You never want to be wondering about the capabilities of a hydrogen bomb, but after Donald Trump's speech at the U.N. directed toward North Korea, and then North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's response, it's a legitimate thing to think about. One of the more pressing questions is how far a hydrogen bomb can travel, as Kim Jong Un has now claimed that Trump will have to face the consequences of his blustering, nationalist speech.
The thing about a hydrogen bomb, otherwise known as a thermonuclear bomb, is that it can only travel as far as the missile it's attached to. In order for a hydrogen bomb to reach the U.S. mainland from North Korea, it would have to be attached to what's called an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM. If a hydrogen bomb has been shrunk to fit inside of a missile like that, then it could easily reach most of America's major cities.
The next question, then, is whether North Korea has actually managed to pack a hydrogen bomb into an ICBM. They recently tested an ICBM that analysts say could potentially hit the U.S. mainland if fired at the right trajectory, but no one was able to tell how heavy the test missile's payload was. The heavier the payload, the shorter the missile's flight. However, even lacking that piece of information, the most recent ICBM test almost definitively shows that North Korea has the ability to hit at least Alaska, and at most the major East Coast cities like New York and Boston.
The rhetoric coming out of Pyongyang hasn't exactly been calming over the last month. At the beginning of September, North Korea tested a hydrogen bomb that they claimed could be loaded onto an ICBM, and now this more recent test of an ICBM makes it seem all the more likely that they do in fact have the capability to launch a nuclear attack on the mainland United States.
President Trump, then, hasn't reacted with the calm, confident style of leadership that the United States would ideally have at a time when possibly the world's most erratic country is threatening to start lobbing nuclear bombs over the Pacific. As part of his long speech to the U.N. general assembly, Trump threatened to "totally destroy North Korea" if the hermit kingdom continues to conduct nuclear tests and referred to Kim as "Rocket Man."
Kim, now, has responded to Trump's rhetorical fire with rhetorical fire of his own, calling Trump a "mentally deranged U.S. dotard" in a statement released on North Korean state media. The word "dotard," which many people may not be familiar with, means "an old person, especially one who has become weak or senile" — making it exactly the sort of insult likely to get under Trump's notoriously thin skin. But Kim's speech was more than just insults; although he didn't say so in as many words, the statement seemed to threaten nuclear war:
Now that Trump has denied the existence of and insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world and made the most ferocious declaration of a war in history that he would destroy the DPRK, we will consider with seriousness exercising of a corresponding highest level of hardline countermeasure in history. ... I will make the man holding the prerogative of the supreme command in the U.S. pay dearly for his speech calling for totally destroying the DPRK. ... Whatever Trump might have expected, he will face results beyond his expectation.
As is always the case with North Korea, it's impossible to say what exactly is just empty rhetoric meant to create anger and fear among the nation's citizens, and what Kim actually means to do. That goes hand in hand with the question of what the country is indeed capable of, and how far a hydrogen bomb launched in earnest by North Korea could actually go. Hopefully, that's a question that we'll never find out the answer to.