Experts: News pace in Facebook age heightens nuclear fears

Jana Benscoter
York Dispatch
York College History and political science Prof. Peter Levy said we often forget that history repeats itself. Jana Benscoter/photo

On one hand, a belligerent, reclusive regime continues to defy the United Nations with ever-more-frequent tests of technology that could deliver a nuclear weapon to U.S. shores — just as its leader has threatened to do.

On the other is a mercurial president who promises North Korea’s threats will be met “with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before."

With such casual talk of nuclear war, is it a surprise the bomb shelter business is booming?

In this undated photo distributed on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, watches what was said to be the test launch of an intermediate range Hwasong-12 missile at an undisclosed location in North Korea. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

Public anxiety is not uncommon when nations are at odds, said Peter Levy, who teaches history and political science at York College.

During the Vietnam War and World War II, people thought "the world was coming to an end," he said, suggesting there was more of an "existential threat" then than there is in 2017.

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However, Levy acknowledged earlier generations weren’t tuned in to a 24-hour news cycle and always connected on social media, which could be heightening the fear today.

During international crises like the one with North Korea, some local millennials say they turn to Twitter's social-media platform for updated information — while some older Americans are reportedly seeking to construct their own bomb shelters. 

In fact, sales have spiked this year, said Ron Hubbard, president of Atlas Survival Shelters.

His Montebello, California-based business is "getting hundreds of calls," and he said he expects to have a banner year, selling 1,000 shelters at an average price of $25,000 each. 

“We are back in the 1960s again,” said Hubbard, referring to the Cold War demand for bomb shelters. “We’ve got a crazy man on one side and (President) Donald Trump on the other.”

York College senior Andre Johnson says he's not worried about about nuclear war. Jana Benscoter/photo

York College computer information systems major Andre Johnson said he's not worried about the threat of nuclear war.

The 22-year-old from Laurel, Maryland, said he consumes his news on Twitter, mostly so he can analyze Trump’s reactions.

"I'm not a huge Trump fan, but I think he's doing the best he can," Johnson said. "But, I mean, it's North Korea. I think they're just talking to try to get a reaction out of us."

Dr. Allen Miller, of WellSpan Behavioral Health, said the pace of information in the Internet age “just isn’t good.”

Dr. Allen Miller, PhD., of WellSpan Behavioral Health. Submitted/photo

“Regardless of political spectrum, the possibility of any type of conflict — whether it be terrorist attack or war between two countries — is something that people find out about much more quickly," he said. 

Instead of obsessing over something "we can't do anything about," Miller said people should try both physical and mental activities to help alleviate stress. 

"We need to be actively involved in relationships with other people," he said. "We want to encourage people to do that as opposed to getting caught up in the minute-to-minute news cycle."

— The Associated Press contributed to this story.