I have very strong memories of the closing days of the Cold War which often resonate in my writing. The invention of the internet and social media means that today I can connect with people from all around the world who have an interest in Cold War history, and in many cases who also retain a fear of ‘the bomb’.
Some places that I have found really helpful and informative include the Facebook groups ‘History of the Cold War’, ‘Aircraft of the Cold War’, ‘Cold War Bunkers’ and ‘Britain’s Cold War’, and also the excellent ‘Cold War Conversations’ podcast, which is really worth listening to.
Three factors really shaped my fear of total destruction during the Cold War:
- The film ‘Threads’, which showed the aftermath of a nuclear attack on the UK. When it was first shown the film was very shocking. As a teenager I was sure that I wouldn’t want to live in a world like that. I had real nightmares about what it would be like to build some kind of refuge in our house and then, assuming we had lived, to step outside and try to survive.
I live close to RAF Manston. The declassified 1972 “Probable nuclear targets in the United Kingdom” paper by Air Commodore Brian Standbridge lists it as being targeted with 3 x 1MT airbust weapons. If the dispersals for nuclear bombers had been reactivated the suspected targetting would have been 3 x 1MT groundburst weapons.
The problem I have with ‘Threads’ is it maintained the idea that some people could survive a nuclear attack. “Nukemap” (https://nuclearsecrecy.com/nukemap/) indicates that even a single 1MT airbust bomb over Manston would be enough to collapse my home through overpressure from the blast.
2) News reports of US Cruise Missile launchers prowling the UK countryside on manoeuvres, practicing for the day that they might need to rain nuclear hell on the USSR. To be clear: I don’t think the UK should be an advanced launch pad for US nuclear weapons and I very much resented becoming a target due to the policy of allowing US GLCMs on UK soil.
3) Volatile global politics including anti-nuclear protests by CND, the Falklands War, the Reagan Administration’s ‘Star Wars project’ (ie SDI) , social uprisings in Eastern Europe, the eventual fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification – ‘The World’ seemed like a very dangerous place… and a single mistake was all it would have taken…
Generally speaking the UK public still seems to believe the message of the old Civil Defence films that survival is possible, even though the government knew for decades that it was untrue. With the thousands of nuclear weapons stored in the arsenals of the US and Russia, survival in the event of a hot war between the superpowers seems pretty unlikely.
I think it is important for the debate about the Cold War to continue and for people to discuss the massive danger that nuclear weapons pose for all of mankind. It is too easy for shallow soundbite politicians like Trump to threaten to destroy their enemies with nukes – the reality behind that threat is much more dangerous. Anyone who wants to know what it would really be like should take look at the links above, watch some films on YouTube and read John Hersey’s ‘Hiroshima’…
“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
… and if you are still not convinced, watch the recording of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s reflection of the weapon he had created at Los Alamos during the 1965 television documentary “The Decision to Drop the Bomb” – he looks haunted by his creation and I never want to feel as much fear as I can see on his face.