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Debating Cold War anxieties in West Germany, 1945–90

During the 1950s, intensive debates over the potential supply of nuclear weapons systems to the Bundeswehr, the newly founded West German army, agitated the public in the Federal Republic. During the conflicts over the NATO dual-track solution since 1979, a similar set of anxieties was widely articulated and internationally registered as a specific German angst. In both cases, peace protesters, politicians and Bundeswehr officers shared the perception that nuclear war would very likely entail the self-destruction of the German nation. This notion of a ‘nuclear war in front of the apartment door’ was a crucial feature of the Cold War as an imaginary war in the Federal Republic.

in Understanding the imaginary war
Culture, thought and nuclear conflict, 1945–90

This volume takes the metaphorical character of the Cold War seriously and charts how the bomb was used as a symbol for nuclear war at the very heart of this conflict. The contributions consider the historical relevance of the political, cultural and artistic ramifications of nuclear weapons as signifiers for a new type of conflict. Tis understanding of the metaphorical qualities of the Cold War is encapsulated in the notion of an imaginary war, or, more precisely, a war against the imagination. As an attack against the imagination, the nuclear threat forced politicians and ordinary people to accept the notion that preparations for nuclear annihilation would contribute towards peace, and that the existence of these weapons, and the anticipation of large-scale destruction that came with them, were an inescapable corollary of security, freedom and future prosperity on both sides of the Cold war divide.

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The Cold War as an imaginary war

This chapter interprets the Cold War as an imaginary war, imaginary in the sense that formats that are usually described as fictitious – from dreams and nightmares, films and novels to forecasts and scenarios – had an important bearing on the reality of the Cold War as a nuclear confrontation. The chapter argues that representations of the nuclear threat have to be situated in discourses about national and international security and about the role of nuclear deterrence in the postwar world.

in Understanding the imaginary war