During the past few years a chain letter, which originated in Japan, has circulated through the academic profession urging a worldwide movement for nuclear disarmament. The same week this letter reached me there arrived in my mail a chain letter of the usual type promising me wealth and success if I passed the letter on to my friends and associates, and threatening financial reverses or even death if I broke the chain. The arrival of the second letter brought into relief the informing structure of the nuclear chain letter: a systematic coercion to maintain sequence. It is the role of sequence in thinking about nuclear danger that I wish to consider here--how sequence, as the ordering principle and rhetorical figure of domesticity, our cultural institution of continuity, governs the language and gestures generated by both nuclear protest and postnuclear planning movements.
Typical chain letters, much like protection rackets, seek to scare us into subscription. This terrorization is what makes them such unwelcome mail. For chain letters mobilize fear against fear itself, disseminating threats in order to insure a proliferation of responses against those threats. The chain letter might therefore appear an odd or inappropriate form of address for nuclear protest to employ (unless, perhaps, it is understood as a tactic thematizing the force of the nuclear threat). I want to suggest, however, that there is an aspect of chain letter logic that resonates with the preservationist values of nuclear disarmament.
As chain letters work by implementing a continuous sequence of multiplication and circulation against the threat of loss or annihilation, antinuclear rhetoric pits (versions of) the nuclear family against nuclear war. While chain letters characteristically operate as commercial schemes, and the annals of the nuclear protest letter (the lists of addressees become addressors) likewise chronicle a professional self-perpetuation, the nuclear chain letter would draft us into a more urgent and essential enterprise of self-advancement, a commitment to perpetuation per se. Asking us to continue the