I’m having a hard time writing this post because I’m still grappling with the after-effects of reading it. Sorry.
This book gave me nightmares. I knew as soon as I finished reading it that I was going to have nightmares, so I tried to take my mind off of it by reading some inane comedy I found in my house. But I had nightmares. I’m not a paranoid person; I know the nuclear obliteration of humanity as described in “On The Beach” was written during the Cold War, when Americans was thoroughly terrified of the Soviet bloc and nuclear warfare. Yet as I read the book, I couldn’t help but think that the plot was just a little too realistic. Though the nuclear threat of the Cold War is gone, there are other countries that have replaced them as American Enemy #1; countries that may already have or are currently developing nuclear technologies.
My first reaction to “On The Beach” was emotional; I was horrified for the characters. I couldn’t help but think “what would I do?” I’ll admit that I’m having a hard time even thinking about it right now. Every time I try to grapple with the consequences of the holocaust in “On The Beach” I really just get agitated and depressed. That’s kind of happening to me right now. Where Shute excelled was in absolutely and completely portraying the horrors of nuclear war and its aftermath. Maybe it should be required reading for all world leaders. I don’t know.
One of the most powerful lines in the book was delivered by Commander Towers. He says, “Maybe we’ve been too silly to deserve a world like this.” If I had to pick a word to describe what humanity has done to itself, it would not be silly; yet nevertheless Towers makes a very powerful point. Mankind took the natural world and turned it into the greatest weapon possible in order to obliterate each other. And for what? Nonsense. Trade ports and arable land. I’m reminded of one of those no-texting-while-driving campaigns that says something like “No text is worth risking your life.” Well, humanity, no trade port or arable land is worth risking humanity.
I think that the reason I’m so struck by “On The Beach” and get so worked up over it is because I don’t believe much has changed since then. Our enemies may have changed, but there is still a very real, very scary nuclear race going on around the world. And for what? Are we going to end up like the characters in “On The Beach” – killing our children and ourselves to avoid a miserable death brought on by radiation from a war we never wanted?
The nuclear technology in “On The Beach” was absolutely devastating to me because it doesn’t seem so unrealistic. What’s to stop some horribly stupid nation in the world today from attempting to engage in nuclear warfare?
On one other note: as I read the book (and began preparations for my own presentation on The Road) I wondered where exactly it fell: was it apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic? Shute brilliantly created a work that displays both; it was the destruction of the last remaining survivors of a nuclear holocaust and apocalypse. In my opinion, that’s the most depressing kind in the genre. We had a chance, and we blew it.
So, like I said before… let’s start a petition to get all world leaders (both big and small countries) to read this book.