The last time there was this much anxiety about the end of the world was after the Second World War and the advent of the atomic age. When The New Yorker devoted its entire August 31, 1946, issue to John Hersey’s groundbreaking article “Hiroshima,” an intimate account of six survivors’ lives before and after the bombing a year earlier, it was the first time most people in the English-speaking world had become aware in a visceral way of the A-bomb’s destructive power. The harrowing scenes Hersey describes are, even now, sixty-five years later, impossible to get out of one’s head: the silent, blinding flash and then the literal erasure of the city; the soldiers with their melted eyes running down their cheeks wandering through the rubble. By the 1950s, it became clear that human beings had developed a technology capable of instantly destroying all life on earth. Countless novels, stories, and films that imagined nuclear apocalypse followed, and countless reinforced concrete bomb shelters were dug in the backyards of suburban homes. The source of the anxiety is now different, if only because it isn’t focused on a single threat to the future of human life that might be defused by disarmament treaties. Our problems are vaguer and more systematic, not so much a matter of policy as of how we live, and seem to come from every direction at once.
more from Daniel Baird at The Walrus here.