Nuclear war. It’s an extremely unpleasant subject, and its grim specter still haunts the world. Oddly, though—even as we anticipate the day when Iran’s lunatic Mullah’s develop them and North Korea’s deranged generals learn how to deliver them—the world is in a sort of “nuclear hiatus” at this very moment.
The Mutual Assured Destruction apparently worked, as the former Soviet Union and the United States decided against nuclear suicide. At the present moment the three world powers show little appetite for total war, so today’s children don’t have to learn the Civil Defense precautions that kept an earlier generation safe.
I was one of those young Americans indoctrinated in the sophisticated “stop and drop” method of nuclear blast survival. The video below provides a nostalgic look at the paramilitary training we received. (A link to the full training film appears below.)
C.S. Lewis lived during the height of nuclear paranoia. Yet he retained his composed Northern Irish demeanor as he reflected on the threat. In an essay entitled “On Living in an Atomic Age” he wisely advised:
If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (any microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.
In his essay “Is Progress Possible,” Lewis addresses those who used the uncertainty of the future as an excuse for making irresponsible life choices. His words ring just as true today, when so many youth turn to nihilism and self-destructive behaviors.
As a Christian I take it for granted that human history will some day end; and I am offering Omniscience no advice as to the best date for that consummation. I am more concerned by what the Bomb is doing already. One meets young people who make the threat of it a reason for poisoning every pleasure and evading every duty in the present. Didn’t they know that, Bomb or no Bomb, all men die (many in horrible ways)? There’s no good moping and sulking about it.
If only remaining safe in this fallen world was as simple as dropping to the ground and sheltering one’s head. It isn’t, of course, but we need not live our lives under the shadow of fear.
Returning to “On Living in an Atomic Age,” Lewis adroitly places the entire menace—and all perils to human life—in their proper perspective. It may not be the most comforting words we will ever read, but they are certainly true.
In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”
In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anaesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.
You can watch the entire “Stop and Drop” Civil Defense Video here.