The imaginative landscape of nuclear war in Britain, 1945–65
in Understanding the imaginary war
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British culture struggled to understand the threat of nuclear war during the Cold War. This difficulty in fully ‘imagining’ the destruction a future war would bring had important consequences for how the Cold War was understood and fought in Britain. In the years after Hiroshima, atomic war was understood primarily through the prism of the memory of the 1939-45 war. Atomic destruction was downplayed as people elided future destruction with that experienced in the Blitz. From 1954, however, the hydrogen bomb ensured that the opposite was true: its city destroying power making any sort of survival difficult to imagine. This vision of the Apocalyptic nuclear war drove both the peace campaign and the Government’s deterrent policy. As such, Britain’s nuclear culture from 1945 onwards rested on how nuclear war was – and could be – imagined.

Understanding the imaginary war

Culture, thought and nuclear conflict, 1945–90

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