Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Will War Drive Civilization Underground? (1942)

The December 13, 1942 Montana Standard (Butte, MT) ran an interesting piece by Gardner Dane about the world of 1975, devastated by war, forcing people to move underground in order to survive. The original article appeared in Every Week magazine. Excerpts, as well as the article in its entirety, appear below.

Dane sets the stage with a vision of total ruin, a world obliterated by war:
It's 1975! All hell has burst loose in World War Three! The nations of this earth have lined up again on two sides. The slaughter, devastating fury, and material damage make the wars of past history seem like children's games with toy tin soldiers!

In an hour, gargantuan cities are blasted into nothingness. Desolated heaps of rubble and smoking, stinking debris mark the spot where a flock of towering skyscrapers lifted pointed peaks into the heavens.

Does this mark the end of a city's existence? Does it mean the Grand Climax of civilization? The ultimate Armageddon? The wiping out of a nation as one would crush a hornet's nest?

Not at all! For already the keen, dispassionate, incisive minds of scientists are fashioning the world in which many now living will be forced to exist when the next cataclysmic and catastrophic spasm of mankind occurs.

Dane then goes on to put things into the context of 1942 (World War II):
Historians, a thousand years hence, will write that after the victory of the Allied Nations near the middle of the twentieth century, there was an attempt to build a war-free world; but after a few years commercial rivalries sprang up again. Then the military leaders of the democracies, with the acquiescence of disillusioned millions, began preparing for the next cataclysmatic spasm of humanity.

He explains what the wars of 1975 or the year 2000 would look like:
There will be monstrous airplane carriers of the skies. Gargantuan dirigibles, capable of carrying a hundred fighting and bombing planes, will roam over the continents and oceans of the world. The only effective defense will be more airplanes! Yes, there will be anti-aircraft guns of power and velocity that will make today's fire power seem like toy pistols. But half a century hence giant bombers will carry cannon as powerful as today's anti-aircraft guns!

The power of the atom is eerily predicted:
What will happen in the twenty-first century we cannot tell. A century hence, man may have learned to use the unlimited and terrible power of the atom. He may be able to trap the rays of the sun and miraculously render obsolete the electric generator, the gasoline engine and the Diesel motor. Rocket ships may displace the motored airplanes as effectively and quickly as the automobile displaced the horse in the early part of the twentieth century.

Dane then explains the preparation nations will take for war:
First, when the black clouds of another war begin to gather on the horizon, nations will lay by great stores of food! Not food as we commonly think of it today, but millions upon millions of tons of dehydrated meats, fruits and vegetables!

These millions of tons will be stored underground at strategic and accessible points. Scientists would probably tell us today that the problem of food for an underground civilization will be the easiest problem to solve - if we get at it soon enough. The second problem will be shelter. This will be a gargantuan feat.

Deep underground, vast chambers will have to be excavated. Families can keep together in cubicles designed for the purpose. Single men will sleep in tiers in bunks 15 or 20 high; single women will sleep in similar accommodations.

All feeding will be done in central kitchens, rigidly controlled as to quality and quantity. Sanitary problems will be handled by specialists. All the accoutrements necessary for living will be moved underground. There will be hospitals and stores. Factories that produce clothes, medicines and other needs.

Naturally, in an ultimate emergency such as this, everything and every last detail will be controlled by the government. The abhorred and abhorrent dictatorships of the present time will be as nothing when nations fight for their lives in the next war.

The author (naturally) concludes on a pessimistic note:
Prophecy is always dangerous!

But if the past history and total experience of the human race has any value as a criterion of the future, within a half century there will be another war.

Each war, we like to say, grows more horrible! But each war brings its defenses against the diabolical, horrible offensive weapons devised by the race of man.

It seems certain that when the dogs of war are unleashed again on some future, unhappy date, civilization will have to move underground for the duration.

See also:
Our Friend the Atom (Book, 1956)
After the War (1944)
Memory of 'Tomorrow' (New York Times, 1941)
Gigantic Robots to Fight Our Battles (Fresno Bee, 1934)
Pictures Stately Edifices (1923)
Looks for Era of Brotherhood (1923)
Poison War (1981)
Word Origins: Imagineering, continued (1942)
Nazi Paleo-Futurism (1941)


Anonymous said...

"Sanitary problems will be handled by specialists." I.e., even in the modern world of tomorrow, it's necessary for someone to be there to shovel the sh*t!

I like the image of the giant dirigible aircraft carriers -- and the bit about them rendering contintents defenseless. Uh, Hindenburg anyone? (I know, they could use helium instead of hydrogen -- but even then, puncture the containment vessel a few times and bye-bye birdie.)

Jonathan Badger said...

I think it's fascinating that people were already thinking about a possible WWIII in the middle of WII. I guess it was only the first one that people were naive enough to think was "the war to end all wars".

Mark Plus said...

Science fiction writers in the 1950's and 1960's like H. Beam Piper and Vernor Vinge (in his early career before he discovered the Singularity) assumed that the next catastrophic war would destroy civilization in the Northern Hemisphere so that the handful of nations in the Southern Hemisphere had the burden of preserving and building upon the truncated share they managed to save.

Peter said...

wutzke: Zeppelins are making a comeback!

Some cool new designs

I can't remember where I found it, but I recently read a review of a currently operating airship service in Europe. It sounded awesome!

Monte Davis said...

This was recapped for nuclear war in several Philip K. Dick stories in the 1950s, in which robots either continued the war while we huddled underground... or cleaned things up and sent us faked video of the continuing

See also in the 1960s Mordecai Roshwald's Level 7, Daniel Galouye's Dark Universe, and other SF novels.

Anonymous said...

I'd love it if zeppelins made a comeback. But those stories have been circulating since at least the mid-1980s... along with stories about modern efficient sailing ships making a comeback, and modern efficient processes making steam engines more efficient than diesel on rails.

All may be both true and somewhat romantically nostalgic too, but none are actually likely to occur (without there first being either a major energy / infrastructure collapse and/or an efficiency improvement that is not merely incremental, but magnitudinal).

Anonymous said...

I find it wonderfully ironic that past predictions of war increase the scale of armies, whereas now the current threats we are warned about (be they real or hyped) are from small terrorist cells...

Jack Generic said...

"Sanitary problems will be handled by specialists."

In other words, "We have no idea how to handle that problem, so we'll pass over it, and hope that others will when the time comes".

D.W. said...

How interesting to note that, by 1975, the final "spasm" of a war between east and west was recorded: namely, that of US military and administrative withdrawal from South Vietnam. Laos and Cambodia are another story...

The Cold War, having emerged in the wake of 1945's conclusions in the European theatre, qualifies with some satisfying similarities to the underground world referred to in this 1942 piece. It's not far off of H.G. Well's much earlier distopia of amnesiac human culture, preyed upon by the perverted remnants of the (troglodyte) nations that stuck it out longest in their steel caves.

It is worthwhile however, that as technical advances are generally applied (to their worst advantage) in the pursuit of efficient killing methods, and that by 1942 most of the concepts of warfare we have normalized were widely known, if novel. Radar, Rockets, Aircraft Carriers and the surprisingly effective aeroplane (trumping naval power soon enough) were well-known to tactical thinkers.

If this article seems portentious, consider that Jean Paul Marat once wrote: Watch out, for as soon as it pleases them they'll send you out to protect their gold in wars whose weapons, rapidly developed by servile scientists, will become more and more deadly until they can with a flick of the finger tear a million of you to pieces.
This would have been penned some years before his death, in 1793.

Anonymous said...

"But half a century hence giant bombers will carry cannon as powerful as today's anti-aircraft guns!"

Predicts the Spectre gunship perhaps.


Spindle said...

Where ever man goes, also goes war.
Until man is no more.