Wellerstein speaks to history classes about North Korea Nuclear Crisis


Jude Herwitz

This Tuesday, Dr. Alex Wellerstein, an expert on the history of nuclear weaponry from the Stevens Institute of Technology, visited East Asian and AP World History classes to facilitate discussions and answer questions about North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons, all while urging students to “think like a North Korean,” East Asian History teacher Dr. Elisa Milkes, who invited him to come speak, said.

“I think its fair to say, despite everything else that is going on, the tensions with North Korea surrounding their testing of nuclear weapons and missiles are right at the top of current events,” Milkes said.

Wellerstein is a well known expert in the field of nuclear weapons and the secrecy surrounding the history of nuclear weapons, Milkes said. One of his achievements is the development of Nukemap, a website that models the destruction nuclear weapons in various situations would cause in real-world locations.

“Something a lot of people have trouble with about nuclear weapons is that they think if one goes off, the world just ends,” Wellerstein said. “If people think that after a detonation there’s nothing, they just tend to ignore it.”

For Jamie Berg (11), having Wellerstein speak about North Korea represented a welcome shift in the narrative.

“It was quite refreshing to hear a somewhat moderate perspective on North Korea come into a classroom, because there is such hysteria surrounding the issue of nuclear proliferation and potentially hostile foreign nations,” he said.

Both  Shant Amerkanian (11) and  Joshua Benson (11) came to realize that they should not think of North Koreans as the crazy people they are portrayed as in the media.

“From the media, there are always biases that Kim-Jong Un is a madman, that all North Koreans are dumb,” Amerkanian said, “but we really need to avoid that, because we are just not used to dealing with a country so isolated.”

Amerkanian also learned the importance of looking at history for these problems, he said. “[The North Korean situation] is not something that we’ve never seen before, so we can look back to history to find similar predicaments and see how they were solved then,” he said.

Milkes continues to invite experts to facilitate class division, or have a similar event that brings learning beyond a normal class, as it is something that students have said they enjoyed, she said.

“[Wellerstein’s visit] is kind of like an in school field trip, in that you are getting exposure to new fields or new ideas,” she said.

Three years ago Wellerstein also visited the school, that time to speak to ninth grade classes and discuss the Nukemap, said Milkes.

Milkes said that even while he did not have a solution to the issue of North Korea’s possibly possessing nuclear weapons, his visit was still incredibly beneficial. 

“I think it is great that Dr. Wellerstein is coming in, not that he has a particular solution for us, but that he will say ‘Look, we can think our way through this,’” Milkes said. “‘This is how we can start to pick away at very complex issues.’”