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Images of Survival, Stories of Destruction: Nuclear War on British Screens from 1945 to the Early 1960s

Grant, Matthew (2013) 'Images of Survival, Stories of Destruction: Nuclear War on British Screens from 1945 to the Early 1960s.' Journal of British Cinema and Television, 10 (1). pp. 7-26. ISSN 1743-4521

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<jats:p> This article discusses a range of depictions and discussions of nuclear war, which appeared on British screens in the first half of the Cold War, in order to understand the changing way nuclear weapons were viewed within British culture. Using such screened images to understand how nuclear war was constructed and represented within British culture, the article argues that the hydrogen bomb, not the atomic bomb, was the true harbinger of the nuclear revolution that transformed cultural understandings of warfare and destruction. Although the atomic bomb created a great deal of anxiety within British popular culture, representations of atomic attack elided atomic destruction with that experienced in 1939–45, emphasising the ‘survivability’ of atomic war. In the thermonuclear era, the Second World War could not undertake the same symbolic work. The image of the city-destroying bomb was an imaginative as well as technological step-change. Screened representations stressed that a thermonuclear war would literally end the world. As such, they preceded, and indeed provided the cultural climate for, the rise of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). The Campaign exploited and further popularised this idea of the apocalyptic nuclear war as a key aspect of its political and moral standpoint. The article concludes, however, that the cultural hegemony of this vision of nuclear war equally helped underpin notions of nuclear deterrence. The basic assumptions about the nature of nuclear war constructed and circulated on British screens therefore formed part of CND's ‘cultural’ victory but the article also explains why this did not translate into the political realm. </jats:p>

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: nuclear war; Cold War; Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament; civil defence; propaganda cinema
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities
Faculty of Humanities > History, Department of
SWORD Depositor: Elements
Depositing User: Elements
Date Deposited: 06 Sep 2013 15:31
Last Modified: 18 Aug 2022 11:28

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