‘The fear of nuclear warfare was the fear of death and the fear of life’


What comes to mind when you think of nuclear war?

The now fantastically cordial situation between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un of North Korea?

Mr Trump’s self-congratulatory, puzzlingly declarative announcement that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat?

Forget geopolitics for a moment. Read this extract on the fear of nuclear war in the German bestselling novel Fear. Written by Dirk Kurbjuweit, deputy editor-in-chief of the current affairs magazine Der Spiegel, the novel was originally published as ‘Angst’. In its English avatar, it’s titled ‘Fear’. Here’s an extract. It’s the main protagonist’s running conversation with himself, as he remembers his schoolboy fears of a nuclear conflagration back in the 1980s:

Isn’t it awful that, whether as children or as adults, we can never live without fear? Apart from the fear of my father, the great fear of my youth was nuclear war. You didn’t have to know much about the arms race, didn’t have to understand anything — a single sentence was enough to send shivers down your spine.

After a nuclear attack everything is destroyed and everybody is dead.

I only had to look out of the window of the bus and tell myself that none of these houses would be left standing,

only had to look around my class and tell myself that none of these children would be left alive, and the terror set in.

 Nuclear war was an abrupt change from a life of promise to nothingness, and nobody had a chance.

 The thoughts I could usually rely on to ward off fear failed me here. When I was seized with panic that the plane I was in was going to crash, I would tell myself that one person was going to survive and that person would be me. Such cases existed, I knew they did.

 But in a nuclear war nobody escaped alive and it wasn’t even desirable to be spared. What could I possibly do all alone in a radioactive wasteland? Rats as big as dogs.

I wasn’t yet familiar with the word ‘mutant’, but I knew, though no one had ever told me, that nuclear rays could somehow turn ordinary creatures into monsters. Then there was cancer.

 The fear of nuclear warfare was the fear of death and the fear of life.