In the late 1930s, tensions were growing in Europe as the world’s superpowers were expecting an unwanted sequel to the Great War. Germany had been annexing once-foreign land, and was steadily building back its military, much to everyone’s dismay.
At the same time, scientists living in Nazi Germany discovered a strange property that Uranium-235 particles exhibited when split. While bombarding other elemental nuclei with neutrons, it was expected that “normal” radioactive decay would occur, producing alpha particles and an element with a lower atomic number than the initial. However, the scientists discovered that Uranium underwent a different type of reaction.
In this new reaction, the Uranium-235 would collide with a neutron, producing an unstable Uranium-236 particle. This would then “split” into two lighter elements as well as several neutrons, all the while producing high amounts of energy. These neutrons would continue this process with other Uranium-235 particles, creating a chain reaction.
A New Type of Weapon
When the scientists made this discovery, they knew the possible impact it could have on warfare if it found itself in Nazi hands. As such, they spread their ideas to the United States, which had become an asylum for many fleeing facist control in the East.
Skipping ahead to August 1945, the war in Europe was over, as nations surrendered and their facist leaders were taken down. Consequently, the German nuclear weapons program was halted and fears of a nuclear war were over.
Except they weren’t.
On the 6th of August, 1945, an American plane flew over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. A minute later, the city evaporated as a cloud of destruction billowed in the distance. Another three days, and a similar event happened at Nagasaki. Together with a Soviet land invasion, the once-unbeatable Japanese Empire had been stopped, and their surrender marked the end to the deadliest conflict in human history.
Since WWII, many more countries have developed and acquired nuclear weapons. Counterintuitively however, there hasn’t been a large global conflict of the same scale as the two World Wars. There have been several “proxy wars”, where global superpowers would challenge each other by supporting a smaller entity in a civil war for example, but nothing of the same magnitude as those seen in the first half of the 20th century.
None of this means that tensions weren’t high however. During the “Cold War”, there was still a general belief in the West that the Soviet Union could and would strike a nuclear attack at any moment.
The reason why there was no “Nuclear War” was because of the inevitably negative effect it would have on all parties involved. Commonly referred to as “Mutually Assured Destruction” (or MAD), any large scale nuclear or even conventional attack would prompt the other side to utilize nuclear force in retaliation. In the end, both sides would be nothing more than rubble on charred earth.
Fittingly, there is a popular adage which says:
“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
The advent of nuclear weapons has created a period of relative peace on the global stage, with no major conflicts having been fought in the past 75 years. Nuclear obliteration as a fear has been strong enough to deter any and all global wars.
John F. Kennedy meeting with Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna © U. S. Department of State in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, Public Domain
In my opinion, nuclear weapons have been and will continue to be the major factor for sustained global peace going forward. The only major exception is intranational conflict, or civil wars. This begs the titular question: Where is the safest place in the world?
To that my answer is, any place with a stable government and a protection of rights.
Steinberg, E. P. (1999, July 26). Nuclear fission. Retrieved January 16, 2021, from https://www.britannica.com/science/nuclear-fission
The Discovery of Fission. (2005, July). Retrieved January 16, 2021, from https://www.osti.gov/opennet/manhattan-project-history/Events/1890s-1939/discovery_fission.htm.
Fission comes to America. (2005, July). Retrieved January 16, 2021, from https://www.osti.gov/opennet/manhattan-project-history/Events/1890s-1939/fission_america.htm.