Near Melbourne, Australia, the only habitable area of the world after a nuclear holocaust, survivors await the inevitable—the radioactive cloud that will descend below the equator and eradicate the last vestiges of human and animal life.
The war began in Europe with a Communist attack on a NATO country, spread to the United Kingdom and America, and eventually drew in Russia and China in a cataclysm of nuclear destruction.
The only parts of the planet still habitable are Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the extreme southern tip of South America, but even those areas are doomed.
Some of you may recognize the plot: it’s from the novel On the Beach by Nevil Shute, an English writer who spent his later years in Australia. Shute died in 1960, three years after publishing what would turn out to be his most famous work.
During the middle years of last century, amid nuclear testing and ICBMs, doomsday fiction was prevalent: Fail-Safe, Commander-1, Z for Zachariah, “There Will Come Soft Rains.” Then when the Berlin Wall fell and there ensued normalized relations between the United States and the former Communist Bloc, we seemed to have overcome the threat of nuclear war. As of November, 2016, we had logged seventy-one years since a nuclear weapon was used in anger.
Then Trump became president and began howling about increasing our nuclear capabilities. He has followed that with varied and continuing attempts at isolationism and a healthy dollop of sabre-rattling. Last week’s appointment of John Bolton as National Security Advisor seals the deal.
Bolton, who never met a war he didn’t like, has his sights set on Iran, but North Korea looks mighty tempting also. Bolton still believes that the Iraq War was a good idea.
He was last considered for a government job in 2005 when George W. Bush named Bolton ambassador to the United Nations. The Senate refused to approve the nomination when reports of Bolton’s “vicious attacks,” “rumor campaigns” and “infantile” character assassination became known. He’s Dick Cheney without the smirk or self-control, but the endgame is the same for each: war is the answer. (The story goes that Condoleezza Rice worked hard to get Bolton the U.N. appointment—just to get him the hell out of Washington.)
Bolton is a Washington insider, a smart man who knows how to work his way around and through impediments, including those that might deter us from war. Donald Trump is a Washington outsider, a stupid man whose basic unit of communication is a tweet. He is no match intellectually or politically for John Bolton, and though there may be others in Trumpworld who can mitigate Bolton’s most dangerous ideas, Trump is not one of them.
Those of us who grew up in the 50s believed that a coming nuclear war was a forgone conclusion, as inevitable as the dawn. We had the stockpiled rations and the air-aid drills and the fallout shelters to prove it. But for the past fifty years we have learned to embrace what has seemed to be a diminishing threat. Pax Americana some call it.
Whatever it’s called it, it’s over. John Bolton will see to that.