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Chapter 13 - Mutually Assured Destruction in Cold War/Postwar America

from Part II - American Apocalypse in (and out of) History

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 December 2020

John Hay
Affiliation:
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
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Summary

In After the End, John Berger notes that “since the Second World War, a variety of ‘unspeakables’ have seldom been silent, although their utterances have often been disguised or symptomatic.” Berger refers to the traumatizing catastrophes of the Holocaust and the atomic bomb, while Morris Dickstein in Gates of Eden adds “the cold war…, the draft, and Vietnam” to the list of crises that signaled end times. This chapter discusses destruction and regeneration as envisioned in literary and popular writing across the political spectrum in the post-World War II decades: during the era of Cold War consensus, Nobel Laureate William Faulkner enjoyed his literary brethren to “forget” the bomb, and leading white male authors indeed wrote narratives of “personal apocalypse” that bracketed world concerns. African American canonical writers of the period were rarely so sanguine; their anti-apocalyptic writings directly targeted the nuclear threat as intensifying racial oppression at home and/or as urgently pointing white America toward national and international brotherhood.By the late 1960s, as fears of the bomb subsided, establishment writers wrote in the apocalyptic shadow of Charles Manson and the generation of frustrated, radicalized youth thought to follow in his wake.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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