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Be Very AfraidThe Cultural Response to Terror, Pandemics, Environmental Devastation, Nuclear Annihilation, and Other Threats$
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Robert Wuthnow

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199730872

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199730872.001.0001

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The Nuclear-Haunted Era

The Nuclear-Haunted Era

(p.24) Two The Nuclear-Haunted Era
Be Very Afraid

Robert Wuthnow (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter focuses on people's responses to the nuclear era. The ebb and flow of public concern has been noted by nearly all historians of the nuclear era. What is more interesting is how the public came to view nuclear weapons as a problem — not only in the negative sense, but often as a positive opportunity to be exploited — and how rolling up its collective sleeves to work on this problem became the accepted way of coexisting with the threat of nuclear annihilation. Unlike the prospect of one's own death and the death of a loved one, and even unlike the occasional airplane crash or earthquake that takes dozens or hundreds of lives, the possibility of a nuclear conflagration — a holocaust from having unlocked the basic power of the universe and creating weaponry capable of putting the world in danger of sudden destruction — was anything but normal. Yet it became normal. After the initial emotional shock, when Americans inescapably experienced bewilderment, uncertainty, and some level of grief for those who had died, attention turned to more practical concerns. The nuclear era became one of problem solving. People decided that whatever it had taken to produce such powerful weapons could surely be harnessed for other commendable purposes. They looked to government officials to protect them and occasionally searched for better measures to protect themselves.

Keywords:   peril, nuclear threat, danger, protection, nuclear war

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