Nuke Opera 2020: Recharging

Today, I’m feeling pretty rundown (I’m thinking it’s sinuses) and can’t quite get my brain to focus the way I want it to so I’m taking a break today. I’m heading to the doctor tomorrow to get checked out because I’m being overly cautious.

Hope you all have a good day and talk to you soon!

Nuke Opera: Golden Age, New Wave, It’s Still Science Fiction to Me:

Nuke Opera: Golden Age, New Wave, It’s Still Science Fiction to Me:

The 1960s was a time of great polarization in American society due to conflicts over the Vietnam War, Civil Rights for African Americans, the rise of feminism, student protests, drug culture, rock and roll, and so on and so forth. This polarization is often simplified as “Young Hip Kids” versus “Old Fogey Parents” but the divisions weren’t so clearly drawn by age group. Case in point: the schism among members of the Science Fiction Writers of America[i].

In June 1968, a set of dueling ads was published in Galaxy Science Fiction, with one side featuring a list of science fiction and fantasy authors in favor of US involvement in Vietnam and the other, a list of those authors opposed to the war in Vietnam. The lists represented not only a division based on feelings about the war but also a growing division within the genre itself between New Wave and Old Wave science fiction writers.  This Old vs. New Wave microcosm is rather like the tail that Ouroboros eats, with the greater polarization of American society at the time being the snake’s devouring head[ii]

It’s also a very helpful way to illustrate the schism in American society in the late 1960s/early 1970s. But, of course, to get into the meat of the issue, first we need to cover some history.

Back To the (Literature of the) Future!:

Science fictional elements have been part of human storytelling since, well, since always. If you throw your net wide enough, you can find flying machines, trips to outer space and mechanical men and beasts in literature dating back to the classic period. Most of these early stories, however, don’t make any attempt to link these fantastic elements to the actual science of their day. Instead, they rely on what we’d consider to be fantasy tropes or simply fall back on ‘it’s just a story, you should really just relax.’  This is as opposed to modern science fiction stories where real-world, period-accurate science or the speculation about where real-world, period-accurate science might lead to, was essential to the story and could not be removed without drastically altering it into some other form.

We start seeing that by the time of the early 19th century with the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1817) – while the science in the novel has long-since been discredited, it was based on then-current knowledge. Later that century, the works of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells would continue combining science, speculation and storytelling.

In the early 20th century, the pulps – magazines printed on cheap paper and therefore available to readers at low prices – were incredibly popular and often incredibly niche[iii]. In 1926, Hugo Gernsback, published the first science fiction pulp: Amazing Stories, which reprinted older stories by Wells and Verne as well as stories by newer writers like Philip Francis Nowlan[iv], E. E. “Doc” Smith[v], Edmond Hamilton[vi] and John W. Campbell, who would become a highly influential science fiction editor in his own right.

In 1937, Campbell became editor of Astounding Stories – later Astounding Science Fiction and even later, renamed Analog Science Fiction and Fact. As editor, he championed stories that focused on scientific accuracy[vii] and logic. Isaac Asimov, one of the writers Campbell discovered and whose career he helped foster and guide, had this to say about Campbell’s influence on the genre:

By his own example and by his instruction and by his undeviating and persisting insistence, he forced first Astounding and then all science fiction into his mold. He abandoned the earlier orientation of the field. He demolished the stock characters who had filled it; eradicated the penny dreadful plots; extirpated the Sunday-supplement science. In a phrase, he blotted out the purple of pulp. Instead, he demanded that science-fiction writers understand science and understand people, a hard requirement that many of the established writers of the 1930s could not meet. Campbell did not compromise because of that: those who could not meet his requirements could not sell to him, and the carnage was as great as it had been in Hollywood a decade before, while silent movies had given way to the talkies[viii]

As a writer and an editor, Campbell’s influence on the genre of science fiction is still being felt today. His short story, “Who Goes There?” was made into two classic films, both titled “The Thing[ix].” He also influenced the careers of several writers who themselves went on to become acknowledged masters of the genre: Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark, Lester del Rey, Robert A Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon, A E van Vogt,  L Sprague de Camp, Murray Leinster, Clifford D Simak and Jack Williamson, Henry Kuttner and C L Moore.[x] Without Campbell’s influence, science fiction as we know it today might never have existed.

Which may not have been entirely a bad thing, considering Campbell’s influence as an editor wasn’t entirely positive.  On the one hand, Campbell did demand good stories out of his stable of writers and he helped show that the genre could be more than just gimmicky dreck aimed at kids.  There is a reason there were[xi] two awards dedicated to him, after all.

On the other hand…

Once he became an editor, Campbell never wrote fiction again — instead, over the next thirty-two years, he would often give ideas to writers in his stable as well as selecting stories that fit his idea of what science fiction should be.  Which, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily a bad thing – Campbell was, essentially, building a brand and wanted material that suited that brand. While his magazine was highly influential, it wasn’t the only magazine in town. Writers who couldn’t sell to him could try to sell to other magazines.

However, this branding can become a bottleneck if the editor uses their subjective preferences as objective criteria for determining whether a story or idea is worthy of inclusion. This can be seen as harmless/amusing – Campbell refused to publish stories where humans were shown to be in any way inferior to aliens – but it can also be infuriating/bigoted – Campbell believed women could not write science fiction[xii]; in 1967, he refused to serialize Samuel Delaney’s award-winning novel Nova because it featured a biracial character[xiii].  Campbell also wrote editorials for Astounding/Analog, including ones in which he expressed opinions like, only rich people should be allowed to vote, that slavery had been better for Africans than not being enslaved, and that African-Americans would be better off if they’d just discipline their kids better so they wouldn’t riot over police brutality and institutional racism[xiv].

In addition to espousing racist and sexist ideas, Campbell also beat the drum for pseudoscientific ideas like ESP, L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics (until he and Hubbard had a falling out in 1952), and the Dean Drive, a reactionless space drive that violated Newton’s Third Law of Thermodynamics.  And he promoted these ideas not simply as springboards for stories but as genuine science. As Isaac Asimov put it:

Campbell championed far-out ideas … He pained very many of the men he had trained (including me) in doing so, but felt it was his duty to stir up the minds of his readers and force curiosity right out to the border lines. He began a series of editorials … in which he championed a social point of view that could sometimes be described as far right (he expressed sympathy for George Wallace[xv] in the 1968 national election, for instance). There was bitter opposition to this from many (including me – I could hardly ever read a Campbell editorial and keep my temper).

Catch a Wave:

The New Wave of science fiction was characterized by “a high degree of experimentation, both in form and in content, a “literary” or artistic sensibility and a focus on “soft[xvi]” as opposed to hard science[xvii].” The term, borrowed from the French nouvelle vague film movement, was first coined in terms of science fiction in an essay by Judith Merrill that appeared in the January 1966 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction that used the term in order to comment on experimental fiction beginning to appear in the UK magazine New Worlds under the reign of editor Michael Moorcock:

“They call it the New Thing. The people who call it that mostly don’t like it, and the only general agreements they seem to have are that Ballard is its Demon and I am its prophetess—and that it is what is wrong with Tom Disch, and with British s-f in general. … The American counterpart is less cohesive as a “school” or “movement”: it has had no single publication in which to concentrate its development, and was, in fact, till recently, all but excluded from the regular s-f magazines. But for the same reasons, it is more diffuse and perhaps more widespread.” (Source: New Wave Science Fiction @ TV Tropes)

By comparison, Old Wave science fiction can be characterized by this quote from Frederik  Pohl from an editorial in the October 1965 issue of Galaxy magazine – a precursor to the New Wave movement:

With negligible exceptions (WellsStapledon and who?), nearly every science-fiction writer up to a very few years ago made one very hidden—and indefensible—assumption. They assumed that science changed; that the world changed; that everything you could imagine changed, except one thing. They assumed that the human race did not change at all.[xviii]

Or, to put it another way, Old Wave sci-fi had a much easier time picturing technological changes than societal ones. For example, the Tom Corbett: Space Cadet novels are set in the 24th century, in the year 2350 and are centered around what is essentially West Point or the Naval Academy In Space. Of course, the student body is entirely male except for one woman who is on the staff and she’s only there because she’s the one who developed the hyperdrive the Space Patrol uses to travel the galaxy.

Because, of course, in 350 years no woman has ever wanted to serve on a rocket ship – and, ok, granted that at the time these books were written, women weren’t allowed to serve on combat ships, but were allowed on hospital ships by 1953. And by 1979, the restriction against women on combat ships was lifted. It didn’t take centuries for things to change.

I’ve read – and honestly enjoyed – the Tom Corbett books; personally, I think Heinlein’s Space Cadet did a better job with the concept, but the Tom Corbett stories are quick, fun reads. They’re also aimed exclusively at boys – oh, I’m sure girls read them and that some probably were thrilled by the character of Dr. Dale, but the books aren’t for them in the same way they’re for boys. Girls aren’t given a way to immerse themselves in the stories; sure, Dr. Dale’s in them but she doesn’t get to go adventuring. She shows up periodically, does some cool science and could be replaced by a smart lamp.

Appealing to girls wasn’t considered important so extrapolating a future where women were equal to men wasn’t considered. Women can be replaced with any other minority demographic you care to name – people of color, the disabled, LGBTQ+, etc. And Tom Corbett: Space Cadet wasn’t the only culprit.

Even beyond the lack of representation for those who weren’t white, able-bodied, straight, cis-gendered men, the genre of science fiction was becoming stale. By 1968, the year the dueling Vietnam War ads were published, science fiction was 42 years old[xix] and the well of ideas was beginning to run dry. Some people wanted find new sources – thus the New Wave began.

The New Wave was never an official movement; instead it was a loose collection of writers who wanted to create something new and different, to experiment with different ways of formatting stories as well as reacting against genre exhaustion. The movement began, but wasn’t exclusive to, the United Kingdom in the magazine New Worlds under the editorship of Michael Moorcock.  Another writer associated with the early stages of the movement, J. G. Ballard, outlined his ideas for how the genre should change:

Science fiction should turn its back on space, on interstellar travel, extra-terrestrial life forms, galactic wars and the overlap of these ideas that spreads across the margins of nine-tenths of magazine S-F. Great writer though he was, I’m convinced H. G. Wells has had a disastrous influence on the subsequent course of science fiction … similarly, I think, science fiction must jettison its present narrative forms and plots[xx].

Not everyone enjoyed the changes New Wave writers embraced. Some writers took their inspiration from the Beat Poets, playing with typography and narrative structure as well as with ideas previously taboo in mainstream science fiction magazines.  The SF fan/critic, Kingsley Aims described the New Wave thusly:

The new mode abandoned the hallmarks of traditional science fiction; its emphasis on content rather than style and treatment, its avoidance of untethered fantasy and its commitment instead to logic, motive and common sense … [instead] in came shock tactics, tricks with typography, one-line chapters, strained metaphors, obscurities, obscenities, drugs, Oriental religions and left-wing politics[xxi].

The New Wave never took over science fiction, but then, it wasn’t really supposed to. Instead, the writers who took part in the New Wave mostly just wanted to tell different kinds of science fiction stories, to stretch the boundaries of the genre and explore the limits of what science fiction could be  Even some “Old Wave” writers experimented – Robert Heinlein, who was in favor of the war in Vietnam in particular and overall rather hawkish in general, was also the author of Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), a New Wave style book that introduced the word “grok” to the English language and helped inspire the neopagan religious group the Church of All Worlds[xxii].

In much the same way, the changes sought by the various counterculture movements of the 1960s – improved civil rights for African Americans and other people of color, women, the disabled and the LGBTQAI+ community, among others – filtered into the mainstream society and became accepted by it. The world didn’t end, it just changed.


Harlan Ellison’s anthology, Dangerous Visions (1967) is a good place to start for some quick bites of New Wave science fiction – the stories included were chosen because they would have been unpublishable in the science fiction magazines of the day. It should be noted, however, that while some of the stories are still considered classics, what was shocking in 1967 isn’t necessarily going to be shocking in 2020. Or might be shocking for reasons the author didn’t originally intend – even innovative, genre-challenging writers can be sexist or racist or some horrific mix of the both.



[i] The schism wasn’t officially within the SFWA organization itself, but did involve many members of the group.

[ii] For more information on this, I recommend H. Bruce Franklin’s “The Vietnam War as American Science Fiction and Fantasy

[iii] In addition to the traditional pulp genres of adventure, mystery, westerns, and science fiction & fantasy, there were pulp magazines dedicated to aviation (still a New Hot Thing at the time) and railroads. Source: Pulp Magazine @ Wikipedia

[iv] Author of Armageddon 2419 AD, which was the origin story for Buck Rogers, who in addition to being a classic pulp science fiction character, would become so associated with science fiction that the genre would sometimes be referred to as ‘that Buck Rogers stuff.’

[v] Author of the Lensman and Skylark series; sometimes called the father of the space opera.

[vi] Another space opera author probably better known to most for creating the Captain Future series but to me, he’ll always be known as the guy who wrote the Starwolf series which is a rollicking good read in its own right and has actually held up pretty well for a space opera series from the late 1960s. The books were also the inspiration for a Japanese TV series that ended up on Mystery Science Theatre 3000 as Star Force: Fugitive Alien where it inspired the “He tried to kill me with a forklift!” song. I could honestly go on about the Starwolf series at length but this footnote’s long enough.

[vii] Campbell’s insistence on scientific accuracy led to a confrontation with the FBI in 1944, when he attempted to publish a short story called Deadline that described the workings of an atomic bomb – then still being developed by the ultra-secret Manhattan Project – to a T, using publicly available  information from scientific papers published before World War II began. Campbell persuaded the FBI not to pull the magazine, saying that doing so would essentially be admitting that there was a secret project working on developing just such a device.

[viii] Source: John W. Campbell @ Wikipedia

[ix] Ok, the original, 1951 film was titled The Thing from Another World, while the 1982 John Carpenter version was just The Thing.

[x] [x] Catherine L. Moore, that is. She was a prolific writer, having gotten her start in Weird Tales with the short story, ‘Shambleau’ featuring rugged space adventurer, Northwest Smith. She used initials rather than her full name because she didn’t want to jeopardize her day job during the Great Depression – even for men, writing science fiction was seen as a bit ‘woo-woo’ in the early 1930s.  (source: The Future Is Female!: 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women, from Pulp Pioneers to Ursula K. LeGuin.)

[xi] In August 2019, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, sponsored by Dell Magazines, the company that publishes Analog Science Fiction and Fact, was renamed the Astounding Award for Best New Writer due, in part, to the acceptance speech made by the 2019 winner, Jeanette Ng, in which they called out Campbell’s fascist and racist beliefs.  You can read more about the decision here: Dell Magazines is Changing the Name of the John W. Campbell Award.

[xii] In 1948, science fiction writer and actual female-girl-type woman Judith Merril, made a bet with Campbell that she could write a story that he would be willing to publish. She succeeded, writing the classic and much-anthologized story “That Only A Mother” (link leads to a review, spoilers guaranteed) that is among the first stories to discuss the effects of nuclear radiation on childbirth.  Though, when Merril wrote another story for Campbell, this one about space colonization, he rejected it, saying ‘There are no mothers in it. I don’t really want this from you. You should be writing more about mothers.” Men are too headache…

Note: If you want to read “That Only A Mother,” which I’m likely to end up reviewing, I recommend the anthology The Future is Female!: 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women from Pulp Pioneers to Ursula K. Le Guin.

[xiii] As someone who has lived her entire life in America’s Heartland, the argument ad heartland is spurious bullshit. Even in 1967, we weren’t that naïve.

[xiv] This editorial was written after the 1965 Watts Riot, which was sparked by a confrontation between police and onlookers over possible police brutality during the arrest of a black motorist pulled over for driving while intoxicated. The riot, really a series of riots, lasted for six days and was fueled by longstanding grievances and discontent among the African American community, due to high unemployment, substandard housing and inadequate schools among other issues. 

[xv] Four-time governor of Alabama, probably best known for his 1963 inaugural address where he said he stood for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.’  In 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr. called Wallace “perhaps the most dangerous racist in America today.”

[xvi] “Soft” sciences being fields like psychology, sociology, anthropology or political sciences as opposed to the “hard” sciences of chemistry, astrology, physics, or biology.  There’s a misconception that ‘soft’ sciences aren’t “real” science since they generally deal with things that aren’t easily measured or quantified, but – in terms of science fiction – that can be chalked up to the same kind of fannish gatekeeping that’s best ignored.

[xvii] Source: New Wave Science Fiction @ Wikipedia

[xviii] Source: New Wave Science Fiction @ Wikipedia

[xix] Dating the beginning of modern (i.e. 20th century) science fiction to the first issue of Amazing Stories, published in June 1926. Even if we go by Campbell’s assuming full editorial duties over Astounding Stories in 1938, the genre was at least 30.

[xx] Source: The History of Science Fiction (Palgrave Histories of Literature), Second Edition by Adam Roberts, c. 2016

[xxi] Source: The History of Science Fiction (Palgrave Histories of Literature), Second Edition by Adam Roberts, c. 2016

[xxii] Heinlein also wrote Starship Troopers – a book which is very pro-military service (though, oddly enough, not overly concerned with depicting battles so much as discussing the military mindset).  Heinlein was…complicated, to say the very least.

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Nuke Opera 2020: Ok, But What About A Herd:

Nuke Opera 2020: Ok, But What About A Herd:

I don’t remember where I heard first heard the saying/proverb/joke “How do you eat an elephant?” “One bite at a time”, but I like it. It’s a good reminder that trying to do everything all at once leads to frustration and potentially to nothing getting done at all.

Which is advise I’m currently making myself take.

I’m currently working on an article about the next period in my sub-series on the History of the Cold War, which covers from the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 through to the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. At seventeen years, this is one of the longer periods of time I’m trying to cover, so it’s probably to be expected that there’s a lot happening. Still, I figured I’d hit the highlights: the Vietnam War, the rise of the Counterculture in the US, the conservative backlash to the Counterculture, the economic depression of the 1970s – all of which play a part in the rise of the men’s adventure paperback novel and, subsequently, the Nuke Opera subgenre (which I swear I will actually get around to defining sooner or later).

Then I started doing research and preliminary writing and realized a few things:

  1. That each of these subjects is pretty dang convoluted and not easily summarized. Heck, entire books have been written about specialized aspects of each of these subjects.
  2. That I don’t know that much about this period of history as I thought I did[1] – which makes sense since my history classes never really touched on this part of history in great depth. Herodotus, my pseudonymous high school history teacher, made it a point not to cover recent history (i.e. anything less than about 20 years old) because the details about what happened weren’t clear enough yet.
  3. That I really miss being able to go to the library to write. There’s just something about sitting in a different space that makes writing easier for me at times. I think it’s that using library computers, where there’s a timer counting down how long I have access to the machine, forces me to focus on what I’m doing. That and I’m better able to make myself keep my butt in my seat and my fingers on my keyboard than I am when I’m at home and can go grab a snack or decide to take a nap or just otherwise goof off.
  4. And, lastly, that my desire to keep to the Sunday/Wednesday posting schedule means I really have to step up my game about writing when I find time on the other days of the week. Fortunately, my work schedule is currently such that I can easily find moments before, after and even during work to do so.

At the moment, I have three articles related to aspects of the Cold War from 1962-1979 started but not close to completion. One is a general history article about the period; the second is a comparison of World War II and Vietnam from an infantryman’s perspective and is intended to help explain the generation gap between Baby Boomers and their Greatest Generation elders and the third is a discussion about how the Vietnam War and the Sixties impacted science fiction. None of these are close to being done, all three still need quite a bit of work, making each an elephant in its own right. Which leads me to the question of the title: how do you eat a herd of elephants?

My answer: start with the smallest one and move up from there. As it stands right now, I’ve got a pretty good idea which article should serve as a starter in this banquet and I’m going to work on it in earnest after I post this. From there I’ll be making plans to move on to the main course and dessert.

Somewhere in there, I’ll be working on my review of Harlan Ellison’s A Boy and His Dog – which actually dovetails quite nicely with the article about the Sixties and science fiction.

In summary: I’m not where I want to be, but I have an idea of where I want to go – and I have plenty to snack on along the way.

Special thanks to Amy for reminding me today about taking smaller bites.


[1] I was born in 1970, so I actually lived through part of this history, but since I spent the early 1970s trying to figure out how to walk and talk and feed myself and the later years not taking notes about historical events unfolding around me, my memories of most of the big moments of the 1970s are sketchy at best and generally non-existent.  I have very, very vague memories of maybe once seeing a gas line in what was probably 1975 or 1976 when I was visiting some cousins in Minneapolis and I know I voted for President Carter in my 1st grade class’s mock election (he liked peanuts, I liked peanuts) and I have slightly less vague memories about seeing an episode of Saturday Night Live that spoofed the Three Mile Island crisis. Heck, I barely remember the Blizzard of ’78 except yeah, there was that one year where there was a lot of snow.  And most of what I know about the Bicentennial I learned watching reruns of Barney Miller. If I ever get a time machine, I’m going back and teaching my younger self how to keep a diary…

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A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. If you want to join, you can at any time. Set the goals you want to accomplish and get and give encouragement to fellow ROWers. Feel free to join us on Facebook at ROW80 or follow us on Twitter at #ROW80.  You can even find us on Instagram! Pick one or you can do all of the above!


Nuke Opera 2020: Presidents of the Cold War


Term began

Term ended

Total Days in Office

Soviet Counterpart

1st Cold War President; 32nd POTUS

Franklin D. Roosevelt


March 4, 1933

April 12, 1945


Joseph Stalin January 21,
1924-March 5, 1953

2nd Cold War President; 33rd POTUS

Harry S. Truman (Democrat)

April 12, 1945

January 20, 1953


3rd Cold War President; 34th POTUS

Dwight D. Eisenhower (Republican)

January 20, 1953

January 20, 1961


Georgy Malenkov March 5,
1953-September 14, 1953

Nikita Khrushchev September 14,
1953-October 14, 1964

4th Cold War President; 35th POTUS

John F. Kennedy (Democrat)

January 20, 1961

November 22, 1963


5th Cold War President; 36th POTUS

Lyndon B. Johnson (Democrat)

November 22, 1963

January 20, 1969


Leonid Brezhnev

6th Cold War President; 37th POTUS

Richard M. Nixon (Republican)

January 20, 1969

August 9, 1974


October 14, 1964-November 10, 1982

7th Cold War President; 38th POTUS

Gerald Ford (Republican)

August 9, 1974

January 20, 1977



8th Cold War President; 39th POTUS

Jimmy Carter (Democrat)

January 20, 1977

January 20, 1981



9th Cold War President; 40th POTUS

Ronald Reagan (Republican)

January 20, 1981

January 20, 1989



Yuri Andropov

November 10, 1982-February 9, 1984

Konstantin Chernenko February 9,
1984-March 10, 1985

Mikhail Gorbachev March 10, 1985-December 26, 1991

10th Cold War President; 41st POTUS

George H. W. Bush (Republican)

January 20, 1989

January 20, 1993


 A strong case could be made for FDR not technically being a Cold War president since the US and Soviet Union were allies at the time and it wasn’t until after the end of World War II that the US/Soviet rivalry that became the Cold War went into effect. I’m including him as the first because his decision to authorize the Manhattan Project helped create the Cold War.



Nuke Opera 2020: But What About…: Shameless Speculation About What Might Have Happened After Lot & Lot’s Daughter (SPOILERS Ahead!)

Nuke Opera 2020: But What About…: Shameless Speculation About What Might Have Happened After Lot & Lot’s Daughter (SPOILERS Ahead!)

Note: I do not own nor claim to own these characters; this is a self-indulgent and somewhat cathartic idea of what could potentially have happened to the characters of Lot and Lot’s Daughter.  Spoilers for both stories throughout.

Molly is understandably shocked when she learns that she and the boys have been abandoned at the gas station.  Part of her shock comes from the fact she’s not really that surprised by what Jimmon has done. She’s known for a while that things haven’t been good between them but chalked a lot of it up to him being so focused on preparing for It. She hoped that once the immediate emergency was over and they were able to go back home, they could work on repairing their relationship.  She’s also not that surprised he left the boys, since it’s no secret to her or Jir that Erika is her father’s favorite. She doesn’t blame Erika for this nor does she suspect that Jimmon is a rapist. She’s not afraid for her daughter, she just wants to have her back and safe.

At the gas station, Molly gets the boys in hand and reassures them that this is a misunderstanding – Wendell’s easier to convince than Jir, naturally.  She buys a few supplies, including some candy bars, from the gas station attendant. She also asks him for help in finding someone to report the situation to. The attendant waffles, between not wanting to get involved and being shocked by what happened. Ultimately, he gives into his better nature – it helps that Jimmon was kind of a prick, after all – and offers to help get Molly to the local Civil Defense shelter, where there’ll be folks who can assist her more than he can.

Thanks to narrative convenience, the attendant’s sister-in-law, Olive, stops by to fill up her truck before she heads back to the local Civil Defense shelter. She’s been making a run, picking up spare blankets and supplies from a few houses, including the attendant’s place – which is conveniently near the station.

Olive is more than happy to take Molly and the boys to the shelter, where they’re given a hot meal and a place to sleep. While eating, Molly asks about speaking to someone with local law enforcement, but they’re understandably busy at the moment. She’s told that perhaps in the morning there might be a chance to file a report. Molly’s not exactly happy about this but she’s not exactly in a position to make demands. After dinner, they’re given some basic toiletries and head to the school restrooms to get cleaned up before bed.  Molly waffles a bit about whether to take Wendell with her but he insists on going with Jir who, uncharacteristically, tells Molly that he’ll keep an eye on the kid.

In the bathroom, Molly takes a stall and makes sure that the money Jimmon gave her is secure. She’s not overtly afraid of being robbed, but she also doesn’t want to take any unnecessary chances since the money might come in handy.

The next day, after breakfast, Molly asks if there’s anything she can do to help – she needs something to do to keep herself occupied and she wants to give back to the people who’ve been kind to her. She’s given some tasks by the ‘kitchen ladies[i]‘ who seem to be running the place, such as keeping the coffee made and the sugar and cream stocked and setting out fresh donuts and other pastries.

Molly sets Jir the task of keeping an eye on Wendell but after Wendell finds a group of kids his own age to play with, Jir comes looking for Molly. He ends up meeting a few teens – boys and girls – his own age who have volunteered to help haul in fresh supplies. One of the adults leading the group asks Jir if he’d like to come along. Jir hesitates for a moment, looking to Molly and asking her if she’ll still be there when he gets back. He says it in that way teenagers have of being sarcastic and sincere and Molly tells him that of course she will – she doesn’t have a car, remember? Jir grunts and gives her a quick, hard hug before he goes.

To her great relief, Molly doesn’t break down crying until after Jir is gone – though one of the kitchen ladies who is also on coffee and donuts duty, takes Molly aside for some sympathy. The woman, Jane, is an older, grandmotherly type who looks like a dried apple and sounds one of the little girl-mice from Cinderella[ii]. Molly pours out the whole story of how David (Mr. Jimmon) became so obsessed with his plans for what would happen if the bombs dropped and how he wouldn’t listen to her, even though she’d been doing her own reading and how at first she didn’t mind because it didn’t seem like it could happen – but then it did and he was just so strange the entire day. And then, well, and then he left her and the boys and drove off with their daughter.

And then, the little grandmotherly lady, who looks like a dried apple and sounds like a girl-mouse from Cinderella, calls David Alonzo Jimmon, Senior a “no-good, jumped-up son-of-a-bitch” and Molly is so shocked she breaks out in her first genuine laugh in she’s not sure how long. The woman watches her for a moment, then nods and tells Molly that she’s going to be alright, that they’re going to do what they can do help her out. She’s got a great-nephew who is with the sheriff’s department and she’ll see to it that he comes and talks to her as soon as he can.

And thus begins the rebirth of Molly Jimmon. She continues helping with the shelter/aide station, at first on coffee and donut duty, but over time she takes on other duties, usually things that she can do that don’t interfere with the teamwork the women have already established. One thing they put her on is in taking a tally of the people who come in – names, addresses, ages, possible destinations, etc. This puts Molly in a position where she’s also able to speak to first responders – police, fire fighters, military men, etc. who come through.  This lets her help spread her story even wider.

Unfortunately, any search efforts are limited by the greater/wider concerns about the bombings in Los Angeles. Molly isn’t happy about this, but it’s rather hard for her to be angry when she at least knows that Erika is with her father and therefore in a better shape than some. Again, she has no reason to suspect just what kind of a monster Jimmon is going to turn out to be.

The old dried apple woman, Perla Mae Barnaby, takes Molly and the boys in, giving them a more permanent place to stay. Molly keeps helping at the shelter, partly to earn her keep and partly in hopes that she’ll learn something about Erika and David. Wendell goes with her, playing with the kids at the shelter who are a mix of local kids too young to help out with chores and displaced kids pausing at the shelter for a few hours or a night or two while their parents figure things out.

Jir alternates between helping out at the shelter and tagging along with the group of local teens he met that first day, doing odd jobs at various places. To Molly’s relief, he seems to be more relaxed and less tense as the days go on.

After a couple of weeks, Molly is able to make contact with Pearl and Dan, who are very relieved to hear from her. They offer to come get her and the boys immediately – Dan has some pull thanks to his work with the government – but Molly turns them down, she feels needed where she is and the boys are happy. She does ask if they can send someone to check on the house in Malibu, to see if the pace is still standing. Pearl agrees to see what she can do and tells Molly that the offer to take them is always open if she should change her mind.

As it turns out, the house is still standing and the neighborhood seems to have been missed by looters. Molly is relieved to hear this and asks Olive if there’s someone, preferably with a truck, who can drive her to Malibu so she can pick up some things for herself and the boys. Olive volunteers for the job and suggests they bring Jir and a couple of the other teens along to help tote and carry.

The drive down to Malibu takes a lot less time than the drive up did since the roads aren’t packed. Arriving at the house gives Molly a pang and Jir becomes more than a bit sullen, though his friends jolly him out of it. Shaking off her own melancholy, Molly sets about scavenging what she can from her former home.

They bring back quite the haul – canned goods from the basement that Jimmon thought were useless, some staples from the kitchen that haven’t gone off, and plenty of clothes for herself, Jir and Wendell as well as blankets, pillows and some other little touches of home.

While trying to decide if there’s anything else she needs to take and looking for signs that Jimmon and Erika might have come back, Molly hears Jir yelling with excitement outside. He’d been helping Olive try to get the Buick’s tires pumped up and install a new battery, since if they can get the car running Molly will have her own source of transportation.

Molly’s heart swells with hope against hope that David and Erika are back. Running outside, she sees Jir on his knees in the driveway, hugging Waggie and sobbing into the spaniel’s fur. It’s not the reunion she’d hoped for but it’s still a good sign. The dog is in decent shape, skinnier and with a few more snarls in his fur but all in all, he’s in good health.

With their treasures loaded into the truck and the Buick running like a top, the group caravans back up to their new home and Molly settles back into her routine.

Over the next few weeks and months, Molly finds herself becoming the go-to person for tracking down missing and lost members of families. She maintains meticulous records and, thanks to her connections with Pearl and Dan is able to requisition an electric typewriter and the necessary supplies (typewriter ribbons, carbon paper, paper, etc.) to start a newsletter that she circulates between the region’s Civil Defense shelters. She sends letters up and down the Pacific Coast and even further afield, trying to find her daughter and wayward husband but also trying to reunite others along the way.

Thus does Molly Jimmon reinvent herself in the post-apocalypse.  She doesn’t find Erika or Jimmon right away, but she does organize a system that stays in place even as the war continues. Her protocols are used in refugee camps throughout the Western United States and help keep the refugee situation under control.

There are problems – panic at one camp leads to a tragedy but the Jimmon System ensures that none of those killed in the riots are nameless. It’s a small comfort, but better that people have closure and know what happened to a loved one than live with the pain of not knowing.

Jir becomes one of Molly’s couriers, delivering newsletters and bulletins to camps in the region, usually accompanied by one or more of his friends. Wendell sticks close to home, helping Perla Mae with her chickens and cows and playing with Waggie – Molly and Jir are heroes beyond measure in his eyes for bringing his dog home.

The months turn into years and the burning desire to find Erika and David Jimmon fades but never fully dies out. And then, there comes the day that a 21-year-old girl claiming to be Erika Jimmon is found by a patrol up near Monterrey.

The reunion isn’t as storybook as some might think. Erika is shy about meeting her mother again and paradoxically angry that Molly didn’t find her sooner. It takes time before the two are able to talk about what happened and Jir ends up having to explain that Molly never stopped looking for her.

The family, minus Mr. Jimmon, goes through a slow process of healing. Mr. Jimmon learns that post-apocalyptic justice doesn’t have to be savage, but it does mean he’s going to be spending a long, long time on a work-farm, hoeing potatoes.


[i] Folks who have attended a small town/community church will know what I mean – and I’m willing to bet there is some version of the ‘older women who take care of things like organizing pot lucks, charity drives, spaghetti dinners, etc.’ in every faith since the first Neanderthals had their first Long-Sun-Day Mammoth Roast.

[ii] This character is based on a former coworker of mine who, I swear, sounded exactly like one of the girl-mice from Cinderella, which made it very disconcerting when she announced in the clocking-out line one night that she was going to go home and ‘smoke me a bowl!’

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Boilerplate Links:

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. If you want to join, you can at any time.Set the goals you want to accomplish and get and give encouragement to fellow ROWers. Feel free to join us on Facebook at ROW80 or follow us on Twitter at #ROW80.  You can even find us on Instagram! Pick one or you can do all of the above!

Happy Mother’s Day!

I’m still working on articles, but I’m taking a moment to wish all the mothers reading this a Happy Mother’s Day. If you or someone else calls you Mom, you’re included in this. And if you’re reading this and not a Mom, please extend my best wishes to your own mom.

And to those who have lost their mom, regardless of how or why, my condolences to you and I wish you peace and that this day passes easily and quickly for you.

Nuke Opera 2020: Still Breathing…

I’m currently in the process of working on a history article covering from 1962 to 1979 in preparation for my reviews of A Boy and His Dog and Farnham’s Freehold as well as to lay some groundwork for the later discussions of the oft-mentioned but yet to be explained Nuke Opera genre.

Suffice to say, it’s not done yet. I had another idea for an article — namely my thoughts on what happened to Molly, Jir, and Wendell after the events of Lot — but it felt a little self-indulgent and due to Work Happening to me this week, I couldn’t quite summon the energy to make myself write it up.  It’s probably going to be my Sunday update though, because hey, self-indulgence isn’t necessarily a bad thing, right?

I hope you all are safe and sound. Take care of yourselves.

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Boilerplate Links:

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. If you want to join, you can at any time.Set the goals you want to accomplish and get and give encouragement to fellow ROWers. Feel free to join us on Facebook at ROW80 or follow us on Twitter at #ROW80.  You can even find us on Instagram! Pick one or you can do all of the above!

Nuke Opera 2020: Lot’s Daughter by Ward Moore (1954):

Nuke Opera 2020: Lot’s Daughter by Ward Moore (1954):

Where To Find It: Like Lot, the first story in the David Jimmon short-story duology, Lot’s Daughter was originally published in the October 1954 edition of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It was republished in a French science fiction magazine, Fiction, in November 1955.  It was anthologized in A Decade of Fantasy and Science Fiction in December 1960 and has been reprinted a few times since then, but not quite as often or widely as Lot has been. I’ll be discussing why I think that is as we go on.

If you’re wanting to read Lot and its sequel, Lot’s Daughter, the two stories are available as an ebook released in 2017 by Open Road Integrated Media – which is the edition I’m using for this review. (Note: I still get a grand total of bugger-all if you go and buy a copy.)

Spoiler Warning: the plot of Lot’s Daughter will be discussed in detail, including the ending.

Content/Trigger Warnings: references to father-daughter incest, not depicted as a positive. Will be non-graphic discussions of sexual abuse and rape throughout.

Resources: The following are links to resources about rape, sexual violence and sexual abuse. If you or someone you know needs help, these might be places to start.

  • RAINNThe Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network is the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the US. They run the National Sexual Assault Hotline, at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or available as an online chat. Additionally, they have resources available in Spanish at org/es as well as information for Americans who are either living abroad or who are part of the DoD community (i.e. the US military, including military spouses/intimate partners, dependents, and contractors and their families)
  • Rape Crisis Network Europe a network of European centers which support survivors of sexual violence. The site provides links to resources in 46 different European countries as well as additional links for resources for survivors in countries outside of Europe, including Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Africa as well as to RAINN in the USA.
  • HotPeachPagesabuse information available in over 110 languages and information on abuse help agencies for dozens of countries around the world. Includes resources for Africa, Asia, Australia & New Zealand, Oceania/the Pacific, the Caribbean, Central America, South America, the Middle East, Europe, Canada and the US.

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Lot’s Daughter takes place about six years after the end of Lot.  Once again, Mr. Jimmon is our sole POV character, so almost everything we see and hear is filtered through his mindset. We get outside perspectives from the narration and from Jimmon’s interactions with Erika.

Technically, this is also a spoiler, but since the character appears within the first seven paragraphs of the story, it’s not a major one. In addition to Jimmon and Erika, there’s another character in this story: a four-year-old child, referred to throughout the story by Jimmon as “the boy.”

“The boy” is, based on the context of the story, Jimmon and Erika’s child. Erika was fourteen in Lot; by the time of Lot’s Daughter, Erika is about 20 years old – possibly 21, since Jimmon isn’t sure if it’s been six years or seven years since the bombs fell. This means Erika was about sixteen or seventeen at the time the boy was born.

In Lot, Mr. Jimmon is slowly revealed to be a selfish and self-absorbed man who low-key hates his wife and sons and only sees his daughter Erika as worthy of being allowed to survive in a post-nuclear world. By the end of the story, when he abandons his wife and sons at a gas station, running off with Erika, it’s fairly clear that he’s a bit of a bastard but it’s potentially still possible to see him in a sympathetic light – especially if one takes his assumptions about the world at face value.

In Lot’s Daughter, we find out that Jimmon raped his daughter and has a son by her. Which puts some of the thoughts he had about Erika in Lot in a much different, more predatory light. For example, this is how Jimmon thinks of Erika when she first enters the story in Lot:

Erika came in briskly from the kitchen, her brown jodhpurs making her appear at first glance even younger than fourteen. But only at first glance; then the swell of hips and breast denied the childishness the jodhpurs seemed to accent.

As Lot continued, Jimmon repeatedly thinks of Erika as being older and more mature than she is, culminating in a scene near the end of the story where, after Erika disagrees with her mother, Jimmon determines that Erika has put away childish things and entered into an entirely new, aloof and emotionless adult relationship with her Molly.

Throughout Lot, Mr. Jimmon also referred to Erika as his. He sees his sons as belonging to his wife, Molly – the boys are described as having Molly’s stamp on their faces and minds. Only Erika is a true Jimmon and made in his own image.

When Jir and Erika squabble, with Jir saying that he’d spank her if she wasn’t a girl and Erika countering that he means if she wasn’t his sister, saying he’d probably enjoy such childish sex-play with any other girl, Jimmon marvels at the exchange. He wonders where they learn it, speculating that it comes from progressive schools then adds: Do you suppose…

There’s not enough context in Lot to determine exactly how Jimmon finished that sentence, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that he’s wondering if his daughter has had sex yet. I also don’t think it’s a stretch to think that he used all of the above incidents as ‘evidence’ to help him justify raping his daughter in the time between the stories. And that it likely didn’t happen just once, because despite what the writers at Plot Convivence Playhouse have said over the years, it’s extremely unlikely someone will  get pregnant the first time they have sex.

We’re not shown any of this, thankfully. The fact that Jimmon raped Erika is introduced slowly and in a very low-key, euphemistic fashion. There’s the implication that Jimmon feels guilty about what he did, but since he’s a self-centered coward, he can’t actually bring himself to accept that he might have been at fault. Instead, he does what he does best: ignores the problem, rewrites the story and places himself at the center of the universe.

As the story begins, Mr. Jimmon has the beginnings of a toothache. It isn’t the first one he’s had over the last six years, so he recognizes the signs and knows that in a few days he’ll be in agony and then, after six months or so, the dead tooth will drop out.

Mr. Jimmon, it turns out, doesn’t like to think about what happened six (or was it seven) years before, because if he does that then he might start thinking of it in overly theatrical terms as the End of Civilization or the time since we Fled the Holocaust.  Yes, those phrases might be accurate – even if they are all capitalized, but Mr. Jimmon doesn’t like to be theatrical.

Jimmon muses that he should have had all of his teeth removed, along with his appendix. This leads to him imagining Erika standing helplessly by as he writhes in unendurable pain, just like he’d done when…

That thought jackknifes into Jimmon justifying Erika’s pain as having been natural.  He distances her pain from his even more by rationalizing that early humans would have seen people in labor and transferred the reality of childbirth into the Biblical proclamation about ‘bring forth your young in pain.’

Jimmon concludes his musings with the observation: No prophet ever got a revelation reading: Thou shalt die miserably of an inflamed bowel. Which is a valid point, though let us not forget that appendicitis isn’t sexually transmitted.

Erika tells Jimmon if he wants to eat, he’d better get up now. Jimmon finds this statement to be matter-of-fact, rather than nagging. If he doesn’t work, he literally won’t eat. Jimmon doesn’t respond as he thinks about how the cliché has become immortally triumphant in the dead world.

Erika asks him if he’s heard her and he responds. He tries shutting out the sounds of her moving around and of the boy saying that he wants something to eat. Jimmon isn’t sleepy or even tired, he doesn’t want to get out of bed. He hasn’t wanted to get out of bed for the last few days, his habitual energy and determination seeming to have slipped away over the last few days. Or maybe for a longer time than that.

Jimmon’s bed is a pile of grass that has been poorly dried – something for which he blames Erika.

Since Jimmon had decided long ago that they couldn’t keep food near the shelter, lest it attract predators, they have to go and find fresh food every day. If they’re lucky and Jimmon kills a large animal, they gorge themselves on the kill, trying to use it all up before predators show up.

It’s at this point that I have to note two things:

  • Firstly, this is similar to what some hunter/gatherer groups have done throughout history – in times and places where preserving meat wasn’t easy, it wasn’t unusual for people to have a great, wonking feast when they made a large kill. On the other hand, many hunter-gatherer groups also knew how to preserve perishable foods like meat so that they could hold back a store of it. They also knew ways to keep predators out of their campsites – hell, even modern campers know of ways to protect themselves and their provisions from bears.
  • Secondly, y’know what is really helpful for keeping predators at bay? Or for alerting one to the presence of predators? A dog. Oh! And for hunting? Dogs are good for that too. Especially spaniels. Should have brought the dog, Jimmon. Should have brought the dog.

Erika calls for Jimmon a third time – now Jimmon thinks she’s nagging.  He tells her he thinks he’s getting another bad tooth as he looks up at the shelter’s roof. Noticing several holes in the roof, Jimmon thinks, for the hundredth or five hundredth time that he ought to do something drastic about putting a real roof on the shelter. Go off and find real boards, maybe from a nearby house.

Figuring he’d have to walk five miles one way, then five miles back with a load of luumber, it might take him twenty total trips – call it 100 miles – to get enough boards for a real roof. But then he thinks, for what? Would it really be worth all that work for a water-tight roof now that everything that could be ruined by rain has been?

Far from being sympathetic about Jimmon’s toothache, Erika says that she hopes he’ll let her just knock the tooth out with a nail instead of moaning about the pain for weeks. Jimmon refuses – silently, of course. He’s afraid of choking on the tooth or getting a broken jaw if the hammer Erika would use to bash the tooth out slips.

There’s nothing in the scene to suggest that what he’s really afraid of is Erika bashing his brains out with the hammer. And I don’t think there’s even any subtext that suggest that, since if Erika was going to kill him, she’d have done it long before now.

Instead, Jimmon blames his bad teeth on the lack of things like bones, gristle or even crusty bread in their diet, before he goes back to musing about wood for the roof. He thinks that it would be doable if he could jump into the station wagon, find what he wanted and load up and bring it back.  Except, he can’t do that because the station wagon doesn’t run anymore.

Erika says that if Jimmon would get up early like he used to, he could maybe find a deer or a rabbit, since they feed near dawn. And maybe, if he’d walk a few miles, he might even be able to bring down a cow again.

Jimmon counters that there aren’t any cattle[1] around anymore, because either they’ve drifted away from the area or they couldn’t adapt and therefore died off. Erika counters his counter by saying that she thinks someone probably rounded up the cattle and that’s why they’re gone.

This is an old argument between the two of them and one that Jimmon dismisses because if someone herded cattle, then why haven’t they seen any signs them?  Which is a valid point, since cattle aren’t quiet animals. But, Jimmon being Jimmon, he implies that herding cattle would be extremely difficult as well as unlikely – probably because he knows bugger-all about domesticated animals[2].

But, that’s only if the cattle are close to where Jimmon and Erika’s shelter. I grew up in a rural area with some neighbors who had cattle – on certain clear mornings I could hear the cows mooing if they were in the pasture about a half mile from my house but the rest of the time, I never heard or even saw them. One of the weird things about rural life is that you can, in some places, see for miles but you’re not going to pick up on every detail

So, while Jimmon has a point, he also engages in some bad-faith arguments with Erika, refuting her idea that someone has herded the cattle by referring to this individual as ‘mythical’ and by presuming that in order to herd cattle, this individual would have to have rigged up gadgets and domesticated dogs.

Erika counters that Jimmon has been too busy hiding to notice anything and Jimmon lobs back that a smart man hides until the savages have killed each other off or until he can subdue them[3].

Erika continues arguing, saying that Jimmon has no way of knowing that the societal breakdown he predicted before they left Malibu ever actually occurred. Jimmon points out that he was right about other things, such as people panicking, the highways being crowded, extortion for gasoline and the destruction, so why should he suddenly be wrong now?

Well, partly because he wasn’t entirely right those other times.   In Lot, we don’t see any evidence of panic beyond a minor fender-bender or two; the highways were crowded but not to an unusual extent; there was extortion for gasoline – by one attendant at one station who demanded five dollars a gallon but then almost immediately backed off and had to be persuaded to take Jimmon’s money. As for the destruction – dude, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh got nuked, of course there was destruction!

There were also radio reports throughout the story that said the destruction in the Los Angeles attack wasn’t as bad as originally thought, that utilities were in the process of being turned back on and that people were being advised to stay put and shelter in place.  The only evidence we have of any actual panic in Lot comes from Mr. Jimmon’s perceptions of what he saw around him. And Mr. Jimmon wanted to see panic and chaos because then Mr. Jimmon could grant himself the freedom to do whatever he wanted. Which included abandoning his wife and sons and raping his daughter – because the world’s ended, he’s not at fault for what he’s done. He’s simply doing what he must do in order to survive in an ‘every man for himself’/’dog eat dog’/’survival of the fittest’ world.

Except that there is no sign that this world exists anywhere but in Mr. Jimmon’s own mind.

Erika keeps arguing, telling Jimmon that he doesn’t know that his predictions came true. And, she adds, you don’t want to find out.

Jimmon doesn’t counter her argument immediately. Instead, he goes off on a mental tangent, chalking Erika’s insistence on there being not only survivors but civilized survivors who are going about their daily lives as if nothing ever happened, to her being concerned about the boy.  He doesn’t recall her being so obstinate about the idea of other survivors before he was born. He considers her faith in others to be against all reason, and thus tries to counter her with logic.

He tells her to visualize the possibilities, that when the cities were destroyed that would have killed, at a conservative estimate, twenty million people. Erika says that’s only a guess, that the radio never gave figures about the number of deaths. Jimmon agrees it’s a guess, but says it’s a logical guess. And that the fact that the radio didn’t say adds to the logic.

He continues ticking off points from there – that the initial bombing would only have been the beginning. Radiation sickness and diseases spread by dirty refugees, polluted water and malnutrition would have killed another thirty million, for a total of fifty million deaths. Or one-third of the population, all dead just from primary effects of the attack.

From there, he goes into secondary effects – crop failures, the inability of industrial farming to survive due to gasoline shortages, lack of manpower and the breakdown of equipment. Farming in the West, where agriculture is dependent on artificial water sources, the end of irrigation would destroy the industry. Not to mention the difficulties in transporting food grown in one area to other areas of the country.  These secondary effects would lead to more malnutrition and deaths from starvation, as well as a second wave of epidemics.

City-folk and farmers would murder each other in riots. There’d be gang wars and fighting over women, not to mention floods and other disasters due to the disappearance of government maintenance on infrastructure. Then, after those disasters, there’d be a third wave of epidemics.

All of this, according to Mr. Jimmon, would leave a total population of the US of two to three million people, living in widely scattered, disorganized, roving bands.

Despite her father’s logic, Erika doesn’t back down. “That’s only the way you see it. People don’t turn into savages overnight just to ft a theory-“ Jimmon can’t resist interrupting her and says that no, humans are savages already and when the surface layer of civilization cracks off, it reveals the savagery underneath.

Of course, Jimmon has to believe this is true. If he could bring himself to believe that people can remain civilized and even behave altruistically in a disaster situation, then he wouldn’t be the hero of this story. Or, more correctly, the hero/victim – more on that in a bit.

Erika still won’t back down, refusing to buy into Jimmon’s belief that civilization is a thin veneer easily destroyed by disruptions to the system. She continues pounding at Jimmon’s arguments saying that humans have an instinct for cooperation that is stronger than the savagery that Jimmon expects. Her reasoning for this is that savagery pays off in the moment but means less food and less comfort over the long run. She’s certain that people found a way to deal with the epidemics and to begin farming again even if they had to go back to hoes and horses.

Jimmon finally gets out of bed, throwing back the poorly-tanned, stinking cowhide he uses as a blanket. He dismisses Erika’s ideas as baseless and based on pure, blind faith.

The argument ends with Erika pointing out that they survived – with Jimmon taking the opinion that they had advantages that others didn’t.  That leads to the following exchange:

Erika: “Have we? Is that why we live like this?”

Jimmon: “Better to live like this than not at all.”

Jimmon is wearing a pair of shorts that Erika improvised from his last pair of pajamas. He’s not looking forward to the day when they’ll finally wear out and he’ll have to wear ill-cured leather against his bare flesh, which is going to chafe.

Erika still isn’t done with her side of the argument. She says that they don’t have to live like this. That somewhere, maybe not even too far away, people must be living decently. Jimmon again dismisses this as faith and asks if there’s wood on the fire.

Erika drops her argument for now, telling Jimmon that there is wood on the fire as well as hot water.

Jimmon dresses in goatskin pants and jacket that are as crudely fashioned as his shorts are. Possibly moreso, since the hide was harder to work with and is rough and stiff rather than soft and supple as it should have been.  His sandals are almost satisfactory though, since their deerskin thongs are flexible and free of decay, despite the fact that the hide he cut them from rotted like all the others.

I’ve kind of noticed a pattern with Mr. Jimmon – if something goes well, he’ll refer to it as ‘theirs’, but if something goes wrong or doesn’t work as well as he thinks it should have, then it’s something Erika did.

His sandals, made from the remains of a flat tire, are snug on his feet, allowing him to run if he needed to. In fact, they work as well as the boots and shoes that have since worn out and been discarded.

Once he’s dressed, Jimmon decides that today is shaving day again. The boy whines that he wants something to eat. Erika tells him that Dad will take care of it in good time.

Jimmon wonders if it would be too late for them to try and figure out a calendar? They could guess at the date – May or June – then keep it up from now on. Erika pauses in what she’s doing and asks what would be the point since as soon as they find other people who haven’t ‘gone native’ they could find out the real date.

Two things: First, I love the fact that Erika refuses to back down from her belief that there are other survivors and that they aren’t living in a ramshackle shed and using ill-cured hides for clothes and blankets. Erika is a true survivor and points to Moore for writing such a strong, independent-minded young woman.

Second, when Erika pauses what she’s doing to answer Jimmon, he wonders about what she finds to keep herself busy with. He muses that women’s work is never done but how do they keep themselves occupied without vacuum cleaners and other labor-saving devices?

Throughout Lot it became clear from context that Mr. Jimmon never really talked to his family in general and with his wife in particular. So, it’s not hard to imagine that he had absolutely no clue what Molly did during the day while he was at work.

I can kind of give Jimmon a pass for not having paid attention to Molly in the time before the war, since he would have been spending at least eight hours a day away from home, possibly more with commuting time.  If he noticed any of the work his wife did around the house, it was likely only in those cases where something didn’t get done to his satisfaction.

The fact that he’s spent six years living with Erika in a one-room hovel and somehow managed to not notice what Erika does on a daily basis is next-level self-absorption. Unfortunately, it’s also completely in-character for Mr. Jimmon.

Jimmon gets out his straight razor and prepares to shave, thinking as he does that bringing the straight razor was good foresight on his part since safety blades[4] would have dulled to uselessness by now. He asks Erika what is a “real date” since calendars are conventions agreed upon by civilized communities and what civilized communities exist?

Erika says there are enough communities out there, if they’d look for them.

The boy still wants something to eat, but Jimmon ignores him as he proceeds to shave, using only hot water since they have no soap or shaving cream. Jimmon knows that soap isn’t hard to make, of course, having explained the theory to Erika often enough. But, for some reason, even though they have wood ash and access to tallow from the animals Jimmon shoots, they don’t have soap.

This is probably because making soap isn’t quite as simple as Jimmon thinks – in fact, there’s actually a lot of work potentially dangerous work involved beyond just mixing together wood ashes[5] and tallow[6].

Jimmon shaves, slowly and carefully, using the rear-view mirror from the station wagon.  The hot water softened his whiskers enough that he can shave without scraping his skin raw, but it’s still painful.  He muses that they ought to make soap – probably not for the first time.

The boy has followed Jimmon outside and is watching Jimmon. As he watches him, the boy calls him Dad – stating a fact, rather than asking a question. Jimmon feels obligated to say something to the boy but since he can’t think of anything to say, he looks away from the boy toward a nearby brook.

The brook is shallow, making dipping water from it difficult. Jimmon has had plans to dam an area upstream where there’s a natural basin ever since he and Erika arrived at this spot.

So, he’s procrastinated about damming the stream for at least six, possibly seven years.  I’ll cut him a bit of slack for not doing it immediately, since they’d have been busy getting set up at first. Also, damming a stream would potentially reveal their presence to other people in the area – people who might wish to do them ill. Or who might take exception to a couple trespassers squatting on their land and shooting their cattle. Well, one of their cows.

Finishing his shave and after wiping his razor clean on his sleeve, Jimmon asks Erika if she needs the warm water he used. Erika comes to the entrance of the shelter and Jimmon gets a look at her. He drops his eyes, having been surprised by her appearance.

She’s dressed in one of Molly’s old dresses, which has been tucked into a pair of Levis, which were also Molly’s.  Erika is thin, but slender, not overly thin like Molly had been. He thinks that, on a good diet, Erika’s face might fill out, removing the slight hollow in her cheeks. But maybe not. He thinks that she has an intensity about Erika, emphasized in her eyes that, as Jimmon puts it, “indicated a tendency to sparseness.”

He tries to remember how long it’s been – six or seven years? He doesn’t know if Erika is twenty or twenty-one. He thinks that the time has been longer for her than it has for him; which, he feels, is one of the reasons she’s clung so hard to the idea that there are civilized survivors somewhere. Otherwise, well, her life would be hopeless and dreary.

Jimmon, on the other hand, hangs on to daily food-getting and hanging on.

Erika’s response is to ask Jimmon just what she’s supposed to do with the warm water? Wash dishes that he didn’t bring along? Wash the clothes they don’t have any more? Mop the dirt floor? Or, sterilize something?

Jimmon thinks: He had sterilized the knife with which she’d cut the cord.

Jimmon backs down and takes the aluminum kettle and empties it.  He thinks about the fact that the kettle, even though it’s heavy cast aluminum[7], will wear out soon. He’d debated bringing a cast iron kettle, but one drop and that would have shattered, while the aluminum could still be useful even if it developed a hole. He uses this to reassure himself that, despite Erika’s ‘unjust taunts’ about dishes and the dirt floor, he’d foreseen intelligently.

Deciding it’s about seven in the morning, Jimmon thinks about how his watch gave out, while Erika’s lasted about a year longer despite being almost entirely ornamental (it’d belonged to her mother). Erika still wears it as jewelry. Jimmon makes a mental note to tell her not to leave it hanging in plain sight.

His thoughts turn to breakfast and he wonders if he’s wants to eat because he’s actually hungry or if its just out of habit. From there, he wonders if its actually possible to eat a real breakfast or if it’s really just the first meal of the day? “Real breakfast” being of course, a chilled grapefruit with a maraschino cherry in the center, cornflakes and cream with sugar. Bacon. Eggs – hen’s eggs, of course, not gulls’ eggs like Erika sometimes finds.

While the memory of sugar also hit him, it’s thinking of coffee that gives Jimmon a particular pause.  Even after six years he can still remember the smell of coffee and the memory makes his mouth water.

Jimmon wonders – actually says the word ‘wonder’ out lout – and Erika asks him what.  He looks over to see that she’s still standing in their shelter’s doorway, though it’s not much of a doorway. It’s really more of the ‘place where he didn’t build a wall.’ He decides that before the rainy season comes, he must make an actual doorway, possibly even with a real door.

Of course, there’s no reason he should feel bad about the fact that he hasn’t done it before now – to his mind, he’s been too busy to do it before now. Because he’s accomplished so much over the last six years what with not damming the creek or making a water-tight roof. No, instead of focusing on how small and inadequate the shelter is, he’ll focus on how much he’s accomplished.  After all, how many other civilized men with no training or preparation or experience – not to mention, no real taste for the ‘rugged outdoor’ things could have done as well as he has?

Few, he decides, then realizes Erika is still staring at him. She asks him if he’s going to after food or if he’s just going to stand around talking to himself? Which is becoming a habit of his.

Jimmon says he might go after rabbits and Erika looks at him derisively but not entirely unkindly. She says in that case, she’ll go down to the ocean and see what she can find. Jimmon goes into the shelter to get his rifle.  The seats from the station wagon are beds for Erika and the boy, with Jimmon’s grass pallet being opposite their beds.

Erika’s surprised he’s taking the gun, since he said he was going after rabbits. Jimmon doesn’t answer at first, allowing himself the indulgent fantasy of taking down a deer with a single shot. Never mind it’s too late in the day, but he might get lucky.

He puts the rifle back up and opts for the shotgun. He takes the time to make sure the gun is clean before he gathers some shells from one of his ammunition caches. He keeps the shotgun and rifle in separate locations and keeps the shells and cartridges in separate caches as well. This is actually pretty smart – he does it because of fear of being robbed, but considering they have a child living with them, this is also a pretty reasonable safety precaution.

Erika and the boy go off toward the ocean to see what food they can gather. Jimmon goes off to hunt and wonders if he’s being obstinate by hunting when they’ve found that the ocean is the only sure way of getting food. The fact that he takes six shells with him, putting one in the shotgun’s breech, and stops to get his old briefcase before he goes hunting serves as an answer.

He’s not sure how or why the briefcase, which he’d stopped using in his before-life because it was old-fashioned, came to be packed along with his carefully chosen provisions. Ironically, though, it’s turned out to be a lot more useful than the government pamphlets (which ended up rain-soaked) or the seeds (which never got planted).

After putting the rest of the shells and a knife into the case, Jimmon goes hunting. As Moore puts it: Man the survivor went forth to hunt dangling a briefcase.

The day is foggy and chilly. Jimmon thinks that if he knew how to make mortar without cement, he’d build a fireplace for the shelter. But, of course, he doesn’t know how to do this so there will never be a fireplace.

He thinks more about the shelter, which is partly made of logs that he and Erika stumbled over when they first arrived at this spot. They have no idea why the logs were there or who cut them.  The rest of the logs for the shelter’s three-and-a-half walls are ones that Jimmon chopped down. The shelter’s walls are full of gaps, which they originally filled with moss and mud.  However, once these plugs dry up, they fall out so they’ve switched to using grass, adding more as the logs dry and shrink, making the gaps wider.

As he hunts, Jimmon muses on pre-war survival stories and how they agreed with Erika, presuming that people would survive in relative comfort and ease, banding together to form communities and rebuild civilization. He chalks these stories up to limited imaginations and an inability to envision realities.

Because of course he does. Because, I’m pretty sure, if Mr. Jimmon seriously entertained the idea that he might actually be wrong for even a (metaphorical) minute, he’d be utterly destroyed. It would mean that everything he’s done since he left Molly and the boys at that gas station has been for nothing.

Let me make this abundantly clear: I’m not defending Jimmon. He’s a monster. In Lot, he was a domestic tyrant and a rather lazy bully, who would simply ignore anything he didn’t want to deal with. In Lot’s Daughter, these character traits have helped to make things that much harder for Jimmon and Erika to do more than scrape by, which is horrific enough without adding to the situation that Jimmon raped his daughter. And Jimmon, on some level that he can only just barely acknowledge, knows this and can’t bring himself to deal with it.

See, while Jimmon is a rapist who impregnated his own daughter, he does know that what he did was wrong. You can see it in his body language – he can’t look directly at Erika – and you can see it in the way that he can’t quite bring himself to think of how the boy came into the world. He can come close, but he has to think about it in euphemisms or come at the memories from the side. It’s clear from context that he genuinely feels guilty about what he did but he can’t actually openly acknowledge that he feels that guilt. Because only people who are wrong feel guilty.

And David Alonzo Jimmon, Senior cannot be wrong.

After dismissing pre-war survival stories as ridiculous fantasies, Jimmon circles back to think about their arrival at the place that’s become their base.  They’re still a distance from Monterey, but are only about a half mile from the highway.  They hid the station wagon and used branches to wipe away signs of their tire tracks for the half mile from their campsite to the highway.  They listened to the radio daily in those early times, hearing more about what happened. Jimmon remembers the reports as being almost exactly what Mr. Jimmon had predicted months prior to It happening.

Molly, he almost thinks of her as ‘poor Molly’ but stops himself, was (in his memory) incredulous even as they were trying to escape the city. Erika doesn’t remember how accurate Jimmon’s predictions were – probably because, as was said earlier, they weren’t that accurate. He was right about some things but no where near as right as he wants to believe he was.

Jimmon’s thoughts drift to wondering if he was wrong to not have tried to corral some of the cattle who’d been wandering the area when they arrived. He decides that the sheer amount of work he’d have had to do to catch, herd, pen and care for them would have been too difficult. Overwhelming in his words. Instead, the easiest – sorry, most feasible – thing to do was to shoot the ones he could, one at a time.  Erika, of course, unjustly sneered at the idea of pioneers shooting cattle – but she ate the meat, so she’s a hypocrite.

Now, the cattle are all gone. Disappeared, in Jimmon’s thoughts. But not into a herd like Erika thinks. Those early post-attack news reports are all the evidence Jimmon needs for that. Reports that showed that gutted, uninhabitable Los Angles was a trap due not just to radiation sickness but also to typhoid, meningitis and other unnamed plagues that swirled among the escaping refugees. Jimmon’s sure one of those would have been cholera.

Those in this second wave of refugees brought their diseases to areas where there were other refugees, first-wavers who were already disorganized and hungry themselves. Attempts to set up dislocation camps ended when national guardsmen were massacred by frenzied victims.

I’ve written in an earlier article about panic and disaster situations. Scholarly research on disasters done over the last seventy years has found that mass panic is exceedingly rare. This is based on research done by sociologists of disaster, who have studied a wide variety of disaster situations from early history up through to the present day[8].

There are situations that can cause individuals to panic, especially if the following criteria are met:

  • The perception that there is a great, immediate threat.
  • The belief that the individual is trapped – a feeling that can occur even if the person is in a wide, open space.
  • The individual feels helpless.

If an individual or individuals begin to panic, that emotion can spread from them to others in the group, which can then cause an entire group to panic.

All of this is a long, round-about way of saying that I think that a panic did occur at a dislocation camp but I don’t think it happened for the reasons Mr. Jimmon thinks it happened. Basically, I think what likely happened was that one or more individuals at the camp thought that the guardsmen were going to run out of supplies and that panic spread from them into the crowd and the guardsmen got killed trying to maintain order.

I think what Jimmon did was inflate what was likely one or two isolated incidents into a widespread pattern of behavior. When news is reported, it tends to be about unusual events – things that are out of the ordinary or that don’t often occur. There’s a reason we don’t see stories about all the stores where people aren’t going crazy on Black Friday – they’re not interesting.

Jimmon reminisces about other radio reports, including some explicit ones about destruction in Europe and Asia, where Leningrad was hit with eleven classified bombs, Marseilles was destroyed as were Copenhagen and Bristol, Archangel and Warsaw. In the US, Chicago and Detroit were hit the same day; New York’s destruction went on interminably – or at least, that’s what Jimmon deduced from ‘grudging hints’ in the news reports.

From there, Jimmon goes back to cattle. He reckons its been at least a couple of years since he last saw any cattle in the area. He knows that ‘miles away’ there’s a ranch house, stables, corrals, outbuildings – though he’s not sure how many miles away. And beyond that house, there’s thousands of grazing acres.

Jimmon thinks: The heroic fictional man (homo gernsbacchae[9]) would have found the house, rounded up the cattle, started all over. […] And been a fine target for the first passing looters. 

When San Francisco was destroyed, there had been a flood of southbound traffic on State Highway I and Jimmon had been sure they would be discovered and overrun, but instead the refugees didn’t stop, just kept going south. Though what they would have done when they reached the outer radius of Los Angeles, Jimmon didn’t know. Maybe turned into the Pacific like lemmings?

Or, y’know, turned inland and headed deeper into the country, possibly to Nevada or Arizona or other points further east? While thermonuclear weapons (H-bombs) were being developed by both the US and the Soviet Union at this point, ICBMs were still a few years off. This would mean that there would be portions of the US that weren’t hit by atomic weapons and which could potentially become areas of refuge or staging areas for relief efforts in other regions.

Of course, a lot of those regions that wouldn’t be hit would likely be predominately rural and therefore contain less infrastructure, but they could still serve as a place to begin to make a stand.

The loss of San Francisco meant they only received broadcasts from one radio station out of Monterey. Broadcasts which lasted for only about a month, but which included reports that complete network service would be restored in ‘no time’; that the civilian population shouldn’t panic or give heed to rumors being spread by the enemy; and lost friends and relatives were being listed and reunions would happen faster if people remained calm and exhibited some fortitude and just wait.

A movement in the grass to Jimmon’s right interrupts his reverie. He doesn’t turn and fire immediately; instead, he raises the shotgun level with his hip and waits to be sure of his shot. He moves carefully, since it could be a large, dangerous animal waiting to make a meal of fresh Jimmon.

He’s startled by a rabbit while he’s in mid-step and so is off-balance. He brings the gun up to his shoulder, even though he knows he doesn’t have the shot. He tries to stop himself, but he stumbles and falls, the gun roaring next to his ear. Additionally, the briefcase falls, scattering its contents.

He lays on the ground for a long moment, not wanting to struggle. He’s bungled another simple task and wasted an irreplaceable shell. He lays there, thinking that no matter how you define civilization, it’s a delicate and interdependent mechanism.  If he hadn’t been an insurance broker, but instead had been Admirable Jimmon, the Elizabethan universal man, who was a crack shot, a first-class woodsman, mechanic, improviser, chemist, physicist, and farmer. He wonders if that would have made a difference or if it was true that all men had to sink to a common level before there could be a new raising.

Continuing from this, he wonders if his old idea, that he could preserve a vestige of pre-war, mid-20th century civilization in himself and Erika without a supporting network of goods and services, mines and factories, was simply a delusion. Similar to the idea of primitive men relying on spirits and watchful gods to overcome obstacles. Except that all man had to rely on was other men – and if mankind sank, individual men sank with it. Variations in depth are insignificant.

All collapse was total collapse, Jimmon decides. It was something even Wendell had grasped instinctively when he’d asked if the war meant they could steal cars and things. Hiding out as he and Erika have done isn’t preserving an enclave from the lost world; instead it keeps the present world just a tiny, infinitesimal bit more brutal than it might have been.

Jimmon starts gathering the items that spilled out of the now-broken briefcase, knowing that he’s one step closer to the day when he’ll have no shotgun. He even acknowledges that he’s failing to save himself and Erika – though, note that he doesn’t mention the boy.

He finds four of the five shells that were in the briefcase and begins searching meticulously for the fifth shell – otherwise, he’s that much closer to the day when the shotgun becomes useless.

Jimmon considers that a “half-wit,” one who couldn’t understand an actuarial table, could refill the shell with homemade gunpowder, but of course that half-wit would only do it in order to kill another savage over a piece of meat or a woman. Whereas, Jimmon thinks, the man who took though for tomorrow was unable to safeguard the heritage of yesterday.

Okay, I’m not going to link to any gunpowder recipes – but they are out there, just a Google search away. If you, dear reader, decide to go looking and decide to play home chemist, please, please, please, please be careful.

That said, the ingredients and proportions for making gunpowder are more or less common knowledge. Hell, back in the 1980s, an episode of Transformers (“A Decepticon Raider in King Arthur’s Court”) featured time-displaced Decepticons trying to make gunpowder and taught a generation of children that seagull poop has potassium nitrate in it.

Today, circa 2020, you can find the three components of gunpowder – charcoal, sulfur and salt-peter (potassium nitrate) – easily enough, since all three have non-explosive uses.  Some people, including preppers and historical reenactment enthusiasts, make their own gunpowder. Technically, they’re making what’s known as black powder, an older form of gunpowder that is different from modern, smokeless powder.  For one thing, it’s not smokeless.

Making black powder isn’t difficult but it is dangerous since you make black powder by grinding the three ingredients together in the correct proportions in a ball mill or a stone rolling mill for hours. During this time, the mixture can explode prematurely – the source I looked at, Gray Matter: Easy DIY Gunpowder (posted August 18, 2011) at the Popular Science website, says that there’s a “good chance” this will happen. The author, Theodore Gray, recommends Not Trying This At Home, unless you have access to the right type of remotely operated mill – something that would not be available to Jimmon or his hypothetical ‘half-wit’.

For the moment, I’m going to ignore the inherent ableism in ‘half-wit’ because I want to focus on the classist side of the insult (trust me, we’ll get a chance to discuss Jimmon’s ableism in a bit). Jimmon was, prior to the day It happened, an insurance broker and likely one who was fairly well paid and therefore well-placed with in middle-class/upper middle-class society. The primary evidence for this shows up in Lot, particularly the fact that he’s running around with 200 one-hundred-dollar bills[10] in his jacket pocket. Plus, he didn’t hesitate to pay the extortionist gas station attendant five bucks a gallon for gas and bought at least twelve gallons[11].

What Jimmon means when he says ‘half-wit’ and ‘savage’ is someone who isn’t of his same social class. He means someone who is less well-off than he is and someone who has a kind of specialized knowledge that Jimmon doesn’t.  Jimmon looks down on this theoretical person because he fears them.  He insults them because he feels it isn’t fair that someone who isn’t on his level could best him in something.

Someone who can manage to make black powder but can’t read an actuarial table isn’t a half-wit. They’re not necessarily a paragon of human virtue or overflowing with the milk of human kindness, but they’re not the inferior of an insurance broker. Especially not one who kidnapped and raped his daughter.

Jimmon keeps looking for the missing shell, debating whether or not to write off the loss of the fired shell, the missing shell and the jackrabbit and just accept the losses. He thinks about the boxes and boxes of shells on shelves in hundreds of towns and villages – except, no, they’re not there, having been looted (its implied).

Instead, because he planned ahead and showed forethought, Jimmon didn’t take his share of those boxes and boxes of shells. He’d been too quick and too smart to survive.

He stares down at the grass and thinks back to when he and the rest of the family had first set out from Malibu, back when he had the vitality he’s lost over time. And how his vitality had gained new force once he’d “sloughed off” Molly and the boys. This vitality had reached its peak when they’d found their hiding place.

Trigger Warning: It’s at this point that Jimmon comes close to actually admitting to having raped Erika (he comes even closer later on). Being Jimmon, he of course couches his remembrances in euphemistic terms. He talks about the almost mystic propriety of the relationship with Erika and how it changed him from man the commuter and taxpayer to man the lair finder, dweller maker and provider.

He tries to figure out how long his energy lasted and decides that it was less than a year at the most and that it was definitely long gone before Erika found herself with child.

Because, of course, Jimmon had nothing whatsoever to do with Erika’s pregnancy. Maybe there was a star in the East and they missed the Three Wise Men’s approach because they’re just so well hidden?

Jimmon believes his energy began to fade when the radio station in Monterey went off the air, because now there was not even a faint hope that something in the world would be spared. Instead, this was a sign that he was truly on his own (note: no mention of Erika). He wonders what happened to some other nearby cities and towns – Salinas and Carmel and Fort Ord. They hadn’t been bombed but had been close enough to see the flash.

Jimmon thinks about how, at the time, he’d had the feeling that the broadcasts out of Monterey were hollow in some fashion, as if they were being put on by a single man, driven mad and pretending that Monterey still existed with people walking the streets, shopping in the stores, riding its buses, etcetera, etcetera. Maybe the local news was true, maybe it was fiction. Maybe all the news was fake – where would the announcer have gotten it from? And then, one day, the radio station just winked off – no announcement, no sign off, no national anthem. Just nothing that day and the next and the next and the next.

He wonders if the power failed or if the engineer gave up his deception (if it was a deception) or died of illness. Erika had wanted him to try to drive north and find out, but Jimmon refused. Erika was, in his words, childishly obstinate, refusing (like her mother) to see facts or listen to Jimmon’s deductions about the potential dangers. She just repeated that they should get in the car and go and see for themselves.

Even pointing out that they no longer had a spare tire didn’t dissuade Erika; instead, she gave this as a reason for going – they could find a way to fix the tire in Monterey. Her unrealistic attitude appalled him.

He realized just how strongly she believed in the idea of a makeshift, residual civilization was until he discovered she was turning on the car radio four or five times a day. When he told Erika that she was running down the battery, she told him that they could restart the motor and run it again.

Jimmon tried to make her see the whole picture – that the car only had about two gallons of gas in the tank, which was irreplaceable and vital in an emergency. Besides, he no longer had any money to buy gas with since he’d given the $20,000 he’d had on him to Molly. But, even if he had money, there was no gas to be had.

Finally, he felt a kind of wry triumph when the battery finally failed and the radio couldn’t even pick up static anymore. Erika kept trying to counter Jimmons arguments against trying to restart the car. She persists in trying to find a way to get it running again, re-inflating the tires with a hand-pump and then trying to push-start the car.  Jimmon helps, even though he knows its futile.  When this doesn’t work, Erika insists on trying a new method: jacking the car up and spinning a rear wheel while the car was in gear.

The car stays in this position for months.  Jimmon gave up on the idea as soon as he realized it wouldn’t work but Erika stayed at it much longer. At first, she spent hours daily at it, then, over time she went from trying three times a day to daily to weekly.  If he recalls correctly, her pregnancy was “well advanced” before Erika gave up entirely.

This makes me wonder how much of Erika’s persistence was in an attempt to keep her father occupied, to protect herself from him. To try and find a way to make him help her escape from him, only giving up when she was too far along in her pregnancy to maintain the effort.

In Lot, Jimmon remembers that Molly had had a difficult pregnancy with Jir, to the point that he feared she might die. It’s not a stretch to imagine that Erika might have similar problems – compounded by her being a young mother living in high-stress conditions, likely suffering from low-key malnutrition.

Jimmon muses that there is No salvation by mechanical means. In his mind, salvation only comes from dogged reliance on his own will – again, no mention of Erika, no mention of the boy. Jimmon seems to see himself as the only person worth thinking about when it comes to survival. There are those who might be inclined to think that it’s the stress of the end of the world that’s driven Jimmon to this point; I’m inclined to think that disaster situations like this amplify underlying tendencies. Jimmon was a bully before the bombs dropped and while I don’t think he abused Erika before they came to their campground, I think the inclination was there and when the war allowed him the opportunity, he took it.

Jimmon sees his search for the shell as symbolizing his determination to resist being reduced to the primitive level for as long as he possibly can.  This likely helps him to ignore the fact that he lives in an unfinished, ill-made log shed, sleeps on a pile of poorly-dried grass with a rotting hide as a blanket and wears improperly cured hides for clothing.  Not to mention that he raped and impregnated his daughter and shares this life with them.

Jimmon asks himself what had he expected? Some romantic fantasy where he’d built a cabin, dammed the stream, planted a vegetable garden and domesticated cattle, all the while masterfully defending against marauders and eventually joining forces with other survivors? These would, of course, be limited to couples and young children. No single males allowed under any circumstances. These survivors would be under his leadership, since he would be the only one who could be acknowledged as such due to his mastering of various obstacles. The final triumph of his stewardship would be the day when his group would at last emerge from hiding and establish themselves openly in an abandoned village or town.

It’s a romantic notion, of course, which is why Jimmon dismisses it.

Jimmon’s fingers land on a shell, filling him with elation and relief – until he realizes that the shell he found was the remains of the one he’d fired. He sits down and reflects, telling himself that this isn’t a tragedy nor cause for despair. He’s lost two shells but he still has others; while he’s not sure the exact amount, he believes he has enough for another year, if he’s careful. He’d been foolish, going out after game so late, but he’d done it to show someone – himself or Erika – that he really is the Admirable Jimmon.

Unfortunately, he thinks, pride goeth before an empty belly.

He gives up the hunt, wondering about the difference between x shells and x-1 shells, persuading himself that he can put it down to experience as he gathers his briefcase and shotgun and returns to the shelter.

As he returns, he pauses at the stream, thinking again about how easy it would be to build a dam and deciding that he won’t put it off any longer. He’ll begin the project at dawn tomorrow, after getting out of bed without being admonished to do so. And once the dam’s finished, he’ll build a proper cabin. He decides that starting tomorrow, they’ll sink no further; even if their progress will be small, it will be upwards toward recivilization.

He hears the sounds of Erika and the boy among the usual sounds of insects, birds and frogs along with ocean surf in the distance and the brook nearby. Jimmon decides he won’t say anything about his determination, so that he can match her fantasy of survivors with the reality of their own survival.

Of course, by not telling her about his plans, he also doesn’t have to face reprisals from her when he doesn’t actually do anything. Because chances are this isn’t the first time in the last six or seven years that Mr. Jimmon has drawn this particular line in the sand.

Back at camp, Erika is boiling water, having placed the kettle in the fire which Jimmon has told her often enough not to do, since it will blacken the kettle and potentially damage it[12]. He doesn’t chide her again. Instead, Erika asks him if he got anything and he notices that there’s something not quite right about her tone. Instead of being sharp or irritated or contemptuous, there’s an entirely different kind of undertone that he can’t figure out.

He tells her that he didn’t get anything, because the briefcase broke. He tells her to sew it tighter next time.  Erika says she will, when she gets to it and tells him that she brought home some abalone for him.  She’s even kicked it for him, which is a pleasant surprise.

He does think that she needs to leave the undersized abalone alone, otherwise they won’t be able to gather them at all. Instead, someone would have to go way out and dive for them. Jimmon knows he couldn’t manage it. Deeper down, the abalone would be bigger, but would also be stronger and better able to hold onto the rocks. One false move and the abalone could catch the fingers of the diver and drown them[13].

Content/Trigger Warning: discussion of incest and outdated psychological theories.

Jimmon’s thoughts shift from abalone fishing to the food Erika has prepared for him. He shifts from thinking “Dutiful daughter; I have nourished my father” wondering if it refers to Lenore or Electra, before thinking of how small Erika’s breast are. He wonders if that might have had anything to do with the boy’s poor start in life but doesn’t think so, since Molly had never been able to nurse for long. Though Molly, unlike Erika, had access to pediatricians and supplemental feedings and formulas.

I’m not sure who the “Lenore” is that Jimmon is referring to – Wikipedia showed only two literary references to the name, a 1773 poem/ballad by Gottfried August Burger and an 1843 poem by Edgar Allan Poe that was originally titled “A Paean.” Neither poem seems to have anything to do with dutiful daughters, so I’m going to ignore them for the moment to focus on the reference I do get.

Electra, in Greek mythology, was the daughter of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra. According to legend, Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to stop the goddess Artemis from interfering with the winds so that he can sail to Troy and join the Trojan War.  Clytemnestra takes exception to this and, upon Agamemnon’s return from the war with the Trojan princess Cassandra, murders them.  Their daughter Electra plotted revenge against her mother for the murder of her father.

In 1913, Carl Jung coined the term Electra complex to refer to a girl’s psychosexual competition for possession of her father.  It’s analogous to the Oedipus complex and, like the Oedipus complex, is no longer widely accepted in modern psychology, in large part because Freud’s ideas are rooted in bad-faith arguments that rely on outdated gender role stereotypes.

But, at the time Lot and Lot’s Daughter were written, the idea of teenage girls yearning for their father’s approval was very deeply ingrained in the popular mind. In fact, according to Rachel Devlin, as reported in an article entitled “What Ever Happened To Daddy’s Girl,” the idea that a teenage girl would seek out her father’s approval of her erotic appeal and that approval would help her make a healthy transition from little girl to young woman.

Yikes. This is an attitude that’s toxic enough in a non-disaster situation – in another timeline, where It didn’t happen, one can imagine Mr. Jimmon becoming oddly sulky when young Erika goes out with the boys.

After he eats, Jimmon says that he’s going to go fishing right away.  To his surprise, Erika asks him why and he replies that it’s his duty to provide, though he tries to make a joke out of it.

Erika puts a finger in the kettle to test the water and repeats the word ‘duty’ as she pulls the kettle from the fire. She kneels, letting her hair fall forward into the water as Mr. Jimmon and the boy watch as she washes her hair.

Mr. Jimmon wonders how she can get her hair clean without soap and why she’s bothering. He decides its for the same reason he shaves – to preserve the amenities – though he finds it an odd thing to do in the middle of the day.

Once she’s done, Erika stands up and rubs her hair between her palms and asks again about duty.  Jimmon says it’s because of responsibility. Biological and social responsibility.

Erika pulls a handful of wet hair away from her face and looks directly at Jimmon and asks him about Mom. And Wendell? And Jir?

Jimmon’s first thought is of impulse – specifically, [t]he impulse at the exact moment of opportunity at the end of a day when inhibitions are relaxed.”  He acknowledges, in the safety of his own mind, that he couldn’t have forced Molly and the boys out of the car or driven off with Erika if he’d had to actually say something or confront his wife and sons face to face. He couldn’t have done it if he’d had to look at Molly and the boys, if he’d seen them realizing that they were being abandoned and betrayed instead of knowing that he’d be gone before the penny dropped.

He wonders why she’s bringing this up now, especially since if she doesn’t already know his reasoning then there’s no way he can explain it to her. He certainly couldn’t recreate the emotions he was feeling on that day, even if he wanted to.

But what surprises Jimmon the most is the fact that Erika referred to Molly as “Mom” not “Mother” – which, apparently, is how Erika had referred to her since “the electric moment of awareness in the station wagon.”  Jimmon supposes that this sudden reversion to the more childish “Mom” is a sign of something, perhaps guilt? An emotion that had been so pervasive in the books Molly used to read as to become nearly meaningless.

Because of course, if anyone should feel guilty about what happened, it should be Erika, not Jimmon. Never Jimmon.

He justifies himself to her, saying, “Survival would have been impossible. I also owed a duty to you and to myself” This makes him feel like the man he was eight years ago, long before the day of It, back when he was still D. A. Jimmon, Malibu homeowner with an office on Spring Street[14]. He tries to further justify himself, adding that he gave Molly all of “our” money, twenty thousand dollars.

Erika goes back to rubbing the water out of her hair, reminding Jimmon that he gave her twenty thousand dollars of what he thought was going to be useless.  Jimmon says that he still thinks it was useless. In fact, he knows it was but that isn’t the point. The point was that Molly couldn’t see that there was a possibility Jimmon might be right, so since she was convinced the money had and would always have value that makes it okay.

Or something.

Erika is still working on her hair, beginning to braid it now. She agrees that the others would have been quite impossible but that that isn’t the point either. If Jimmon hadn’t been ruthless – which Jimmon corrects to unsentimental and Erika goes with this, saying that if he had to be unsentimental in order to survive.

In order for us to survive, Jimmon says, pleased that she understands him so well.

Erika starts braiding the other side of her hair and Jimmon waits for her to continue speaking. She doesn’t, but finishes braiding her hair and winds the braids around her head, tying it in place with a bit of blue cotton rag.

Jimmon starts to speak to her, wanting to know why she’s brought up the past like this, but Erika interrupts and tells Jimmon to take the boy along with him when he goes fishing. Jimmon is confused, since she’s never asked him to do this before. Taking the boy along means he’ll have to carry him for part of the way, which’ll be a nuisance, but he does have to begin teaching him so he agrees.

The boy doesn’t want to go fishing again, but Erika tells him that they weren’t fishing before, just looking for shellfish and stranded crabs. Dad, she says, will take him actual fishing. The boy still doesn’t want to go.

Jimmon thinks that the boy is small for four – if he is four. He doesn’t really have any standards for comparison, since his memories of Jir and Wendell and of other children seen on the street are all faded. The boy, he thinks, is probably exactly average. Even his health is good, considering their diet.

Jimmon thinks that any thoughts he has that the boy is “sickly” are purely a revulsion on his part or stem from a wish that the boy was sturdier, brighter than most. He thinks that sickly leans more toward 19th-century folktales, not toward historical knowledge. He thinks of the Ptolemies and the Incas – both groups where members of the royal family practiced sibling marriage. Because I can find more resources on the Ptolemies, I’ll focus on them.

The Ptolemaic dynasty were the last dynasty of Ancient Egypt, which they ruled from 305 to 30 BCE. Like other earlier Egyptian dynasties, they practiced interbreeding, including sibling marriage.  This was due to a variety of reasons, including the classist idea that royal blood should never be diluted with that of outsiders. You can read more about the practice at Keeping it in the (Ptolemaic) Family: When Incest is Best, by Stephanie Dray at

Of course, Jimmon with his focus on superior men would associate raping Erika with nobility, because that way he can think of himself as a superior man, not some nasty lower-class brute.

Erika hugs and kisses the boy, telling him that she wants him to go with Dad.  Jimmon, not unkindly, tells the boy to come on, if he’s coming. Erika tells Mr. Jimmon – oddly enough – that the boy needs eggs. Really, he needs milk but she acknowledges that there is no milk. And he needs greens – she tells Mr. Jimmon that the dandelions are pretty much gone but that there are other plants. She advises him that you can tell if they’re good to eat by chewing on them when they’re raw. And she advises him that the boy needs warm covers at night.

Jimmon tells Erika that she hasn’t done badly with the boy – in fact, he thinks she’s done very well with him. Jimmon’s thoughts focus on the lack of the briefcase, he’s not going to be able to use it to carry his fishing tackle, so he’ll have to leave some of it behind. He offers to carry the boy piggy-back.

The boy’s arms around his neck seem frail and he feels light.  Jimmon wonders if he’d been able to gentle a cow, that would have made all the difference. Maybe even now – it finally occurs to him to wonder what Erika meant, then thinks maybe once he’s finished the dam, the cattle might not have strayed too far or become too wary of people.

Erika wishes to Mr. Jimmon luck, though he notices she still has the same strange undertone to her voice. Her last words are to remind him not to let the boy get cold.

Jimmon jogs downhill, noticing that, despite his efforts and his warnings, a path has been worn from the shelter to the highway. He’ll have to conceal it again as best he could, using pine needles and debris and speak to Erika again about the dangers of exposing themselves.  If only he could regain communication with her.

The boy, for no discernable reason, says “Don’t want to” again and Mr. Jimmon essentially ignores the boy, focusing instead on a strange smell that is familiar but not one he’s smelled recently. Jimmon tells the boy that he doesn’t have to fish, he can just watch as Jimmon catches enough fish for all of them.

The boy doesn’t want to watch. Jimmon thinks he’s annoying and isn’t surprised Erika wanted to fob him off for the afternoon. He tries to adjust the boy so that his arms aren’t so tight around Mr. Jimmon’s neck but with no real use. So, at least in that respect, the boy is a fairly typical small child.

Jimmon gets a sense that something is wrong before he and the boy step out of the cover of the trees. He thinks the strange smell, that is both unfamiliar and familiar might be stronger here. He shushes the boy who starts to protest but Jimmon shushes him again.

He waits, trying to see if he can spot the ‘foreign presence’ before he moves forward into the open. He tries to decide if it’s just his imagination or a hunch? Should he go back for the rifle?

The boy starts to speak and Jimmon hushes him again and studies the area. The trees, redwoods, don’t show a sign of anything being wrong, nor does the brush. Jimmon pushes through, avoiding the path Erika had made.  He mutters to himself that no one has been there, which rouses the boy.

Jimmon shushes him again, looking out on the road, which has changed in the six years since he and Erika arrived at this spot. He feels a sense of dread; the road isn’t the clean strip of highway that it used to be, having been blown over with leaves and sand, creating a dune that’s buried the concrete.

The dune is no longer the same as its been for the last year or so – there’s a tire track, from a jeep. A jeep with tires new enough that the treads were able to leave clearly distinguishable marks. It’s a sign that there is organization in the wider world – yes, the person driving the jeep might be a maurauder and a pillager, but compared to Mr. Jimmon, it’s clear who has four wheels and represents civilization.

The boy asks why Mr. Jimmon, “Dad,” doesn’t go on and Mr. Jimmon doesn’t answer but does move warily forward. He compares himself to a Neanderthal sniffing the spoor of a Cro-Magnon or Friday spying Crusoe’s footprint in the sand. He wonders about the occupants of the jeep – man or woman? Three or four men? Are they seeking their fellows out of good will or are they fleeing from them? He wonders about their personal histories, where had they been six years ago and what had they been doing for the last six years?

Jimmon wonders: Were they reconcilers or destroyers?

Jimmon continues examining the tire tracks, confirming to himself that yes, it is there and it came from the north, heading south. Unless, for some reason, the driver was from the UK or New Zealand, of course.

He asks the boy if the marks were there when he and Erika came home. The boy doesn’t seem to understand the question and Jimmon repeats it. The boy says that he wants to go home now.

Jimmon wonders if Erika warned the boy to reveal nothing but if she had, would the boy have understood her? He can’t see the boy’s face so he can’t tell from his expression if he’s trying to deceive him – but then, even if he had seen the boy, he’s not sure he could have learned anything or not.

Jimmon looks for signs of Erika’s footprints but the ground isn’t soft enough for them to show up – plus, she’s clever enough to have avoided walking on the sand. Because why would he expect she might hide something? I mean, it’s not like she has any reasons not to trust him, right?

He thinks of her ill-concealed excitement and the uncharacteristic request that he take the boy along with him and wonders why she would hide this from him. Shouldn’t she have wanted to gloat? Or, if she maybe had second thoughts about these new peoples’ motives, to have wanted to warn him?

He continues wondering about the tracks, perhaps they’d been made after Erika returned to the shelter? He dismisses this as extremely unlikely and highly coincidental timing. He also doesn’t think the tracks were made before Erika went down to the ocean that morning since it would be highly unlikely that someone would risk driving an unfamiliar highway at night – particularly a highway that hasn’t seen a road crew in years. He decides, logically, that the jeep passed while Erika was searching for shellfish.

Wondering if the jeep’s occupants had seen her, but not seeing evidence that the jeep stopped and started back up again, Jimmon decides that they’re still concealed and should remain so, unless the jeep returns.

He and the boy continue on, after Jimmon suppresses an urge to turn back and confront Erika. If she’d lied, confronting her would only harden her reaction. And if she didn’t know about the jeep passing through, then he’d gain nothing by telling her about it.  Not yet, anyway.

Setting the boy down, Jimmon thinks of Jir – David Alonzo Jimmon, Junior – who’d be twenty-three now.  No thoughts of his son being a Neanderthal or a guilty rapist who’d be killed by a stronger thug or thugs.

Jimmon arranges the boy in a spot where he can safely watch and be watched. Baiting his hook, Jimmon casts his line out into the ocean, glancing back to see the boy playing with a fiddler crab in a tidepool.

As he fishes, Jimmon thinks about the relationship between how civilized man is and how preoccupied he is with getting food. In Jimmon’s mind, the relationship is inversely proportionate but also unavoidably direct and always intimate.

He considers that the jeep riders likely have to spend time gathering food as well, but they are likely sportsmen who can bring food down as they drive along or are lords of survival with access to stores of canned goods[15] and able to gorge themselves on tomatoes and evaporated milk.

Mr. Jimmon hooks a bass and manages to land it, gut and clean it. He asks the boy if he thinks he could do the same and the boy says he doesn’t want to. Mr. Jimmon catches another fish before he loses his bait. He tries for a third fish, so he’ll have one for each of them. The boy says he doesn’t want to fish, he wants to go home.

Jimmon thinks about fixing up the shelter again and presumes that jeep drivers can occupy luxury hotels, those that aren’t radioactive or haven’t already been occupied by other jeep drivers.  Of course, those luxury hotels will have spiderwebs and yellowed sheets – perhaps this is the post-atomic attack version of sour grapes?

Jimmon isn’t sure which is the way to civilizations – via fixing up his shelter or being a jeep driver, unless of course Erika is right and the jeep drivers are looking for recruits for utopia.

He tells the boy he’s going to try for one more fish. He’s trying for bottom fish now, since the tide’s coming in. Though, as he says aloud, he’s damned sick of fish of any kind. He seems to get something on the line, meaning he has to be careful about bringing it in.  He can’t afford to lose the fish or to lose more fishing line. Unfortunately, the line breaks and as a result, he loses his leader, hook and sinker.

Gathering his knife, flint-and-steel, float and the fish and some mussels, he heads back to the shelter, carrying the boy piggyback. As they walk back, Jimmon thinks of ways he can make do once he loses all of his sinkers – by using nuts from the station wagon, he should have enough to last the rest of his life. If he can manage to get them off the car. But, by then, his lines would have rotted away – while he’d thought of the future, he hadn’t thought far enough ahead.

In fairness to Mr. Jimmon, there’s no way he could have packed enough supplies to be able to avoid losses, even if he’d been less of a control-freak and had brought both the station wagon and family’s second car. Even if he’d equipped both cars with trailers, there would have been a limit to what could have been brought along. Supplies get used up, get lost or destroyed through misadventure or wear out – and that doesn’t get into the problem that it’s just not possible to think of every single potentially useful thing that you should be bringing along.

Like canned goods with ridiculous shelf-lives (see footnote #15), this is something that comes up over and over again in post-apocalyptic stories and especially in Nuke Operas, so expect that this will come up again.

Jimmon, being Jimmon, has to try and pin the blame on someone and since he’ll never blame himself and oddly enough doesn’t choose to blame Erika, he shifts it to supernatural entities. Almost. He feels one could almost believe that there’s some kind of malicious design, though he seems giving into that belief as the final irresponsibility.  He paraphrases the 23rd Psalm, thusly: The Lord is my shepherd because I have the brains of a sheep.

On the way back to the shelter, he pauses near the highway, looking again for signs of the jeep but sees nothing. He might have caught the scent of gasoline but isn’t sure if its his imagination or not. There are no other signs that the jeep has passed through again.

He steps across the tracks and looks southward, wondering if the jeep was savior or destroyer. Mysteries, he thinks, are danger while knowledge – as the cliché has it – is power. He decides that the jeep tracks don’t prove anything; they don’t establish that he or Erika are right or wrong. Still, he knows that regardless of whether the jeep drivers are saviors or destroyers, they mean nothing good for him, since “they represented a line of development in which he had no place.”

Oddly enough, this lifts his depression – he decides that Cro-Magnon man didn’t father modern man after all – instead, there was survival and blind alleys of evolution, so there’s no reason to believe that the jeep drivers represent superiority or that Jimmon represents inferiority. Or, as Jimmon puts it, fitness and unfitness to survive.

He resolves that “tomorrow” he’ll work on the dam, then once that’s done, he’ll fix up the shelter and make it into an actual cabin – and, and the boy is four so soon, he can be taught to read and there are things he can still teach Erika!

He acknowledges that he’s been supine – an interesting word choice by Moore, since in addition to meaning someone is lying down, usually face upwards, it can also mean “failing to act […] as a result of moral weakness or indolence.” He decides that he needed the shock of finding the jeep tracks to revitalize him, to get him back into learning to do things.

He avoids the path again on the way back, making plans to – once the dam is finished – use those small clear patches to grow food. His seeds are long gone, having been ruined, but he might be able to find domesticated plants that have gone wild and use them.

Jimmon thinks that he knew the looters and ravishers would come, that was the reason he’d had the station wagon stocked and ready, so that when the day came, he’d be able to escape and avoid them. He wonders though, if he hadn’t in some dim and distant way also foretold the coming of the jeep and the way of life it represents. After all, he hadn’t built an underground concrete shelter nor had he tried to escape to a remote Pacific island. Instead, he decides, revising his personal history like mad, he chose a sensible course, one that is befitting a survivor and, in his mind, the prototype of survivors.

Trigger Warning: this is the closest Jimmon gets to admitting to raping Erika — and yet, he still couches everything in euphemistic terms to protect his own ego and sense of self.

As if that level of arrogance isn’t enough, Jimmon continues to speculate, wondering if it might be possible for the mutual reserve and distrust between himself and Erika to dissolve with time. To his mind:

That they were man and woman was far less important than that they were father and daughter.

No, no it isn’t. Because they weren’t “man and woman” – they were father and daughter. Specifically, a father who kidnapped and raped his daughter.  About the most generous thing I can say about Mr. Jimmon is that I don’t think this was his plan all along, but when the opportunity arose, he gave in to his worst impulses and took the chance.  I think he started out with the best of intentions – but, well, we know what the road to hell is paved with, right? Mr. Jimmon, we’ve seen over the course of these two stories, has a supreme knack for justifying anything he wants to do by turning it into a “logical” impulse.

We’ll come back to this in a moment – we’re almost at the end of the story and we need to discuss that first.

Back at the shelter, Erika’s not outside and the fire is out.  Mr. Jimmon calls to her, hoping she’s already fixed his briefcase. The boy echoes him but Erika doesn’t answer.

Setting the boy down, Mr. Jimmon puts the fish and mussels down by the fireplace and puts his rod beside the stream. He takes the time to wash the salt water off of his line and loops it over the bushes to dry.  Once he has finished these tasks, he goes into the shelter to look for Erika.

He takes some dry moss inside as tinder for a fire, thinking about how careless it was for her to let it go out, since starting a fire with flint and steel isn’t easy or quick. Jimmon manages to get a spark from his flint and steel on the fourth try and manages to get a fire going again. He sets the mussels cooking in the kettle and puts the fish near the fire to cook.

He looks about the shelter, noticing that Erika’s watch is gone and that his briefcase still isn’t mended.

The boy comes in and says he’s hungry and asks where Erika is. Mr. Jimmon tells him in a minute, in a minute as the boy repeats that he’s hungry. Mr. Jimmon searches the shelter – the rifle and shotgun are still there as is the second fishing rod and the two bows. He hesitates but keeps looking, finding that the revolver and the three caches of its cartridges are gone.

He realizes that Erika is gone, that the emotion under her voice had been pity and elation. Gently, he speaks to the boy, referring to him by name for the first time in the story.

“Come on, Eric. There’s a fish for you and one for me; by the time they’re gone the mussels will be done.”

After this, we learn that this is the first time, by his own recollection, that Mr. Jimmon has referred to the boy, his son, by his name. He remembers Erika’s admonition that the boy needs eggs and greens and warm covers at night.

The boy says he wants Erika and wants to know where she is. Mr. Jimmon says that Erika has gone away for a while, that she’s looking for something and they will have to make do without her. He tells the boy to eat his fish and that tomorrow they’ll go look for gulls’ eggs and maybe berries.

As he’s looking at his own fish, with distaste, Mr. Jimmon’s tooth begins to ache badly.

Thoughts and Analysis:

Trigger Warning: Discussions of rape, incest and abuse to follow.

The opinions expressed below are informed, partly, by the following sources:

I’ve read some reviews of Lot’s Daughter that interpret the ending as Erika abandoning her father and son in the same way Mr. Jimmon abandoned Molly and the boys at the end of Lot. With, in some cases, the implication that she was tired of taking care of them. While I don’t agree with this interpretation, I can see how people arrive at it. I’ll come back to this in a moment, I want to address something else first.

I’ve also seen some descriptions of the story that seem to imply that Erika consented to having sex with her father. I disagree strongly, if not violently, with this interpretation, due to the fact that Erika was never in any position to willingly consent to sex.  Firstly, because an underage teenager can’t give informed consent to have sex with an adult[16]. I don’t care how old or mature the teenager in question seems. Secondly, because of the power imbalance inherent in Mr. Jimmon being her father.

Add to this the fact that Erika and Mr. Jimmon were alone and Erika was entirely dependent on Mr. Jimmon for food, shelter and protection (again, she was fourteen when he kidnapped her) and the power imbalance between them only increases. Mr. Jimmon was older, was armed (shotgun, rifle, revolver and two bows, remember?) and was likely the only one of them who could drive. It doesn’t seem likely that Erika knew how to drive at fourteen and I doubt Mr. Jimmon bothered to teach her since he wouldn’t want to attract attention or waste the gas in the tank.

There’s the argument that Erika couldn’t have been too badly treated since she didn’t fight back against Mr. Jimmon or try to leave prior to the end of the story. I’d counter that with the following points:

  1. Not fighting back does not constitute consent. People don’t fight back against rapists for a variety of reasons: they’re afraid of being hurt or killed, they’ve been beaten into submission, they’re unconscious, or they’re giving in because it’s easier than listening to their rapist whine.
  2. Where could Erika have gone? As near as I can tell from the context of both stories, Mr. Jimmon picked their destination and there’s no sign that anyone else in the family ever saw the place. If that’s the case, then Erika wouldn’t necessarily have been able to orient herself enough to be able to escape. Add to that, war’s just broken out and she’s scared. Mr. Jimmon is her father and, I’m sure, has spent the better part of the drive convincing her with his oh-so-impeccable logic that he’d done the right thing by leaving Molly and the boys behind.
  3. We only see things from Mr. Jimmon’s point of view, except for some brief moments where a slightly omniscient narrator peeps in to give us hints that Mr. Jimmon is an unreliable narrator. It’s more subtle in Lot, where Mr. Jimmon comes across for most of the story as heroic savior of his family that he thinks he is. In Lot’s Daughter, it becomes harder for Mr. Jimmon to lie to himself, so the reader gets to see more clearly how untrustworthy he is as both a narrator and as a person, albeit a fictional one.

Going back to the idea that Erika got sick of Mr. Jimmon and Eric and therefore abandoned them out of some selfish motivation, I don’t see it. I think the reason she leaves at the end of the story is because, for the first time in years, there’s a sign of hope. Those tire tracks have given her the proof she needs that there are other survivors out there, that society hasn’t completely collapsed and she’s going out to find them. Of course, she took the revolver and the cartridges with her because she’s not stupid. Mr. Jimmon isn’t wrong in thinking that there are people out there who’ll try to harm them – he’s only wrong in assuming that everybody is out to get them. Since we don’t see the occupants of the jeep, it’s entirely possible that they were women. Or a mixed gender group. Or guys who aren’t marauding rapists.

The other reason I dislike this interpretation is that it makes Mr. Jimmon the victim of this story and I don’t think that was the point Ward Moore was trying to get across. I think his intention with these two stories was to examine an idea that he brought up early on in Lot: the idea that a crisis brings out a person’s underlying qualities – and that the Mr. Jimmons of the world might not like what gets brought to the surface.

Note: We’ll be coming back to Mr. Jimmon’s character and comparing him to some of the other survivalist heroes we’ll be meeting in other articles.

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[1] Terminology Note:Cattle” is a non-gender specific word that refers to bovines in a group. It can be a single sex group of all bulls (males) or cows (females) or a mix of both. “Cow” is a single female bovine; “Bull” is a single male bovine”

[2] Case in point, he’s completely missed the mark if he thinks that domesticated animals couldn’t adapt to no longer being cared for by humans.  Domesticated animals can and will go feral. In fact, feral chickens can be found in several places around the world, including a colony that lives under the Vineland Avenue off-ramp of the Hollywood Freeway (aka US Route 101).  Herds of feral pigs, horses, cattle and goats are common in certain areas of the United States.

[3] Of course, the smart man also might have also found a way to make a water-tight roof before everything that could be ruined by water was rained on. Not to mention that herding cattle doesn’t require a lot of sophisticated gadgets – though they can make the work more convenient.  Also, if there were cattle in this area, then there were people who raised cattle in the area – and who would know how to round up stray animals.  Chances are good that someone on a nearby farm is missing the cow that Jimmon shot.

[4] What we just call ‘razor blades’ these days.

[5] In traditional soap making, wood ashes were soaked in water to produce lye, a powerfully caustic substance that can cause severe burns on skin or blindness if it gets in your eyes.

[6] Which is specifically the rendered fat from beef or mutton. You can, I have found thanks to Google, make soap out of a wide variety of plant and animal fats, including fat from deer and ducks.

[7] It’s probably a very good thing that they didn’t figure out how to make soap because aluminum reacts with lye (sodium hydroxide) to create a flammable gas. Granted, they have a cast aluminum kettle rather than a pot, but Jimmon would likely have gotten a set.

[8] The current COVID-19 pandemic is likely to end up being the source for dozens, if not hundreds, of papers about how groups respond to imminent threats.

[9] Homo gernsbacchae is a reference to Hugo Gernsback, (August 16, 1884-August 19, 1967), publisher of the first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories and the namesake of the Hugo Award, one of the top literary awards in science fiction.

[10] 20,000 dollars in 1953 would be roughly equivalent to $193,000 in April 2020 money.

[11] Five dollars times twelve gallons equals 60 dollars (1953). Which would be about $580 as of April 2020. Just as a frame of reference, my monthly rent as of April 2020 is about $465 dollars. Jimmons dropped my monthly rent plus, oh, my car/renters insurance payment for a month and a meal at a fast food place without blinking. Hell, without even haggling very hard. That’s the actions of someone who is used to having money around.

[12] He’s not wrong for this; campfires can potentially melt aluminum cookware, especially if its placed directly on the coals or directly in the flames.

[13] While the idea that the abalone could clamp down and pin a diver’s hand to the stone might be an urban legend, fishing for abalone by diving is potentially very dangerous. Abalone are often found near beds of kelp, which can entangle divers. After kelp, the biggest risk comes from exhaustion brought on by the cold and churning water. Some divers have suffered heart attacks. Shark attacks are also a possibility, though fear of an attack is greater than the likelihood of an actual attack. According to one abalone diver with over 50 years of experience, those most likely to die are divers who are inexperienced, ill-equipped and ill-informed about the ocean.

[14] Spring Street might refer to part of Los Angeles’s downtown which was known, once upon a time, as the “Wall Street of the West” – further adding to my theory that Jimmon was quite well off.

[15] Canned goods with ridiculously long shelf-lives are a common trope in Nuke Opera stories; Mr. Jimmon’s assumption that there would still be good canned food after six years isn’t entirely outside the realm of possibility but it’s getting close.

[16] I’m deliberately leaving genders out of this because, honestly, the genders don’t matter. An adult who has sex with a teenager is committing rape, regardless of what box they tick on demographic forms.

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Nuke Opera 2020: Panic in Year Zero (1962)

Because of this, that and the other thing, I’m still working on the review of Lot’s Daughter. As a placeholder, here’s a quickie about a movie allegedly based on Lot, and possibly also on Lot’s Daughter.

Panic in Year Zero is a 1962 movie about the Baldwin family, a typical middle-class Los Angeles family who decided to go on a camping trip at exactly the right time. As they’re driving toward their secluded camping spot, they see bright flashes in the distance. Between those and sporadic reports on the radio, they realize that an atomic war has begun.

Baldwin family are:

  • Father Harry Baldwin, played by Ray Milland, who also directed the film
  • Mother Ann Baldwin, played by Jean Hagen
  • Son Rick Baldwin, played by teen heartthrob Frankie Avalon
  • Daughter Karen Baldwin, played by Mary Mitchell

The movie focuses on what happens when society breaks down after a nuclear war and how this affects the members of the Baldwin family. The movie has a much happier ending than either Lot or Lot’s Daughter and the story is full of a kind of earnestness that things will work out that is missing from either of Moore’s stories.

Personally, I’m not entirely convinced the movie was based on either story — the idea of a family fighting to survive after a nuclear war isn’t exactly unique to War Moore, for one thing.  But all things are possible. My main objection is that beyond ‘middle-class family struggles after nuclear attack’ there isn’t much in common between the stories. The Baldwin family stay together for one thing, nobody ends up abandoned at the end and all the threats the family faces are external, rather than internal (beyond the wife/mother of the family objecting to some of her husband’s ideas — but she does eventually come around).

The movie is a better than average movie of its type, particularly considering when it was made.  I’m including links to the trailer and some clips — Trigger warning: includes scenes of implied rape.

I’ll come back to Panic in Year Zero at some point, possibly after the Lot’s Daughter’s  is finished. But for now, I need to get to work.

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Nuke Opera 2020: Lot by Ward Moore (1953):

Nuke Opera 2020: Lot by Ward Moore (1953):

Where To Find It: Ward Moore’s short story, Lot, was originally published in the May 1953 edition of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It was collected in the anthology The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction, Third Series, published in 1954 by Doubleday.  The story has been anthologized many, many times over the last sixty-plus years, so it’s potentially pretty easy to find. If you’re wanting to read Lot and its sequel, Lot’s Daughter, the two stories are available as an ebook released in 2017 by Open Road Integrated Media – which is the edition I’m using for this review. (Note: I get a grand total of bugger-all if you go and buy a copy)

Spoiler Warning: the plot of Lot will be discussed in detail, including the ending.

Content Warnings:  companion animal abandonment, brief reference to death in pregnancy; generalized toxic masculinity (1950s edition) throughout the story, though the author doesn’t portray it as a good thing; mention of rape but no depictions/portrayals of it.

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Ward Moore’s Lot is one of the first post-apocalyptic stories I can remember reading. As mentioned above, it was originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, but it’s one of those SF stories that skirts the line with mainstream fiction. Nothing overtly futuristic or fantastic happens, it appears to be set either in the year of publication (1953) or within two to five years of that date. What makes it science fiction is the speculative nature of “What might happen if Los Angeles and Pittsburgh got nuked?”

Suffice to say, when I read the story in/around 1983, I didn’t have to suspend my disbelief very far to accept this premise. Even now, having reread the story in 2019 for the purposes of taking notes for this essay (which is being written in April 2020), the premise isn’t a hard one to accept.

In the beginning, we don’t know exactly what’s happened except that Mr. Jimmon is in a very good mood.

Mr. Jimmon even appeared elated, like a man about to set out on a vacation.

While there’s no direct reference to the bombings in the first few paragraphs of the story, it’s easy to pick up from context that the Jimmons aren’t about to set out on a vacation. The electricity and the phone are out; the television and stove are dead and the food that isn’t canned goods will begin to rot and stink soon.  Jimmon – who is our sole POV character throughout this story and the sequel – thinks about the cases of canned goods in the basement that won’t fit in the family station wagon and are going to be left behind, along with the family’s second car that’s blocked up in the garage, the air having been let out of its tires and its battery hidden from the looters who will, of course, be hitting the houses.

Jimmon thinks about his executive mind and training which he credits for the preparations the family has made against this moment. As he puts it, he had weighed property against life and decided on life. No other decision was possible.

The rest of the Jimmons don’t seem to share Jimmon’s enthusiasm. Wife, Molly, is reluctant to leave the house and frets about whether they should try to call their friends Dan and Pearl. Mr. Jimmon reminds her that the phones are out and their eldest son Jir and middle child and only daughter Erika side with their dad.

Youngest son Wendell is already out in the station wagon, attempting to hide the family dog Waggie. Jimmon thinks to himself that he should have taken Waggie to the Humane Society and had him put down. Since he didn’t and because there’s no room to bring Waggie along in the loaded-to-capacity station wagon, Jimmon figures Waggie will have to take his chances. He decides there are enough rabbits in the hills around Malibu for the dog to survive.

Near the beginning of the story, Jimmon thinks about the effect of a crisis on people and concludes: “Crisis changed people. Brings out underlying qualities.” Which in his case certainly is true though it’ll become clearer as we go on that Jimmon’s self-assessment of his own underlying qualities and those of his wife and children aren’t quite what he thinks they are.

As I’ve mentioned, Jimmon is our sole POV character throughout the story, which takes place almost entirely in the family’s station wagon as they flee from Malibu to the location Jimmon selected for their post-nuclear war retreat. This means we’re only privy to Jimmon’s perspective on the events going on around him and that the majority of the story’s action consists of Jimmon thinking about what’s going on around him, with the occasional interjections from the rest of the family.

When I was thirteen, I took Jimmon’s perspective at face value, because well, I was a kid and hadn’t yet learned about unreliable narrators yet. Because of this, I sympathized with him and, for some reason, didn’t cop to the fact that this is a guy who is excited about the news that at least two cities have been nuked and is planning on leaving his dog to die.  Considering the first theological debate I ever got into was over whether or not dogs could go to Heaven[1] – my take being “Well, if they can’t, then I’m not going either!” – I’m kind of surprised I was willing to accept this so readily.

Now, having reread the story a couple of times as an adult, my opinion’s shifted. If the first line doesn’t tell you there’s something off about Jimmon, his cavalier “Oh well! Can’t be helped!” attitude about abandoning his dog should be a huge red flag that he’s untrustworthy[2].

There are other, subtler hints about the true nature of Jimmon’s character as the story opens. For one thing, he’s a bit of a control freak.  He’s decided that the family will pile into the station wagon, which means he’s got them all in one place and under his thumb. And never once does he consider that he’s potentially hurting his family’s chances at survival by not only leaving a supply of food behind but also by abandoning the second car. Yes, caravanning two vehicles isn’t exactly easy, particularly back in the pre-cell phone era, but it could be done. Especially since the family could be split with one adult driver and one teenage navigator per car with Wendel and Waggie serving as passengers.

Jimmon also doesn’t much care for their friends Pearl and Dan, partly because Molly and Dan were a couple back in their younger years, back when Dan was an impractical dreamer without a penny to his name. These days, Dan is a professor and is recognized as a mathematical genius, and is married to the well-off Pearl.

In order to help get Molly moving, Jimmon more or less lies to her and says that Pearl and Dan were far enough from where it happened that they’re unquestionably fine.  Molly is persuaded and agrees to leave the house and head for the station wagon. Jir slouches out of the house while Erika tucks her hair into a jockey’s cap (she’s also wearing jodhpurs) before heading out. Molly follows after them, pausing long enough to smile at herself in the mirror before leaving.

Jimmon double checks his pockets, making sure the money he has with him is all there, then leaves the house without looking back – though he does rattle the knob to make sure the door’s locked as he goes, since it’s an old habit.

He checks the car over, making sure it’s not overloaded. The sky, he notes, is overcast but it’s not a normal morning high fog. Looking to the southeast, he thinks that it had been too far away for him to be able to see any sign of it now.

Jimmon gets in the car, in the driver’s seat, naturally. Erika and Molly are sitting next to him in front[3], while the boys are in the back seat, surrounded by neatly packed stuff. Jimmon starts the car, then casually tells Jir to put Waggie the dog out of the car. Wendell protests that Waggie isn’t in the car – but he says it too fast for the lie to be convincing. Molly tries to argue but her protests are weak and Jimmon patiently explains that they’re wasting valuable time discussing this and they have no food for the dog. Initially, Jir claims that he can’t find the dog as Wendell shouts that the dog isn’t there.

“If I have to stop the motor and get him myself, we’ll be wasting still more time and gas,” Mr. Jimmon was still detached, judicial. “This isn’t a matter of kindness to animals. It’s life and death.”

Erika agrees with her father, telling Wendell to put the dog out since it’s Waggie or them. Wendell tries to lie again but Jir finds the dog and puts him out of the car, through the window. As Wendell attacks Jir, Jimmon pulls away from the house – though he takes the time to make sure Waggie isn’t under the tires as he goes.

Waggie, it turns out, is a spaniel –we’re not told exactly which breed of spaniel he is, but since spaniels were bred for flushing out game, maybe Waggie stands a chance of catching enough rabbits to keep body and soul together.

Molly tries to calm Wendell down, asking Jir not to hurt his little brother. While we know that Jir is sixteen and Erika is fourteen, we’re never told exactly how old Wendell is. Based on the way he acts, I’m guessing he’s perhaps ten at the oldest, but likely closer to about eight. He’s definitely a lot younger than the other two.

Jimmon tries the radio but only gets static. Erika offers to try and get a station, getting one that’s playing music. Jimmon says that it’s probably a Mexican station and asks her to try and tune in a Ventura station.

They pass a neighbor and Molly annoys Jimmon by asking if the car belongs to the Warbinns.  Jimmon’s annoyed by this because a) the Warbinns are the only family on Rambla Catalina who own a blue Mercury and b) Warbin gave Jimmon a ride into the city for work five times a week for two months so elementary logic suggests, Molly, that yes that’s the Warbinns.

A radio broadcast from Santa Barbara (Jir recognizes the station) says that people are being advised not to impede the military’s progress, that adequate medical staff are standing by at all local hospitals and that Civil Defense units are taking all steps.

Jimmon prepares to follow the Warbinns down to Highway 101[4], but ends up passing them.  Warbinn and his wife, Sally, don’t appear to be as well prepared as Jimmon is, having hastily packed only a few things into their car.  No foresight, thinks Mr. Jimmon.

The Warbinns try to talk to Jimmon, but he waves and just keeps on going.

The radio tells them that casualties are much smaller than originally reported, which makes Jimmon wonder aloud how they know this. It also says that people should retain every drop of water that they can, but that emergency power will be in operation shortly. There is no cause for undue alarm, the report says.

The Warbinns end up following the Jimmons out of the neighborhood, which leads Jimmon to conclude that they didn’t have anything of consequence to say to him.

At the junction leading onto US 101, there’s a small five-car traffic jam and Jimmon sees that the 101 is solid with traffic that isn’t moving. We get a bit about the evacuation here:

  • On the southbound side of the divided highway, there’s a stream of vehicles illegally heading north.
  • Most of the vehicles, Jimmon is sure, are heading eastward. He figures that even more cars are blocking the roads to Pasadena, Alhambra, Garvey and Norwalk.
  • Jimmon also assumes that the northbound refugees are heading up on the 99 or “regular 101” while Jimmon is on the 101 Alternate – an exit he feels is the most feasible.


As Jimmon is waiting to get onto the 101, Warbinn pulls up alongside and opines that hurry didn’t do any good. To which Jimmon doesn’t point out that by having passed Warbinn, he’s got a better chance to seize the opening on the highway when it comes.

Warbinn mentions that Jimmon left his bumper-jack at Warbinn’s place, which causes Jimmon to feel a brief moment of hate for his fellow suburbanite before he remembers that the jack in question was from the Buick and that the one for the station wagon is safely packed.  Of course, before he remembers this, he briefly considers strangling Warbinn.

The radio says that the target that was bombed was the Signal Hill area and that there was minor damage to Long Beach, Wilmington and San Pedro with non-military air traffic being warned away from Mines Field (present-day Los Angeles International Airport).

There’s the sound of a fender-bender and Jimmon calculates that crashes behind him will eventually open a gap in the traffic that’ll allow him to get onto the highway.

It is, of course, at this point that Wendell announces that he has to go to the toilet.  Jimmon almost says “didn’t I tell you to go before we left” – in fact, he gets most of it out before he cuts himself off and tells Wendell to get out of the car and go. He also tells Jir to be ready to yank Wendell back in if traffic starts moving.

Wendell protests and Jimmon, resisting the urge to snap, says, “This is a crisis, Wendell. No time for niceties.” These are words that will come back to bite him before long.

There’s a report on the radio about an eyewitness who claims that it was brought in by helicopter.  Jir says that getting out by air is the only thing Jimmon didn’t think of and Molly scolds Jir, saying that’s no way to talk to his father. Which, of course, causes Jir to repeat the ’no time for niceties’ line.

Erika snipes at Jir, calling him a “Big, tough, brutal man” and Jir tells her to go drown. Jimmon adds to the maturity level saying that he did consider either a plane or a helicopter and decided against both.

If this is true and not just a case of Jimmon trying to score points on Jir, we’ve learned something very important: the Jimmon family is rich.  Not just ‘oh, hey, we can have two cars and a house in Malibu’ or ‘we can afford to leave a cellar full of canned goods behind for the looters’ but quite probably ‘stinking to high heaven’ rich.  In 1952-1953 money, a private plane could run anywhere from $2,000 to $60,000, depending on whether the plane was new or used, on the make and model and any extra features.

In 2020 money, that’s a range of roughly $19,300 to $580,000 – for just the plane, not for fuel, hangar space, upkeep and all the trimmings.

Meanwhile, Wendell says that he can’t go; Molly advises him to just relax and that no one’s looking as another radio report mentions that fires in Compton, Lynwood, Southgate, Harbor City, Lomita and elsewhere are now under control. Residents are being advised to shelter in place and to stay off the over-crowded highways.

The cars begin moving and Jimmon shouts for Wendell to get back in the car as we get some information on the timeline of the attack: the car’s clock says 11:04 am and we’re told the attack occurred five hours before – so, around 6:04 am. We also learn that, by this point, the Jimmons are less than two miles from home.

Jimmon frets that they could have made better time by walking – or on horseback. Which is probably true, but on the other hand, horses would have required a lot of preparatory work, since every member of the family would need at least one, if not two horses, plus all the extras like saddles, bridles, blankets, feed, etc. Plus, going on horseback would limit how much they could safely bring. Not that Jimmon considers these things.

Another radio broadcast says that all residents of the Los Angeles area are being urged to remain calm. Local radio service will be restored in a matter of minutes and so will power and water. Rumors of fifth column[5] activity is exaggerated and the FBI has all known subversives under surveillance or in custody[6].

Jimmon turns off the radio and sneers internally at a pair of painters “who called themselves man and wife” in a nearby truck loaded with things Jimmon sees as useless, even to looters. The two are passing a quart bottle of beer back and forth, which the man waves genially at Jimmon who nods discouragingly back at him.

It’s a hot day, the thermometer in the car reads near 90. Seeing the temperature makes Jimmon realize that he’s thirsty. Unfortunately, the canteen is in the back of the car and he’s not about to start rooting around for it.  Thinking of the canteen and his lack of forethought in putting one in the front of the car reminds him about the weapons he’s packed.

He tells Molly that there’s an automatic in the glove compartment and that she should use it if anyone tries getting in on her side.  He naturally sees her reluctance to do so as a sign of weakness, rather than a relatively normal reaction. Even in the military, soldiers have to be trained to shoot at the enemy and even after training, many express a reluctance to do so. There’s been nothing to suggest that Molly Jimmon has had any kind of training in how to fire a gun, let alone how to shoot to kill.

Jir and Wendell, on the other hand, are both eager to use the guns. Jir says that he can reach the rifle and Wendell volunteers to use the shotgun, since that’d be better at close range. Erika sneers at her brothers’ bloodthirstiness while Jimmon himself stays silent, since the shotgun and rifle are both unloaded. He considers this to be another example of his foresight and planning skills.

Which, to be fair, it is. Keeping loaded guns in the back of a packed car could easily lead to someone, probably one of the boys, getting shot by accident. So, a few points to Jimmon for practicing basic firearm safety.

Jimmon gets fully on to the 101 and is briefly elated about this but the feeling fades since his progress isn’t as fast as he’d like it to be. He becomes worried about getting more gas.

Erika asks to try the radio again as Jimmon maneuvers his way onto the highway. She gets a snipped of a news broadcast and Jir asks if they can’t try and get something more interesting. Wendell wishes they had a TV in the backseat of their car, like a friend of his has[7].  The kids squabble, with Jir telling Wendell to let the air out of his head. Molly yells at Jir for this and Erika tells her mother to ignore Jir, since he’s just looking for a response. Which leads to the following exchange:

“Listen, brat, if you weren’t a girl I’d spank you.”

“You mean if I wasn’t your sister. You’d probably enjoy such childish sex-play with any other girl.”

Molly’s reaction to this is a fairly understandable “Erika!” – similar to the “Jir!” she said when Jir told Wendell to let the air out of his head. Jimmon stays silent, wondering where “they” (i.e. kids) learn about such things. He blames it on progressive schools, which leads to the aborted thought, Do you suppose….

He manages to get onto the highway and glories in the fact that they are on their way. Jir snarks that if he was driving, they’d be halfway to Oxnard by now. Molly tells Jir that’s no way to talk to his father and Jimmon thinks that if Molly and her ineffective admonitions weren’t around, Jir might do something but he doesn’t finish the thought so we’re not sure what Jimmon thinks his son might do.

Instead, he goes off on a mental tangent, dismissing the idea that Jir is going through a “difficult” period, especially since Jir has everything he could want. Instead, he thinks Jir is the type who, in different circumstances, would have drifted into well, maybe not juvenile delinquency exactly but.

The radio informs them that the attack on Los Angeles was much less severe than the one on Pittsburgh. In other good news, all fires are now under control and the injured are receiving medical care.

Molly doubts the radio’s reports are accurate:

“I don’t think they’re telling the truth,” stated Mrs. Jimmon.

He snorted. He didn’t think so either, but by what process had she arrived at that conclusion?


Of course, actually asking his wife why she thinks this doesn’t occur to Mr. Jimmon – in fact, most of the dialogue in this story comes from members of the family talking to each other or to Jimmon. He doesn’t really engage with them; instead, when he initiates conversation, it’s usually because he’s talking to them about something he’s doing – getting ready to leave, getting onto the highway, etc.

Wendell asks Erika to turn on the ball game and we find out that it’s 11:16 – they’ve been travelling for about 12 minutes now and are finally rolling northwards.

Molly wonders what’ll happen if or when the lights and water come back on, which causes Jir to sneer at her for worrying about next month’s bills.  Jimmon, rather than agreeing with Jir’s assessment, thinks that Jir never worries about bills because he’s not the one who pays them.  He also sneers at Molly’s talent for irrelevance.

Traffic briefly gathers speed and Jimmon takes advantage of it to get into the left-hand lane near the concrete island dividing the north and southbound lanes. Wendell cheers his dad on but Jimmon can’t even take a complement, feeling exasperation with his youngest son.  He thinks that Wendell and Jir are both more like Molly than they are like him.  Erika, on the other hand, is a true Jimmon, made in Jimmon’s own image.

Molly says that it would have been courteous to get in touch with Pearl and Dan, or even to at least have tried. She also muses about the Warbinns, but her thought is cut off as Jimmon starts heading northward.  It’s as he’s driving on the relatively unclogged road, that he’s been holding the wheel tightly and his arms, neck and shoulder are tense. He relaxes partly as he adjusts to the change in traffic but he still feels resentment against Molly, Jir and Wendell, considering the three of them to be parasites who are helpless and dependent on him for everything.

Erika keeps trying the radio, but while news keeps being promised, what is actually forthcoming is vague and nervous, seemingly trying to minimize the problems and soothe the audience by alluding to the efforts of civil defense and the military to cope with the situation. Jimmon thinks that things must be pretty bad.

Wendell, of course, is now hungry. Molly tells Jir where to find the sandwiches she’s packed while Jimmon has grim thoughts about how they’re all going to have to adjust to the absence of civilized niceties like bread and mayonnaise and lunch meat – because apparently in addition to destroying Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, the enemy’s attack also erased every last scrap of bread, mayo and lunch meat in the world. Well, except for the sandwiches in the car.

No, no, that’s not actually what happened. Jimmon is musing about how they’re going to have to live off the land – hunting rabbits and squirrels, gathering abalone and fishing. If Wendell gets hungry, he’s going to have to get his own food. Become hard and tough, not some mayonnaise loving wimp!

Jimmon’s not wrong that they’re going to have to adjust to living in a world where getting food isn’t going to be as simple as it used to be, particularly processed foods like mayonnaise and lunch meat. On the other hand? Bread isn’t necessarily that hard to make. I know a recipe that requires only three ingredients (all of which would’ve been available to Jimmon): self-rising flour, sugar, and beer[8].

We’ll be coming back to Jimmon and food in a bit, suffice to say for the moment that Mr. Jimmon has some very set ideas about how the post-apocalypse is supposed to be and he is loathed to deviate from that script.

Long after two in the afternoon, the Jimmons, having passed through Oxnard, have made their way to Ventura – which according to Google Maps is about 47.4 miles from Malibu. It’s taken the Jimmons over three hours, which tells us that the roads are indeed packed.  This sounds like an excessive amount of time, especially since Google Maps says it should take 54 minutes.  However according to a friend of mine who lives in California, a three hour drive between Malibu and Ventura is fairly consistent with an especially heavy rush hour with maybe a wreck adding to the delay.

By this point, however, Wendell is getting fidgety and tired of being cooped up in the car – which is pretty understandable considering that he and Jir are wedged in along with the family’s supplies. Molly suggests Wendell try to lie down, but there’s no room for him to do so. Jir teases his brother and Molly tells him to leave Wendell alone, saying that he’s only a little boy.

They continue driving, reaching Santa Barbara at four in the afternoon,[9] by which time the family is approaching open rebellion. Wendell is even more stiff and bored, Jir is vaguely snarking about how this was supposed to be where they were going to beat the bottleneck and Molly wants Jimmon to stop at the first clean-looking gas station.  Even Erika agrees that they have to stop.

Mr. Jimmon was appalled. With every second priceless and hordes of panic-stricken refugees pressing behind, they would rob him of all the precious gains he’d made by skill, daring, judgment.

Couple things to unpack here. First, we’ve really seen no textual evidence for any ‘panic-stricken refugees.’  Yes, the roads are packed with people trying to flee north, but nobody has tried to attack the overloaded station wagon. Molly hasn’t had to shoot anyone. Things are calm enough that Wendell’s had the time to get bored – something I don’t think he’d be if things were as tense as Jimmon thinks they are. I mean, I can recall times as a kid when my family was trying to leave the parking lot after a school function or the county fair when I was very aware of how tense the adults were about the chaotic traffic.

Also, I think Jimmon himself would have noticed any potentially dangerous scenarios as he’s been driving – a wreck along the side of the road, other drivers being more than the usual amount of aggressive, things like that. Instead he’s been able to drive along, thinking unkind thoughts about his family without any real interruption from the outside.

Jimmon tells the others that if they stop now, they might not be able to get out of Santa Barbara – to which Molly’s reaction is: “Well, would that be so bad?”

Her reasoning is that they could find one of the “awfully nice hotels” in the area and be more comfortable than they would if they go with Jimmon’s idea of camping in the woods, hunting and fishing. Jimmon manages to control his temper before asking her how long she thinks they’d be staying in one of these awfully nice hotels. To which Molly replies, “Why, until we could go home.”

Jimmon can’t come up with a response – not one he can say out loud. He starts to, saying “My dear Molly…” but can’t decide how he should finish the response. Should he tell her that they’re never going back to the house in Malibu or should he ask her if she understands what’s happening. His thoughts spin out from this, into his vision of what’s going on:

The futility of trying to convey the clear picture in his mind. Or any picture. If she could not of herself see the endless mob pouring, pouring out of Los Angeles, searching frenziedly for escape and refuge, eating up the substance of the surrounding country in ever-widening circles, crowding, jam-packing, overflowing every hotel, boardinghouse, lodging or private home into which they could edge, agonizedly bidding up the price of everything until the chaos they brought with them was indistinguishable from the chaos they were fleeing—if she could not see all this instantly and automatically, she could not be brought to see it at all. Any more than the other aimless, planless, improvident fugitives could see it.

Again, we haven’t seen any of the panic that Mr. Jimmon believes is going on around him. He’s likely not wrong that a certain level of panic is happening – but if so, it doesn’t seem to be occurring near the Jimmons. The only other refugees we’ve seen from the Malibu area are the Warbinns and the common-law painters and neither of them seem particularly fussed by the situation. One would think Jimmon would have made note of any sign of fear or weakness in them and been insufferably smug about how much better he’s doing by comparison.

So, Jimmon doesn’t respond. Molly asks him if he really has no intention of stopping and he doesn’t answer her then either; instead, he stays silent, musing about whether or not he could call her stupid or illogical. Instead, he decides that she’s simply exasperating and keeps driving.

They’re halfway to Gaviota[10] or Goleta[11] (Jimmon can’t tell them apart), Jimmon’s planning and forethought begins to pay off. Traffic begins to lighten up as other cars stop for gas or new tires or to go pee. Taking the “old highway” out of Santa Barbara, Jimmon is able to hit 50 mph on some stretches and even manages to get up to 65 for about a half-mile.

Of course, the earlier rebellion is beginning to worsen[12] again. Molly says that Jimmon is being selfish and inconsiderate; Erika asks if stopping for ten minutes would really ruin everything; Jir calls Jimmon a monomaniac and compares him to Hitler while Wendell calls him a dirty dog-killer.  Jimmon ignores everyone but for Erika, who he feels is the only one who addressed him reasonably, but he gives up trying to speak to her when he can’t figure out a way to properly formulate his response.

When the old road rejoins the new one, Jimmon is forced to slow from 65 mph back down to a paltry 38 mph. Moore describes the station wagon rejoining traffic with a really nice metaphor: “again the station wagon was fitted into the traffic like parquetry.”

Jimmon praises/soothes himself by thinking of how his strategy managed to get them out of the 25 mph stop/start traffic they’d been in. As they’re driving, Molly pops off with, “It’s fantastic […] I can almost believe Jir’s right and you’ve lost your mind.”

Jimmon is actually pleased by this – well, ok, it makes him smile. This is the first time Molly’s ever shown ‘disloyalty’ openly in front of the children. She’s also never sided with them in front of them before either. Rather than assuming that this is the pressure of the situation getting to her (or that maybe she might actually think he’s wrong), he decides it’s because of the pressure on her bladder.

Jimmon responds by being pithy: “No doubt those left behind can console their last moments with pride at their sanity.”  He’s proud of himself for not flubbing his delivery.

Molly responds to this with some pith of her own: “Oh, the end can always justify the means for those who want it that way.” Oddly enough, when Jir pipes up with a snarky comment of his own, it’s Molly who shuts him down in a move that Jimmon sees as a fundamental hypocrisy as she returns to old, comfortable habits of their seventeen-year marriage. Yes, Molly stood up for him but she’s too hidebound to break away from the traditional belief of “Honor your father and mother” to side with Jir.

Honestly, it’s hard to say what kind of reaction Jimmon really wanted here – did he want Molly to openly side against him or what?

The family makes it to a divided four-lane highway and Jimmon is able to finally put the pedal to the metal. Additionally, he gets over into the empty southbound lanes, where there is no traffic and, more importantly, no traffic cops to stop him. The narration gives the impression that Jimmon is the only person doing this – which adds to the case that the people around Jimmon aren’t panicking.

Molly, of course, objects to Jimmon doing this on the grounds that it’s dangerous. Instead of framing it in the form of a question, the way she usually does when she objects to things, she says it straight out. Jir replies that this is “No time for niceties.”

This makes Jimmon try to remember what Jir was like as a baby, in the hopes of trying to find some kind of feeling for the boy – but unfortunately, he can’t bring any images of Jir’s babyhood to mind. However, he can remember Molly’s pregnancy with Jir. He recalls it as having been interminable, disgusting and trembling. He’d even had some fear that Molly might die as a result – though, he’s surprised by that memory now.

As he thinks about Jir, he realizes that he can’t remember anything about him before Jir was six years old, at which time he’d taken Erika (who’d have been about four) for a walk and lost her for four hours. He can’t recall if Molly permitted Jir to take his little sister for a walk or not.

His musings are interrupted by the sound of sirens as a convoy of emergency vehicles – mostly fire trucks and ambulances, but also some military equipment – approaches. The convoy is being led by a pair of motorcycle cops.  Jimmon tries to get over, but the wagon ends up jutting out into the road. One of the motorcycle cops stops before he hits the wagon and comes over to Jimmon. There’s the implication that Jimmon at least considered simply running the cop down and continuing on, but he didn’t.

Wendell gloats that Jimmon’s going to get it now and Jimmon things how a less enlightened parent would have clouted Wendell across the mouth, but he only turns off the car.

The cop asks for Jimmon’s license and writes him a ticket before telling Jimmon to turn the car around and go the right way. Jimmon nods and the cop leaves.  Once the cop is out of sight, Jimmon just keeps driving the wrong way in the southbound lane, telling Erika to throw away the ticket.  He argues with Molly and Jir, wondering aloud how he managed to be blessed with such a stupid family.

Jir mutters that maybe there’s something in heredity after all – and Jimmon reflects that if the boy had said it out loud, it would have just been normal bantering. The fact that Jir muttered it instead makes it not just defiance but an ultimate defiance. Jimmon muses that back in “prehistory” the young males probably did something similar before they’d try to overthrow the rule of the Old Man who led the tribe.

Having decided that Jir is a proper Neanderthal, Jimmon feels refreshed by this. He continues explaining to the others that the days of tickets and cops and judges and juries are over. As he puts it:

There is no law now but the law of survival.

Molly asks if Jimmon isn’t being dramatic and Erika says she could hear him underlining words but Jimmon doesn’t detect any malice in her words.  Wendel, on the other hand, asks if this means that they can do anything they want, like shoot people and steal cars and things. Molly asks Jimmon if he can see what’s going on with their youngest and, rather than answering her, Jimmon lapses back into his own thoughts.

Jimmon proceeds to wonder what Wendell and all the other kids like him (since of course Molly’s genes and domestic influence can’t be unique) will be like after six months of anarchy. He decides that they’ll be survivors and not much more. He assumes they’ll end up as naked, primitive, ferocious and superstitious savages. Oh, sure Wendell can read – but not as good as Jimmon could at his age – but how long will he retain his progressive schooling?

He has worse thoughts about Jir, deciding that while Wendell will easily adjust to the new conditions, Jir will go wild in a different way. After all, he’s older. His values are already set and are those of television, high-school dating, and law and order. He won’t last long. Instead:

Released from civilization, his brief future would be one of guilty rape and pillage until he fell victim to another youth or gang bent the same way.

Of course, Jimmon takes no responsibility for preventing either of his sons from falling into barbarism. Not a single thought is spared for helping Wendell retain his schooling or from keeping Jir from becoming a rapist. It’s as if Jimmon has simply abdicated any and all responsibility to care for his sons. As for his wife, well, Jimmon’s decided that Molly will just disintegrate and perish.  He doesn’t even bother with a pseudo-scientific, pop psychology reason for it.  Hell, he doesn’t even give her the dubious dignity of “she’ll die of a broken heart.” Molly’s just going to die and you get the feeling Jimmon is rather looking forward to it. Like, he’s not going to do anything to actively murder his wife now that the apocalypse has come but he’s not going to do anything to stop her from fading away.

And then there’s his thoughts about Erika. Jimmon resolves that he’s going to preserve the civilization in Erika. He’s going to teach her everything he knows, possibly even including the insurance business (his pre-apocalypse job).

Jimmon wishes he was some kind of scientist, but not one like Dan Davisson who is just some kind of abstract speculator wo helps prepare the way for new kinds of destruction (which makes me wonder if Dan had something to do with the Manhattan Project back in the day). Instead, Jimmon wishes he was something like a Franklin or a Jefferson or a Watt – full of learning in a multitude of areas.

Jimmon realizes he’ll have to protect Erika from other refugees who’ll also be roaming the hills south of Monterrey, where Jimmon is taking his family. But, he figures he can preserve the rifle and its ammunition for years if he’s careful and then, after that, he’s got two hunting bows with steel-tipped shafts.  He thinks the reason he only brought two is because he knew, subconsciously, that Erika could be trusted with a bow.

He finally answers Wendell, saying that there will be others who will think that because there’s no longer law or law enforcement. Molly interrupts him, saying that he’s being fantastic and arguing hat just because Los Angeles and Pittsburgh were hit,t aht doesn’t meant hat the whole country’s descended itno anarchy and that everyone’s running around frantic.

Which, she’s got a point. Remember, the attack happened about five hours prior to the story starting. We haven’t been told the time, but figure that it’s still been less than twelve hours since Los Angeles was bombed. We haven’t been shown much in the way of chaos – something that Ward Moore would have included if it’d been happening. While Molly and Jimmon both suspect that the radio isn’t telling them everything, they could just as easily be wrong themselves. After all, the cop stopped and ticketed them – not exactly the actions of someone who has bigger things to worry about.

On the other hand, Jimmon raises the equally valid point that there’s no reason to believe that “they” will stop at only two cities. Or that the US government will beg for peace terms while there’s still organized life in the country – basically, why ask for an armistice if America is still able to fight back?

Jir says that we’ll wipe them out first and Wendell agrees, making machine-gun noises. Jimmon, for a change, agrees with his sons – out loud and everything – but says that wiping out the enemy would be the last gasp and it’d be years before communications could be reestablished within the US. Which is why there will be “many others” who’ll feel like they can kill and steal. Because of this, he reiterates that naked force and cunning will be the only way to stay safe – which is why he picked the area he did for their survival spot. It’ll provide enough game and fish but isn’t near the main roads and therefore is unlikely to be chosen by a lot of people.

Molly wishes Jimmon would stop going on about this idea of living off the land, since he’s too old and flabby to be a pioneer and never was the rugged type to begin with, even when he was a younger man.

Ok, in Jimmon’s defense? Molly agreed to these plans at some point prior to the story beginning – something that Jir will be reminding her of fairly soon. How much of her agreement is due to not honestly believing this day would come versus how much is because she’s just now starting to realize that yeah, he really is serious about all this, is hard to say. Chances are good, she’s been going along to get along with Jimmon for a while and has been moving through this situation on auto-pilot until now, it’s becoming clear to her that she’s going to end up living in the woods for the long-term.

In his head, Jimmon agrees with Molly that he’s not the rugged type. Instead, he decides that he was the “sucker type” and blames Molly for him having left a job at a bank that he enjoyed for the quick money available in the insurance industry. This allowed Molly to quit the job she had at the time and stay home with Jir (whom she was pregnant with at the time).

Jimmon thinks, “If you’d got rid of it as I wanted.” – which leads to some interesting speculation. Jimmon mentally accuses Molly of having ‘pled her belly’ but I doubt that this was a case of a shotgun wedding. Considering what he said earlier about his fears that the pregnancy might have killed Molly, how much of her ‘pleading her belly’ was due to her being genuinely afraid of losing the baby if she didn’t get a chance to rest? Or of dying herself?

After his sulk, Jimmon reminds Molly that they’ve been through all of this before, months prior to this event. He tells her that it’s not a question of physique but of life.

Molly calls nonsense on the whole thing. She mentions ‘responsible people who really know Its effects’ which makes me think that she was about to namedrop Dan – but that’s because in my mind, Dan worked for the Manhattan Project and maybe still has doings with the Atomic Energy Commission. She says that maybe it was a good idea to leave Malibu for a few days or even a few weeks and is even willing to concede that it’s a good idea to say away from the larger cities, but still thinks they could have gone to a small town or even  ranch that takes boarders instead of playing Swiss Family Jimmons out in the woods.

Jir comes to his father’s defense, as does Wendell. Jir sides with Jimmon because Molly agreed to all this so why is she acting like a drip now? Wendell wants to shoot rabbits and bears – because to him, this is all just a great adventure.

Erika doesn’t say anything but Jimmon assumes he has her sympathy even while he dismisses the boys’ vocal support to be specious as he debates whether or not to go over his reasoning for why Molly is wrong, again.  He does, but as usual, only within the confines of the echo chamber that is his own mind.

He grants that Molly’s ideas might work – maybe in the Dakotas or in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee/North Carolina — but not anywhere within refugee range of the Pacific Coast.  Besides, there’s no way for them to get enough gasoline to be able to get to any of the reasonably safe areas, which is why they’d settled on the region below Monterrey on California State Highway 1, as the only logical goal.  This is something he’s explained to Molly several times.

Looking aside the fact that Jimmon’s explaining was probably of the “I’m going to repeat myself over and over again, dismissing any argument you make as illogical until I wear you down” variety, he’s got a point.  While it was possible to drive cross-country prior to the Interstate Highway System, the roads were less reliable. Travel was slower, which was great for sightseeing but not so good if you’re trying to get to safety fast[13].

But even if they had the gas and if the roads were in their favor, travelling to either the Dakotas or the Great Smoky Mountains would mean driving several thousand miles. Monterrey, on the other hand, is a relatively close 314 miles from Malibu.

A car driving south honks at Jimmon, interrupting his thoughts as it passes. He figures that the car either has important business or is just crazy.

They keep on driving and, as they pass through Buellton (110 miles from Malibu), there is again a clamor to stop at a filling station. Jimmon concedes, inwardly, that they can probably afford the ten to fifteen minutes since they’re likely at the head of the exodus by this point. But, because he’s miffed with the rest of them, he decides that they won’t stop until they get closer to Santa Maria, another 33 or so miles distant. The rest of the family seems fine with this.  Whatever else one can say about the Jimmon family, they have bladders like leather bags; then again, we haven’t seen them drink anything since this adventure began, so that probably helps.

Jimmon relaxes back into his own thoughts, feeling triumphant about his forethought, calculations and leadership on this expedition. The station wagon is in good shape and, barring any accidents or mechanical failures, the family’s escape is pretty much assured.

For the first time he permitted himself to realize how unreal, how romantic the whole project had been. The docile mass perished; the headstrong (but intelligent) individual survived.

Three guesses which side of the docile mass/headstrong survivor divide Jimmon puts himself on.

Jimmon goes on to think about what life will be like once they reach their destination.  And we learn a bit more about the preparations he’s made. Which include:

  • Not bringing along any transitional goods – no sleeping bags, no tent, no canned goods (which we already knew), no lanterns, no candles, nor any other kind of camping equipment. Nor did he bring coffee, sugar or flour.
  • He did bring weapons of course, as well as fishing tackle, utensils, shells and cartridges, lures, hooks, nets, gut, leaders (a kind of specialized fishing line), flint and steel for making fires, seeds, traps, needles and thread, some government pamphlets about curing and tanning hides and foraging for edible weeds and fungi, files, nails, a judicious stock of simple medicines and binoculars.

Jimmon has decided that “they would begin living immediately as they would have to in a month or so in any case, on the old, half-forgotten human cunning.”

At no point up until now has there been any mention that Jimmon or anyone in the family has any idea how to use any of these things. Or has any idea how to hunt or forage or fish. Or grow food – despite what some might think, there is more to it than dropping some seeds in dirt and waiting. There’s also been no mention that Jimmon has made sure that the area they’re heading for has sufficient quantities of game, fish, and edible weeds and/or fungi to support five people.

Not bringing coffee, sugar and flour is on the border between being sensible – since none of it would last forever – and a really bad idea – granted it wouldn’t last, but it could make the transition a lot easier to take.

Not bringing tents or sleeping bags just strikes me as a really bad idea, especially since there’s no mention that he’s brought along any blankets either. Those of us who don’t live in California tend to assume the state is always warm and sunny but it’s not. It’s really not.

Molly says that she still thinks Jimmon should have at least made an effort to try and reach Pearl and Dan.  Erika reminds her that “The phone was dead, Mother.” Molly counters that lines had been down before and usually not for longer than half an hour and Erika responds: “Mother, Dan Davisson is quite capable of looking after himself.”

Jimmon tunes out the rest of their conversation and does so to the extent that he doesn’t know if they continued it beyond that exchange or not. He even pulls his focus away from his preoccupations with driving, making speed, and calculating possible gains. Why? Because he wants to marvel at Erika’s response to Molly’s fussing about calling Pearl and Dan.

He decides that Erika’s tone was cool, inflexible and adult – almost indulgent, but dispassionate enough not to be.  And she called her “Mother” – not the usual “Mom” – which implies a multitude of things to Jimmon. For one, an entirely new relationship between them, one of aloofness and emotionless propriety.

Erika hadn’t even bothered to argue with her mother about the phone being out or to try pointing out the differences between “before” and now. Nor did she touch on what Jimmon sees as Molly’s deepening refusal to acknowledge reality.  Erika didn’t even try and soften her words by referring to Dan as “Uncle” or as half of “Pearl and Dan.’ Instead she just cut through the usual twittering and got to the heart of the matter, refusing to be derailed by Molly’s weakness and vanity and her nostalgic flirtatiousness.  Jimmon muses that one could almost feel sorry for Molly before his mind doubles back to the phrase “middle age’s nostalgic flirtatiousness” and causes him to (mentally) sit abruptly upright.

He thinks back to their younger days, when Molly and Dan were still a couple and manages to fit things together in his mind so as to come up with the idea that maybe, just maybe, Dan and Molly arranged things so that Molly would marry Jimmon and Dan would marry Pearl – both spouses being financially well off – and to have continued their relationship over the years. Jimmon acknowledges that Molly could be shrewd, a fact he’s never denied.

Jimmon isn’t disturbed by the idea that Molly and Dan might have decided to engage in a kind of gold digging long con.  In fact, it makes him smile as he wonders if maybe, just maybe Jir were actually Dan’s son – wouldn’t that be a blessed thought?  He dismisses the idea almost as fast as he came up with it – Molly is simply too conventional to have had an affair. The kid, in this case Jir, is indeed his son – but then, he wonders if there wasn’t an old superstition about the image in a woman’s mind at the moment of conception? Maybe Molly didn’t physically cheat on him but if she was thinking of Dan when Jir (and Wendell) were conceived then, well, they’re not really his children.  Not like Erika, who by some accident is genuinely his.

This thought makes him feel free and lighthearted as he announces that they’ll stop at the next station for gas. Molly corrects him, saying they’ll stop at the next one with a clean rest room and this causes Jimmon to mentally recriminate Molly for having made him leave the bank that he’d loved for the insurance job that pays more. He wonders why she didn’t tell Dan Davisson to go and become an accountant, since that would have been the same job, just more profitable. Perhaps she had, he considers but Dan had been less befuddled or amenable or just stronger in purpose than Jimmon had been. As he examines himself for any signs of retrospective jealousy and finds none, the divided highway ends.

Molly says that she hopes Jimmon isn’t planning on staying the night in some horrible motel because she wants a decent bath and a good dinner. Jimmon tries to figure out how to frame the answer of, “No, we’re going to drive until we get to our destination” but can’t manage to say anything except “No.”

He switches on the car’s headlights and figures that Wendell will be the next of the group to kick up a fuss, until he falls asleep — if he falls asleep. Jir will likely spout off after Wendell.

They come across a combination wayside store and filling-statin. Swallowing his regret at giving in to mechanical and human needs, Jimmon pulls into the station. Molly turns her nose up at the station, saying she wouldn’t call it clean but she still gets out to go do the necessary. Wendell follows his mother out, calling the place a crummy joint, while Jir pops out with another ‘No time for niceties’ before following the others.

Jimmon and Erika are alone in the car and Jimmon says her name in a half-whisper, only to tell her to never mind, that he’ll talk to her later. He muses that he’s not sure what he wanted to say, what kind of message he’d wanted to give her. He turns on the car’s interior light and studies the orderliness of the provisions packed in the wagon, before he slides out from behind the wheel.

The place isn’t closed but there’s no sign of the attendant[14]— Jimmon stretches and walks toward the outhouse that serves as a men’s room. He thinks that Molly must be furious about the accommodations.

Coming back from the outhouse, Jimmon finds the attendant leaning against the car.  He asks the attendant to fill the car up and check the oil and water. The attendant doesn’t move, but does tell Jimmon that it’ll be five bucks a gallon for the gas[15]. Jimmon tells the attendant that the price is nonsense and that he has plenty of ration coupons.

The attendant tells him to chew the coupons up, spit them into his gas tan and see how far he can run on them.  Jimmon isn’t surprised by this reaction and is smugly satisfied that things are probably worse closer to Los Angeles and how the attendant will be even harder on later customers as his gas supply begins to dwindle.

Jimmon tells the attendant that he’s not out of gas and has enough to get to Santa Maria or even to San Luis Obispo – but, he also understands that the attendant has the right to make a profit despite government red tape. This makes the attendant nervous and he asks Jimmon to leave. The man’s reluctance entertains Jimmon, who’d fully intended to bargain with the guy, even being willing to offer two bucks a gallon or to threaten him with the pistol in the glove compartment. But now, in face of how fast the guy backed down, Jimmon thinks it would be mean to protest – besides, what good is money? He tells the attendant that he’ll pay five dollars a gallon.

The attendant, naturally, demands the money in advance and Jimmon tells him that he’ll pay the guy for each gallon as its pumped in. He pulls out a handful of bills and hands over a five, telling the attendant to spill the first gallon on the ground or in a can.

The attendant asks why and rather than explain his reasoning and give the attendant ideas, Jimmon tells him that he’s eccentric – besides, why should the attendant care, since it’s an extra five dollars profit? The attendant hesitates but then does as he’s asked, pumping the first gallon into a can he has nearby.  Jimmon dips his fingers in the can, checking to make sure the pump didn’t dispense water, then hands a ten to the attendant.

As the attendant starts filling up the tank, Jir and Wendell comes over and one of them asks if they can stop at a town that has a movie playing. Jimmon doesn’t answer, instead focusing on the gas pump, which leads to him having a surrealist daydream in which Molly is turning the gas pump’s crank, grinding him in the cogs and pouring his essence into Jir and Wendell.

By the time twelve gallons have been pumped into the car, Molly appears.  Jimmon casually asks the attendant if there’s a phone present – something he already knows, since he saw the sign announcing a pay phone on the premises. The attendant wonders if Jimmon wants to call the cops, which he doesn’t, he just wants to know if the lines to LA are open yet, which the attendant doesn’t know.

Jimmon calls Molly over to the other side of the car and hands her an envelope full of 200 hundred-dollar bills, telling her to put it in her purse and that he’ll tell her why later. The, he suggests she see if she can reach Pearl and Dan on the phone, to see if they’re ok.

Molly, he imagines, is puzzled by this sudden change of heart on Jimmon’s part but she goes at his urging. Erika gets out of the car and joins her brothers as the tank finishes filling up. Jimmon opens the hood and the attendant puts a bit of water in the radiator and checks the oil.

Jimmon tells Erika to get into the car.  As she does, Jimmon looks at her and:

Some of the light shone directly on her face. Again he noted how mature and self-assured she looked. Erika would survive—and not as a savage either.

Before the boys get in the car, Jimmon asks Jir to run in and see if Molly’s managed to make her phone connection and to tell her that they’ll wait until she does. Jir whines about being sent on the errand because, well, he’s a teenager, and Jimmon sweetens the deal by telling Jir to ask Molly to buy a couple boxes of candy bars. He also sends Wendell with Jir.

And then, Jimmon gets into the car and closes the door, gently. He starts the car up, puts his foot on the clutch and shifts the engine into low. As he does so, he thinks he sees a startled look cross Erika’s face – and as the car begins moving forward, he’s sure that it’s there.

Jimmon tells her it’s all right and that he’ll explain later.

He’d have lots of time to do it.

Thoughts & Analysis:

And on that note, Lot ends with Mr. Jimmon having abandoned his wife and sons and kidnapping his daughter.

At thirteen, I didn’t quite get the full subtext behind this ending – in my mind, Mr. Jimmon was struggling to do the right thing by his family and Molly and the boys were obnoxious at best and willfully ignorant at worst. I took Jimmon’s intentions to protect Erika at face value – they’d go off to the safe place, live in the woods and have a grand adventure.

It wasn’t until I was much older[16] and read the sequel, Lot’s Daughter, that I began to see that Mr. Jimmon isn’t the well-intentioned, sorely put-upon savior of his family that he thinks he is.  Instead, he’s a self-serving, sanctimonious bully who is so far up his own ass he could have saved a lot of time and effort and just built a survival retreat in his own appendix.

The saving grace of Mr. Jimmon’s awfulness is the fact that the author, Ward Moore, intentionally created him to be awful. Unlike some of the protagonists we’ll be talking about, who are the heroes of their stories solely because the author says they’re the hero and therefore anything horrible that they do is really actually heroic.  Mr. Jimmon is never portrayed as anything other than an awful, awful man.  But Moore does it in a subtle, sideways kind of manner, lulling the reader into a false sense of sympathy until the end of the story, when seemingly out of nowhere Jimmon decides to abduct Erika and abandon the rest of his family.

I mean, what does it say about a man when his reaction to his city being is to be happy about it.  Not to mention what does it say about someone who abandons a family pet rather than trying to figure out a way to bring it along. Hell, he was even too lazy or cowardly to have euthanized Waggie when it looked like things were going to get bad.

But then, if Mr. Jimmon had been willing to take Waggie to the ASPCA before the beginning of the story, he wouldn’t be the same Mr. Jimmon we see in Lot.  I don’t think I’d like that version of Mr. Jimmon any better, but I do think it would make his true character that much more obvious for the reader. Which would alter the story Moore was trying to tell, since it would show a character who was proactive, rather than reactive.

A version of Lot where Mr. Jimmon would bring Waggie along would be a completely different story since it would show Jimmon demonstrating a capacity for compassion that just isn’t in Lot as it was written. That Mr. Jimmon wouldn’t resent his wife and sons, nor would he abandon them at a gas station. That Mr. Jimmon might even have been willing to stop at a nice hotel for the night or go find a ranch that would take him and his family on as boarders.

In the ebook version of Lot & Lot’s Daughter that I’m using for these reviews, there’s an essay by Michael Swanwick, entitled “Lot’s Children.” Swanwick describes the stories as “terrifying” and “bleak,” calling them a “dissection of the dark psyche of 1950s America.” Swanwick is well placed to know this, since he was a child of the 1950s who went through duck and cover drills as an elementary school student.  These stories were, for him, the stuff of childhood nightmares.

Swanwick also has this to say about the stories:

Right at the very beginning of the atomic era, Moore nailed the nuclear holocaust survival story. Nobody has ever told it more convincingly. Even after four decades of dizzying change, the reader still thinks, Yes, this is the way it would be.

A bit later, Swanwick adds this assessment of Mr. Jimmon’s character:

He defines the world in the ugliest possible terms, and by so doing drives it toward that ugliness. His is the voice of self-justifying pragmatism, and because it admits to neither doubts nor alternatives, it is unanswerable.

Part of the reason I’ve included these stories in my discussion of 1980s Nuke Operas is because Lot and Lot’s Daughter refute a lot of the things that those books take for granted. Things like the inherent barbarity of people – remember, throughout the story we don’t see any of the Jimmons’ fellow refugees behaving in violent fashions. The worst we get is behavior that wouldn’t be out of place in regular rush hour traffic: a fender-bender, some horns honking. Beyond that, the closest we come to actual criminal behavior is the gas station attendant trying to shake Jimmon down – and really, chances are that if Jimmon had just stuck with his guns (metaphorically speaking) and refused to pay five bucks a gallon for gas, the guy would have backed down.

Jimmon wants to set himself up as the sensible head of the family, who is fully in charge and rational in all of his decisions.  But as we ride along with the Jimmons on their escape, it becomes more and more clear that he’s checked out from his family long before Los Angeles or even Pittsburgh were bombed.  The only reason he’s got the family with him in the car at the beginning is because of obligation – that and he wants an audience to perform for. A captive audience.

Which he ends up getting, though he trims it down to an audience of one. What happens next will be the subject of my next essay, wherein we’ll get deeper into the analysis of these two stories and what they say about post-nuclear survival.


Moore, Ward. Lot & Lot’s Daughter . Open Road Media. Kindle Edition. (2017)


[1] This debate occurred circa 1978, between myself and a kid on the school bus. It would be another eleven years before Don Bluth would give us a definitive answer on the subject.

[2] Also, considering that several Syrian refugees fled their civil war on foot and still managed to bring beloved pets along, including the family of Tabboush the cat (his name is Arabic for “chubby”) Jimmon’s attitude is even more suspect.

[3] Because back in the day, most full-sized cars had bench seats in the front as well as in the back, so you could easily fit three (or more) people in the front seat. I remember riding in cars with front bench seats as a kid in the 1970s and 80s. In fact, front bench seats were still a thing in some full-sized cars until 2012 when they were finally phased out.

[4] Also known as the Pacific Coast Highway, Highway 101 predates the Interstate Highway System which began construction in 1956.

[5] A group of people who undermine a larger group from within, usually in favor of an enemy group or nation, through means that can be covert or overt; first coined during the Spanish Civil War (quinta columna).

[6] This was indeed a plan the government had come up with in case of nuclear attack.

[7] There were portable TVs in the late 1940s/early 1950s – RCA’s least expensive TV in 1954 was a 17-inch black and white tabletop for $189 (or about $1,800 in 2020 money). This reinforces the idea that the Jimmons are a fairly wealthy family.

[8] This is a variation on the recipe I was taught: Three Ingredient Beer Bread.

[9] Malibu to Santa Barbara, via US-101 North is, per Google Maps, about 74.4 miles or 1 hour 25 minutes in ideal conditions.

[10] According to Google Maps, Gaviota is about 1 hour 45 minutes from Malibu (99.3 miles) or roughly 31 minutes (32.4 miles) from Santa Barbara.

[11] Goleta, again according to Google Maps, is roughly 1 hour, 24 minutes from Malibu (83.2 miles) or about 13 minutes (10.2 miles) from Santa Barbara

[12] Which, considering they’ve been driving now for at least five hours (maybe longer) without a bathroom break or a chance to stretch their legs, isn’t surprising.

[13] You can see a detailed map of the US highway system circa 1955 by following the link in this sentence.

[14] Note for the younger generations: back in the day, gas stations used to be full-service, meaning that an attendant would come out and pump your gas for you and usually check your oil or wiper fluids. I can remember going to full-service stations in my elementary school days, but they were on the way out by the time I hit middle school.

[15] In 1953, gas was roughly 29 cents a gallon, equivalent to $2.08/gallon in 2015 money; $5.00 a gallon would be equivalent to about $44.39 a gallon in 2015 money; close to $50/gallon in 2020 money.

[16] I was in college; maybe a sophomore? So, like around 19 or 20.

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Nuke Opera 2020: Some Words about Warnings — On Spoilers and Triggers and Content Warnings

Nuke Opera 2020: 1500 Word Warning — — On Spoilers and Triggers and Content:

Back when I began this project, in the far-off, pre-pandemic times of January 8, 2020[1], it was with the following stated goals about what this blog series would be about:

  • First and Foremost:is to review several books and stories that are linked by a common theme, including some that I feel haven’t gotten the kind of critical attention they really should have.
  • Secondly:To talk about the history of nuclear weapons, civil defense and popular culture’s responses to the possibility of World War III.

Looking back on the articles I’ve finished over the last three months, it’s abundantly clear I’ve managed to knock the second goal out of the park. In fact, the science and history articles ended up being the main focus, mostly because I thought it was necessary to get some of this background information out so that I could refer to it during the reviews.  Also, researching history and science is addictively fun, not going to lie.

But, I’m finally to the point where I think I’ve filled in enough background that I can safely start talking about the fictional works that are themselves part of the groundwork for the larger discussion of the “Nuke Opera” subgenre. So, that’s going to be the focus for the next several articles, with a few detours back to touch on history and science as necessary.

However, there are some things I want to talk about before we get started with the media criticism. Specifically, about spoilers, historical context and content/trigger warnings:


It could probably go without saying that my reviews are going to be full of spoilers. Part of the purpose of this project is to dive deeply into these works and that means discussing these stories in great detail. Still, I’m going to give a spoiler warning before each review.

Granted, the works I’ll be looking at are between 28 and 67 years old, so it’s not as if people haven’t had a chance to get around to reading them.

But, with a few exceptions, most of these works are not exactly well-known outside of some relatively niche circles.

So, with that in mind: if you would like the pleasure, however dubious it might be in some cases, of reading these works without spoilers, please, feel free to seek out the source materials, read them and come back for the commentary and discussion.

The Past is a Foreign Country:

Part of the reason for the long essays on the history of the Cold War years is because all of these works are products of their times and the real-world responses to the fear/threat of nuclear war impacted the fictional depictions of post-nuclear survival that we’ll be looking at.

The other reason for the essays on history is that, for a lot of us in the present-day, the Cold War years are kind of a muddled blur. We tend to mock certain aspects of Cold War history, in part because we lack an understanding about why those things were done. I’ve mentioned the misconception about “Duck and Cover” being a useless strategy[2] – which is true, if you’re considering it against ICBMs carrying multi-megaton warheads with a maximum flight time of 30-minutes from silo to target site.  But it was still potentially effective in the days when it was created, a time when nuclear weapons were still in the kiloton range and delivered by bombers that allowed for several hours’ worth of warning.

Additionally, there’s the chance for confusion because some things that we take for granted today weren’t so commonplace back then. In at least two of the works we’ll be looking at, a whole slew of problems for the main character[3] could have been solved if he had simply gotten a divorce before the story started – except, at the time the stories were written, divorcing was difficult, not to mention being divorced was highly stigmatized.

More importantly, we’re going to be running into a lot of material related to the bog-standard, mainstream prejudices that were previously accepted by the majority because they could easily and safely ignore the protests of the minority. Racist attitudes toward blacks in specific and people of color in general, sexist ideas about women, homophobic prejudices about people who are LGBTQ+ will all show up to greater or lesser extent throughout the works we’ll be looking at. Some of the worst offenders will, it may surprise you, will come from some of the more recent examples of what I’m calling “Nuke Operas”, published in the late 80s-early 90s, near the very end of the Cold War.

This is because the books that make up the “Nuke Opera” genre were an offshoot of the “Men’s Action-Adventure” super-genre of paperback originals that began roughly in 1969 with the publication of Don Pendleton’s The Executioner #1: War Against The Mafia[4]. Like other genre categories such as “Romance” or “Western,” “Men’s Action-Adventure” encompassed a wide variety of sub-genres, of which post-apocalyptic adventures[5] were but a single thread.

Something most of these various series had in common was an emphasis on a kind of masculinity that can be best described as “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche[6]” meets “Soldier of Fortune.”  Guns and other forms of weaponry often get more description than some characters do, while the heroes are macho badasses straight out of Central Casting, ranging from the exaggerated-but-still-kinda-realistic Rated M for Manly to full-bore you-hope-its-a-parody-but-it’s-probably Testosterone Poisoning in the most extreme/obnoxious cases.

A lot of these books rely heavily on the idea that a post-apocalyptic society would be a lawless hellscape where might (in the persona of a man[7] with superior firepower) would make right, so there’s a lot of violence. And because these books were being aimed at adult men[8] there is often more than a bit of sex in some of these titles.  On the other side of the sexual content coin, rape is often depicted for all the wrong reasons – either to motivate the hero or to demonstrate just how truly eeeevil the villain/s of the piece are.

Trigger/Content Warnings:

Out of respect for my readers, I will be issuing content and/or trigger warnings on my reviews. While I’m aware there are those who think such things are unnecessary, I’m of the opinion that they allow people to prepare themselves and decide when/how they want to engage with something. I feel this is especially important when it comes to things that, when you get down to it, are meant to be entertaining rather than traumatizing.

For those who might be unaware of the differences between a content warning and a trigger warning, the following definitions are taken from the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts’ “An Introduction to Content Warnings and Trigger Warnings”:

  • Content Warnings: are “notices that precede potentially sensitive content” and “flag the contents of the material that follows” so the audience can “prepare themselves to adequately engage or, if necessary, disengage for their own wellbeing.”

An example of a general content warning might be a title card prior to a TV show that reads:  The following program contains adult situations and strong language and may not be suitable for all viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.

  • Trigger Warnings: are a subset of content warnings, that “attempt to forewarn audiences of content that may cause intense physiological and psychological symptoms for people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) and other anxiety disorders.”

An example of a trigger warning might be something like: The following article will discuss rape and domestic abuse or TW: contains references to homophobia, racism and eating disorders. This allows a potential reader who may have PTSD or other anxiety issues related to either rape or domestic abuse to decide how and when they will engage with the article.

Or, to think of it another way, content warnings are like the nutritional information on the side of a candy bar – they’re there to help you make an informed decision about what you’re about to consume. Trigger warnings are like allergen information on the side of a candy bar – they’re there to let you know that there’s one or more ingredients that could cause you serious harm[9].

For my purposes, I’m going to use content warnings for situations where the problematic materials are more sub-textual or implied and trigger warnings for blatant/graphic depictions.

  • For more information I highly recommend Here’s What Trigger Warnings Are – And What They’re Not by M. Slade – an essay in the form of a comic strip about how and why trigger warnings can be helpful. (Note for those who may use screen readers: the article does have a transcript of the content available near the bottom of the articles).


[1] The next day, January 9, 2020, would be when China would finally publicly identified a new “pneumonia-like” virus as a novel coronavirus and the World Health Organization (WHO) issued guidance for other countries to detect and respond to it.

[2] It’s particularly annoying when people say that ‘ducking and covering’ would be useless at ground zero. Not because they’re wrong – it would, but then so would just about anything else – but because it wasn’t intended for people at or near ground zero. It was for people further away, to protect against being flash blinded or hit by flying debris from the aftereffects of the shock-wave.

[3] Not to mention the main character’s wife…possibly especially the main character’s wife…ok, definitely the main character’s wife…

[4] Because, as with history, there is no clear-cut beginning with literary genres, this is another one of those arbitrary starting points chosen because it’s near enough to the beginning to suit our purposes.

[5] Not every post-apocalyptic series used nuclear war as the reason why the world went to hell, though it does seem to be the majority cause between 1980-1992 for some reason…

[6] “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche” was intended as a tongue-in-cheek satire and was written in part to counter the rise of the quiche-eating “Sensitive Man” as embodied by men like Alan Alda.

[7] Generally speaking, a cishet, able-bodied, white (usually WASP) man of the “all women want him; all men want to be him” variety.

[8] Not that there was much of anything stopping kids, including your humble blogger, from buying them but the intended audience was indeed adult men.

[9] The allergen comparison isn’t a perfect analogy, but I think it works well enough for our purposes. Some people are so sensitive to, say, peanuts that being in an enclosed space with an open packet of trail mix can cause a reaction; others can safely consume a food they’re sensitive to in small quantities. The decision to consume or not to consume is one that should be made by the person who is allergic, not by someone else who thinks they know better (and yes, there are people who think food allergies aren’t a ‘big deal’ — there’s a word for people like that, but it’s a bit rude).

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Boilerplate Links:

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. If you want to join, you can at any time. Set the goals you want to accomplish and get and give encouragement to fellow ROWers. Feel free to join us on Facebook at ROW80 or follow us on Twitter at #ROW80.  Or you can do all of the above!

Nuke Opera 2020: Panic at the Apocalypse:

Nuke Opera 2020: Panic at the Apocalypse:

A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.Agent Kay, Men In Black (1997)

It’s generally accepted that people – specifically the masses — will panic in disaster situations. I mean, just look at any disaster movie and you’ll see people running madly about, trampling each other, fighting tooth and claw to save themselves and only themselves. Sometimes they’ll pause long enough to help themselves to whatever items are in the nearest store, taking advantage of the temporary suspension of societal norms to get that big-screen TV they’ve been eyeing.

Usually to underscore the utter ruthlessness of the maddened crowd, there’ll be a shot of some vulnerable individual such as a child or an elderly or disabled adult, who needs help but who is being ignored by the fleeing masses. Maybe the hero will rescue this individual to help underscore what a good guy he is or, if the director wants to really emphasize the whole ‘every man for himself’ thing, maybe the innocent victim won’t be saved. Because as everyone knows, when the thin veneer of civilization peels away, humans reveal themselves to be animals, red in tooth and claw, ready to do whatever it takes to survive.

Except, that’s not really true. It works well in fiction, especially in visual media like movies and TV because it allows for dramatic visuals, but it’s not necessarily reflected in reality. By and large, people don’t panic en masse when disaster strikes.

How do we know? Because sociologists have studied how people react in disaster situations, looking at reactions to things like the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake, the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake,  the 1912 sinking of the Titanic, the alleged panic created by Orson Wells’ 1938 broadcast of the War of the Worlds, the 1977 fire at the Beverly Hills Supper Club, the 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Center in 2001, and the impact of Hurricane Katrina 2005 on New Orleans, among other disasters.

Studying the sociology of disasters began in the 1940s and 1950s, in part because the US government wanted to know how people would react in the event of a nuclear war. Would people panic, would society be able to rebuild after a nuclear war or would the nation die? Research into historical disasters, emergencies and catastrophes led to the conclusion in the 1960s that panic was actually rare in disasters, at least among the general public.

Rather than turning into a ruthless, rampaging mob focused only on their own survival, people react to disasters by becoming more altruistic and willing to help. Instances of the general public panicking during a disaster are, thankfully, rare.

This isn’t to say that mass panic doesn’t ever happen. It can and does, but it isn’t a given in every single disaster situation. Instead, panic is caused by specific circumstances, such as:

  • A perception of immediate great threat
  • The belief that you may be trapped – a feeling that can occur even in a wide-open space.
  • A feeling of helplessness. (source: Disaster Psychology: The Myths of Panic)

Panic, in this case, is an emotion that will affect individuals.  It can then spread from an individual or individuals into a larger group. Especially if the other members of the group believe the panicking individual knows something they don’t. Humans are social animals, like our great ape cousins, and as such we tend to want to stay with the group, looking to others for confirmation about how to react when things are uncertain or unsettled.

This tendency can be beneficial: if people see that others are calm, they’re more likely to remain calm themselves. However, following the crowd too closely can lead to ‘groupthink’ – a psychological phenomenon that happens when a group of people put getting along with the group over questioning decisions or assumptions that might be irrational, ill-conceived or even immoral.  In a groupthink situation, people become hyper focused on not rocking the boat and therefore become reluctant to question the group’s decisions, even when those decisions are clearly misguided or even potentially fatal.

The disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961 was a case of groupthink occurring at the highest levels of the US government. The invasion plans, originally drawn up during the Eisenhower administration, were accepted without question by the Kennedy administration as right and just. When some in the Kennedy administration tried to question some of the assumptions behind the plans, such as the belief that Castro wouldn’t be able to quell internal uprisings, they were ignored.  The invasion, as a result, was a disaster that led to 114 deaths and the capture of over 1,000 American-backed Cuban exiles who’d been recruited by the CIA for the ill-fated attempt to overthrow Castro[1].

But, Wait…

If mass panic is rare, why does the belief in it persist?

Partly because the idea that the masses are potentially dangerous animals is a fear shared by society’s elites. ‘Elite’ in this case meaning those with power and/or authority over groups of people. This concept is highly dependent on context; the mayor of a city is an elite in relation to the population of their city, but not in comparison to the President of the United States.[2]

If we think of society as a whole as a pyramid, the elites are those at the very top of the pyramid and the masses are the rest of us at the base. By their very nature, the elites are a much smaller group in comparison to the rest of society, but they have a disproportionate amount of power over society.

However, while the elites have the power, the masses have them outnumbered and can, potentially, easily overpower the elites should they decide to rebel or otherwise break the social contract that gives the elites their power.

Not-So-Jolly Old England:

To better understand why elites fear masses, we need to go back about three hundred years to the reign of England’s King George I. This was a time when the vast majority of British citizens had no real representation in their government – only about 3% of the population was eligible to vote. Members of Parliament were elected from the aristocracy[3], by the aristocracy, and to make laws to benefit the aristocracy.

As Oliver Goldsmith, a novelist of the time put it, “Laws grind the poor and rich men rule the law.”

In 1723, the rich men of Parliament decided to grind the poor even finer, when they passed the Black Act of 1723.  This act strengthened Britain’s criminal code heavily in favor of the aristocracy, raising the number of crimes punishable by the death penalty from fifty to 200. Most of these offenses were crimes against property – poaching, pickpocketing, stealing anything valued at more than a shilling (approximately eight dollars in 2017 money) and looting from shipwrecks, to name a few examples.

These stronger laws against property crimes came at a time when the economic disparities between rich and poor were heightened, leading to an increase in crimes like highway robbery and muggings.  The wealthy, who already had nearly unlimited power to protect their property, made already harsh laws even more draconian in an attempt to prevent crime through fear.

It should be noted, at this point the United Kingdom didn’t have an actual police force – nor did it have prisons as we understand them today. People were jailed or imprisoned only if they were waiting to go to trial or if they’d already been sentenced to death. Courtroom trials were a form of entertainment, as were executions which were also used to demonstrate the penalty for violating the king’s law.

These strict punishments were also due to the fact that the elite of the Georgian Era feared not only losing their property but also the poor in general. Riots weren’t uncommon during this period since the poor had no real recourse to change unjust or unfair laws.

Add to this the economic and cultural changes that industrialization had brought to the United Kingdom beginning in the 1770s.  Thousands of rural workers moved into big towns and cities to work in newly opened factories, leading to a population explosion. Low wages and overcrowding meant hundreds and even thousands of people were packed into slums, where squalor and disease ran rampant. These conditions led to an increase in crime and a decreased fear of the noose, which in turn made those in power even more nervous about what could happen if the unwashed masses decided to revolt against the nobility.

La Revolution:

And then came the French Revolution, wherein as common knowledge tells us, the unwashed masses of France overthrew the nobility and guillotined anyone of noble birth, washing the streets of Paris in blood.

Except, that’s not exactly what happened. The French Revolution wasn’t started by the downtrodden and poor, though they got involved as time went on. Nor was every person of noble birth subject to being executed – some high-profile nobles were executed and those who fled France and became exiles in England or elsewhere were subject to execution if they returned home, but that was because many of them conspired against the Revolutionary government and were considered traitors[4].

This isn’t to say that the French Revolution wasn’t a bloody mess or to try and downplay the atrocities that did happen. Because atrocities did happen.  As many as 40,000 people were killed over the course of the Reign of Terror (September 5, 1793-July 27, 1794) – most of whom were peasants, not nobles. Additionally, thousands of peasants who’d remained loyal to their local nobility, if not to the monarchy itself, were killed in fighting that took place outside of Paris in other regions of France.

French Revolution: Additional Information:

While the majority of those executed during the Reign of Terror were peasants[5] we tend to focus on the deaths of the noble classes[6], especially people like Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI. After all, we know about them as people – we can read their letters and diaries, we can see them depicted in portraits, we’re able to make a connection with them that we’re not able to make with a random, nameless and faceless peasant.

In the early days of the French Revolution, there were those in the United Kingdom and America, which was only about ten years out from its own revolution, who initially supported the French Revolution[7]. This changed when the King and Queen of France were executed; even in America there were those who thought that beheading the monarchs was a step too far.

In the UK[8], the idea of the monarchy being overthrown and nobility beheaded was definitely terrifying. Especially for the elites. This fear of the mob has carried down throughout the years and is still with us today, resurfacing any time a disaster occurs. These days, those who study the sociology of disasters refer to this as ‘elite panic.’

Elite Panic:

The term ‘elite panic’ was coined by Lee Clarke and Caron Chess, sociologists from Rutgers University. In their 2008 article, Elites and Panic: More to Fear than Fear Itself, they identified three specific areas associated with members of the elite and panic:

  • Elites can fear panic – specifically, they fear mass panic, which can lead to them reacting with excessive authoritarianism or violence.
  • Elites can cause panic – for example, by hoarding information that might assist the public in making decisions regarding their own safety.
  • Elites can themselves panic – which happened in 2007 when police in Boston closed highways and bridges out of fear of a ‘suspicious device’ that turned out to be part of a viral marketing campaign for the Aqua Teen Hunger Force

In her book, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster, Rebecca Solnit quotes disaster sociologist Kathleen Tierney’s definition of elite panic:

Fear of social disorder, fear of the poor, minorities and immigrants; obsession with looting and property crime; willingness to resort to deadly force; actions taken on the basis of rumor. (Solnit, p. 235)

Tierney was, in this instance, speaking shortly after Hurricane Katrina, one of the worst instances of elite panic in US history. Reports of looting were overplayed by the media, as were supposed incidents of violence at evacuation points like the Superdome. This led to instances where those hit hardest by the storm were seen as a menace to be controlled rather than victims to be helped.

For many of the tens of thousands stranded there for the better part of the week, trauma was not merely the terrible storm and the flooding of their city,  the waters in which bodies floated and poisonous snakes swam, the heat that blistered skin and killed many,  the apocalyptic days in which people gave birth and died on freeway overpasses surrounded by unclean waters, in which many despaired of ever being taken from a city that had utterly collapsed into a wet and filthy ruin, or hat people tried to give away their children so that they might be evacuated first. It was being abandoned by their fellow human being and their government. And more thant aht, it was being treated as animals and enemies at the moment of their greatest vulnerability.” (Solnit, p 245-246)

Worse, the mayor of New Orleans[9], Ray Nagin and the city’s chief of police Eddie Compass helped fuel unfounded and untrue rumors about the savagery supposedly taking place at the Superdome, where 20,000 people were sheltering without air conditioning, adequate power and failed plumbing.

The vast majority of reported atrocities committed by evacuees – mass murders, rapes and beatings – have turned out to be false, or at least unsupported by any evidence, according to key military, law-enforcement, medical and civilian officials in positions to know.” – Newhouse News Service, September 26, 2005

These rumors were used to confirm preconceived notions about marginalized groups, particularly the city’s poor and minority populations, and to blame them for the governments’[10] inadequate response in the aftermath of the storm. As Michael Eric Dyson put it in his book, Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster: “The message seemed to be: ‘If this is how they act, if this is who they are, then their inhumanity is a justification for not rushing to their rescue.” (Dyson, p. 174).

When elites do panic, this can cause a cascade of negative behaviors to radiate downward from the top of the social pyramid. In the aftermath of Katrina, the continued repetition of myths about violence at the Superdome and uncontrolled looking led to the formation of vigilante groups in areas of New Orleans that had escaped significant damage.  One such area was Algiers Point, community on the West Bank of the Mississippi River which had escaped flooding.

These vigilante groups, predominately white, responded to false rumors of marauding blacks by arming themselves and preparing to do battle. As Michael Lewis observed:

These men also had another informational disadvantage: working TV sets. Over and over and over again, they replayed the same few horrifying scenes from the Superdome, the Convention Center, and a shop in downtown New Orleans. If the images were to be reduced to a sentence in the minds of Uptown New Orleans [the area of the city near Algiers Point] that sentence would be ‘Crazy black people with automatic weapons are out hunting white people, and there’s no bag limit!” (“Wading Toward Home”)

In reality, the reverse was true – white vigilantes were hunting black people[11]. In her research for A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit interviewed a medic who worked with a volunteer relief group in the 15th Ward, where Algiers Point was located.  The medic, Aislyn Colgan, said that more than one vigilante reported having shot and killed people, including one woman who said “they” were “coming for our TV and we had to shoot them” because otherwise “they would have come back with their brothers and killed us.”

  • Welcome to New Orleans – a 2006 documentary about the aftermath of Katrina and the efforts of Malik Rahim to organize community relief efforts. At 5:47 minutes in, there is a brief scene of several white vigilantes from the Algiers Point community gleefully discussing shooting at “looters” followed immediately by the reaction of a young black man who was threatened by white vigilantes despite himself being a resident of the neighborhood.  Content warning for racist ideology, sexist language and discussions of violence. Also some adult language.

Actions Have Consequences:

Elites, like the general public, don’t panic often but because they are often in charge of the response to a disaster, their panic can have a greater immediate impact as well as long-lasting consequences.

Going back to the example of Katrina, the mistakes made by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) not only led to people suffering in the aftermath of the storm but also to long-term economic and cultural effects for the city of New Orleans and tarnished the agency’s reputation for years to come.

In Conclusion:

As we start looking at the predecessors of the Nuke Opera genre and particularly once we begin looking at examples of Nuke Opera, we’ll see that Agent Kay’s belief that people are dumb, panicky dangerous animals will be held up again and again as gospel. Primarily, this is due to the misconception being so deeply ingrained into our society but also because dumb, panicky, dangerous animals make for a more proactive villain and are, therefore, more exciting and help to shore up the informed attributes of the Nuke Opera hero.



[1] Fortunately, by the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedy administration had learned its lesson and avoided falling into the groupthink trap. The willingness to learn from previous mistakes doubtlessly helped save millions, if not billions of lives.

[2] Likewise, a school principle is an elite in relation to the students and teachers who are under them, but not in comparison to the mayor or the President.

[3] Aristocracy in this case meaning members of the ruling class – which here includes not only hereditary nobles, but also landed gentry and wealthy businessmen.

[4] The relatives of some nobles executed by guillotine formed a fashionable club after the end of the Terror, dressing in outré fashions to annoy their elders and thumb their noses at the leaders of the Revolution.

[5] At least four thousand people, again mostly peasants, were executed in a series of mass drownings in Nantes, France between November 1793 to February 1794. Some of the ‘enemies of the Revolution’ executed in this fashion were children, including at least five infants. There was also the War in the Vendee, a region of France that was loyal to the King and nobility.

[6] This includes members of the clergy, who were often members of the nobility shunted off to a cushy church jobs in order to keep them from mucking up the lines of succession.

[7] Which, considering France’s support of the American Revolution was a large part of why we won our freedom, we kinda owed them.  Unfortunately, that support helped add to the economic downturn that helped spark the French Revolution.

[8] The fact that, at the narrowest point, it’s only about 21 miles across the English Channel and that, during this period, a crossing by sailboat could take as little as 3 hours probably added to these fears.

[9] Note: while Hurricane Katrina’s impact hit the entire Gulf Coast of the United States, the researchers I’m quoting focused primarily on responses to the disaster in New Orleans since that was the situation that received the most media attention at the time.

[10] Note: yes, I mean ‘governments’ as in more than one government, since there were failures to assist those who were hardest hit by Katrina at the city, state and federal levels and across political parties.  While George W. Bush gets a deserved share of the blame for his mishandling of the disaster, it’s worth nothing the governor of Louisiana at the time, a Democrat, gave members of the Louisiana National Guard a ‘shoot to kill’ order for ‘hoodlums’ before deploying them to assist police in New Orleans with maintaining order. (Dyson, p. 114)

[11] Malik Rahim, organizer of the Common Ground Relief, a community-initiated volunteer organization formed in September 2005 to provide disaster relief in the New Orleans area, stated in an October 2005 interview with Democracy Now that approximately 18 black men were killed in Algiers, either by the police or by white vigilante groups that had been allowed to operate unchecked.

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Boilerplate Links:

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. If you want to join, you can at any time.Set the goals you want to accomplish and get and give encouragement to fellow ROWers. Feel free to join us on Facebook at ROW80 or follow us on Twitter at #ROW80.  Or you can do all of the above!

Nuke Opera 2020: “World-Wide Delivery in 30 Minutes or Less” — Missile Types and Speeds

“World-Wide Delivery in 30 Minutes or Less”: Missile Types and Speeds:

Note: Article title is in reference to this mural, painted on the blast door of the command center at Delta-01, a Cold War era nuclear weapons control facility for the 66th Strategic Missile Squadron that is now a national historical site. It’s located about 76 miles east of Rapid City, South Dakota.

Prior to 1957, the primary way to deliver a nuclear weapon was by dropping a gravity bomb from a plane. Gravity bombs, also known as ‘dumb bombs’ are released over a target and fall to earth – see the scene in Dr. Strangelove where Major “King” Kong (played by Slim Pickens) rides a bomb into the Earth for an example.

Early gravity bombs, like Fat Man and Little Boy, required planes like the B-29 Superfortress, B-36 Peacemaker and B-52 Stratofortress that were specially designed to be able to lift the bombs.  The Soviets reverse-engineered a B-29 to create their own heavy bomber, the Tupolev Tu-4. As designs became smaller, it became possible to deploy gravity bombs using fighter-bombers, such as the F-104 Starfighter.

While bombers were a more than credible threat, they were relatively slow and easy to detect compared to the next stage of nuclear weapons delivery systems: missiles.

With the coming of the Space Race, both the United States and Soviet Union began working on missile-delivery systems. Both countries took advantage of the chaos after World War II to snatch up (in some cases literally) Nazi rocket scientists. While their nuclear program was a fizzle, the Nazi rocket program was a great success, particularly weapons like the V-2 rocket, one of the first modern ballistic missiles, which was first launched in 1944. The Soviet Union developed the first intercontinental ballistic missiles based, in part, on the German V-2 design. The first successful launch of the R-7 Semyorka occurred on August 21, 1957.

Ballistic missiles can carry conventional and nuclear warheads. The difference between a missile and a rocket according to the White Sands Missile Range’s FAQ, is this:

Range employees usually simplify the discussion by saying a missile has a guidance system or brain to get it to its destination and a rocket just goes where it is initially pointed.

The guidance system can be fairly simple like the infrared seeker on the small, shoulder-fired, Stinger missile. The missile detects the heat emitted in the exhaust of a jet and guides itself to the hottest spot – right up the tailpipe.

A rocket, on the other hand, like the Black Brant goes straight up in the air carrying scientific payloads for NASA and others. It is fired out of a tower or from a rail, both of which can be tilted to compensate for wind conditions so the rocket flies fairly straight and stays on the missile range.

Missiles can be divided into categories based on where they’re launched from and what they’re launched at. These include but aren’t limited to:

  • Surface-to-air – fired from the ground toward the air, usually to shoot down airplanes
  • Surface-to-surface – fired from the ground toward another ground target
  • Air-to-air – fired from one aircraft against another
  • Air-to-surface – fired from the air to attack ground-based targets

A ballistic missile is powered, initially, by a rocket or a series of rockets fired in stages. Once the rockets are exhausted, the missile follows an unpowered trajectory that arches it upward to a peak point. Once it reaches that peak point, the missile begins to fall back to earth, toward its intended target. Ballistic missiles cannot alter course once their fuel supply has been exhausted.

Ballistic missiles undergo three stages of flight:

  • Boost – occurs when the missile is launched until its rocket(s) stop firing. This stage can last for 3-5 minutes and takes place mostly in the Earth’s atmosphere.
  • Midcourse – begins when the missile’s rocket(s) stop firing. The missile continues to the highest point in its trajectory, then begins its descent toward Earth. This is the longest stage of a missile’s flight; for an ICBM, it can last up to 20 minutes at a speed of 15,000 miles per hour.
  • Terminal Phase – begins with the missile’s warhead(s) reenter the Earth’s atmosphere and ends with detonation. This phase can last for less than a minute.


Missile Type Range Speed Flight Duration
Tactical ballistic missile 150-300 km Over 1.5 km/second N/A
93-186 miles 3,400 mph
Theatre ballistic missiles – includes short and medium-range missiles

Short-range ballistic missile

300-1,000 km 3 km/second 3-9 minutes
186-621 miles Under 7,000 mph

Medium-range ballistic missile

 1,000-3,500 km 4.5 km/second 9-19 minutes
621-2,175 miles 10,000 mph
Intermediate-range ballistic missiles 3,500-5,500 km Under 5 km/second 19-26 minutes
2,175-3,418 miles 11,000 mph
Intercontinental ballistic missiles Over 5,500 km 7 km/second Over 26 minutes
Over 3,418 miles 16,000 mph

Note: These distinctions are primarily used for US missiles. The Soviet Union classified their missiles differently:

  • Strategic – ranges over 1,000 km (621 miles)
  • Operational-Strategic – ranges from 500-1,000 km (311-621 miles)
  • Operational – ranges from 300-500 km (186-311 miles)
  • Operational-Tactical – ranges from 50-300 km (31-186 miles)
  • Tactical –ranges up to 50 km. (up to 31 miles)

Out Cruisin’:

Cruise missiles, on the other hand, are unmanned vehicles propelled by jet engines. Since jet engines need air to work, they stay in the atmosphere.  They can be launched from ground, air and sea platforms. They are self-guided and can fly as low as a few meters above the ground. Like ballistic missiles, cruise missiles can carry conventional explosive or nuclear warheads.

Cruise missiles can be classified by their speed in relation to the speed of sound (approximately 767 mph or 1,235 km/hour)

  • Hypersonic missiles travel at least five times the speed of sound (aka Mach 5) or more.
  • Supersonic missiles travel at speeds between Mach 2-3
  • Subsonic missiles travel at less than Mach 1 (the speed of sound), usually in the range of 0.8 Mach (approximately 614 mph or 988 km/hour)


Nuke Opera 2020: Atomic Era Begins (1949-1962) — Part Two: 1954-1962

Atomic Age Begins – Part Two: 1954-1962:

For this portion of our history of the Cold War, we’re going to focus less on dates and more on three areas that heavily impacted this period in history: civil defense, the modern Civil Rights Movement and the Space Race.

Civil Defense:

Civil defense is the effort a nation makes to protect its citizens – specifically non-combatants – from military attacks and/or natural disasters. Naturally, the practice of defending cities and towns predates nuclear war, but the modern practice dates primarily back to World War I and fully came into its own during World War II.

After World War II, the question of civil defense for the nuclear age was raised. A study by the Provost Marshal General, 3B-1 “Defense Against Enemy Action Directed at Civilians” found that effective civil defense could still be possible in the nuclear age. It recommended a national shelter program as well as evacuating civilians from urban areas and the developing of early warning systems among other strategies.

The National Security Act of 1947 set the National Security Resources Board the task of planning for the strategic relocating of critical industries and government functions in order to ensure continuous operation.

Under Truman, not only was the Federal Civil Defense Administration created in 1950, but so was America’s first air raid early warning system, which would have given Americans three to six hours of warning that Soviet bombers were on the way. [(1)]

In order to supplement this early electronic warning systems, 150,000 civilian volunteers were recruited across 27 states to the Ground Observer Corps. These volunteers received training to help them identify various aircraft. They would keep watch at some 6,000 observation stations across the nation.  At the GOC’s peak in the mid-1950s, 400,000 volunteers worked at 16,000 outposts. The work was deathly dull, since it consisted primarily of watching the skies for hours on end, but members could receive ceremonial pins for completing a certain number of hours.

Enrollment in the GOC dipped with the Korean War armistice and by 1957, with the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line becoming operational, it was decided to phase out the program entirely by January, 1959.

As well as programs like the Ground Observers Corps, films like Our Cities Must Fight (1952) and traveling educational campaigns like Alert America, there were national civil defense drills. One such drill, Operation Greenlight, occurred in Portland, Oregon on September 27, 1955 and involved the practice evacuation of one thousand city blocks (about 4 square miles) of downtown Portland. The population of downtown Portland was estimated to be about 200 thousand people, of whom approximately 101,000 actually evacuated. A dramatization of the drill, “A Day Called X” was produced and aired on CBS in 1957.

Beginning in 1954, the US government began a series of nation-wide civil defense drills called Operation Alert. In the first year, the drill was limited to Washington D.C. and involved members of the federal government as well as civilians. The next year, on June 15, 1955, the drill went national, with 200 cities participating. These drills required citizens in the “target cities” to take cover for fifteen minutes while civil defense officials tested their own readiness and the effectiveness of their communication systems. In Washington DC, federal officials practiced evacuating from the city.

Even President Eisenhower took part in Operation Alert (OPAL) drills, though he himself wasn’t a particular fan of post-nuclear war planning, feeling that no nation, not even the United States, would be able to exist after World War III. As Department Executive Secretary Everette Gleason recorded during one meeting, Eisenhower felt:

The President said that, of course, his imagination as to the horrors of a third world war might be overdeveloped, but he believed that every single nation, including the United States, which entered into this war as a free nation would come out of it as a dictatorship […] This would be the price of survival.”  (Raven Rock, c. p 56).

Eisenhower wasn’t the only person who disliked the drills. Starting in 1955, anti-war protesters began defying orders to take cover during the Operation Alert drills. A group of pacifists, including Catholic Worker Dorothy Day, began their protest in response to the state of New York making refusal to participate punishable by a fine of up to $500 and a year in jail, the group of 27 sat on benches in Manhattan’s City Hall Park. They explained to reporters that they were protesting the very idea that civilians could be protected during a full-scale nuclear war. They were arrested but their sentences were suspended.

The protesters distributed pamphlets that included the following quote:

We will not obey this order to pretend, to evacuate, to hide. In view of the certain knowledge the administration of this country as that there is no defense in atomic warfare, we know this drill to be a military act in a cold war to instill fear, to prepare the collective mind for war. We refuse to cooperate. (Civil defense protest leaflet, 1955)

Protests against the Operation Alert drills continued until the drills themselves were stopped in 1962.  The largest protest took place on November 1, 1961 and involved roughly 50,000 women in 60 cities. The protest was organized by Women Strike for Peace, under the slogan “End the Arms Race not the Human Race.

Gimme Shelter:

In the early days of civil defense, the emphasis was on community efforts – mass evacuations from cities and larger towns and community shelters, as well as dispersing the federal government.  Home shelters and personal protection became more popular over time, particularly when it became clear that the Soviet Union was not only surpassing the US in terms of nuclear weapons, but also in civil defense. Not only did we have a missile gap, we also had a shelter gap. This information, was released in the Gaither Report in 1957, along with calculations that it would cost $25 billion dollars (roughly 230 billion in 2020) for the government to provide shelters for the American population.  This high price tag helped spur the US government to begin promoting the idea that Americans should build home shelters in basements and backyards.

Oddly enough, most Americans didn’t build their own shelters. In 1962, only 1.4% of Americans had a nuclear fallout shelter. Additionally, most Americans – according to a May 1962 study by Michigan State University’s Department of Communications – over 70% of Americans hadn’t received (78%) or read (73%) any governmental literature on fallout shelters. And 95% said they’d never been contacted by a fallout shelter salesman.

Of course, this study was conducted five months before the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Ironically, a little over a year prior to the discovery of Soviet missiles in Cuba, on October 6, 1961, President Kennedy urged Americans to build bomb shelters because of increased tensions between the US and Soviet Union due to the events of the Berlin Crisis of 1961. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Americans did rush to build fallout shelters in their homes or to at least gather supplies just in case the worst did happen.

According to the University of Michigan study, one reason why Americans didn’t build shelters was due to cost – 67% of those surveyed said a shelter cost more than most families could afford.  Additionally, building a home shelter was also predicated on the idea that a family actually owned a home, particularly one that either had a basement and/or spare land where the owner could dig a hole or build an above-ground shelter.

But simply owning a home wasn’t a guarantee that a family could afford to build a shelter. In 1961, the median family income was $5,315 while the cost of a bare-bones shelter was around $2,500. (One Nation Underground, p. 190) For many Americans, building a shelter wasn’t economically feasible.

While the government did publish materials aimed at helping apartment dwellers take shelter from fallout – presuming their apartment buildings weren’t destroyed in the initial blast – most plans were aimed at suburban homeowners, a group that was predominately white due to discriminatory real estate practices such as redlining, racial steering and exclusionary covenants wherein homeowners would agree not to sell to buyers who weren’t white, Caucasian or Aryan (depending on the preferred language of the covenant).

In the years after World War II, 90% of housing projects built used exclusionary covenants to racially restrict homeownership, including in the original suburban housing developments known as Levittowns.  The developer, William Levitt, refused to sell homes to blacks because, as he said, “If we sell one house to a Negro family, 90 to 95 percent of our white customers will not buy into the community.”

In 1957, the first black couple, Bill and Daisy Myers purchased a home in the Levittown, Pennsylvania suburb.  Unable to buy directly from Levitt, they purchased their home from a white couple, the Wechslers, a Jewish couple looking to get out of the suburbs. While Levitt wouldn’t sell directly to a black couple, he wasn’t able to prevent owners from reselling to whomever they would like.

The reaction to a black family moving into the previously all-white suburbs was typical of other desegregation efforts that occurred throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Their white neighbors made death threats against the Myers and the Wechslers; a cross was burned on the Myers’ lawn and their neighbors hung Confederate flags in their windows – and no, it wasn’t because they were big believers in states rights. A mob was waiting for the Meyers when they moved in, rocks were thrown through windows and bomb threats were made.

And this was in Pennsylvania, in the supposedly egalitarian North. In the South, the reaction to desegregation was more widespread, but no less reactionary.

The Civil Rights Movement:

Once again, I’m going to be declaring arbitrary boundaries in order to keep from falling down the rabbit hole of history. As with the Cold War, the Civil Rights movement in the United States doesn’t have a clear-cut beginning.  The fight for equality for blacks in America can be said to have begun as early as 1619, with the first arrival of enslaved Africans to the British colony of Jamestown[(2)]. As with the first use of nuclear weapons, the leaders of the time made a choice that their descendants and the descendants of their victims are still grappling with 400 years later.

The modern Civil Rights Movement has its roots in the post-Civil War period of Reconstruction, but for our purposes begins in 1954 with the Supreme Court’s decisions in Hernandez vs. Texas (May 3) and Brown vs. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas (May 17). Both decisions ruled against segregation in schools, with the first case handing down the decision that all races were entitled to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. The second and better-known decision, Brown vs. Board of Education, struck down Plessy vs. Ferguson, ruling against the doctrine of “separate but equal” (which was neither). This decision also declared the segregation of public schools to be unconstitutional.

The reaction to Brown vs. Board of Education was immediate, with school districts in Southern states generally refusing to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision[(3)]. In September 1954, Mississippi went so far as to amend its constitution to abolish public schools, creating private segregation academies for white students; in April 1955, they penalized white students with fines and/or jail time if they attended classes with black students.

In May 1955, the Supreme Court ruled that desegregation of schools must occur with “all deliberate speed.” Southern states continued to drag their feet, refusing to comply with the federal government’s instructions to desegregate schools. Protests in several areas become violent, requiring intervention the authorities. The most well-known case of this occurred on September 24, 1957, when President Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard and sent it along with 1,000 paratroopers from the 101st Airborne to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School.

On November 14, 1960, Ruby Bridges became the first black child to attend the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana. She and her mother were escorted to the school by four federal marshals, who would continue to escort Ruby for the rest of the school year. During that first year, Ruby Bridges received death threats from white adults, including one white woman who threatened to poison her every morning. IT was a threat deemed credible enough that the U.S. Marshals guarding her wouldn’t let her eat any food she didn’t bring from home.

Ruby Bridges was a first-grade student in 1960. She was six years old.

Emmett Tillwas fourteen when he was abducted, tortured and murdered for having allegedly whistled at and flirted with a white woman, Carolyn Bryant[(4)]. Bryant’s husband Roy became enraged when he learned of the allegation and, along with his half-brother J. W. Milam, went to Till’s great-uncle’s home and abducted him

on August 28, 1955.  Bryant and Milam beat and brutalized Emmett, allegedly meaning only to scare him. Instead, because Till refused to back down, refused to show the fear his killers wanted, Milam shot him in the head.  Then, he and Bryant tied a heavy weight to his body and threw Emmett Till into the Tallahatchie River. Till’s body was discovered and retrieved three days later.

Till’s mother insisted on holding an open casket funeral, so that people could see what had been done to her son. The images of the boy’s bloated and mutilated body sparked outrage across the country.

Bryant and Milam were brought to trial in September 1955 and after a five-day trial, the all-white jury found the two not guilty of kidnapping and murder despite copious evidence to the contrary. Because the two were protected by double jeopardy and couldn’t be tried again for their crime, they publicly admitted in a 1956 interview in Look magazine. In the interview, they not only described the murder in blatant if not graphic detail, they also attempted to justify the killing by claiming that Till had been ‘ruined’ by Northern ideas about racial equality and that they had killed Till to make an example of him about the importance of African Americans staying in their “place.”[(5)

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a city bus in Montgomery Alabama.[(6)] Her arrest helped to spark the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted from December 5, 1955 to December 20, 1956. The success of the boycott helped inspire other peaceful, nonviolent protests, many of which were met with violent countermeasures by whites.

Case in point, the Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins that began on February 1, 1960 in Greensboro, North Carolina. Sit-ins had been used to protest segregation prior to this; in August, 1939, Samuel Wilbert Tucker organized a sit-in to protest the segregation of the Alexandria, Virginia library, which refused to issue library cards to African Americans. And In 1958, separate sit-ins in Wichita, Kansas and Oklahoma City led to two different drug store chains ending segregation in their stores.

What the Greensboro sit-ins did was spark a larger sit-in movement that spread from Greensboro, to other cities in North Carolina and later, to other states like Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. The movement also helped spark the creation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a student-led organization that helped coordinate and assist direct-action campaigns against segregation and discrimination in the South. In addition to the sit-ins, the SNCC also helped with voter registration, the integration of interstate bus lines (Freedom Rides), and the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.

Additional info:

While it’s fairly common to associate racism with the South, discrimination based on race was found throughout the United States. Bigotry didn’t end at the Mason-Dixon Line or at the Mississippi River. What does this have to do with nuclear war? Directly, not much; instead, the Civil Rights Movement and the reaction to it by whites who opposed changes in the status quo so vehemently that they reacted to something as a lunch counter sit-in with disproportionate levels of violence reveals a gaping flaw in the very idea of civil defense.

In my research, I haven’t found any direct references to segregation playing a factor in any civil defense planning – no mentions of “separate but equal” shelters in official documents, for example[(7)]. But, it’s also not difficult to see white-led state and city governments making decisions without bothering to consider the impact those decisions would have on black populations, simply because it would never occur to them to think of those populations as important. It’s not a stretch to think that, oh, the same people who showed up to hurl racist invective at the Little Rock Nine or who threatened to poison a six year old child or who violently attacked the students who staged lunch counter sit-ins would turn black people away from fallout shelters.

People who would rather shut down every public school in their state rather than allow them to be integrated or who would willingly let admitted murderers walk free aren’t suddenly going to stop being virulently racist when the civil defense sirens start to blow. The bigotry doesn’t even have to be as overt as physically barring people from a shelter; it can be done as easily as placing all the shelters in the white part of town.

The writer, Langston Hughes brought up the issue of segregation and civil defense in one of his Jesse B. Semple stories, “Radioactive Red Caps” published in 1961 [(8)]:

“If I was in Mississippi, I would be Jim Crowed out of bomb shelters, so I would need some kind of protection. By the time I got the N.A.A.C.P. to take my case to the Supreme Court, the war would be over, else I would be atomized.”

“Absurd!” I said. “Bomb shelters will be for everybody.”

“Not in Mississippi,” said Simple. “Down there they will have some kind of voting test, else loyalty test, in which they will find some way of flunking Negroes out. You can’t tell me them Dixiecrats are going to give Negroes free rein of bomb shelters. On the other hand, come to think of it, they might have to let us in to save their own skins […Simple goes on a long aside about the dangers of radioactive garbage possibly contaminating stray cats who might then contaminate Simple’s wife if she pets one and then if Simple were to pet his wife, he might get contaminated.]

“You are stretching the long arm of coincidence mighty far,” I said. “What is more likely to happen is, if the bombs fall, you will be radioactive long before the garbage will.”

“That will worry white folks,” said Simple. “Just suppose all the Negroes down South got atomized, charged up like hot garbage, who would serve the white folks’ tables, nurse their children, Red Cap their bags, and make up their Pullman berths? Just think! Suppose all the colored Red Caps carrying bags on the Southern Railroad was atom-charged! Suitcases would get atomized, too, and all that is packed in them. Every time a white man took out his toothbrush to wash his teeth on the train, his teeth would get atom-charged. How could he kiss his wife when he got home?” (Source: The Collected Works of Langston Hughes, Volume 8:  The Later Simple Stories, (p. 50-53; accessed via Google Books on March 31, 2020)

Atoms for Peace:

In a later Simple story, “The Atomic Age,” Hughes referenced President Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” speech, delivered on December 8, 1953[(9)]. As Simple saw it:

I read in the papers where the President done issued a statement that it won’t be long now. […] Till them atoms will be doing the work of men. They gonna stop making bombs in the United States and stat making all kinds of little old small machines for peace that will do more work than a thousand big machines like we got now. (Source: The Collected Works of Langston Hughes, Volume 8:  The Later Simple Stories, (p. 69-72; accessed via Google Books on March 31, 2020)

Simple got the basic idea behind the “Atoms for Peace” speech right – Eisenhower’s speech was delivered to the United Nations General Assembly and was part of a larger propaganda campaign called Project Candor, intended to inform Americans about the risks and potential benefits of a nuclear future. Together with the speech, Operation Candor launched a media campaign aimed at “emotion management” – an effort to balance peoples’ fears of nuclear weapons with optimistic promises of peaceful uses of the “friendly atom.” This campaign lasted for years, leading to research into non-combat uses for nuclear weapons.

Project Plowshare was one of the efforts associated with the overall “Atoms for Peace” campaign. It was a series of nuclear tests conducted by the United States to find civilian applications for nuclear explosives. Some of the successful uses included rock blasting, chemical element manufacture and simulating the flow of natural gas from “tight” formation gas fields.   The first test, codenamed Gnome, occurred on December 10, 1961 and the last, the Rio Bravo series of tests, occurred on May 17, 1973. All in all, the United States detonated a total of 31 nuclear warheads in 27 separate tests.

An example of the kind of testing done was Project Sedan, done as part of the Storax nuclear testing series. The test occurred on July 6, 1962 and created the largest human-made crater in the mainland US. It also managed to contaminate more US residents with fallout than any other test. Other ideas that never left the drawing board were blasting a new Panama Canal and using underground nuclear explosions to generate electricity.

The Soviet Union also had a similar program, called Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy.  Like the United States, they explored potential peaceful uses for nuclear explosives including excavating canals and mining.

Additional information:

Space Race:

One peaceful use for nuclear weapons was as a method of propulsion for space ships. Project Orion was a plan to use atomic bombs to propel ships into low Earth orbit and beyond. The original idea of using explosives to fuel rocket propulsion was first proposed back in 1881 by Nikolai Kibalchich and was used as a bit of worldbuilding by Robert Heinlein in a 1940 story, “Blowups Happen.”  The initial proposal for using nuclear explosions was first made by Stanislaw Ulam – one of the designers of the Teller-Ulam style thermonuclear bomb – back in 1946.

The concept for Project Orion was this: a series of small nuclear devices (in the 5-kiloton range) would be dropped out of the back of a spaceship and detonated at the rate of 2-4 per second. Most of the force of these explosions would be directed toward a 1,000-ton steel pusher plate and would thus ‘push’ the ship up into the sky.  While nuclear explosions were never used for reasons that should be obvious, tests with conventional explosives did prove that the concept would work.

Due to a combination of factors, including potential environmental issues due to fallout[(10)]>  and the Partial Nuclear Test Ban treaty of 1963 outlawing everything except underground nuclear testing, Project Orion ended up being cancelled in 1964.

Project Orion was only one aspect of the Space Race, which itself served as something of a propaganda war between the US and the Soviet Union – one in which the Soviet Union took several early victories:

  • August 21, 1957 – The Soviet Union tests the first intercontinental ballistic missile, the R-7 Semyorka. With an effective firing range of 5,000-5,500 miles, missiles launched from fields in the Soviet Union could reach US cities on the East and West coasts.
  • October 4, 1957 – Sputnik-1, launched using an R-7 Semyorka missile, becomes the first artificial satellite in Earth orbit. In his examination of the horror genre, Danse Macabre, Stephen King discusses where he was when he first learned about the Sputnik launch and how the event inspired real horror in him for the first time (he’d have been about ten at the time).
  • November 7, 1957 Laika, the first dog in space, was launched with Sputnik II, the second spacecraft launched into Earth orbit.
  • April 12, 1961 – Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human to fly in space aboard the Vostok I.

Additional Sources:

Cuban Missile Crisis:

During Eisenhower’s presidency, the Cuban Revolution occurred beginning in 1953 and ending on December 31, 1958 when rebel forces led by Fidel Castro ousted the military dictatorship of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista.

Initially, Castro had promised a democratic Cuba, but after meeting with Cuban communists, he became more interested in Marxism-Leninism. Additionally, worsening relations with America, including an embargo imposed by the Eisenhower administration led to Castro seeking out the Soviet Union for support. After the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, Castro declared himself a communist and turned Cuba into a one-party communist state with himself as the sole leader until ill health caused him to officially step down in 2008.

In October 1962, the US and Soviet Union came as close as they ever did to a full-out nuclear war over the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba. The Cuban Missile Crisis lasted from October 16-28, 1962 and began when an American U-2 spy plane detected several nuclear missiles in Cuba.

On October 16, President Kennedy met with advisors to discuss how to respond to the presence of missiles in Cuba – missiles that could easily reach any location within the Lower 48 states.  The options discussed include three options: diplomacy; a naval quarantine[(11)] of Cuba; or, destroying the missile sites with an air attack – an option that would most likely have triggered a Soviet counterattack on a target like Berlin.

Kennedy rejected the idea of an attack, instead favoring the idea of using the US Navy to quarantine Cuba in the hopes of buying time to negotiate a diplomatic solution to get the missiles out of Cuba.

By October 17, the first of three Soviet SS-5 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) sites was discovered in Cuba. The next day, October 18, Kennedy met with the Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko, who denied the existence of missiles in Cuba.

Between October 19-21, Kennedy met with the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussing the options available to him. Ultimately, he decides to go ahead with the naval quarantine.

In an eighteen-minute speech on October 22, 1962, Kennedy addressed American on national television, outlining the crisis in Cuba. The US military goes to Defcon 3, while Castro mobilized his own military forces.

Photographs reveal that the missiles in Cuba were ready to launch as of October 23; adding to the tensions, the first Soviet ships reached the US naval quarantine on October 24.  Fortunately, they did not attempt to break through, but instead held position.

On October 25, US forces were taken to Defcon 2, one step away from full-out nuclear war.

Things begin to speed up on October 26 as Kennedy and Khrushchev work to negotiate a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Khrushchev offers to remove missiles from Cuba if Kennedy publicly guarantees that the US will never invade Cuba. During this time, the CIA reports that work on the missile bases in Cuba is not only continuing, it’s accelerating. Robert Kennedy, the President’s brother and US Attorney General, meets with the Soviet Ambassador and guarantees that the US is willing to remove its missiles from Turkey as part of a potential settlement.

Meanwhile, Castro sends a message to Khrushchev, urging a nuclear first strike against the US if the Americans attempt to invade Cuba.

Two mishaps with American spy planes occur on October 28, 1962 – in the first incident, an American U-2 play accidentally flies into Russian airspace, while a second U-2 is shot down over Cuba.  Khrushchev sends a second letter to Kennedy, saying that in addition to America making a public promise to not to invade Cuba, the US must also remove its missiles from Turkey.

On October 28, the Crisis ends with Khrushchev making the announcement that the Soviet missiles in Cuba will be dismantled. He does not publicly insist on the removal of US missiles from Turkey, since while Kennedy did agree to this condition, he wanted to keep it secret from Turkey for diplomatic reasons.

While the worst of the tensions were over, the US naval quarantine of Cuba didn’t officially end until November 21, after Khrushchev agreed to remove Soviet IL-28 nuclear bombers from Cuba.

Technically, while the Soviets did remove their medium and intermediate-range missiles from Cuba, they left roughly 100 tactical nuclear weapons for possible use if America decided to renege on their agreement not to invade Cuba.[(12)] However, due to concerns about trusting Castro with the weapons, the Soviets removed the last of the warheads from Cuba on December 1, 1962.

In keeping with our side of the bargain, the US did remove its Titan missiles from bases in Turkey.

Some good did come out of the Cuban Missile Crisis – specifically, the US and the Soviet Union realized they needed to be able to communicate directly with each other.  As a result, the so-called “red phone” hotline – more accurately known as the Moscow-Washington hotline – was installed.  However, the “phone” line has never used phones, red or any other color. Instead, it relied on Teletype equipment until 1986, when the system switched to fax machines.

This willingness for both nations to talk – as well as both sides having seen just how easily nuclear war could have started – led to a lessening of tensions that allowed for a period of détente.


  • [1]This might not sound like much in the way of warning, but by 1983, with the advent of ICBMS, the warning time was reduced to 30-35 minutes for land-based Soviet missiles and 8-15 minutes for submarine-launched missiles. Source: NYTimes
  • [2]Which ignores the presence of enslaved Africans in Spanish and Portuguese colonies prior to that, but Colonial American history is very Anglo-centric. For the record, the first enslaved Africans in what would become the United States was an unknown group of African slaves in the Spanish colony of St. Augustine in Florida in 1565.
  • [3]The exception to this was the Charleston, Arkansas school district, which unanimously voted on July 27, 1954 to end segregation for first through twelfth grade.
  • [4]In 2008, Bryant admitted in an interview that she fabricated some of her testimony. Namely, that Till hadn’t grabbed her around the waist and uttered obscenities as she’d claimed at the time. She may have lied at the time out of fear of her abusive husband, Roy Bryant.  She said in that interview that “nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.”
  • [5]You can read the article from Look online, thanks to Professor Douglas O. Linder’s Famous Trials site. The article, The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi, was written by William Bradford Huie and appeared in the January 1956 issue.  Please Note: the article uses racist language, specifically a slur aimed at blacks, and discusses the cold, calculated murder of a child by two adults. It’s not graphically described but it doesn’t have to be in order to be disturbing and sickening.  If you want to read reactions to the article, American Experience added those on to the end of their transcription of the Look The Murder of Emmett Till: Killers’ Confession (same advisory about racist language holds; plus some of the letters are essentially the 1950s version of “Don’t Read the Comments.”)
  • [6]Nine months prior to Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat, Claudette Colvin, a fifteen-year-old girl also from Montgomery, Alabama, refused to give up her seat to a white woman. She was one of five plaintiffs in the first federal case, Browder v. Gayle, that challenged bus segregation in Montgomery. That case would later be heard by the Supreme Court, which would rule in favor of the order ending bus segregation in Alabama and the Montgomery bus boycott.
  • [7]Though, since much of civil defense planning was left to the states rather than the federal government, checking every plan developed would take a lot more time and effort to research.
  • [8]Langston Hughes, an American poet, writer and social activist, wrote a series of short stories commenting on various aspects of African-American life using the character of Jesse B. Semple (“Simple”) as the second half of a conversation with an unnamed narrator (probably Hughes himself).
  • [9]At least, I’m fairly certain that’s what’s being referred to. Finding a date for the story was less than productive.
  • [10]It was calculated that lifting a pulse rocket into low Earth orbit (roughly 1,200 miles up) would require at least 800 bombs, with interplanetary travel requiring many more.
  • [11]Technically, what was suggested was a naval blockade of Cuba – US ships would prevent Soviet ships from reaching Cuba, but because a blockade can be considered an act of war, the phrase “naval quarantine” was used to help reduce an already tense situation.
  • [12]Considering America’s tendency to violate treaty agreements, it’s hard to blame Khrushchev for wanting an edge, just in case.


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Nuke Opera 2020: The Next Round

Today marks the beginning of the second round for 2020 of A Round of Words in 80 Days, “The Writing Challenge That Knows You Have a Life.”  As is traditional with the beginning of a new round, today is a day for the stating your goals/plans for the round ahead.

I took yesterday off from posting because I figured I’d earned a bit of a lazy day. It actually felt okay to take a break and I’m glad I did. I’m actually thinking of making it a regular thing — taking off the Sunday before a new round starts and using it as a day to reflect about what goals I want to work on.

Luckily, my goals for this round are pretty straightforward: continue posting essays in the Nuke Opera 2020 series I started during the last round. I’ve decided on a few additional criteria, meant to help me keep to my goal but also to allow for some flexibility, since between changes in my schedule at work and changes wrought by COVID-19, I want to keep this blog as stress-free (and therefore sustainable) as possible.

  • I’m going to post at least once a week, preferably either on Sunday or Wednesday, with the optimal goal being to continue posting twice a week on Sunday and Wednesday. I’m planning on making use of the fact that WordPress allows you to schedule posts to keep to this schedule as necessary.
  • I’ll be continuing the history and science articles because they provide background I think is necessary for looking at the stories and books I want to start talking about. Also, the history articles in particular are meant to be a series and the thought of leaving the series unfinished makes me shudder.
  • But, I also want to start delving into the books and stories that have helped shape my idea of what the Nuke Opera subgenre is.  For one thing, I’m getting to a point where I’ve provided enough context to be able to begin talking about some of the earlier stories. For another, since writing about stories/books involves expressing my subjective opinions, I’m hoping that writing those articles will be relatively easier and faster than the research-heavy history and science pieces. Part of this is going to involve defining what a Nuke Opera is — which I’m really excited about.
  • Another goal is going to be engaging more with my fellow AROW80 members. I’ve been lacking in that and I think getting out and reading other peoples’ articles will help me feel more connected to the community.

Nuke Opera 2020: Round Two — Tentative Schedule: Round Two will run from April 6 through June 24, 2020. I’ve got the first couple months planned out and I’m leaving some wiggle room in case I decide to add some supplemental materials.

  • April 6 — Round Two Goals Post
  • April 8 — Part Two of Atomic Era Begins — 1954-1962
  • April 12 — What Is A “Nuke Opera”
  • April 15 — Elite Panic
  • April 19 — Lot
  • April 22 — Lot’s Daughter
  • April 26 — Detente 1962-1979
  • April 29 — A Boy and His Dog
  • May 3, 6, 10, 13, 17 — Farnham’s Freehold — multiple posts because Farnham’s Freehold is a novel so it’s a longer work but also because there’s a lot of ground to cover.
  • May 20 — Tensions Flare, then Fade (1980-1991)  —  history article about the Reagan Era of the Cold War, a time when things got heated but ultimately cooled down for good.
  • May 24, 27, 31 — The Survivalist #1: Total War — the first (literally and figuratively) of the books I’ve dubbed Nuke Operas. Since this is also a novel, this will likely also require several articles.

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Boilerplate Links:

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. If you want to join, you can at any time.Set the goals you want to accomplish and get and give encouragement to fellow ROWers. Feel free to join us on Facebook at ROW80 or follow us on Twitter at #ROW80.  Or you can do all of the above!


Nuke Opera 2020: Breathing Space

There’s not going to be a substantial post tonight. I’ve been working on one for the last several days but like everyone else on the planet, I’m juggling trying to do normal things with the fact that the world is even less normal and more chaotic than usual.

Oddly enough, working on articles and doing research related to nuclear war is at one and the same time oddly comforting while also occasionally a source of stress (usually in cases where the parallels between then and now are just a little too similar — like, say, fallout shelters and self-quarantining).

I’m still going to continue with Nuke Opera 2020, but I may be making changes into how/when I post — part of the stress is that I want to stick with the Sunday/Wednesday schedule, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to maintain that and that’s making the part of my brain that likes seeing posts line up in neat little rows on the calendar go “but, nooooo!”

For right now, I’m using this post as a way to satisfy orderly-calendar-loving brain and to cut myself some slack. I hope you’re all finding a way to do something similar. Be gentle with yourselves.


Nuke Opera 2020: What’s Coming Next?

I’ve been writing these articles as part of my goals for A Round of Words in 80 Days (The Writing Challenge That Knows You Have a Life). As the name suggests, AROW80 lasts for eighty days. The first round of 2020 started back on Monday, January 6 and ended on Thursday, March 26.  I set myself the goal of posting at least one article related to my Nuke Opera series a week and I’m really happy to say that I’ve managed to meet that goal, having posted at least two articles related to Nuke Opera 2020 every week.

By the Numbers:

  • Total Articles Posted: Twenty-five
  • Most Articles Posted in a Week: Four (January 19-22, 2020)
  • Total Words Written: 58,599
  • Total Pages Written: 131 page
  • Longest Article: 6,330 words (Nuke Opera 2020: Opening the Pot – 1945-1949)

What’s Next?:

I’m going to be continuing the Nuke Opera series in the next round of AROW80, shifting the focus from the history and science of the Cold War/nuclear weapons to the literary precursors of Nuke Operas, starting with Ward Moore’s stories Lot and Lot’s Daughter, moving on to Harlan Ellison’s A Boy and His Dog and finishing up with Robert A. Heinlein’s Farnham’s Freehold. I’ll likely be touching on some other works along the way.

Until then, stay safe, stay inside, wash your hands.

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Boilerplate Links:

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. If you want to join, you can at any time.Set the goals you want to accomplish and get and give encouragement to fellow ROWers. Feel free to join us on Facebook at ROW80 or follow us on Twitter at #ROW80.  Or you can do all of the above!

Nuke Opera 2020: Atomic Era Begins (1949-1962) — Part One: 1949-1954

Atomic Era Begins — 1949-1962, Part One (1949-1954):

On September 24, 1949, President Truman announced that the Soviet Union had tested its first atomic weapon. The test itself, nicknamed “First Lightning” by the Soviets and “Joe 1” by the Americans, had occurred on August 29, 1949.

Surprisingly, the news didn’t incite a panic among Americans – partly due to the government instructing reporters not to overplay the significance of the news. Additionally, panic didn’t appear because this news wasn’t unexpected. After all, Americans had had four years to imagine the possibility of their cities being atom bombed. Not to mention, the idea that the Soviets would develop their own bomb was widely regarded as simply a matter of time.

Instead, the primary reaction was the desire to see America increase its lead by stockpiling more nuclear weapons. The Hearst newspapers called for the US to stockpile four bombs to every Soviet bomb [(1)] while Life magazine said America should maintain a “clear, unchallenged, demonstrable” nuclear supremacy (Bomb’s Early Light).

In addition to increasing the US stockpile in terms of numbers, there were also calls to make weapons that were significantly more powerful.  The idea of a ‘superbomb’ had been being discussed for years, with Edward Condon warning in early 1946 about the possibility of bombs a thousand times more powerful than the ones dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

On January 31, 1950, President Truman authorized the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) to begin work on the hydrogen bomb, also known as “the Super.” [(2)] The program for building the Super dwarfed the Manhattan Project and led to the AEC tripling in size from 55,000 to 142,000 employees and from a handful of sites to over a score. The project used 7% of the United States’ electrical output and exceeded the combined market capitalization of Bethlehem Steel, US Steel, Alcoa, DuPont, Goodyear and General Motors.

The American public’s reaction was largely favorable. According to a Gallup poll conducted in February 1950, 69% of Americans favored building the hydrogen bomb with another 9% expressing reluctant approval. Only 14% of those polled expressed disapproval of the hydrogen bomb.

While the world celebrated the end of World War II, there was still the fear that there would eventually be another war. In October 1945, for example, a poll found that 59% of Americans believed there would be another war within the next twenty years; this figure grew to 77% by late 1947. By 1948, a Gallup poll found 57% of Americans expected another war within a decade and 43% thought it would happen within three or four years.

It happened in two, when on June 25, 1950, Communist North Korea invaded Capitalist South Korea, capturing the South Korean capital of Seoul three days later. The United Nations responded by assembling an international force of 16 nations to combat the invasion. These forces were led by US General Douglas MacArthur. US-led UN forces landed in South Korea in July 1950, beginning the Korean War.

For more information on the Korean War, I recommend the following videos

Welcome to Korea:

For our purposes, the Korean War is important because it was the first shooting war of the Atomic Age and it came at a time when there were two nuclear powers instead of one. There were calls to use nuclear weapons against the North Koreans and the Chinese, not only from within the military but also among the American people.

According to an August 1950 Gallup poll, 28% of Americans were in favor of using the atomic bomb in Korea. A year later, when the war was becoming more costly and frustrating, 51% supported the atomic bombing of military targets.[(3)]

General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the United Nations forces fighting in the Korean war, requested authority to employ nuclear weapons in December 1950, going so far as to submit a list of “retardation targets” in Korea and China, which would require 34 atomic bombs.[(4)]

In April 1951, Truman did make arrangements with the AEC to transfer nine nuclear bombs into military control, though there was some concern about both MacArthur’s lack of technical knowledge about the weapons and their effects as well as fear that he might use the weapons prematurely. Rather than place the bombs under MacArthur’s direct control, authority to deploy the weapons was given to Strategic Air Command, which planned to bomb industrial cities in North Korea and China rather than air bases and depots.

While the option was still being discussed as late as 1953, ultimately, nuclear weapons were not used during the Korean War. Work on the hydrogen bomb, however, did begin at this time and continued on throughout the war and beyond.

Despite favorable polls, not everyone in either America or the rest of the world was in favor of the H-bomb. In March, 1950, members of the Permanent Committee of the Partisans of Peace (an extension of the World Peace Congress) met in Stockholm, Sweden. In a meeting led by Frederick Joliot-Curie, son-in-law of Marie Curie, the members adopted a resolution aimed at banning nuclear weapons. The resolution, officially the Stockholm Peace Appeal, was dubbed the “Ban the Bomb” pledge. In addition to demanding a ban on all nuclear weapons, the pledge also called for holding those who refused to comply accountable for that refusal.

The Appeal was widely circulated, collecting 1.5 million signatures in the United States, 10 million in France, 60 million in China and 115 million in the Soviet Union. In Brazil, 3.75 million people signed, including 2,000 illiterate peasants who used their thumbprints to sign.

There were those who looked on the early nuclear disarmament movement as subversive, even treasonous. This led to some activists retreating from the cause, while others continued to fight against what they saw as a rising threat of nuclear war.

Some who denounced the Stockholm Peace Appeal did so out of a rejection of the Appeal’s connection to communism. Representative Peter Rodino, Jr, (D-NJ) called for members of the clergy of all faiths to reject the petition due to “the insidious danger of atheistic communism” that he felt the petition exemplified. He also decried the Appeal as “a war petition calculated to give Soviet Russia time to stockpile atomic weapons while we are lulled into a false sense of security.” (Intondi, p. 36).

Across the aisle, Representative Bernard Kearney (R-NY) denounced the petition as an attempt to “confuse and divide the American people and paralyze their resistance to Communist aggression.” (Intondi, p. 36)

Red Scare II: The New Batch:

“Today we are engaged in a final, all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity. The modern champions of communism have selected this as the time. And, ladies and gentlemen, the chips are down – they are truly down.”Senator Joseph McCarthy.

On February 9, 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin gave a speech to the Women’s Republican Club of Wheeling, West Virginia. In that speech, he announced that he had a list of 205 (or 57, or 81 or…) men in the State Department who were not only members of the Communist Party but also members of a spy ring.

There was one problem: the list didn’t actually exist– hence the ever-changing number of supposed Communists in the State Department. However, because of growing fears of the Communist Soviet Union, the press jumped on McCarthy’s statement and ran with it. This catapulted the junior senator from Wisconsin into the national spotlight and helped begin the second Red Scare.

While Senator McCarthy is often linked with things like the blacklisting of writers and actors in Hollywood and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), he wasn’t actually involved with either of those things. They were happening concurrently with McCarthy’s investigations into the alleged communist infiltration of the US government. In actuality, McCarthyism became the point where both elite and public opinion turned against the Red Scare – likely because McCarthy went so far as to alienate other anti-communists by overreacting and overreaching himself. [(5)]

By the time McCarthy began attacking the Army, in trials broadcast on national television between April and June 1954, his fifteen minutes of fame were beginning to wind down. His bullying of witnesses helped turn public opinion against him, leading to the US Senate voting on December 2, 1954 to censure McCarthy. A move McCarthy ignored, but that no one else did – then-President Eisenhower quipped that McCarthyism was now “McCarthywasm” (TV Tropes Useful Notes, Joseph McCarthy)

For more information on McCarthyism:

Spies Like Us:

It’s easy to characterize the anti-communist rhetoric of the 1950s as simple, baseless hysteria. But there were Communists working within the US to funnel information about the US nuclear program to the Soviet Union. Granted, not as many as some feared, but those who were doing the spying were well-placed.  In fact, there had been spies within the US nuclear program from the beginning of the Manhattan Project.

Klaus Fuchs, a German-born British theoretical physicist who was part of the British delegation at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project.  He’d begun spying for the Soviet Union while working on the British Tube Alloys program (predecessor to the Manhattan Project).  Fuchs voluntarily confessed to being a spy in January 1950, with some of his statements being used to implicate other spies.

Among those Fuchs implicated was Harry Gold, an American who himself confessed to acting as a courier for Fuchs and David Greenglass, brother of Ethel Rosenberg. Gold was a key witness against Greenglass, who in turn also gave evidence against his sister and his brother-in-law Julius Rosenberg.

The Rosenbergs were tried and convicted for their role in coordinating and recruiting members of an espionage network that included Greenglass.  Since the US and Soviet Union were allies at the time, they couldn’t be charged with treason but were convicted of espionage in 1951. They were executed on June 19, 1953, despite an international movement that demanded clemency and which included appeals from leading European intellectuals and even the Pope. Eisenhower justified the execution of Ethel Rosenberg — who many felt had not been involved in atomic spying — by explaining to his son that if he spared her, then the Soviet Union would use that as an excuse to recruit female spies.

While the Rosenbergs were involved in espionage, their trial and conviction occurred under less than ethical conditions. Greenglass originally testified that his sister had nothing to do with his atomic espionage, placing the blame solely on Julius’s shoulders – however, ten days before the start of the Rosenbegs’ trial, Greenglass changed his testimony, including Ethel in his accusations. This new testimony was in exchange for a deal that would protect Greenglass’s wife, Ruth, who some scholars believe may have been more involved in the atomic espionage than Ethel was.

The H-Bomb:

Note: the terms ‘hydrogen bomb/weapon’ is synonymous with ‘thermonuclear bomb/weapon’ and ‘fusion bomb/weapon.’

When all was said and done, despite protests and petitions and debates, work on the hydrogen bomb began with the Operation Greenhouse tests at Eniwetok Atoll  [(6)] in the Marshall Islands. This series of tests assessed design principles that would be pivotal for the first hydrogen bomb design.

On November 1, 1952, the US conducted its first hydrogen bomb test at Eniwetok Atoll.  The test was designated Shot Mike, of Operation Ivy (aka Ivy Mike). The weapon was nicknamed “the Sausage” because its cylindrical shape was, well, sausage-like. You can watch video footage of the test.  You can watch a longer video, with additional footage and context at OPERATION IVY 1952 HYDROGEN BOMB TESTS at ENEWETAK ATOLL 80294

Due to its size, Ivy Mike wasn’t dropped on Elugelab, but was instead built on the island and detonated from the ground. The blast destroyed the island of Elugelab, leaving behind a crater over a mile in diameter and roughly 16-17 stories deep. You can still see the crater on Google Earth images of the atoll.

Additional Info:

Stop Copying Me!:

Whatever advantage was gained by being the first to build and test the H-bomb was short-lived. The Soviet Union tested what it claimed was its first thermonuclear device, RDS-6 (nicknamed Joe-4  by the Americans) on August 12, 1953. While the test’s yield wasn’t in the megaton range (it was “only” 400 kilotons), the Soviets still took the win, in part for propaganda purposes. In particular, they drew attention to the fact that their fusion weapon was deliverable by air, something the Americans wouldn’t accomplish for another six months.

Castle Bravo:

On March 1, 1954, during the Operation Castle series of tests at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, test shot Bravo was dropped. This test represented the most powerful nuclear device detonated by the United States and was our first lithium deuteride fueled thermonuclear device. Until the Soviet Tsar Bomba test in 1961, Castle Bravo was the most powerful artificial explosion in human history.

It was also one of the worst nuclear disasters in history. Due to unexpected additional reactions within the explosion, the yield was nearly three times stronger than what had been expected. Instead of being “only” six megatons, the blast’s yield was 15 megatons, meaning the blast’s effects reached higher and further than expected.

Fallout, primarily in the form of pulverized coral fell on the islands of the Rongelap and Utirik Atolls. At the time, it was dubbed “Bikini snow” and led to the inhabitants of the islands suffering from radiation sickness – something exacerbated by the fact none of those inhabitants were evacuated until three days after the explosion. Twenty-three crew members of the Japanese fishing vessel, Daigo Fukuryuu Maru (Lucky Dragon #5) were also contaminated by heavy fallout and experienced acute radiation sickness. One member of the crew, Aikichi Kuboyama, died on September 23, 1954 and is considered the first victim of the hydrogen bomb [(7)]

Additionally, fallout in the form of gases and finer particulate matter spread around the world, and was detected in Australia, India, Japan as well as in the United States and even in parts of Europe.  The Southwestern United States received the greatest amount of fallout of those areas outside the South Pacific.

The Castle Bravo tests ended up sparking international incidents, especially in Japan, who reached a settlement with the United States, wherein each of the surviving victims of the Lucky Dragon received $5,500 ($52,800 in 2020 money).

The effects of the Castle Bravo tests are still impacting the people of the Marshall Islands to this day. In addition to being forced from their homes and exposed to radiation (albeit inadvertently), radiation related cancers and birth defects are still major problems faced by the Marshallese. While the Marshall Island Claims Tribunal exists to award compensation for these health effects, there are things that money cannot buy.

Lani Kramer, a Marshallese councilwoman has said, “As a result of being displaced we’ve lost our cultural heritage, our traditional customs and skills, which for thousands of years were passed down from generation to generation.”

Nuclear Strategy:

Additionally, now that there was a second nuclear power in the world, the US military had to develop strategies and plans for fighting a nuclear war.

The 1950 war plan, OFF TACKLE, stated that in case of nuclear war, SAC was to expend all of its bombers, crews and weapons within the first three months of war being declared. The thinking was that a nuclear war would either be over in 90 days or there would simply be nothing left to fight over. Unlike earlier war plans, in OFF TACKLE plan, SAC was to ‘destroy’ targets rather than ‘direct’ bombs against them.

It’s also at this point in time when we begin to see the first efforts at what would come to be known as “Continuity of Government” – basically, the ability for the (in this case) US government to continue working after a nuclear war.

The first bomb shelter intended to protect against atomic bombs was built during Truman’s presidency. Construction was authorized on August 1, 1950 though word of the shelter didn’t reach the public until April 18, 1951. The shelter cost roughly $881,000 in 1950 money, though despite authorizing the cost, Truman had no intention of using the shelter when the day came. As he told his naval aid, Robert Dennison:

Of course, you’ve got to go ahead with all this planning and all of these arrangements, but  I want to tell you one thing. If a situation ever develops where execution [of the evacuation order] seems to be indicated, I don’t intend to leave the White House. I am going to be right here. (Raven Rock, p. 29)

Truman further told Dennison: I would like to be as sure as I can that there’s some way that I can get on the air to talk to the people of the United States, to assure them that I am here, that I’m not up in the hills some place, and to tell them what I can of the situation. (Raven Rock, p. 29)

As well as providing for his own safety (despite his unwillingness to use it), Truman also created the Federal Civil Defense Administration on December 1, 1950. He later explained his reasoning: So long as there is any chance at all that atomic bombs may fall on our cities, we cannot gamble on being caught unprepared. (Raven Rock, p. 31)

The FCDA would later produce dozens of films, pamphlets and other materials, including a traveling show, “Alert America” that traveled via tractor-trailer to 70 cities in 1952. Among the films FCDA created were Survival Under Atomic Attack, What you Should Know About Biological Warfare, and the infamous Duck and Cover.

Truman left office on January 15, 1953, delivering a farewell address that included the following:

Now, once in a while, I get a letter from some impatient person asking, why don’t we get it over with? Why don’t we issue an ultimatum, make all-out war, drop the atomic bomb? For most Americans, the answer is quite simple: We are not made that way. We are a moral people. Peace is our goal, with justice and freedom. We cannot, of our own free will, violate the very principles that we are striving to defend. The whole purpose of what we are doing is to prevent world war III. Starting a war is no way to make peace. But if anyone still thinks that just this once, bad means can bring good ends, then let me remind you of this: We are living in the 8th year of the atomic age. We are not the only nation that is learning to unleash the power of the atom. A third world war might dig the grave not only of our Communist opponents but also of our own society, our world as well as theirs. Starting an atomic war is totally unthinkable for rational men. 

Dwight D. Eisenhower succeeded Truman as President, inheriting not only the Korean War but also the Cold War. A war hero and a former general who had served as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe– a position that included being the commander of NATO’s Allied Command Operations in Europe, Eisenhower had never actually faced combat as a soldier. He was however intimately familiar with the damage and destruction that World War II had caused in Europe.

During the first months of Eisenhower’s first term of office, Joseph Stalin died of a stroke on March 5, 1953. He was temporarily succeeded by Gregory Malenkov, who was ultimately succeeded by Nikita Khrushchev, who would be the primary adversary of the United States until his “voluntary” retirement in 1964.

Eisenhower was, in the words of Garrett M. Graff, a man who “loved soldiering, but hated war.” (Raven Rock, p. 44)  Having become president at a time when nuclear weapons were becoming more powerful as well as easier and cheaper to make, Eisenhower valued taking his time and making decisions carefully. He had campaigned on a “New Look” for US foreign policy, one that emphasized greater focus, strength and clarity than Truman’s ‘erratic” and “militaristic” policies.

Of the US presidents who served during the Cold War, Eisenhower’s term in office was one of the longest[(8)] — lasting from January 20, 1953-January 20, 1961 and helped shape America’s response to the Soviets. We’ll be discussing more of his impact in our next article.


[1] By 1950, the US had a stockpile of 299 nuclear weapons to the Soviet Union’s five, so to get this ratio, we would have had to stop producing until the Soviets built another seventy bombs.
[2] At this point in time, the AEC had full authority over nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.
[3] Which sounds good, but remember that Hiroshima and Nagasaki – not to mention Tokyo and Dresden – were considered military targets during World War II, despite being civilian cities that happened to contain military bases or industrial centers.
[4] This doesn’t necessarily mean there were 34 targets, as some nuclear strategies call for using multiple bombs on a single location.
[5] Something similar happened during the Salem Witch Hunts, wherein public opinion began to turn against the witch hunts as they continued on and more and more people began to be accused, including members of the elite classes.
[6] Eniwetok Atoll is an alternate spelling of Enewetak Atoll. From April 14, 1948 to August 18, 1958, 43 nuclear tests occurred there, for a yield of roughly 31.8 megatons or about 6% of the total test yield of ALL nuclear tests conducted worldwide.
[7] During treatment for acute radiation syndrome, the crew of the Lucky Dragon were given transfusions with blood infected with hepatitis. Kuboyama died from cirrhosis of the liver that was compounded by this hepatitis infection.
[8] Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan both served a total of 2,922 days in office. Reagan served from January 20, 1981-January 20, 1989.



Nuke Opera 2020: Cool Links

Because I can’t get my brain to giddy-up and work on an actual article, I figured I’d share some cool links of early Atomic Age films, articles, manuals and comics. Most of these were found at the Internet Archive. Please note, since these are for the most part primary sources, there will be presumptions that reflect the prejudices and bigotries that were commonly accepted at the time. Read/watch at your own risk.

Adventures Inside the Atom — A 1948 comic book released by General Electric to educate the kids about the exciting new world of atomic energy.

Dagwood Splits the Atom (1949) — an educational pamphlet aimed at making the atom more understandable by having characters from King Features Syndicate comic strips, like Blondie, Dagwood and Mandrake the Magician, explain concepts.

Nuclear War Self Preservation In An Atomic Bomb Attack 1950 — aimed at members of the US military, this training film about what to do in case of a nuclear attack has some pretty accurate advice.

Survival Under Atomic Attack — a film produced in 1951 by the Office of Civil Defense and aimed at civilians. There’s also a manual from the same time with the same title.

Atomic Alert (Elementary version) — this 1951 film was aimed at school-age children.

Duck and Cover (1952)— the infamous video, featuring Burt the Turtle, who was very alert. Good luck getting the song out of your head.

Atomic War comic books — a series of comic books produced in 1952 by Junior Books, Inc. Follow the link and you can read issues 1-4.

A is for Atom (1953) — an educational animated short about the atom.

Atomic Attack comic books — issues 5-8 of this 1953 series that seems long on action and short on facts.

How Nuclear Radiation Can Change Our Race — This magazine article from Mechanix Illustrated is stunningly inaccurate, even for the time. But the pictures are kinda cool.

“Let’s Face It” (1954) — Discusses the threat of Russian thermonuclear bombs and how important it is to be prepared for the possibility of attack.

Atomic Attack — Produced by Motorola, this teleplay dramatized an H-bomb attack and aired on May 18, 1954.

Civil Defense Home Preparedness Workshop — this is a 1960 series of filmstrips, produced by the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization, was aimed at educating homemakers and housewives in the necessity of preparing for nuclear war:

  1. Why Family Action?
  2. Family Fallout Shelters
  3. Family Fire Safety
  4. Family Health
  5. Family Action

Classics Illustrated: The Atomic Age — a 1960 comic focusing on the atomic age.

Fallout Shelter: What Is It?— a 1963 movie about fallout and fallout shelters.

Operations in Public Fallout Shelters (1963) — a film intended to show the correct method for operating a public fallout shelter.

Rural Civil Defense (1965) — a series of TV spots aimed at educating farmers and other rural dwellers about civil defense for their unique situation. No clue why it uses marionettes… The pamphlet mentioned in the first spot, “Your Livestock Can Survive Fallout from Nuclear Attack” is also available at the Archive.




Nuke Opera 2020: Bomb, Bomb, Who’s Got The Bomb: Members of the Smoking Crater Society

Nuke Opera 2020: Bomb, Bomb, Who’s Got The Bomb: Members of the Smoking Crater Society

Note: This is a bit of a filler; between the changes wrought by the pandemic and by changes in my work schedule, my schedule of articles has been altered. I’m hoping to get back in the swing of things soon. 

When we talk about countries with nuclear weapons, particularly during the Cold War, we’re usually focused on the United States and the Soviet Union.  Which makes sense since they had and continue to have the largest stockpiles. But other countries developed nuclear capabilities between 1945-1991. Here’s a bit about them.

Honorable Mentions:

Germany and Japan both had nuclear weapons programs during World War II, but neither country came close to producing an actual bomb. In fact, the Nazi nuclear weapons program had more of an impact because it sparked the Manhattan Project. Concern over Hitler getting The Bomb was the main reason Szilard and Einstein wrote President Roosevelt and asked him to begin America’s nuclear program. Einstein later said in an interview in 1947 that if he’d known the German program would be a failure, he never would have urged Roosevelt to begin the Manhattan Project.

Post-World War II, Nazi scientists who’d been recruited/conscripted by the Allied Powers would play crucial roles in the US and Soviet Union’s rocketry programs, assisting in both countries’ space and missile programs.

Japan’s nuclear weapons project never amounted to much, though Tohoku University professor Hikosaka Tadayoshi’s “atomic physics theory” published in 1934 pointed out the huge energy contained in atomic nucleus and the possibility that nuclear power and/or weapons could be created using this energy. In 1939, Dr. Yoshio Nishina, became worried that America was working on a nuclear weapon that might be used against Japan. During a chance meeting with Lieutenant-General Takeo Yasuda, Nishina was able to discuss the possibility of Japan building nuclear weapons with him. Japan began its nuclear program in April 1941, with Nishina leading the project at his Nuclear Research Laboratory.

The Imperial Japanese Navy also pursued separate research into nuclear weapons, forming a committee that was chaired by Nishina. This committee determined that while atomic bombs were feasible, they would probably be difficult to create, even for the United States, particularly in the middle of a war. The Japanese Navy therefore switched its focus to radar. The Japanese Army, on the other hand, continued research into atomic weapons, but ultimately this research came to naught. These days, Japan is considered a paranuclear power because while they don’t have nuclear weapons themselves, they could easily produce them if they chose to do so.  For reasons that should be obvious, Japan has opted to restrict their use of nuclear power to peaceful energy production.

Members of the Cold War Nuclear Arms and Marching Society:

United States – the first nation to successfully test a nuclear weapon and the only nation to ever use nuclear weapons during wartime.

  • First nuclear test (A-bomb): Trinity, Trinity Site, near Socorro, New Mexico, July 16, 1945
  • First nuclear test (H-bomb):
    • Ivy Mike, Enewetak Atoll, Marshall Islands on November 1, 1952
    • Castle Bravo, Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands on March 1, 1954 – first test of a deployable thermonuclear weapon.
  • First nuclear test (Neutron bomb): Possibly at Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in 1963, tested 70 miles north of Las Vegas, also in 1963. First added to US arsenal in 1974. ( The US has never actually deployed a neutron weapon.
  • Last nuclear test: Shot Divider, part of Operation Julin, Nevada Test Site, Nevada, USA on September 23, 1992.
  • Total nuclear tests by number: 1,032 tests of 1,132 devices
  • Total nuclear tests by yield (kilotons): 196,514

The United States placed nuclear weapons in allied countries during the Cold War, including at bases in Germany, Italy, Turkey and the UK, among others.

Soviet Union – the second nuclear superpower; had a bit of a leg up due to spies within the Manhattan Project. During the Space Race, the Soviet Union carried a brief early advantage both technologically and psychologically by achieving several firsts. These included th first intercontinental ballistic missile, first artificial satellite, and first human in orbit around the Earth (among others). The Soviet Union holds record for largest nuclear detonation in history, Tsar Bomba, October 30, 1962 with a yield of 50 megatons.

  • First nuclear test: Operation First Lightning/RDS-1 (Joe 1 in the West) at Semipalatinsk, Kazakh SSR (present-day Kazakhstan) on August 29, 1949.
  • First nuclear test (H-bomb):
    • RDS-6s (Joe 4 in the West) at Semipalatinsk, Kazakh SSR on August 12, 1953
    • RDS-37 at Semipalatinsk, Kazakh SSR, November 22, 1955 – first “true” Soviet H-bomb
  • First nuclear test (Neutron bomb): 1978 nuclear test series, Kazakhstan on November 17, 1978 (allegedly)
  • Last nuclear test: 715-8 at NZ Area B, Matochkin Shar, Novaya Zemlya, Russia on October 24, 1990
  • Total nuclear tests by number: 727 tests of 981 devices
  • Total nuclear tests by yield (kilotons): 296,837

United Kingdom – Partnered with the United States and Canada during the Manhattan Project, the UK went on to develop its own nuclear program.

  • First nuclear test: Operation Hurricane, at Monte Bello Islands, Western Australia, on October 3, 1952
  • First nuclear test (H-bomb): Short Granite (part of Grapple 1 series), at Malden Island, Republic of Kiribati
  • Last nuclear test: Julin/Bristol at Nevada Test Site, Nevada, USA on November 26, 1991
  • Total nuclear tests by number: 88 tests of 88 devices
  • Total nuclear tests by yield (kilotons): 9,282

France – One of the countries that pioneered nuclear research, thanks to scientists like Marie Sklodowska Curie and Henri Becquerel. Bertrand Goldschmidt, Madame Curie’s last assistant and later father of the French nuclear weapons program, assisted in the Manhattan Project, developing what is now the standard method for extracting plutonium.  France developed its nuclear weapons program almost entirely from scratch, accelerating the program after the Suez Crisis in 1956.

  • First nuclear test: Operation Gerboise Bleue (Blue Jeroboa), at Reggane, Algeria, on February 13, 1960. It was the most powerful and largest first test bomb at that point, at 70 kilotons – more powerful than the US, UK and Soviet Union’s first tests combined.
  • First nuclear test (H-bomb): Canopus, as part of Operation Aldebaran, at Fangatafua Atoll in French Polynesia on August 28, 1968.
  • First nuclear test (Neutron bomb): Performed an early test of neutron bomb technology in 1967 and tested an actual neutron bomb in 1980.
  • Last nuclear test: Operation Xouthos, at Fangataufa Atoll in French Polynesia on January 27, 1996
  • Total nuclear tests by number: 217 tests of 217 devices
  • Total nuclear tests by yield (kilotons): 9,282

China – The Chinese began their nuclear weapons program after the First Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1954-1955. The Soviet Union provided assistance by sending advisors to assist in fissile material production and in 1957, provided prototypes of a bomb, missiles and related technology. Test 27 on October 16, 1980 at Area D (Drop Area), Lop Nur, China was the last atmospheric test in the world.

  • First nuclear test: Project 596, Area D, Lop Nur, China on October 16, 1964
  • First nuclear test (H-bomb):
    • CHIC-6, Area D, Lop Nur, China on June 17, 1967
  • First nuclear test (Neutron bomb): 31, at Area C (Beishan), Lop Nur, China on October 3, 1984 – fifth neutron bomb test, first successful test of the principles of the design. The bomb was successfully tested in 1988.
  • Last nuclear test: #45, at Area A (Nanshan), Lop Nur, China on July 29, 1996
  • Total nuclear tests by number: 47 tests, 48 devices fired
  • Total nuclear tests by yield (kilotons): 24,409 – 4.5% of all nuclear testing.

India – India began its nuclear program in March of 1944, when the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research was founded. They began investigating nuclear weapons after a brief border war with China in October 1962, in hopes of deterring future Chinese aggression. India rejected the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968, stating that they would not accede to international control of their nuclear facilities unless all other countries unilaterally disarmed their own nuclear weapons.

  • First nuclear test: Smiling Buddha, at Pokhran, India on May 18, 1974
  • First nuclear test (H-bomb): Shakti 1 (first stage), at Pokhran, India on May 11, 1998
  • First nuclear test (neutron bomb): As of August 1999, India disclosed that it was capable of producing a neutron bomb.
  • Last nuclear test:
  • Total nuclear tests by number: Three tests, of six devices
  • Total nuclear tests by yield (kilotons): 68-70

Pakistan – Developed their own nuclear weapons program due to the fact India had nukes. The rivalry between these two nations has led to fears of a regional nuclear war – which would still potentially be disastrous to the rest of the planet, since the environmental effects of nuclear war don’t give a wet slap about political boundaries.

  • First nuclear test: Chagai-1 at Ras Koh, Pakistan on May 28, 1998
  • Last nuclear test: Chagai-2, at Kharan Desert, Pakistan, on May 30, 1998
  • Total nuclear tests by number: Two tests of six devices
  • Total nuclear tests by yield (kilotons): 51

Alleged Members:

IsraelIt’s believed that Israel has had nuclear weapons since at least 1967 but officially, Israel will not confirm or deny the existence of their nuclear stockpile. If they have nuclear weapons, they are the only nation in their region that does. Estimates of their stockpile, should it exist, range between 75 to 400 weapons.  Israel assisted France and (allegedly) South Africa with their nuclear programs.

Former Members:

South Africa The only nation to develop nuclear weapons and then abandon them, South Africa assisted with US nuclear weapons production by providing uranium. They developed their first weapons in the early 1980s but ultimately, ended their program in 1989, dismantling their stockpile of seven weapons.

Post-Cold War Members:

North KoreaThe North Korean weapons program began in 1956 when the Soviet Union first began training North Korean scientists and engineers. Their first nuclear weapons test occurred on October 9, 2006 at Hwaderi near Kilju City.


Nuke Opera 2020: Pandemic Interlude

I started something short to post today but it’s not done and I’m too tired to try and finish it, so instead I’m going to ramble a bit about recent events. I’m counting this as part of the Nuke Opera series because, well, because I can since I’m the one who gets to define what is and isn’t on topic.  And a global pandemic is within the scope of what I’m wanting to look at when we start getting into the fiction pieces I want to cover.

Some personal stuff, for posterity’s sake: I first heard about the coronavirus around the same time everyone else in the US did, back in December (I want to say? Not looking it up right now because I want to preserve my memories, faulty as they might be).  Back then, I didn’t think much about it since it wasn’t happening here. I remember being sympathetic to the folks who were sick but, again, wasn’t happening here, wasn’t directly affecting me, so wasn’t really on my radar. No, I’m not particularly proud of that.

Gradually (or so it seemed to me), the virus became more and more of a big deal, more people in China were getting sick, there were concerns about it spreading, and so on and so forth. I started paying a bit more attention to the situation, but it was more out of curiosity than anything else. Again, the virus was still “over there” and I had other things to worry about — again, I was sympathetic to the folks in Wuhan but in the abstract.

Then the virus spread, first to cruise ships and then reports of it in countries outside of China. Still more of an abstract concern, but realer now since some of the worry was hitting closer to home. Fast-forward to this week, with cases being reported in every state (except, last I heard, West Virginia, though that could have changed by now). In Ohio, the number of cases has gone from five to 13 to 26 to 37 in just under six days. Now, instead of being a world away, the virus has appeared a little over fifty miles from where I live.

Okay, that sounds really dramatic for all that its accurate. Yes, there are cases in the Greater Cincinnati area which is less than an hour from where I live. But, honestly? There are probably cases a lot closer to me than that. The Ohio Director of Health is guesstimating that there are at least 100,000 people infected in the state, so the 37 cases we know about are just the very tip of the Sword of Damocles that’s hanging over us right now.

I went out and got groceries today since the governor of Ohio has ordered all dine-in restaurants and bars to close, starting at 9 pm tonight. It wasn’t bad. There was no panicking, no hysteria, no fights or arguments. Yes, the shelves were bare in spots (forget about getting toilet paper, eggs or bottled water), but I managed to get enough food for my girlfriend and I to be able to eat for the next week or so. And since drive-thrus and carryout places are still open, maybe even a bit longer than that.

I am worried about what’s going to happen when the first case hits *really* close to home.  My personal worst-case scenario is someone getting sick at my job, but we’re on top of things in terms of making hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes available (it’s something we’ve been doing since long before COVID-19 was even a concern). But, for right now, there’s nothing to do but wait and see what happens. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, just as people have done in every disaster situation since the dawn of mankind.

This has been a bit of a ramble and I’ll likely circle back around to talk about this in relation to nuclear war and Nuke Operas but for now, I need to sleep ’cause work comes early tomorrow. I hope you are all safe and sound and well.

And remember: wash your hands! And if you can’t wash, use hand sanitizer. If you need something to sing for 20 seconds, how about “Duck and Cover”? Here’s a couple handy posters, made using “Wash Your Lyrics.”

Nuke Opera 2020: Pictures of History, Part Two

Since I’m a bit behind in my writing, I figured I’d share a few more pictures that are relevant to the theme:

It probably goes without saying that the National Museum of the United States Air Force has an exhibit on the Berlin Airlift.  This diagram shows how the planes managed their deliveries.

Berlin Airlift flight patterns

From the National Museum of the United States Air Force’s exhibit on the Berlin Airlift: an illustration of how they kept the planes flying.

Berlin Airlift Cartoonist

Technical Sergeant John H. “Jake” Schuffert was an aircraft radio operator during the Berlin Airlift as well as a cartoonist for the Airlift Times, a newspaper published for Airlift Personnel.

Above: examples of “Jake’s” comics for the Airlift Times; in the last comic, Celle and Fassberg were air bases used during the Airlift.

If you’d like to learn more,  you can visit the National Museum of the United States Air Force Exhibit: Berlin: City Held Hostage (online exhibit)

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I took a trip today to the Mounds Cold War Discovery Center, in Miamisburg, Ohio.


And here’s its namesake: the Miamisburg Mound, the largest conical burial mound in Ohio. It was built by members of the Adena Culture, roughly between 1000 and 200 BCE

Miamisburg Mound 2

Picture of the back of the Miamisburg Mound, showing the steps you can use to climb to the top; the Mounds Cold War Discovery Center is behind the Mound and across the street from it. 

Inside the discovery center, you can learn about the work that went on at Mound Laboratory from 1948-2003. Mound Laboratory was the first post-Manhattan Project site built by the Atomic Energy Commission. The site was intended to continue the Manhattan Project era work done in the Dayton area, including the polonium research done at the Runnymede Playhouse (which, unfortunately, was torn down decades ago and has since been converted into lots for private houses).  The work done at Mound Laboratory aided the US nuclear weapons program and the space race as well as research efforts into nuclear energy.

Radithor Radioactive Water

Radithor water bottle from the 1920s.  It was snake-oil medical quackery. 

Another exhibit discussed the uses of radioactive materials in other products, such as the patent medicine above.


Nuke Opera 2020: A Hard Rain’s Comin’: The Basics on Fallout

A Hard Rain’s Comin’: The Basics on Fallout

In a nuclear explosion, most of the damage and injuries are caused by the detonation’s blast wave and the resulting fires. Some radiation injuries are caused by the initial release of neutrons and gamma rays, but the intensity of these effects diminish rapidly due to the radiation spreading out over a larger area as it moves away from ground zero. [(1)]

The blast and thermal effects will, except for any fires sparked by the explosion, dissipate within seconds. The ionizing radiation effects will last longer but will be limited to the immediate area around ground zero. The effect with most potential for long-lasting effects is the residual radiation that is propelled into the atmosphere by the blast, bonds to particles of dust, ash and soot and that ‘falls out’ minutes to decades later, oftentimes far from the target site.

These particles became known as “fallout” – because they “fell out” of the sky after the explosion. While “fall out” in the sense of a quarrel or of gathering in a military formation dated back to the 15th century, the use of the term for radioactive particulates became common in 1946.

There are two varieties of fallout: global and local.

Global Fallout: a small amount of carcinogenic material with a long-half life that occurs with any nuclear explosion. This version of fallout is produced from the fission products, un-fissioned nuclear material and weapon residues that are vaporized by the weapon’s fireball. The amount of this long half-life fallout is limited to the pre-detonation mass of the device. If a weapon’s fireball doesn’t reach the ground, this is the only fallout produced.

Particles of global fallout are between 10 nanometers and 20 micrometers in diameter; these particles are small enough to rise into the stratosphere where they can take months or years to settle. Because of this, they can settle anywhere in the world. Global fallout increases the statistical cancer risk. Atmospheric radioactivity levels remain measurably elevated from the atmospheric nuclear tests of the 1950s.

Global fallout can be subdivided by how long it takes for the particles to settle out of the atmosphere. Tropospheric fallout will land between 1 and 30 days after detonation, while stratospheric fallout will take longer than 30 days to reach the ground. (Source: Radioactive Fallout /)

The second variety, local fallout, is the much larger amount of radioactive dust and sand drawn up into the detonation’s mushroom cloud as it forms after the explosion. In the cloud, this material becomes radioactive by combining with the isotopes generated by the explosion. These particles can range in size from under 100 nanometers to several millimeters in diameter. The larger the particle, the more likely it is to land closer to ground zero, usually within an hour after the detonation. Local fallout makes up more than half of the total bomb debris that lands on the ground within 24 hours after detonation. Less volatile elements land first. This form of fallout tends to have a shorter half-life than global fallout.

Local fallout can spread further than blast and thermal effects, especially if the detonation was a high-yield surface burst. How fast and how far local fallout travels depends on the weather in the area at the time of detonation. Strong winds can carry fallout farther, spreading it out over a larger area – though this will dissipate the fallout, since the particles will fall out of the sky at the same rate.

Underneath That Mushroom Cloud:

While they’re mostly associated with nuclear explosions, mushroom clouds can appear with any sufficiently large explosion.  The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE generated clouds that contemporary observers described as resembling the local Mediterranean pine trees – which look rather like a mushroom. (source: l; ) The 1917 Halifax Explosion, the accidental detonation of a French cargo ship carrying high explosives in Halifax Harbor, also generated a mushroom cloud.

We’ve previously discussed the differences between surface bursts and air blasts, in actuality, all nuclear weapons are detonated above the ground in order to maximize the explosion’s effects in terms of fireball and blast wave as well as to avoid losing some of the explosion’s energy into the earth. (This means that ‘surface burst’ is something of a misnomer; it’d be more accurate to call it a ‘near the surface burst.’)

When a nuclear device explodes, the fireball forms and begins to rise into the air, much in the same way that a hot-air balloon rises. This occurs within the first twenty seconds after the weapon detonates. As the fireball rises, air is drawn upwards like the updraft in a chimney. This creates strong air currents, also called afterwinds. Inside the mushroom’s head, these hot gasses begin to rotate in a toroidal shape (like a donut). In the case of surface bursts, where the bomb is detonated closer to the ground, the afterwinds pull up dirt and debris into what will become the cloud’s stem.

As they rise, these particles mix with the fission products created by the explosion and become radioactive. Within the first ten minutes after the explosion, large pieces of early fallout begin to fall, landing close to ground zero.

Once the cloud reaches its maximum height, it begins to flatten out into the mushroom shape. During this time, from ten minutes after detonation and continuing for up to two days later, particles of local fallout are blown about and distributed by winds

Between ten minutes post-detonation and up to two days later, particles of local fallout are distributed at the speed of the prevailing winds. These particles will eventually fall from the sky of their own accord or will be washed out of the sky by rain or snow. [(2)]

Particles of global fallout, meanwhile, remain in the sky and may not fall for weeks or months or even decades later.

Why Do Nuclear Bombs Make Mushroom Clouds or you can read the article What Creates the Mushroom Cloud When an Atomic Bomb Blows Up?

Blow, Winds, and Crack Your Cheeks!:

Local fallout is carried on the prevailing winds – but what the heck are the prevailing winds? According to Wikipedia, they are “a surface wind that blows predominately from a particular direction.” These winds circle the earth in belts that run east to west.

Broadly speaking, the prevailing winds of the planet run like this from the North Pole to the Equator: [(3)]

  • Polar Easterlies: from the North Pole (90 degrees North) to 60 degrees North.
  • Prevailing Westerlies (also known as just the Westerlies): from 60 degrees North to 30 degrees North
  • Tropical Easterlies (aka the Trade Winds): from 30 degrees North to the Equator (0 degrees latitude).

Because winds can and do vary from day to day or even from hour to hour, it was very important to know which way the prevailing winds were blowing, especially from potential target sites.  Starting in June 1955 and running until the program was shut down in 2010, the US Weather Bureau (which later became the National Weather Service) began calculating “fallout forecasts.” These twice-daily reports calculated how winds and atmospheric conditions might direct fallout from seventy-two critical target sites across the country. These reports were generated at 0735 and 1935 Greenwich Mean Time and traced and predicted how fallout might spread twelve, eighteen, and twenty-four hours after an attack. (Source: Raven Rock)

Dangers of Fallout Exposure:

It’s difficult to predict the threat fallout poses because several factors play into the amount and radioactive levels produced. These include:

  • The yield and design of the weapon
  • The height of the explosion
  • The nature of the surface under the burst
  • The weather and other meteorological conditions including wind direction and speed Radioactive Fallout (

As early as 1940, Rudolf Peierls and Otto Frisch, the scientists responsible for determining the process for generating an atomic explosion, wrote of the potential risk of the explosion spreading “radioactive substances with the wind” which meant “the bomb could probably not be used without killing large numbers of civilians.” (source: A Field Guide to Radiation, p. 90)

Most of the danger from fallout comes from radioactive isotopes which have half-lives of seconds to a few months. While these particles decay rapidly, there will be areas contaminated by long-lived isotopes like strontium-90 or cesium-127 which could present a threat for as long as 1-5 years post-attack.

Fallout can cause injuries directly and indirectly. Direct injuries occur when fallout lands on someone and causes radiation burns, usually through the release of beta radiation. Indirect injuries occur when fallout is inhaled or ingested. In the long term, fallout can contaminate food and water supplies that humans consume. For example, if fallout gets into the soil, it can contaminate grass, which if it is eaten by livestock such as cattle, can contaminate the animal’s meat and milk. Fallout can also contaminate crops such as berries and mushrooms.

Fallout from the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 caused contamination of livestock and crops across Europe, leading to restrictions against the transportation, production and consumption of certain products. In the case of sheep in certain parts of the UK, the mandatory radioactivity testing for animals that grazed on open land weren’t dropped until 2012. In parts of Sweden and Finland, restrictions are still in place on stock animals that graze in natural and near-natural conditions.

In the United States, fallout from the Nevada Test site contaminated land from Nevada to New York state. In Idaho, fallout including iodine-131, dusted fruit trees and dairy farms in several rural counties. At the time, locals thought the strange substance was frost, except that it wasn’t cold. It wasn’t until decades later, in 1997, that studies showed the extent of the contamination. And even then, some of the hardest hit counties in Idaho didn’t learn of their exposure until 2004.

Protection Against Fallout:

The best way to protect yourself from fallout is not to get caught out in it. This is easiest to do if you have advanced warning of a nuclear attack and/or time to prepare a safe place to wait out the worst of the fallout.

For most of the Cold War, the assumption was that any nuclear war wouldn’t happen out of the blue – there would be advanced warning in the form of increased tensions between the US and the Soviet Union, allowing people time to prepare for the worst.  We’ll talk more about civil defense planning in another article, but for now suffice it to say that fallout shelters are predicated around the idea of getting inside and staying inside until the threat of fallout has diminished enough that you’re not risking death or serious injury by going outside.

With a fallout shelter, you’re most concerned with protecting against gamma radiation, since it’s the form of radiation that is most capable of penetrating materials. You’re not going to be able to keep gamma radiation out entirely but you can slow it down to a safer level. You do this by using dense materials like lead or concrete. The denser the material, the less you need of it, but even air can be used as a shielding material – but you’re going to need a heck of a lot of it.

Whatever you’re using, you’re going to want enough of it to reduce the amount of gamma radiation roughly 1,000 times. You’ll do this by layering at least ten halving thicknesses of your chosen material to create your shield. A halving thickness is the amount of a given material that will reduce gamma radiation by half. When you stack these halving thicknesses, each added layer further reduces the remaining radiation by half, so ten layers reduces the initial radiation by 1,024 times (2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 1,024).

Or, to put it another way, ten halving thicknesses (also known as the tenthing thickness) reduces the amount of gamma radiation that enters your shelter from 100% to 0.09%

The halving thickness of lead, a nice dense material, is 0.4 inches so you’d need about 4 inches of lead for your shelter’s walls, roof, and floor – not exactly something you can call over to the local Home Depot for, not to mention the fact that one cubic foot of lead weighs over 700 pounds so a a square foot slice, 4 inches thick would weigh about what your humble blogger does.

Most early Cold War plans for personal fallout shelters called for using concrete (halving thickness 2.4 inches; tenthing thickness 24 inches) or burrowing underground. Or for using a combination of the two by building a bunker out of concrete blocks, then piling dirt over the top of it. Or, better yet, digging a nice deep hole, building your bunker in it and covering the top with a nice, thick layer of dirt, since packed earth has a halving distance of 3.5 inches, you’ll achieve a tenthing thickness with just under a yard’s (as in the unit of measurement) worth. [(4)]Then, when the alarm sounds, you get inside your shelter and settle in to wait for the radiation levels to drop.

But, how long do you wait?

And You Thought the Wait at the DMV Was Long…

Expect to be in your fallout shelter for at least two weeks, since that’s about how long it will take for the radiation levels outside to decrease a thousand-fold. The rule of thumb to go by is the Seven Ten Rule, which states that for every seven-fold increase in the amount of time (specifically hours) since a nuclear detonation, the radiation level from fallout will decrease ten-fold. Let’s walk through the math:

Assume that at time of detonation, the radiation levels outside are at 1,000 rems/hour – basically a fatal dose. Seven hours later, that dose will have decreased to 100 rems/hour – still not great for your personal health. Two days later (7 x 7 = 49 hours), the dose will be down to 10 rems/hour – if you have to risk it, don’t be out for long. After two weeks, (49 hours x 7 = 343 hours; roughly 14 days and seven hours), the dose will be down to 1 rem/hour, which is safe enough to be outside for an extended period of time.

Of course, the Seven-Ten Rule is a rule of thumb and is based on estimates; in reality, radiation levels can vary, depending on where you are, the yields and amounts of weapons that hit upwind of you (most strategies, particularly in the era of missiles, called for using multiple bombs/warheads per target), and dozens of other variables.

The best way to protect yourself against fallout is for there to never be a nuclear war or another major nuclear disaster (disasters and bombs produce essentially the same types of isotopes as fallout, but nukes create a different mix of isotopes due to a faster time scale).

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[1] This decrease follows the inverse-square law which states that “the intensity of an effect such as illumination or gravitational force [or in this case, radiation] changes in inverse proportion to the square of the distance from the source.” (source: Inverse-Square Law @

Specifically, the effect diminishes the further one gets from the source, such that the amount of radiation at one meter from the source will be one-quarter the amount two meters away and one-ninth at three meters. (source: Inverse-Square Law (scroll down to see Radiation)

[2]Within 30-40 minutes after the atomic bombs were detonated at Hiroshima a “black rain” began to fall. This “rain” was water mixed with dust, ash and soot from the fires raging in the city. In addition to darkening the rain, this particulate matter was also radioactive. The black rain that fell was sticky, dark and dangerously radioactive.  It stained the clothing and skin of survivors and, in some cases, was consumed by people desperate for water to drink. Those who drank this water as well as those who ate food contaminated by the rain.

Black rain also fell after the Nagasaki bombings. In both cases, the rainfall occurred because the heat of the blasts created pyrocumulus or fire clouds, which in turn led to rain. Similar fire-induced weather systems occurred during the 2019-2020 wildfires in Australia and can also occur during volcanic eruptions.

The sea floor can also become fallout – during the Castle Bravo test at Bikini Atoll, coral was turned into a radioactive white dust that was nicknamed “Bikini snow” by the scientists witnessing the test. It fell for several hours and caused radiation burns and exposure to people living on nearby atolls and to the crew of the Lucky Dragon fishing boat.

[3]Once you reach the Equator, the order reverses with the Southern Trade Winds running from the Equator to 30 degrees South latitude, the Southern Westerlies from 30 to 60 degrees South latitude, and the Southern Polar Easterlies from 60 degrees South latitude to the South Pole (90 degrees South). (Source: Global Winds)

[4]The halving thickness for air is 150 meters or about 500 feet. The tenthing thickness of air would be 5,000 feet. Or just under a mile.  Or, figuring you’d want walls in your hypothetical fallout shelter and that you’d want to be in the middle of the building to maximize the protection of the air, you’d want a building that’s at least 55,756,800 square feet (figures a building that covers an area of 2 square miles). (source: Fallout Shelter @ Wikipedia)

Just as an example, the Beijing Daxinng International Airport terminal building is 7,500,000 square feet. To reach the square footage we’re talking about above, you’d need a building large enough to house the first ten buildings on the “Largest Footprint” list.

Books Consulted:

Nuke Opera 2020: Opening the Pot: Cold War History 1945-1949:

Nuke Opera 2020: Opening the Pot: Cold War History 1945-1949:

Welcome to the Atomic Age. From this point forward, we live in a world where nuclear weapons exist. There will be no going back.

The World After Trinity:

Once the atomic bomb had been successfully tested, it was time to move on to the next step: deploying the weapon.

By this point in the war, Germany had already surrendered, bringing an end to the war in Europe. The war in the Pacific, on the other hand, was still in full swing and didn’t seem likely to end. While the atomic bomb had originally been designed with the intention of using it against Nazi Germany – either as a deterrent or to retaliate if Germany dropped atomic bombs on Allied targets.

We’ll never know if the Allies would have used the atomic bomb against the Nazis because of two things: firstly, the Allies learned by mid-1944 that the German atomic bomb program was a bust, removing the fear of a Nazi atomic first strike. Secondly, by this same time it was becoming clear that Germany was fighting a losing battle and that victory in Europe was imminent.

Even before Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945, the Manhattan Project’s targeting committee was focusing entirely on Japanese targets.  During this time, Truman was told that atomic weapons might also be a good way to intimidate the Soviets into curtailing their more expansionist tendencies.

The list of potential Japanese targets was finalized on May 28, 1945 and included the cities of Kokura, Hiroshima, Niigata and Kyoto – though Kyoto was dropped from the list and replaced with Nagasaki because Truman was reluctant to attack Japan’s former capital city. Tokyo wasn’t on the list because, by this point, it had already been hit hard by conventional bombing raids, particularly during Operation Meetinghouse on March 9/10, 1945.

There was some debate among the Manhattan Project scientists as to whether the first atomic bomb should be dropped on one of the targeted cities or whether it should be dropped on an uninhabited island as a demonstration. Even the Undersecretary of the Navy, Ralph A. Bard said that dropping the bomb on a populated area without warning was contrary to “the position of the United States as a great humanitarian nation” particularly since Japan seemed close to surrender.

Some Manhattan Project researchers, many refugee scientists from Germany, were reluctant to see the bomb used against Japan. Leo Szilard, the man responsible for the concept of both the chain reaction and the atomic bomb as well as the author of the Einstein-Szilard letter that persuaded FDR to begin the Manhattan Project, was an early critic of the military use of atomic weapons. In July 1945, he drafted a petition to be sent to President Truman, calling for him to not use atomic weapons against the Japanese. He circulated his petition among his fellow Manhattan Project scientists at the University of Chicago’s Metallurgic Laboratory. On July 17, 1945, the petition, with 70 signatures, was submitted to the President but was never seen by either Truman or the Secretary of War prior to the bombing of Hiroshima.

Szilard’s petition wasn’t the only one. Two petitions, inspired by Szilard’s, circulated at Oak Ridge, Tennessee and garnered a total of 85 signatures between them. Szilard was also a signatory of the Franck Report, which had been issued in June 1945 and requested that the bomb be demonstrated prior to being deployed against Japan. The report suggested, in part:

From this point of view a demonstration of the new weapon may best be made before the eyes of representatives of all United Nations, on the desert or a barren island. The best possible atmosphere for the achievement of an international agreement could be achieved if America would be able to say to the world, “You see what weapon we had but did not use. We are ready to renounce its use in the future and to join other nations in working out adequate supervision of the use of this nuclear weapon.”

This may sound fantastic, but then in nuclear weapons we have something entirely new in the order of magnitude of destructive power, and if we want to capitalize fully on the advantage which its possession gives us, we must use new and imaginative methods. After such a demonstration the weapon could be used against Japan if a sanction of the United Nations (and of the public opinion at home) could be obtained, perhaps after a preliminary ultimatum to Japan to surrender or at least to evacuate a certain region as an alternative to the total destruction of this target. (The Franck Report, June 11, 1945)

Not all Manhattan Project scientists were opposed to military first use of atomic weapons. In response to the Franck Report, the Interim Committee which had been formed to serve until a more permanent committee could be established to deal with the issues nuclear weapons were creating, met to discuss the issue. The Committee, made up of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, Arthur Compton and Ernest Lawrence, found in favor of military first-use without demonstrations. Their report stated:

The opinions of our scientific colleagues on the initial use of these weapons are not unanimous: they range from the proposal of a purely technical demonstration to that of the military application best designed to induce surrender. Those who advocate a purely technical demonstration would wish to outlaw the use of atomic weapons, and have feared that if we use the weapons now our position in future negotiations will be prejudiced. Others emphasize the opportunity of saving American lives by immediate military use, and believe that such use will improve the international prospects, in that they are more concerned with the prevention of war than with the elimination of this specific weapon. We find ourselves closer to these latter views; we can propose no technical demonstration likely to bring an end to the war; we see no acceptable alternative to direct military use. (Recommendations on the Immediate Use of Nuclear Weapons, June 16, 1945)

Ultimately, the decision was made to use atomic weapons against Japanese cities. Hiroshima was chosen as the first target because, in part, it hadn’t already been targeted for the US conventional bombing raids which had already destroyed over sixty Japanese cities, including the capital of Tokyo. Hiroshima was also home to an “important army depot and port of embarkation” and the surrounding hills meant that the blast damage would likely be focused and increased.  There was also the psychological impact of the new weapon to be considered.

Conventional Bombing vs. Atomic Bombings:

The most destructive single bombing raid of World War II wasn’t either of the atomic bombings of Japan. Instead, that dubious honor falls to Operation Meetinghouse, a US conventional bombing raid that occurred on the night of March 10, 1945. During this raid, 279 Boeing B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers dropped 1,665 short tons[(1)] of bombs over Tokyo while another 19 that weren’t able to reach Tokyo bombed targets of opportunity or of last resort.

During the raid, over 100,000 Japanese civilians, mostly women, children and the elderly, were killed in the resulting fires. One million people were left homeless and over 16 square miles of Tokyo burned.  The raid lasted over two and a half hours; within the first half hour Tokyo fire departments were overwhelmed by the flames.

By comparison, Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima from a single plane at 8:14:17 local Hiroshima time. It fell for 44.4 seconds before detonating at 8:16:02 local time.

At one-tenth of a second, Little Boy’s fireball had expanded to 100 feet in diameter and had reached a temperature of 500,000 degrees Fahrenheit[(2)]Neutrons and gamma rays were released and reached the ground, causing most of the radiological damage to all exposed people, animals and other organisms.

After two- and three-tenths of a second, there was a release of infrared (heat) energy that caused burns to exposed skin for miles in every direction. Additionally, the intense heat caused roofing tiles to fuse together, melted a bronze Buddha statue and evaporated the internal organs and viscera of humans and animals. By this point, the blast wave was moving at 7,200 miles per hour (2 miles/second).

At one second, the fireball was 900 feet in diameter and the blast wave had slowed to roughly the speed of sound (about 768 miles per hour). The temperature at ground level at the hypocenter of the blast is 7,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  It’s at this point that the mushroom cloud begins to form.

Within this first second, 60,000 of the city’s 90,000 buildings were demolished by the combined effects of wind and the firestorm.

It’s estimated that the initial blast killed between 70,000 and 80,000 people in Hiroshima. Another 90,000-166,000 people are believed to have died in the four-month period following the bombing.

The bombing of Nagasaki resulted in the destruction of roughly half the city and the immediate deaths of between 40,000 and 75,000 people. Total deaths by the end of 1945 might have been as high as 80,000.

On August 9, 1945, President Truman announced the bombing of Hiroshima to the nation as part of a larger speech delivered via a radio address. By the time of the address, 10 pm Washington D.C. time, Nagasaki had already been bombed and destroyed as well. Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s intention of surrender on August 15, 1945 referring to the atomic bomb in his remarks:

Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization. (source: Surrender of Japan (Wikipedia))

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki may have contributed to the end the war in the Pacific, but they were not the sole reason Japan surrendered. In fact, in 1946 the United States Strategic Bombing Survey concluded the Japanese would have surrendered without the use of the atomic bomb or without the Soviet Union entering the war or its invasion of Manchuria.  A full exploration of this debate is beyond the scope of this article, but I’ve included some links of interest for those interested in researching more on their own:

Reactions to the Bombings:

According to a Gallup poll conducted the week of August 24-29, 1945, 69% of Americans felt the development of the atomic bomb had been a good thing; only 17% felt it was a bad thing and 14% were of no opinion. Regarding the use of the atomic bomb against Japan, 85% of Americans polled approved versus 10% who disapproved.

The callousness of this attitude needs to be seen in the light of two points. Firstly, a devastating, meat-grinder of a war was finally over. Secondly, no civilians knew anything about the aftermath of the bombings until August 1946, when The New Yorker dedicated an entire magazine to John Hersey’s report on Hiroshima, which personalized the events by focusing on the personal accounts of six survivors[(3)].

On the other hand, many Americans wanted revenge for Pearl Harbor – as borne out by the results of a Roper poll conducted two months after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in which 22.7% of respondents said that the US should have quickly used as many more of the bombs before Japan had a chance to surrender, essentially killing as many Japanese as possible. (source: Intondi, p 11)

This thirst for revenge was driven at least partly by racial prejudice – throughout the war, the Japanese were referred to as gorillas, subhumans, beasts and otherwise conflated into a monolithic group mindlessly following the orders of their leaders. This is in sharp contrast to how we referred to the Axis powers in Europe, where distinctions were made between the Nazis and Italian Fascist leadership and the German and Italian people.

The case could be made that some of this rage against Japan stemmed from the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. In addition to seeming underhanded, it also demonstrated very clearly that America’s geographical distance from the rest of the world was no protection from what was going on in the rest of the world.  Additionally, Americans were quick to demonize Germans (and German-Americans) after the sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915.

That said, “We were bigoted and abusive to those guys too!” is a terrible justification.  The fact that there’s an entire Wikipedia article about American mutilation of Japanese war dead and a fairly famous picture of a young lady posing with the trophy skull of a Japanese soldier that her sweetheart sent to her says a lot more to me about why nearly 25% of Americans in that Roper poll thought we should have nuked Japan until we ran out of bombs. Especially since there are no reports of German or Italian skulls having been taken as trophies in Europe[(4)].

The Japanese military and government did do some absolutely horrible things during (and before) World War II both to their enemies and to their own people. There’s an entire Wikipedia article about war crimes the Japanese committed before and during World War II (please, read at your own risk – and keep in mind that there’s a list of American war crimes during World War II as well).  And to this day, there are deplorable attempts by some in Japan, mostly right-wing nationalists, to revise this history, to sanitize it and sweep atrocities and abuses under the rug of history. These attempts don’t negate the fact that revenge played some part in the United States’ decision to drop atomic bombs on civilians.

Not every American was pleased by the bombings. We’ve seen already that many Manhattan Project scientists were opposed to the use of atomic weapons and after the war ended, a group of them formed the Federation of Atomic Scientists in November 1945 (renamed Federation of American Scientists in December of that year). The group distributed educational materials, including the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which became the definitive source for anti-nuclear information.  As the world learned first about the existence of the atomic bomb, but also about the effects it had had and the dangers it posed, other voices joined the scientists in protest. Not many, not at first, but the anti-nuclear movement would grow over time.

Some other early condemnations came from members of traditional peace groups, like the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and religious organizations like the American chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a pacifist group formed in 1915 in opposition to the US entry into World War I. In December 1945, the FAS created the National Committee on Atomic Information (NCAI) as an umbrella group, intended to bring together labor, religious, educational and professional organizations to help educate the general public about atomic weapons and, later, science in general[(5)].

Surprisingly, some of the opposition to nuclear weapons came from within the United States military. In 1946, Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, who had commanded the US Third Fleet during the American offensive against the Japanese home islands in the last months of the war, stated publicly that “the first atomic bomb was an unnecessary experiment” because the Japanese had “put out a lot of peace feelers through Russia long before [the bomb was used].” Dwight D. Eisenhower, an American 5-star general and Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe before he became the second US President of the Cold War era, told Secretary of War Henry Stimson in July 1945 that he was opposed to using the atomic bomb against Japan. As he recalled in 1963, “I told him I was against it on two counts. First, the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing. Second, I hated to see our country be the first to use such a weapon.”

Admiral William Leahy, who’d been the White House chief of staff and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during World War II, wrote in his diary in 1950 that “the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.” Additionally, he wrote, “in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.”

But, whatever regrets or remorse might have been felt after the bombings, the fact of the matter was that atomic weapons existed and had to be dealt with – not just by the United States but by the world as a whole.

Old Man Atom: when Einstein’s scared, I’m scared: 

It didn’t take long for people to start being worried about what the atom bomb meant for the world in general and the United States in particular. The world was still reeling from the impact of World War II which had devastated huge swaths of Europe and Asia. While American had escaped relatively unscathed – a position that gave us an economic advantage in the post-War years and led to the boom times of the 1950s and 60s – our allies and our enemies weren’t so lucky.

In Europe alone, there were at least 11 million people who’d been displaced from their homes by the war, with about seven million of them in what was now Allied-occupied Germany. The European economy lost 70% of its industrial infrastructure, leading to its collapse at the end of the war. Millions died during the war on both sides, both civilians and military personnel.

The Fallen of World War II, an animated video by Neil Halloran, illustrates the toll World War II had in human lives and compares the death tolls to past and previous wars. The video is animated and not graphic but might still be disturbing to some. You can find it on vimeo by following the link above.

In the aftermath of World War II, there was tension and chaos as countries struggled to deal with the decline of European colonial empires in Latin America, Africa and Asia with India becoming one of the first nations to throw off colonial rule in the post-World War II era. It wouldn’t be the last – something that would contribute to later Cold War tensions as the US and USSR became involved in proxy wars.

One of the outcomes of World War II was the formation of the United Nations. The hope was that the UN could serve as a more effective version of the League of Nations and help prevent future wars. Some called for the United Nations to be given complete control over all the world’s nuclear weapons – which, at this point, meant the United States’ nuclear weapons, of which there were about 9 in 1946, the year the UN General Assembly met for the first time[(6)].

During the early post-War years, there was a call for the formation of a world government, based on the belief that there was no place for nationalism in the atomic age. This idea was supported by Manhattan Project scientists like J. Robert Oppenheimer and Jasper Jeffries, as well as Albert Einstein, who argued: “A World Government is preferable to the far greater evil of wars, particularly with their intensified destructiveness.”  (source: Raven Rock, p. 12). Carl Spaatz, head of the forerunner to the Air Force, the US Army Air Forces, also favored a world government, as did President Truman, who said during remarks at the University of Kansas City on June 28, 1945:

We live… in an age of law and an age of reason, and age in which we can get along with our neighbors. …It will be just as easy for nations to get along in a republic of the world as it is for you to get along in the republic of the United States. Now, if Kansas and Colorado have a quarrel over a watershed they don’t call out the National Guard in each state and go to war over it. They bring suit in the Supreme Court and abide by its decision. There isn’t a reason in the world why we can’t do that internationally. There were two documents signed at San Francisco. One of them was the charter of the United Nations. The other was the World Court. It will require the ratification of both of those Charters, and the putting of them into effect, if we expect to have world peace for future generations. This is one of the tasks which have been assigned to me. I am accepting the responsibility. I am going to try to carry it out. (source: “World Government” at Wikiquote)

While the idea of a single world government had supporters, it was ultimately seen as impractical to implement. The first resolution passed by the United Nations on January 24, 1946 established “[A] Commission to Deal With the Problems Raised by the Discovery of Atomic Energy” which had as its goals extending basic atomic science information among nations, controlling atomic energy’s use for peaceful purposes and eliminating atomic weapons from national stockpiles (which, again, at this point meant only the United States) and establishing safeguards such as inspections and other means to enforce the prohibition against nuclear weapons or the militarization of atomic power. (source:

The resolution didn’t succeed, in part because while the United States claimed to be willing to give up nuclear weapons, we wanted everyone else to give them up first while we’d stop producing weapons and disassemble the ones we had…later.

On June 14, 1946, Bernard Baruch, an American financier and political consultant, who’d been appointed to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Commission (UNAEC) by President Truman, presented his plan for the control and regulation of atomic energy and weapons.  The Baruch Plan was a modified version of the Acheson-Lilienthal plan, which had called for placing the world’s uranium and thorium mines under international control in order to prevent anyone wanting to develop a nuclear bomb from getting the necessary fissile material to fuel it. The Acheson-Lilienthal plan also called for the US to abandon its monopoly on atomic weapons and reveal what it knew to the Soviet Union on the condition that both sides would agree not to create additional atomic bombs.

Baruch’s plan proposed extending the exchange of basic scientific information between all countries and implementing control of nuclear power to the extent necessary to ensure it could only be used for peaceful purposes. It also called for the elimination of atomic weapons and all other major weapons of mass destruction from national arsenals and for the establishment of effective safeguards such as inspections or other means necessary to ensure compliance.

The Soviet Union objected to the Baruch plan on the grounds that the United Nations was dominated by the United States (again, the only country at this time that possessed actual working nuclear weapons) and its fellow capitalist allies in Western Europe. The Soviets felt that this meant the UN couldn’t be trusted to fairly exercise any authority over atomic weapons, particularly against Communist nations like itself and the members of the Eastern Bloc.

A Little Piece of Poland, A Little Piece of France…:

In 1939, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which ensured neutrality between the two countries (something that ended when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union during Operation Barbarossa in 1942). This agreement also included a secret secondary agreement that divided Eastern Europe between the two countries, establishing Nazi and Soviet “spheres of influence” in the region.

During the war, the Soviet Union occupied the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania until Operation Barbarossa when the Nazis invaded and took these territories for themselves. Once the Nazis were defeated, however, the Soviets were able to re-occupy these territories and others in Eastern and Central Europe, taking advantage of post-war chaos to overthrow non-communist governments in Albania (1944), Poland (1944), Bulgaria (1946), Romania (1947), Czechoslovakia (1948), East Germany (1949) and Hungary (1949).  These nations would go on to form the Warsaw Pact in 1955 but that’s for another article.

While the capitalist West and communist Soviets fought together toward a common end during World War II, once the war was over, the old divisions sprang back up. Stalin’s first major post-War public speech to the Soviet Union on February 9, 1946 effectively ended this truce. In his remarks, Stalin announced that another war was inevitable, since communism and capitalism were mutually incompatible. Because of this, Stalin said, the USSR would have to concentrate on national defense in preparation for this future war with the West.

Twenty-four days later, on March 5, 1946, Winston Churchill delivered a speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. The speech is titled “Sinews of Peace” but is more commonly known as the “Iron Curtain Speech”:

“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an “iron curtain” has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow.” (Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech)

Ultimately, the hopes of a single, world-wide authority with control over nuclear weapons were crushed like ants under the feet of the warring elephants of Capitalism and Communism.

Berlin Blockade and Airlift:

At the end of World War II, the territories Germany had seized during the war were returned to the countries they’d been taken from.  Germany itself was divided into four occupation zones, with the US, UK, France and USSR each taking control of a section for administrative purposes.  The German capital, Berlin, was entirely inside the zone controlled by the Soviet Union. While it was divided into four sections, the occupying nations controlled the city jointly.

Under the Allied occupation, Germany would split into what would come to be known as West Germany (Federal Republic of Germany) and East Germany (the German Democratic Republic). This split came about due to increased tensions between the occupying forces, due to philosophical differences and the burgeoning Cold War between the US and the USSR[(7)].

The tensions came to a head on June 24, 1948 when Stalin closed all land access (roads, barges and rail traffic) to the areas of Berlin that were under Western control. The Berlin Blockade was the first international crisis of the post-World War II era. The Soviets offered to drop the blockade, but only if the newly introduced Deutsche Mark was removed from circulation in West Berlin.

Instead, the Western Allies organized the Berlin airlift to carry supplies to the people of West Berlin. The airlift ran from June 28, 1948 to May 12, 1949, when Stalin ended the blockade.

During the Blockade, which lasted a total of 323 days, 2.5 million tons of supplies were dropped over Berlin. Aircrews from the United States, the UK, France, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa flew over 200,000 missions. At their peak, they were able to deliver 12,941 tons daily, exceeding the original expectation of 3,475 tons a day.

Despite having superior numbers, not only in Berlin but also in Germany, the Soviet Union allowed these supply drops for fear of starting another shooting war at a point when they were struggling to rebuild their own war-ravaged nation.  While the blockade of land travel into Berlin was lifted on May 12, 1949, the Berlin Airlift didn’t officially end until September 30, 1949.

Atomic Testing in the Pacific:

On February 10, 1946, Commodore Ben Wyatt, the Military Governor of the Marshall Islands, told the 167 residents of Bikini Atoll that they were being relocated so that the United States could conduct atomic bomb tests.  They were told their sacrifice was “for the good of mankind and to end all wars.”

The people of Bikini Atoll agreed withnine out of eleven families relocating to nearby Rongerik Atoll which was a sixth the size of Bikini and had inadequate water and food supplies. It was also believed to be haunted by demon girls. While the US Navy left supplies, those soon proved to be inadequate as well. You can see a 1946 film, Bikini – The Atom Island, though be warned that the narrator’s tone is patronizing in the extreme.

The first US nuclear test in the Marshall Islands occurred on July 1, 1946 and was part of Operation Crossroads. The first test, code named Able, was the first nuclear test since Trinity and the first nuclear detonation since Fat Man was dropped on Nagasaki. The bomb, nicknamed Gilda after Rita Hayworth’s character from the movie Gilda (1946). The second test, Baker, was an underwater test with the bomb, Helen of Bikini, being detonated 90 feet underwater on July 25, 1946. Radioactive sea spray contaminated the ships being used as targets, which led to the cancellation of a third test, Charlie, because the ships couldn’t be decontaminated.

All told, the United States conducted over 100 nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands from 1946 to 1963, when the Partial Test Ban Treaty barred signatories from conducting atmospheric and underwater detonations. Taken as a percentage of the total number of nuclear tests conducted by the United States from July 7, 1945 through to September 23, 1992, the Marshal Islands tests represent barley a tenth of the weapons detonated. In terms of the yield represented by these weapons, however, the Marshall Islands tests represent seventy-seven percent of US nuclear tests (150,732 kilotons out of a total of 196,514 total kilotons).

The effects of the tests in the Marshall Islands are still being felt by the people of the area to this day, over 70 years after they were told they were the “children of America” and that we would take care of them.

And Then There Were Two…:

The Manhattan Project began due to fears of the Nazis getting the atomic bomb first. During World War II, members of both the Allies and the Axis worked on developing nuclear weapons but only the Manhattan Project was successful.

However, post-war fears of a second nuclear state were quick to spring up, with most predicting that the next member of the Nuclear Arms Club would be the Soviet Union. When exactly they’d join was a matter for some debate. General Leslie Groves, who’d headed the Manhattan Project, testified before Congress that it would take the Soviets 20 years to develop atomic weapons and some scientists predicted it would be at least 1970. Others were less optimistic, with predictions ranging from within “five to ten years” (of 1948), while others were downright pessimistic, speculating the Soviets would have the bomb by 1952 or 1954. (Source: Estimating when the Soviets could produce a nuclear weapon)

The problem with keeping the making of an atomic bomb a secret was, first and foremost, that the science behind how the bomb worked simply wasn’t a secret. Nuclear fission was established science and relatively common knowledge in physics circles. Add to that the fact that the Soviet Union had spies well-placed within the Manhattan Project, who’d fed them information on how the US bombs were designed.  And, while obtaining fissile material was considered to be the biggest obstacle to any non-American nation wanting to create its own atomic weapons, the Soviet Union not only possessed roughly 40% of the world’s uranium stores, it was also able to make use of captured German uranium supplies. And German scientists[(8)].

The Soviets exceeded expectations and managed to test their first atomic bomb – based largely on the Fat Man design – on August 29, 1949 in Semipalatinsk, in Kazakhstan (then the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic). The test, known in the Soviet Union as RDS-1, Device 501 or First Lightning, was nicknamed Joe-1 (after Stalin) by the Americans. Work on designing First Lightning began at the Kurchatov Institute, then known only as “Laboratory No. 2” in April 1946. The plutonium for the bomb was produced at an industrial complex then designated Chelyabinsk-40 but now known as Mayak[(9)].

The detonation had a yield of 22 kilotons, comparable to the Trinity and Fat Man bombs. It was an implosion-style weapon with a solid plutonium core. Radioactive debris from the test was collected by a WB-29 US weather reconnaissance aircraft that flew from Misawa Air Base in Japan to Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska and when this data was crosschecked with data from other flights, it confirmed that the Soviet Union had tested its first atomic weapon.

President Truman announced the Soviet Union’s entrance into the Nuclear Arms Club on September 23, 1949 – which surprised everyone, including the Soviets who didn’t know the US had created a test-detection system.

First Lightning was a turning point in the Cold War, not only because it destroyed the American monopoly on nuclear weapons but also because it led to increased pressure within the US military to develop the first hydrogen bomb, code named “the super.”

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  1. Approximately 1.5 kilotons; also, the planes that dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Enola Gay and Bock’s Car, were also B-29 Superfortresses)
  2. By comparison, the hottest star yet discovered, WR 102, in the constellation Sagittarius, has a temperature of 378,000 degrees Fahrenheit
  3. Hersey’s essay was published as a book later that same year. It was a best seller at the time and has never gone out of print. My high school history teacher, the pseudonymous Mr. Herodotus, allowed people to do a book report on Hiroshima as extra credit in his world history class.
  4. While the practice was officially condemned, it wasn’t uncommon for for American soldiers to mutilate Japanese war dead and take body parts for trophies.. To this day, trophy skulls are still occasionally turned in by the relatives of soldiers who fought during World War II.

Note: Links above contain racial slurs against the Japanese; the slurs are referenced in quotes from sources at the time; links also contain images of dead bodies and parts of dead bodies – mostly skeletonized.)

  1. As part of their educational efforts, FAS published a collection of essays by atomic scientists, One World or None, and also released a movie of the same title.
  2. By the time construction began on the UN’s New York City headquarters in September 1948, the US nuclear stockpile had grown to roughly 50 bombs. When construction was completed in October 1952, that number had increased nearly 17-fold to approximately 841 bombs, while the Soviet stockpile was approaching 50. (source Global Nuclear Weapons Inventories, 1945-2010, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July/August 2010)
  3. From here on out, despite it being overly simplistic to refer to the two sides of the Cold War as if it was only between the US and USSR, I’m going to do just that because it might be inaccurate but it’s also a heck of a lot easier.
  4. And that was in addition to making use of captured German scientists, since the Soviet Union, like the United States, engaged not so much in a game of chess but more one of Pokémon Go after World War II, wherein each side tried to capture as many Nazi scientists as they could in order to help give them the a post-war edge against the other side. In the United States, this recruitment scheme was called Operation Paperclip and mostly involved sanitizing the backgrounds of Nazi scientists to make them seem like “good Germans” who’d been caught up in a bad situation. The Soviet Union’s scheme, Operation Osoaviakhim, occurred on October 22, 1946 and involved rounding up German specialists and their families at gunpoint from Soviet-occupied Germany and taking them to the Soviet Union.
  5. It was also known as Chelyabinsk-65; both designations were based on the site’s postal code. No word on whether or not there were any birth certificates with “Chelyabinsk-40” listed as the place of birth.

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Additional Resources:

Books Consulted: