After the misfiring of an emergency alert in Hawaii in January, the prospect of war seems very real and very present.

Thirty-Eight Minutes that Changed Lives

Thirty-eight minutes that will live in digital infamy.

In January, back when the entire continental United States was stuck in a cold snap that seemed like it was never going to end, the Aloha State went through a different sort of panic: the sudden destruction and ruin from above kind.

Pushed out on television and radio, as well as cell phone texts, the emergency alert was clear as day: BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL

It wasn’t a drill. But it wasn’t real, either.

Within the hour, government and military officials would announce that there was no threat. It turned out that someone at the state’s Emergency Management Agency had pressed the wrong button.


(Tinfoil-hat brigade, this is your moment. Bring your best theories to next year’s Conspiracy Convention in Vegas, it’s going to be a competitive field.)

Thirty-Eight minutes … in paradise.

This is damn serious business, of course, stupid gallows humor aside. Personally, I’m less interested in how exactly this went down than how our fellow Americans handled those 38 minutes. Already the stories are coming out and they’re wrenching-the father who had to make a choice between which child to spend those final moments with. The surfer bro who said to hell with it, he was going to keep riding waves in Waimea Bay and die as he lived. The mother on duty at Hickam Air Force Base who called home and instructed her two young boys to take shelter in the bathtub.

For people around my age-born in the 1980s — reared in the 1990s — the return of missiles and nuclear weapons as active threats feels surreal. We grew up thinking we were beyond this madness, a relic from the Cold War era and our parents’ lives and generation. Well, well, that snow globe of preciousness done got shattered right quick. Between a volatile North Korean regime and Russian fuck-fuck games in the Baltics and North Atlantic, not to mention an American president with the moral depth and attention span of a gerbil, nuclear and ballistic warfare isn’t a bygone anymore. It’s everywhere, a dark possibility at any moment.

For decades, a century-plus really, “war” for Americans has doubled as destination. It’s something that happens over there, in other nations and parts of the world, in the backyards and neighborhoods of other people. We send some of our sons and daughters there, sure, and they sometimes return and sometimes don’t. But there’s always been a physical distance for the citizen’}’ at large, and a certain sort of psychological distance, too. That psychological distance has grown overtime. I mean, can you imagine a war-bond drive in 2018 America to better connect everyday citizens with the war effort abroad? It’s absurd to even consider.

Between a volatile North Korean Regime and Russian fuck-fuck games, not to mention a U.S. President with the moral depth and attention of a gerbil, nuclear and ballistic warfare isn’t a bygone era anymore.

I think what’s happening in the world now with North Korea and the like pops that psychological bubble. Talking to friends stationed or living in Hawaii reaffirms that. It wasn’t just soldiers and Marines affected by that emergency alert, but tourists, taxicab drivers, teachers, kids … everyone. Suddenly, war was very real and very present. The way it is for too much of the world, every day. Seattle. San Francisco. Los Angeles. Supposedly, even New York and D.C. are in play for some North Korean long-range missiles. These threats never went away, of course — they’ve been there, lurking like death itself, since America first developed the atomic bomb during World War II. So perhaps a “returned awareness” is a more accurate way to describe what’s happening. Readers of previous Embrace the Suck columns know I’ve long called for a more engage relationship to America’s military and our foreign wars by the American public.

This is not what I had in mind.

Meanwhile, according to reports in the New York Times and the Washington Post, the military’s shifting much of its tactical training to a potential ground war in Asia. This includes tunnel warfare, something unseen in American military doctrine since Vietnam. The change follows 17 years of fighting (mostly) low- intensity conflicts and counterinsurgency campaigns in places like Iraq and Afghanistan … conflicts and campaigns that won’t be going away, by the way, no matter what happens on the Korean peninsula or in the Balkans. As ever — not thirty-eight minutes, but — the Forever War endures.

As always, America’s young fighters stand ready on our behalf. It’d be nice if we could stop adding to their battle duties, though, just once this century. We can hope, I guess. But like every drill sergeant on the planet has reminded new privates, time and time again: Hope is not a method.

Matt Gallagher is a U.S. Army veteran of Iraq and the author of the novel Youngblood (Atria/Simon & Schuster).

AUTHOR’S NOTE (In less than thirty-eight minutes)

It would be hard to find a magazine that’s done more for modem war writing than Penthouse. Esteemed Vietnam author Tim O”Br1en wrote for these pages in the seventies. covering congressional meetings and testimonies about the outdated G.I. Bill. Southern Gothic icon Harry Crews wrote here about growing up in rural Georgia to become a Marine sent off to the Korean War. Iraq vet and bad-ass rocker scribe Colby Buzzell took to Penthouse to explore a possible return to military conscription over a decade ago now. And those are Just three names of many. Veterans. and veteran writing, owe this magazine much gratitude.

It’s all because of Penthouse founder Bob Guccione. Guccione’s known for a lot of other things, of course.

Being a fixture in the counterculture for decades will do that. But it was his commitment to getting the raw truth from the battleground. no matter how unvarnished or ugly. that I admire. A generation back, as the chaos of Vietnam swirled and swirled, that wasn’t always welcome in the publishing industry. Guccione didn’t care. He made a commitment then — a tradition that continues today, all these years later — to giving servicemembers and those close to them the space and platform necessary to tell it like it is. In a magazine devoted to the beauties of the human form, he was willing and committed to showing the darkness we possess, too. That’s legit.

Thanks, Bob. Be easy.


While hesitant to tack on more than that fine tribute to our founder, we will once again suggest a reading of Matt’s longer-form books still available. These days you can also find him as an expert on many a news program, although they rarely give him the more than thirty-eight minutes he deserves. Mr. Gallagher happens to be one impressive person who spreads his message across many a media outlet. He has an impressive message too.

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