40,000,000 dead at home, but our boys won the war anyway!
April 8, 2013 10:40 PM   Subscribe

The 36-Hour War. A look at the future of nuclear warfare, from a 1945 issue of Life Magazine
posted by empath (27 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
And the piano-accompanied version: "So long, Mom (I'm off to drop the bomb)."
posted by Sonny Jim at 10:59 PM on April 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


I have to agree with the blog post author that it's pretty entertaining and almost touchingly naïve that the Life writers thought that the UN would officially prevent everyone from having nuclear missile silos, instead of just being a tool to allow more powerful nations to prevent anyone but their allies from having them.
posted by XMLicious at 11:00 PM on April 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I really wonder how we made it through the Cold War. Scary, scary times.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 11:28 PM on April 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ironic that you posted this.

I just finished watching

The War Game - banned from the BBC because as they said "the effect of the film has been judged by the BBC to be too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting".

and I swear one of the most gut-wrenching things I have ever seen

Threads - roughly the same as what The Day After was in the US, only from a British POV

I know that I am going to have nightmares about the last scene.
posted by timsteil at 11:29 PM on April 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Sort of related....but not......but still sort of.......

This bunker graphic from the article reminded me of this bunker graphic that Donald Rumsfeld was throwing around during the early 2000s (Meet the Press interview)

It is that same weird style that is kinda fantastical while trying to be scientifically accurate with a whiff of business as usual.


weird weird weird
posted by lampshade at 12:13 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Reminds me of just how perfectly the Fallout series nailed 1950's nuclear era nostalgia.
posted by bardic at 2:03 AM on April 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


articles about what should be done with postwar China, what was going on in postwar Poland (with some impressive, awful photographs), plus an article on occupied Tokyo (with some amazing illustrations), and another on the OSS (spies!). There was even, at the very end, a reproduction of the Jack Aeby photo of the “Trinity” test, in full color.

All that plus a cover story about big belts. Magazines used to work to justify their existence.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:19 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have to agree with the blog post author that it's pretty entertaining and almost touchingly naïve that the Life writers thought that the UN would officially prevent everyone from having nuclear missile silos, instead of just being a tool to allow more powerful nations to prevent anyone but their allies from having them.

The UN didn't even exist yet.
posted by empath at 2:26 AM on April 9, 2013


Wikipedia claims that the United Nations Charter was signed in June 1945, ratified by the required members of the Security Council at the end of October resulting in the Organization coming into existence, and this issue of Life appears to be from November 1945. But maybe you're right and the person who wrote the sentence about needing to "escape detection by the UNO Security Council" was a time traveler and/or a member of this fraternity.
posted by XMLicious at 3:09 AM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, it hadn't actually met, yet, in any case. It only existed on paper. So it's not like there was any kind of record for them to go on.
posted by empath at 3:20 AM on April 9, 2013


The meeting at the beginning of the year during which the charter was written was already called the United Nations Conference on International Organization.

Anyways, it's a small detail. In all honesty, since things like dumdum/expanding bullets had been prohibited in international law before WWI, and chemical, biological, and thermite/incendiary weapons were outlawed in treaties between the wars, it wasn't actually totally unreasonable to imagine that nuclear weapons would fall under the same regime once the world came to terms with their existence. But the idea of a single weapon that could win an entire war in one stroke instead of just a battle proved too alluring to the powers that be.
posted by XMLicious at 3:44 AM on April 9, 2013


"Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed, but I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops, uh, depending on the breaks."
- General "Buck" Turgidson
posted by jim in austin at 5:01 AM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Sorry, Boston, but you didn't rate!"

Uh, I'm pretty much okay with that, thanks.
posted by lydhre at 6:28 AM on April 9, 2013


I like big belts, and I cannot lie.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:32 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Manhattan Phone Book (Abridged)
posted by lalochezia at 6:35 AM on April 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


Fourth comment this time.

My advice is to play the under.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:14 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have to agree with the blog post author that it's pretty entertaining and almost touchingly naïve that the Life writers thought that the UN would officially prevent everyone from having nuclear missile silos,

Naive perhaps, but in that strange twilight between WWII and the Cold War, that was a fairly widely shared hope. At the time only America had the Bomb, nobody knew as of yet that Stalin was working on it and there was still an optimism outside of official circles that the old wartime alliance could be sustained. If you look at postwar, late 1940ties pop fiction you see this idea that the UN should have sole ownership of the Atom crop up again and again.
posted by MartinWisse at 7:17 AM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Heinlein's Solution Unsatisfactory or Poul Anderson's Un-Man are an interesting variations on the UN idea. Or, much later, Ben Bova's Peacekeepers.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:36 AM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm just fascinated by the Cold War. I mean, I was alive through the end of it (saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, collapse of the Soviet Union, etc.), but the fact that it was totally accepted we'd literally wipe out the entire race of humanity to prove a point to the other guy (who'd do the same!) just boggles my mind.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:47 AM on April 9, 2013


Me, too, Ghostride. It's also fascinating to me how, culturally within the US, the UN somehow went in a very short time from being popularly viewed as a more or less benign (if imperfect) expression/instrument of Western geopolitical power in the world to being seen as a parasitic alien evil intent on infecting us all with The Communism. I mean, there's always been some domestic reactionary resistance to the notion of international law and organizations like the League of Nations and the UN at the cultural fringes, but it seems like there's been a very rapid, dramatic shift in recent years from a popular perception that such institutions might represent a flawed but ultimately noble vision for the world to outright crazy-town levels of paranoia about them.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:51 AM on April 9, 2013


This bunker graphic from the article reminded me of this bunker graphic that Donald Rumsfeld was throwing around during the early 2000s

Oh my gosh, I didn't realize that was a serious graphic. I remember having seen it at the time that it was new but I saw it on Something Awful and assumed it was a parody using an image from an old GI Joe set or something, not something that had been made seriously for the mainstream media. I didn't watch the news much while I was in college... /derail
posted by titus n. owl at 8:45 AM on April 9, 2013


The link to Fog of War at the end was pretty interesting.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:24 AM on April 9, 2013


Six years later Collier's devoted an entire issue to a Preview of the War We Do Not Want - An Imaginary Account of Russia's Defeat and Occupation, 1952-60. There's a description of the issue here and a poor scan of the entire issue here. But it's worth seeking out an original to see the illustrations in color. Interesting to note that in six years, a catastrophic 36-hour war with a barely credible victory becomes an 8-year war/occupation and a certain victory.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:00 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's wild, octobersurprise.
posted by doctornemo at 2:19 PM on April 9, 2013


From the "U.S. Makes Its Counterattack" graphic:

"At the beginning of the 36-hour war the U.S. has not yet decentralized its entire population, an operation that might cost $250,000,000,000, but only the absolute essentials of national defense."

Emphasis mine. The fact that back then people would be 'oh my god, how many billions', compared to the fact that much money is, what, two years of the defense budget today? Almost as scary.
posted by mephron at 6:17 PM on April 9, 2013


I dug the photo of the blonde corpse underneath the Soviet commando.
posted by Renoroc at 7:02 PM on April 9, 2013


Emphasis mine. The fact that back then people would be 'oh my god, how many billions', compared to the fact that much money is, what, two years of the defense budget today? Almost as scary.
So, it looks like $250bn is very roughly $2.5tn in today's dollars, so I'd call it 4 years of the defense budget (defense was apparently around $600bn in 2012.)

Or, another way of getting context is that the defense budget in 1948 was $103 billion (I didn't want to use 1945, obviously, because it would be skewed by the fact that WWII was going on), so this would be about 2.5 years of defense spending at the time, and defense spending actually ramped up considerably in the years after 1948, due to the Korean war.

I mean, yeah I think defense spending is potentially out of line, but context is incredibly important. If we're going to argue a position, our argument should be well-informed.
posted by !Jim at 9:02 PM on April 9, 2013


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