Among the 100 booths at the Shinnecock Indian Powwow, an annual Shinnecock Nation event on its home turf in Southampton, New York, this Labor Day weekend was a Federal Emergency Management Agency booth with a flyer titled: “Be prepared for a nuclear explosion. ”

Amid stalls displaying fine arts and crafts made by Shinnecocks and Indians from across the United States, and food vendors offering Native American food, and singing and dancing by Native Americans in ceremonial dress, he there was this scary message.

“A nuclear weapon is a device that uses a nuclear reaction to create an explosion,” the FEMA flyer said. “But,” he says, “you can keep your family safe by knowing what to do and being prepared if it happens.”

“Go inside the nearest building to avoid radiation…Remove contaminated clothing and wipe or wash unprotected skin if you were outside after the fallout arrived,” he continued. “The family must stay indoors. Get together later to avoid exposure to radiation hazard. Keep pets indoors.

Under the heading “Bright Flash” it says “may cause temporary blindness for less than 1 minute”. Then there is the “blast wave” which “can cause death, injury and damage to structures several miles from the explosion”. Then there would be “Radiation”, under which it was explained “can damage cells in the body.” Large exposures can cause radiation sickness,” then “Fallout” which “is radioactive, visible dirt and debris that rains down and can sicken those outside.”

He went on and on advising, “Shower or wash with soap and water to remove fallout from any skin or hair that was not covered.”

You can view it online at https://www.ready.gov/sites/default/files/2020-11/ready_nuclear-explosion_fact-sheet_0.pdf

I’ve spent much of the last year writing a book Long Island Cold War (History Press) with Christopher Verga who teaches Long Island history at Suffolk County Community College on Long Island.

But that FEMA pamphlet wasn’t published in the 1950s when, where I went to elementary school, PS 136 in Queens, New York, we were issued dog tags to wear so that we could be identified in the event of a nuclear apocalypse and regularly did “dodging and cover drills, hiding under our desks. But that was 2022 and the FEMA flyer was relatively recent: it dated of a few years.

FEMA’s instructions followed a few months ago the public service announcement broadcast by New York City Office of Emergency Management stating, “So there was a nuclear attack…the big one hit.” He then advised people, like the FEMA flyer, what to do. With Russian President Putin threatening to use nuclear weapons with his invasion of Ukraine, nuclear war is back as a possibility.

Mayor Eric Adams justified the PSA by saying “we will be prepared. Nothing wrong with being prepared. “Be Prepared” is the motto of the Boy Scouts and I was a Scout, an Eagle Scout.

But is humanity doing what it takes to end the specter of nuclear war?

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, an international agreement to abolish nuclear weapons, was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2017, with 122 countries in favour. The development, testing, production, stockpiling, stationing, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons would be prohibited. “Let’s eliminate these weapons before they eliminate us,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

The big problem: The so-called “nuclear weapon states,” including the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom, have not signed the treaty.

Can atomic genius be put back in the bottle? Whatever people have done, others can undo. And the prospect of massive loss of human life due to nuclear destruction is the best reason.

There is a precedent: the prohibition of chemical warfare after the First World War by a series of treaties enacted after the effects of chemical weapons had been horribly demonstrated.

Chris and I have given many presentations about our book – at the Suffolk County Historical Society museum in Riverhead; the Southampton History Museum; in libraries, last week at the John Jermain Memorial Library in Sag Harbor, NY and last Monday at the Hillside Public Library in New Hyde Park on Long Island.

We are not just talking about the cold war of the 1950s and 1960s, but about a new cold war that could easily turn into a searing nuclear war. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons must take full effect to prevent a nuclear war, which in reality is not winnable and is suicidal.

As Secretary-General António Guterres said, “Let’s get rid of these weapons before they take us out.