The bomb and I go way back. In Seattle, where I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, it was common knowledge that we were No. 2 on the target list in the event of nuclear war because Seattle was home to Boeing, the maker of B-52 bombers and others Minuteman missiles.
In school we had different drills for different disasters and had to remember which was which. Earthquake? Run outside. The bomb? Run inside to an inner corridor that had no windows. During the summer, my high school friends and I would disappear into the backcountry of the Cascades or the Olympic Mountains for a few weeks. I always wondered if we would find the world in ashes.
Once, in Santa Monica in 1971, I thought it was finally going to happen. I woke up on the floor after being thrown out of my bed one early February morning. There was a tremendous roar. Everything was shaking. I crawled to my one window and pulled back the curtain, expecting to see a mushroom cloud rising over the Los Angeles basin. I have not seen anything. When the radio came back, I learned that there had been a deadly earthquake in the San Fernando Valley.
I was sent on this journey into the past by the January 23 announcement in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that they had decided not to set the Doomsday Clock, a metaphorical clock invented in 1947 to dramatize the threat changing nuclear Armageddon. The clock was originally designed with a 15-minute range and counted down to midnight – the doomsday. Bulletin members post them from time to time in response to current events, which now include threats such as climate change and pandemics.
In a burst of optimism in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the signing of the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the clock was turned back to 17 minutes to midnight. “The Cold War is over,” the Bulletin editors wrote. “The 40-year nuclear arms race between East and West is over.”
A year ago, after Russia invaded Ukraine and threatened to use nuclear weapons, the clock stood at 90 seconds to midnight, closer to the end than ever before. The threat of nuclear weapons in Ukraine has since diminished, but the clock remains 90 seconds to zero.
This year’s announcement came on the same day that “Oppenheimer,” Christopher Nolan’s biopic about the man who directed the invention of the bomb, received 13 Oscar nominations. In an interview before the film’s release, Mr. Nolan J. described Robert Oppenheimer as the most important person in history because his invention either made war impossible or doomed us to annihilation.