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date: 23 April 2019

Abstract and Keywords

In the year after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the historian and critic Lewis Mumford made a dramatic attack on the insanity of the nuclear age. In his article entitled ‘Gentlemen: You are Mad!’, Mumford said: ‘We in America are living among madmen. Madmen govern our affairs in the name of order and security’. According to Mumford, the modern superweapon society, for all its technological supremacy, was unable to recognise the looming disaster. People were sleepwalking towards the abyss of atomic war. The Cold War arms race created and served to maintain what Winston Churchill termed ‘the balance of terror’. By the end of the 1960s, both the United States and the Soviet Union had more than enough nuclear weapons to withstand a first strike and still be able to retaliate. This article explores how mutual assured destruction (MAD) was reflected and refracted in European culture and society from 1950 to 1985, and shows how film and fiction played a key role in highlighting the potential effects of MAD – a global nuclear holocaust.

Keywords: mutual assured destruction, Cold War, arms race, nuclear weapons, Lewis Mumford, United States, Soviet Union, film, fiction, culture

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