The skies were calm over Oahu, Hawaii, one terrifying Saturday morning this past January.
There on the beach you would have seen a child dancing and playing in the sand — unaware of what more than a million people believed was soon reentering the Earth’s atmosphere headed for them.
“When you read the words ‘ballistic missile,’ you know that if something is coming our way, it is nuclear. It doesn’t matter if it hits you,” the child’s mother typed into her phone as the last of a high tide washed out to sea.
“On an island the size of Oahu, there is nowhere to go,” she continued to her friends on Facebook. “No way of outrunning it. Even if you can escape the blast, you can expect the winds to cover the island with radiation. And with nowhere to land planes, how long will aid take? How long will it take to get food and water and medical supplies 2,500 miles to an island in the middle of the Pacific? How do you find shelter?”
Whether it’s U.S. islands like Guam or Hawaii, coastal cities like San Diego or New York City, or allied territories oceans away, the 21st century has heightened the threat of ballistic missiles to the United States and its allies. Some examples:
- Iran has been threatening Israel (and U.S. Navy vessels) with its missile program for decades.
- Chinese technology is advancing rapidly — possibly bypassing U.S. missile technology as soon as 2020.
- And of course, advances in North Korea’s ballistic and nuclear weapons programs have raised the stakes dramatically in just the past two years alone.
But what could Hawaii — or the U.S. military — have done that January morning, had the missile been real?