One More Existential Crisis: Coping with Fears of Nuclear War

Art: Su Ongoren ’25

Currently, the world is sitting in the highest international tension since the Cold War, and the chance of nuclear war is a topic that often comes up in conversation. Many high school students think that the probability of nuclear war is rising and speculate that a nuclear war will happen during our lifetimes. 

Tensions have been rising between the world’s superpowers for years, but as the war in Ukraine has broken out, and tensions rose further, with Vladimir Putin even threatening the U.S. about nuclear war for months.

As students whose visions of the future have been tainted by global tragedies, many have a profoundly cynical point of view. 

“I think it’s possible but not an immediate concern,” said Caroline G. ‘24. “As our technology continues to advance, though, we should definitely keep the possibility of nuclear war in mind.”  This can be seen as one of the calmer outlooks on future possibilities for the world.

Charlotte B.C. ‘25 responded, “I mean, at some point, it’s gonna happen. On any random day in history, people are going to be mad at each other, and they’ll be unable to solve the problem, so they’re gonna turn to nuclear war in a fit of rage.”

While it may seem as though our future is doomed according to some students, the expert point of view is rather different. According to Newsweek, some experts estimate that nuclear war is anywhere from 10 to 20 percent likely to happen. Although nuclear bombs have been dropped, a nuclear war involving multiple opposing forces has never happened. 

However, the concerns of many rise when they realize that technological advancements have given nations  the power to destroy the world to a  degree unlike the past bomb droppings. Mark Twain once said “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often does rhyme” and today’s current events are no exception. So it may be a good idea to look back to the last time we almost erupted into nuclear havoc, the cold war . Regarding the likelihood of nuclear war now, it may be best to look back to the Cold War due to the similarities between the two situations. According to Newsweek, Former President John F. Kennedy’s predictions of nuclear war sat at a hefty 50 percent during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  However, some of his advisors’ predictions were under one percent. 

This article might have caused some stress, but don’t worry: you’re not alone. If you are feeling stressed out, here’s some advice from Mel Chan and Julia Warren, the high school counselors.

Mr. Chan: “Existential crises are often rooted in uncertainty about the future. College, careers, love, war, etc. That uncertainty is often coupled with powerlessness and helplessness; essentially a lack of control. What may (although not always) help is focusing on the present, on the things you can actually do and the things you actually have control over.  Although it doesn’t always feel like it, I think this quote from one of my favorite movies really sums it up: “The future is not set. There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.”

Ms. Warren: “My biggest advice to students who get anxious about nuclear war is to take media breaks. It’s important to find a balance between being informed and being buried by information. Also, be mindful of the news sources you are getting information from. Eye-catching headlines and dramatic language do a fantastic job of getting people to read about nuclear war, but are not necessarily good for calming anxiety. If it’s getting really bad and turning into what you think might be an existential crisis, talk to someone. Anxiety tends to get bigger and stronger the more we try to suppress it. Seek help if it’s feeling overwhelming.”

The threat of nuclear war is very real but also very hard to predict. Due to the current state of the world, the imposing threat of nuclear war has caused students a significant level of anxiety, which is a possible contributor to the high variation of opinion. Despite the tension, students must go about their daily lives, attend class, and worry about the more trivial matters of life. 

Su Ongoren ‘25, the author and artist, is a staff writer for The Grace Gazette.