On the Beach Essay example

Submitted By mcemily
Words: 1910
Pages: 8

On the Beach: A Cautionary Tale In 1955, less than one-fifth of Americans knew what nuclear fallout was, even though they were in the middle of the Cold War (Haigh, 11). Australians believed that since they lived thousands of miles away from the United States and the Soviet Union, then they were safe (Beach, 179). This was unacceptable to Nevil Shute, an aeronautical engineer and writer, who moved to Australia in 1950. He was well aware that Australians were in as much danger as Americans and Russians. On the Beach was Nevil Shute’s idea of the world if a nuclear war actually occurred during the Cold War. It was a cautionary tale meant to warn and educate readers about nuclear warfare.
As the Cold War escalated, the fears of a nuclear war weighed heavily on the world. Tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union increased through the 1950’s and into the 1960’s (Anti-War, 577). However the first atomic bomb was dropped before World War two officially ended. The world witnessed the first dropping of atomic bombs in 1945, during the final stages of World War two. The United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima on August 6th 1945; three days later they dropped another bomb on the city of Nagasaki (Kishore, 1). Ninety percent of Hiroshima was wiped out and thirty-nine percent of the buildings in Nagasaki were destroyed. Both bombs killed an estimated of 120,000 people instantly (Kishore, 1). Over the next several months, tens of thousands more died from their injuries, including radiation sickness caused by the atomic bombs. It is estimated that a total number men, women and children killed within four months of the two blasts range from 200,000 to 350,000 (Kishore, 2). This was the first time the world witnessed the devastating effects of an atomic bomb. Around the same time, a new nuclear weapon was being theorized. It was called a cobalt bomb and it was the same bomb that Shute used in his book. It was intended to contaminate large areas with enhanced amounts of radioactive material. In 1950, a physicist named Leó Szilárd, originally described the cobalt bomb as “capable of destroying all human life on Earth”, however the bomb was considered a failure. (Clegg, 77). Most of the world in On the Beach was gone as a result of World War three and its nuclear fallout. It is possible that Shute was influenced by the actual making of the atomic bomb and its destruction. He could have used the cobalt bomb as his weapon of choice because he wanted to alert the world of the possibility of it being detonated sometime during the Cold War just like the atomic bomb.
In 1945, the world learned the ramifications of detonating an atomic bomb, however it was not until 1949 when the Soviet Union dropped built their own bomb for the first time did humans become aware of the dangers of a nuclear war (Berg, 620). Not only did the United States have a weapon of mass destruction, but so did their rival; the Soviet Union. It did not end there; soon the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in a massive arms race. In 1952, the United States was the first nation to successfully detonate a hydrogen bomb; it was smaller than an atomic bomb but 2,500 times more powerful. Three years later the Soviet Union detonated its first hydrogen bomb (Ells, 1). Both superpowers were now in possession of extremely powerful bombs that could destroy everything in its wake. This was the first time in history that the world lived under the threat or nuclear war. In On the Beach, 4,700 atomic bombs were dropped during World War three. Albania bombed Naples, Egypt bombed Washington and London and the United States bombed Russia. Everything and everyone was wiped out as a result of the radiation from the bombs. It is probable that Shute wanted to create the worst case scenario in On the Beach because he wanted his readers to genuinely feel frightened. If an Australian reader could find comparisons from the book to what was going on…