Nuclear Threats, Nuclear Fear & the Cold War of the 1980s

Edited by Eckart Conze, Martin Klimke, and Jeremy Varon
New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017

This book brings together cutting-edge scholarship from the United States and Europe to address political as well as cultural responses to both the arms race of the 1980s and the ascent of nuclear energy as a second, controversial dimension of the nuclear age.

Diverse in its topics and disciplinary approaches, Nuclear Threats, Nuclear Fear and the Cold War of the 1980s makes a fundamental contribution to the emerging historiography of the 1980s as a whole. As of now, the era’s nuclear tensions have been addressed by scholars mostly from the standpoint of traditional security studies, focused on the geostrategic deliberations of political elites and at the level of state policy. Yet nuclear anxieties, as the essays in this volume document, were so pervasive that they profoundly shaped the era’s culture, its habits of mind, and its politics, far beyond the domain of policy.

ECKART CONZE is Professor of History at the University of Marburg. He is the author of, most recently, Die Suche nach Sicherheit. Eine Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland and Das Auswärtige Amt. Vom Kaiserreich bis zur Gegenwart.

MARTIN KLIMKE is Associate Dean of Humanities and Associate Professor of History at New York University Abu Dhabi. He is the author of The Other Alliance: Student Protest in West Germany and the United States in the Global Sixties, co-author of A Breath of Freedom: The Civil Rights Struggle, African American GIs, and Germany, as well as editor of the publication series Protest, Culture & Society.

JEREMY VARON is  Professor of History at The New School in New York City. He is author of Bringing the War Home: The Weather Underground, the Red Army Faction, and Revolutionary Violence in the Sixties and Seventies and The New Life: Jewish Students of Postwar Germany, as well as co-founder and editor of The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture.

Book on Cambridge University Press website


“Brilliantly framed with deeply researched and consistently insightful essays ranging from popular culture and media and activist efforts to create nuclear free zones to how nuclear anxiety changes domestic and foreign policy in the United States and Europe, Nuclear Threats, Nuclear Fear, and the Cold War of the 1980s is indispensable reading for anyone seeking to understand the 1980s. The volume will shape the field for years to come.”
-Penny M. von Eschen, Cornell University

“Anxiety about nuclear weapons and nuclear energy permeated western politics and culture in the 1980s. These path-breaking essays, based on exciting new research by a brilliant cohort of historians, demonstrate that such anxieties prompted powerful anti-nuclear movements that altered the course of world politics and global culture in this crucial decade. An outstanding and innovative collection.”
William I. Hitchcock, University of Virginia

“The ‘Second’ Cold War of the 1980s was truly a transnational phenomenon, both within the policy circles where it was launched and the European and American citizens who experienced and reacted to it. This extraordinary volume brings together a wide range of political, cultural, and social aspects of this frightening era, and offers new approaches, sources, and insights for understanding the events of this time. It is a major contribution to the scholarship on the trans-Atlantic 1980s.”

– Thomas Schwartz, Vanderbilt University

“Ranging from the US to Central Europe, the contributions in this exciting volume focus on the nature of grass roots activism and the challenge for high politics that ultimately contributed to avoiding an atomic catastrophe by a renewal of detente. Even if the collection produces more questions than answers, it is a must reading for anyone concerned with preventing the use of nuclear weapons.”

– Konrad H. Jarausch, University of North Carolina


Table of Contents:

Eckart Conze, Martin Klimke, Jeremy Varon


1. Nuclear Winter: Prophecies of Doom and Images of Desolation During the Second Cold War
Wilfried Mausbach

2. Atomic Nightmares and Biological Citizens at Three Mile Island
Natasha Zaretsky

3. The Role of National Socialism and the Second World War in the Discourse on Nuclear Armament
Eckart Conze


4. We Can Work It Out: British Popular Protest Music and the Second Cold War
William Knoblauch

5. Artists for Peace: Nuclear and Environmental Discourse in 1980s Popular Music and Electoral Politics
Laura Stapane and Martin Klimke

6. A Tenuous Peace: International Anti-Nuclear Activism Within the East German Writers Union in the 1980s
Thomas Goldstein


7. Small Spaces for Peace: Toward A Transnational History of Nuclear Free Zones, 1970-1985
Susanne Schregel

8. Finding Meaning in the “Example of Wyhl”: How Grassroots Protest in the Rhine Valley Inspired West Germany’s Anti-Nuclear Movement
Stephen Milder

9. ‘We envisage a European-wide campaign, in which every kind of exchange takes place’: European Nuclear Disarmament in the West European Peace Movements of the 1980s
Patrick Burke

10. The Interchurch Peace Council and the Christian Peace Movement in Western Europe
Sebastian Kalden

11. No Nukes and Front Porch Politics: Environmental Protest Culture and Practice on the Second Cold War Home Front
Michael Foley


12. Peace through Strength? The Impact of the Antinuclear Uprising on the Carter and Reagan Administrations
Lawrence Wittner

13. The Discourse on Nuclear Weapons and the Influence of the Peace Movement on the West German Government and the Social Democratic Party, 1977-1983
Tim Geiger and Jan Hansen

14. Why is there no “Accidental Armageddon” Discourse in France? How Defence Intellectuals, Peace Movements, and Public Opinion Rethink the Cold War During the Euromissile Crisis
Katrin Ruecker

15. Building Trust: The G7 Summits and International Leadership in Nuclear Politics
Enrico Boehm