Thomas J. Morrissey
Given what we know about the likely effects of global thermonuclear war, the title of this essay should be a sinister, laughable logical contradiction. There wild be no post-nuclear world, not if "world" means an earth populated by humans or human cultures. All the world's mythologies will be silenced forever.
Many of us who grew up during the formative years of the Cold- War --the time of the Iron Curtain, the Rosenbergs, "duck and cover drills"-- knew even then that the idea of nuclear survivability was perverse propaganda and that the anthem of the nuclear age is Tom Lehrer "We'll All Go Together When We Go."1
In this macabre apocalyptic satire, nuclear annihilation is the perfect end to industrialized society, the logical extension of capitalism, mass production, and mass murder. For a brief instant, business triumphs, for "Lloyd's of London will be loaded when they go." Colonialism reaches fruition with the eradication of "every Hottentot and every Eskimo." And the greatest crime in human history, the Holocaust, is made ultimately efficient and ecumenical: "We'll all burn together when we burn/ There'll be no need to stand and wait your turn." Universal death--no lines, no waiting. Lehrer's song is a parody of mythmaking the death of myth. We can all go to our "respective Valhallas" because all belief systems, religious or secular, are now equal and meaningless.
But nearly a half century after Hiroshima, writers continue to posit post-nuclear scenarios, and they often do so with the conscious knowledge that they are creating myths for our troubled time. The threat of nuclear war is our principal nemesis, and science fiction is the crucible in which the myths of science are brewed in a scientific age.
Unleashing the atom was an event of epic proportions. Global suicide became a possibility in 1945. No other human culture ever had to face or explain the end of the world by human means. But with the bomb everything changed and, in H. Bruce Franklin's words, "having gained ac