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Nuclear holocaust - Annhilation of human civilization
Main Articles - Casualty by Man
July 18, 2009

What is a nuclear holocaust?

A Nuclear holocaust is the possibility of a nearly complete annhilation of human civilization by nuclear warfare and weapons . Under this scenario, all or most of the Earth is made uninhabitable by nuclear weapons in future world wars or possibly world war 3.

A common definition for the word "holocaust" is "great destruction resulting in the extensive loss of life, especially by fire." The word is derived from the Greek term "holokaustos" meaning "completely burnt." Possibly the first printed use of the word "holocaust" to describe an imagined nuclear destruction is Reginald Glossop's 1926: "Moscow ... beneath them ... a crash like a crack of Doom! The echoes of this Holocaust rumbled and rolled ... a distinct smell of sulphur ... atomic destruction." In the 1960s the principal referent of the unmodified "holocaust" was nuclear destruction. Since the mid 1970s the capitalized term "Holocaust" has been closely associated with the Nazi mass slaughter of Jews (see Holocaust) and "holocaust" in its nuclear destruction sense is almost always preceded by "atomic" or "nuclear".

Nuclear physicists and authors have speculated that nuclear holocaust could result in an end to human life, or at least to modern civilization on Earth due to the immediate effects of nuclear fallout, the loss of much modern technology due to electromagnetic pulses, or nuclear winter and resulting extinctions.

nuclear explosion castle bravo mushroom cloud

Nuclear holocaust in popular culture

The theme is widely used in dystopian fiction books, films, and video games.

One of the first depictions of a nuclear holocaust is included in Olaf Stapledon's celebrated Last and First Men (1930). Unlike the post-1945 treatment of the subject, where the disaster is almost invariably the outcome of a war between states, Stapeldon depicts this holocaust as the result of class war between an arrogant ruling class and downtrodden miners in a future civilization. Abuse of the newly-discovered Atomic power source leads to what would now be called a chain reaction engulfing the entire world, so that "of the two hundred million members of the human race, all were burnt or roasted or suffocated - all but thirty-five, who happened to be in the neighborhood of the North Pole" (and from whom humanity is eventually regenerated for many more millions of years of existence).

Throughout the Cold War, nuclear holocaust was something many people in the developed world were afraid of because of a perceived likelihood of it occurring. The topic became somewhat less common after the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, as many of the works created during the Cold War were primarily just commentary on that conflict. Asiatic work that deals with the theme and western work influenced by it often borrow much imagery from American atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima during World War II in 1945. To this date, those bombings and the failure of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986 remain the only nuclear disasters from which authors and screenwriters can draw real world experience with the aftermath of such instances.

Authors, directors, and game designers have approached the topic from a variety of angles and in every major media. Novels such as the Hugo Award-winning A Canticle for Leibowitz tell of a reemerging civilization several hundred years after the bombs fell, likening the civilization of the North American survivors to that of the dark ages in Europe. In other works, such as the Fallout series of video games, nuclear holocaust is used as a backdrop to a dystopian tale of mutant monsters and beasts. In many of these works, a partly forgotten nuclear holocaust provides a backdrop to a new creation story. In a similar vein, the book The City of Ember ties a nuclear holocaust in with the tale of a new civilization's rise. In some, the holocaust seems complete. Nevil Shute's 1957 novel On the Beach, for instance, chronicles the extinction of the human race by radioactive fallout in the months following a massive nuclear war; "There Will Come Soft Rains", a famous short story by Ray Bradbury, depicts a world of alarm clocks and robotic vacuum cleaners operating endlessly in the absence of their owners. In the early 1980s made for television movies, Threads in Britain, The Day After and Testament in the United States dramatized the devastating effects on civilization of a world nuclear war. The Terminator series of movies (and its television counterpart about Sarah Connor) is oriented around a nuclear holocaust (called "Judgement Day") triggered by a revolting artificial intelligence. Although not set on Earth, the reimagined Battlestar Galactica TV series depicts a human civilization inhabiting a system of twelve planets, where a race of robots known as Cylons, created by humans, rebel and carry out the Destruction of the Twelve Colonies by a nuclear holocaust. Three years later, the survivors of the attack arrive at Earth, which has also apparently suffered a nuclear holocaust (this not being the present day Earth, but a past Earth inhabited by Cylons).

The notable 1963 French art house film, La Jetée, is set in the post-World War III Parisian underground and the experiments that try to free humanity from its nuclear wasteland.

The Fallout video game series is set long after a nuclear holocaust, with small pockets of humanity trying to eke out an existence in the desert wasteland that was once America.



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