The Atlantic

Why Do People Refer to a Nonexistent 'Nuclear Button'?

It’s, in fact, a briefcase—but that’s little consolation if you’re faced with annihilation.
Source: Johnathan Ernst / Reuters

Asking if the nuclear button at President Trump’s disposal is an actual button, as the president claimed on Twitter Tuesday, or merely a figurative term to describe the means by which a nuclear missile can be deployed is a bit like asking someone if they’d preferred to be shot or stabbed to death—a distinction without a difference. And yet here we are in the first week of the new year asking precisely that question.

It began Monday as Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, delivered his New Year’s Day speech, where he offered the possibility of talks with South Korea to

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