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And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter. —Revelation 8:10–11 c h a p t e r 2 The Nuclear Apocalyptic Before examining the political, moral, and scientific aspects of the fallout shelter, it is important to understand that there would not have been a fallout shelter debate without the flowering of a distinctive subgenre of speculative literature, what might be called the nuclear apocalyptic. Based on anxieties about nuclear war and its aftermath , the nuclear apocalyptic was based on the widespread belief during the 1950s and early 1960s that nuclear weapons had brought humanity near the final apocalypse. Philosophers, intellectuals, and ordinary individuals insisted that such an event was possible, even likely.As Karl Jaspers observed in 1958,“now, mankind as a whole can be wiped out by men. It has not merely become possible for this to happen; on purely rational reflection it is probable that it will happen.”1 The pervasiveness of this view was part of the zeitgeist of this era, and the nuclear apocalyptic would fuse with the fallout shelter issue and would endow the debate over shelters with a distinctive millenarian urgency. Among the first to express his anxieties about a world with nuclear weapons was Bertrand Russell. Just weeks after the explosion at Hiroshima Russell, who would go on to become the best-known antinuclear 38 activist of his era, predicted that the Soviets would develop their own nuclear weapons and that the world would be plunged into nuclear war: “One must expect a war between U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. which will begin with the total destruction of London. I think the war will last 30 years, and leave a world without civilised people, from which everything will have to build afresh—a process taking (say) 500 years.”2 Russell’s views on the subject had not become more hopeful by 1963, when he was interviewed by Playboy magazine: “But I don’t see any reason to be optimistic. I still feel that the human race may well become extinct before the end of the present century. Speaking as a mathematician, I should say that the odds are about three to one against survival.”3 Others sharing this view included C. Wright Mills, who claimed that “doctrinaire incompetence is leading mankind into the great trap,” and Erich Fromm, who insisted that “we are threatened with extinction or a new barbarism.”“The policy of the deterrent will not ensure peace,” said Fromm, “it will most likely destroy civilization, and it will certainly destroy democracy even if it preserves peace.”4 To Reinhold Niebuhr, “war by miscalculation or misadventure [is] more and more a probability rather than a possibility.”5 A number of Nobel laureates publicly expressed their anxieties about the implications of nuclear weapons, including the chemist Harold Urey and the physicist Leo Szilard. Urey claimed that such weapons had created “the most dangerous situation that humanity has faced in all history,” while Szilard, who made key contributions to the development of the atomic bomb, expressed his belief in 1962 that “our chances of getting through the next ten years without war are slim.”6 W.Warren Wagar, writing in 1963, declared that humanity was faced “with the most radical crisis in history. . . .The wolves are not howling outside the ramparts of civilization : they have broken in.Their breath is hot on our cheeks.”7 The penetration of nuclear anxiety into the culture could also be seen at the other end of the intellectual spectrum, where comic book writers and B-movie producers enthusiastically incorporated nuclear themes into their creations. Spiderman and the Incredible Hulk, for instance, were both created for the Marvel comic group in 1962, and each gain their super powers when exposed to some form of radioactivity. When Peter Parker, nebbish lab assistant and future Spiderman, is bitten by an irradiated spider, he exclaims,“A—A spider! It bit me! But why is it burning so? Why is it glowing that way?? . . . It’s the spider! It has to be! Somehow—in some miraculous way, his bite has transferred his own power—to me!”8 In The Nuclear...


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