Edit: I've been informed this was probably an anti-bomber missile so have edited slightly.

It’s hard to find the place where we survived.

Google Maps took me to an empty parking lot at a UPS distribution center, silent on that Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t the right place. I peered at a satellite image on my phone, trying to find how to get there. Doubling back the way I came, I pulled off the road onto a potholed driveway. The driveway was lined with Budget rental trucks, but that business, too, was closed for the weekend.

At the end of the driveway, I reached my destination. An abandoned tennis court. A baseball diamond, well kept. A playground, with a swing set and slides.

And there it was. The missile silo.

There were no signs, no commemoration, no signal as to the identity of the structure. The park was called “Nike Park,” but the children who come here would associate that name more with shoes than a Cold War missile program.

The missiles, of course, are gone. In their place are stray baseballs. Only the shell of the silo remains: boarded up for good, but still standing.


When we die, or a great calamity occurs, there is a time and a place when it happens. Of course, the time after which it became inevitable is less clear. But when something falls apart, or life is extinguished, or a missile hits its target, there is a time and a place. There is a monument, or a newspaper report, or a gravestone. If nobody is left to bear witness, there is a deafening silence. Even if we cannot find the place where we started to die, or became certain to die, we can find the place where we did.

We can’t find the place where we survived, because there are thousands of such places. We may point at people like Stanislav Petrov, but his case is simply a visible one. It matters little which of the many Nike sites I visited. Missiles might have come from any one of these silos at the end of the world as we know it.

But they didn’t. We survived. 


Today, the missile silo is simply part of the background. It has been built around. Many children who play on these swings do not understand what the silo is. Perhaps an older one asks: “what’s that?” and hears a tale of the Cold War. In this generation, the parents barely remember the Cold War; in two more, it will simply be a lesson from the history books.

The extraordinary has been replaced by the ordinary. The sting of a baseball on your hand. The rush of a game of tag. The creak of a swing. Survival is banal, because it is everywhere.

If we survive this century, as I hope we will, there will be no single point of survival. There will be no single monument to victory against the many risks we faced. If people go looking for the place where we survived, they won’t likely find it, because there will be many such places.

Survival means that one day, the threats we face today will simply be background. Something that people remember, study, and occasionally commemorate, but mostly ignore. People ignore so that they do not have to be saddled by an old memory, so that they can experience the ordinary things that make life worth living. 

We fight now, so that they can ignore later. So that even if they cannot know where they survived, they can know what it means to be alive. That would be more than enough.
 

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I unfortunately did not take a picture that would work well in the main body of this, but here is me flying away from the place where we survived.

Thanks for the story, I enjoyed it. 

It seems that thinking about and working on avoiding existential risks would lead to identification of points of failures that  lead to various horrible futures. Maybe inherent in longtermism is that survival is ongoing, and that to become conscious of the various and many threats to us and the universe is to also be conscious of the daunting possibilities ahead of us. If we weren't conscious of these risks, we might miss a huge fundamental truth about the way the universe works and thus exclude ourselves from being able to stay in the universe. It is almost like it would be a failure to see something that our vantage point in history makes possible to see. Because we have failed to see whatever it is, it is like we have repeated the mistakes of history. It almost like that except thatthere would be no precedent in history for it. Being more aware of the background risks could make one more appreciative of everyday life, and thus they would treat the world and life around them better and leave it better than it was before they showed up to enjoy it.

My understanding is that several nuclear and bio attacks were avoided because someone along the chain of command had a gut feeling or line of reasoning that made them decide not to pull the trigger or press the button, or not to give someone else the order to do so. For that reason, I imagine "the place where we survived" as it relates to counterfactual histories caused by nuclear or bio attacks is a gut feeling or line of reasoning.