Pixar’s post-apocalyptic love story Wall-E finished No. 2 at the box office over the Fourth of July weekend after hauling in $65 million the weekend before. The film depicts a future Earth abandoned by humans, blanketed in garbage, and nearly devoid of life. At the outset, Wall-E, a robot, has but one companion: a friendly cockroach. How did we come to believe that cockroaches will outlive everything else on Earth?
The cockroach survival myth seems to have originated with the development of the atom bomb. In The Cockroach Papers: A Compendium of History and Lore, journalist Richard Schweid notes that roaches were reported to have survived the blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leading some to believe that they would inherit the Earth after a nuclear war. This idea spread during the 1960s, in part due to its dissemination by anti-nuclear activists. For example, a famous advertisement sponsored by the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy and referenced in a 1968 New York Times article read, in part, “A nuclear war, if it comes, will not be won by the Americans … the Russians … the Chinese. The winner of World War III will be the cockroach.”
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