Global Holocaust—Growing Concern About Survival
ON November 20, 1983, a record one hundred million Americans watched a TV dramatization called The Day After. In a graphic—and at times terrifying—manner, the film forced its huge audience to ponder the grim aftermath of a nuclear war. Eerie visual images haunt the memories of many viewers: flame-filled mushroom clouds, nuclear missiles hurtling across the afternoon sky, charred bodies, men and women vaporized and reduced to X-ray images, a child blinded by the nuclear fireball, a once pretty teenage girl balding and covered with radiation burns.
No large-scale antinuclear protest movement, though, has arisen as a result of this film. Nor have tensions between the nuclear superpowers thawed. Nevertheless, concern about surviving a nuclear holocaust seems to be growing. People do seem more willing to discuss—and think about—this chilling prospect.
Just a few years ago, however, a random group of 50 people in the United States were asked questions such as: “Do you think there might be a nuclear war?” and “What would you do if there was one?” The interviewers met with a surprising reluctance on the part of people even to discuss such matters. Typical was the response of a hairdresser who said: “These are not things for our concern; let the politicians worry about it.” By and large, people dealt with the threat of global holocaust by means of what researchers call “psychic shutdown,” refusing to think about it at all!
As world tensions increase, though, it becomes increasingly harder to perform this feat of emotional gymnastics and simply ignore the threat. Says Jerome Frank, professor emeritus of psychiatry: “The possibility that the world might be destroyed by nuclear arms is literally cutting out the future for many people. There is an alarming increase in suicides among adolescents, many of whom feel that they can’t look forward to contributing to society.”
There is a growing number of people, however, who refuse to sit back and be consumed by feelings of helplessness. Convinced that global disaster is inevitable, they say that there is but one sensible thing to do: Prepare for survival! Thus they have been dubbed survivalists. But who are they? Do they offer an alternative to annihilation?