go through phases of feeling the same anxiety you do (Hello, my 80s Cold War paranoia...I DIDN'T MISS YOU). One morning last week, I was holding my baby in my lap and I wondered if I could call in TERRIFIED OF NUKES to work so I wouldn't have to leave him. But I did have to carry on and go to work. I tend to dial down my news consumption for a few days (and drink Rescue Remedy like Kool Aid for a day or so) and I feel better. I am prone to anxiety and freaking out and the current administration isn't fucking helping.

We live in weird, scary times right now and it's a lot of pressure to be solely responsible for caring for a tiny person. You're a good parent.
posted by Aquifer at 6:22 AM on April 13 [7 favorites]

Ok. So, can North Korea drop missiles on the west coast of the USA? technically, yes, though even that technical yes comes with a huge caveat of "but practically speaking, no, they really can't."

Basically... Your rockn' 1973 Ford Pinto can, technically, drive from the bottom tip of Argentina to Quebec and then to western Alaska.... But at the same time, nobody in their right mind would ever do it. And, despite all their nonsense North Korea's leaders aren't insane.

Nk wants to keep the elite in power and to do that they have to keep the population under control, and the USA/UN from removing every trace of their dynasty from the face of the earth. Talking about the threat the USA poses is a tool NK uses as a means of population control.

Actually hitting the USA with anything at all means NK is a small child hitting a big bear with just enough of a stick to make the very big bear extraordinarily angry. So NK walks this line of building their couch cushion fort so it's honestly just not worth it for the bear to mess up NK's cozy dictatorship home. And yes, they have the defensive means to make a invasion of NK messy. So we don't wipe NK's dictatorship out and they live to dictator another day.

So, abstract but realist math: odds of NK actually using their very small arseanal of west coast hitting weapons: almost none.

Odds of said weapons being nuclear: almost none.

Odds of unlikely missiles getting through layered missile defense systems: small.

Actual odds of NK attacking the USA, let alone remotely successfully: .001%. There just isn't the payoff for the dictatorship.
posted by Jacen at 6:37 AM on April 13 [5 favorites]

Oh dear. It's really scary having a baby. I know. The idea of something bad happening to them is SO much worse than the idea of something bad happening to you. And even if you were never an anxious person before, it's easy to become one where your children are concerned.

Okay, now listen to me. The chances of your baby developing a terminal illness, or dying with you in a car accident or house fire, or any of a thousand other terrible scenarios are OVERWHELMINGLY greater than the risk of LA being nuked in the near future.

Keep breathing. The point is not that you should instead be terrified of Leukemia. The point is that you're going to need to take a step back and swallow whole the idea that the world is full of dangers and you can't protect your child from all of them. And even if you could, that wouldn't be good parenting. Your child will be danger throughout his life. And he will be fine.

You need to develop the skill of identifying which dangers are worth worrying about, and what a reasonable response to those dangers is. Car accidents are worth worrying about. A properly install infant car seat is a reasonable response. Once you start prioritizing your concerns and maximizing the return on time invested worrying about them, North Korea bombing LA is going to be so far down that list you will never think of it again.
posted by 256 at 7:23 AM on April 13 [3 favorites]

When my daughter was born, the Washington DC sniper was active. I live in Indiana. Still, I could not take my daughter out for a walk because I was scared I'd be shot and she'd grow up without a mother. Logically I knew this wasn't going to happen. But the new baby hormones were so intense that I couldn't shake that fear for quite a while. Those post-baby hormones can make everything more present and more terrifying.

I agree that current world events are horrible, but I think you would have a different, less terrified, reaction if you didn't have a newborn.
posted by bluespark25 at 9:35 AM on April 13

I've nuked San Diego for you, with a 14 kiloton bomb, which is as big as North Korea has ever tested, and I detonated it on the ground, which is the worst possible situation for fallout. Here's a map of how it went. I wouldn't bother preparing for a nuclear bomb in San Diego.

Make sure that your preparations for a major earthquake are up to date, though, and I don't mean that glibly. I was in the Loma Prieta earthquake, and I might be in California for a big one.
posted by the Real Dan at 11:42 AM on April 13 [2 favorites]

NK has nukes & they have missiles but they're nowhere near putting them together. The payload has to be shrunk significantly & probably a lot of work has to be done in other areas like ruggedizing also - think about how much force is involved in launching a missile. Detonating a nuclear weapon is an incredibly complex precision process, akin to brain surgery. Doing it at the end of a missile flight is like brain surgery at the end of a roller coaster ride where you take the whole operating theater with you on the ride. NK is nowhere near that capability.
posted by scalefree at 10:01 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]

I'm with you. I had a pretty serious anxiety explosion after the election, and I wanted to do something to make me feel better equipped for the bad shit that was coming. But I also rationally new that there probably wasn't a ton I could do if things went really sideways, but still I wanted to do something because I'm one of those people that likes to have a plan B (and sometimes C). I find that when I do some mental preparation for things I just don't worry about them as much.

What I ended up doing (re: disaster prep) was to spend a hundred bucks or so on shelf stable food, water, cheap flashlights, extra batteries, and some basic first aid stuff. It's my "earthquake" (wink wink, nudge nudge) box. People are judgey as shit if you say that you're worried because of politics, but they're fine with you stocking up on a few things for earthquakes. And to be clear, I think it's all connected. The federal government is involved in aid to disaster areas, and I don't want to be dependent on aid reaching me in time from this current incompetent malicious shit show to keep my children fed. So we have enough shit in our garage to hopefully get us through for a little while if there is some temporary (but longer then we have come to expect) infrastructure breakdown, it definitely made me feel better and worry less.

I also bought a few old paper street guides at a public library sale to put in any cars you use (how to get home if your out and gps isn't available), plus comfy walking shoes, water of course, and an extra baby carrier.

Oh, one other thing is that we've been toying with the idea of installing solar panels. We missed the good rebate period but there's still tax refunds, so we might do that. Basically we're giving a little more weight to any sensible normal thing that will make us a little more self sufficient.
posted by The Shoodoonoof at 6:45 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]

Self-sufficiency is fine if it is entertaining and makes you feel better, but we are far too interconnected for self sufficiency to actually be useful.

Much better to expand your social circle by interacting earnestly with people you wouldn't usually. Both to expand your real-world social network and to practice working with people different from you.

Burst the filter bubble!
posted by b1tr0t at 7:25 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]

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