Metro

Yvonne Abraham

Armageddon worried

A South Korean navy ship fired a missile during a drill aimed to counter North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missile test in early July.

South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images

A South Korean navy ship fired a missile during a drill aimed to counter North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missile test in early July.

Mylar sleeping bags. Check. Emergency drinking water. Check. Waterproof matches. Check. Duct tape, 113-hour candles, hand-crank radio. Check, check, check.

My Amazon Save for Later list is a paranoid survivalist’s fantasy.

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I panicked when Donald Trump was first elected president. A lot of people were saying he was dangerously unqualified, ignorant about international affairs, and just the sort of hair-trigger blunderbuss who might get us into another war. So I chose items for an emergency kit to use in case of cataclysm. But I never felt sufficiently terrified to proceed to checkout.

Until now. Trump’s reckless blustering about North Korea, in which he threatened “fire and fury” in response to saber-rattling from the bombastic Kim Jong Un, has me freaked out. Even worse, it now appears he was freelancing, escalating a serious threat to this nation without consulting his advisers. Fantastic!

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I’m not alone. Type in “how to survive,” and Google already knows where your head is at, auto-filling “a nuclear attack,” which comes in above “a zombie apocalypse” and “middle school.” Gallows humor has taken hold, with folks on Twitter joking about picking outfits for nuclear winter and making playlists for the end of the world. A sense of impending doom has a way of recalibrating one’s priorities: Blow money on a new rug, or save for a retirement that may never come? A healthy salad for lunch, or a delicious, artery-clogging kafta roll-up?

I went with the rug and the roll-up. This is how I do wild and crazy. Tonight I might even leave dirty dishes in the sink.

Those of a certain age will be familiar with this particular brand of existential dread. David Ropeik was 11 during the Cuban missile crisis, when nuclear conflict seemed imminent.

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“I went to bed wondering whether I would feel the heat from the explosions or whether they would kill me before I suffered,” the former Channel 5 reporter said. He wrote a book called “How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don’t Always Match the Facts,” so I called him in the hopes that he would put my panic in perspective.

He said my fears match the facts.

“What makes this much scarier is the unpredictability of the two people in charge of these nations, who are yelling at each other like children on a playground,” he said. He recommends an ignorance-is-bliss approach.

“Go take the dog for a walk, read a book,” he said. “Don’t be a 24-7 news awareness victim.”

“Of course, you’re in the news business,” he added. “So you’re doomed.”

Great. David Wright is worried, too. The Cambridge physicist and codirector of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists has been watching North Korea for 25 years. Kim is “despicable, but he’s not crazy,” Wright said. He doesn’t worry about North Korea launching an attack on the US or Guam out of the blue, but about the temperature of the crisis getting turned up so carelessly and needlessly.

“Those are the times when people make miscalculations or mistakes, or get a little trigger happy,” he said. Many Americans let go of their nuclear fears after the end of the cold war. Wright has lived with them all this time, mindful that things can get out of control even without Trump’s off-the-cuff brinksmanship.

How does he deal with the feelings that are newish to many of us?

“I come to work every day and try to convince people they should change things,” he said. “Some days you get pretty depressed. . . . But nuclear weapons make people very cautious, so I’m tempted to hope that the likelihood that something will happen is fairly low.”

I’m clinging to that. And buying my emergency kit, which Wright says is likely useless.

But rational is so 2016.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com.
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