New Historical

Fears in the Cold War

Celestia Phillips

Nothing is as unsettling as going to bed one night, not knowing if you’ll wake up the next morning. For many years, threats of a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union instilled this agitated feeling in citizens of both countries. How long until the first nuclear bomb landed? Would anyone survive the war, or was the world doomed? Hysteria and fear increased as things became more escalated. In 1950, author Ray Bradbury wrote a short story, “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains,” outlining the future of the world with destruction on every side. Using a New Historical lens, it becomes possible to fully comprehend the feelings many people experienced during this uncertain time.

“There Will Come Soft Rains” is a story about a technologically advanced house that survives the nuclear war after humanity has destroyed itself. The house, such as waking up the owner with the date, August 4, 2026, making breakfast, and cleaning up messes made by the family dog, even though no people are inhabiting the house. That afternoon, the house chooses a poem to read to the owner, “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Sara Teasdale, about how nature does not change despite the wars going on around it. At ten o’clock that night, a gust of wind blew a tree branch through the kitchen window, resulting in a fire that destroyed most of the house, which couldn’t protect itself from the flames. Nothing remained but one wall, repeating, “Today is August 5, 2026.”

Within months of World War II ending, the United States was beginning its preparations for a third war (Oakes 339). Although many people dreaded the next war, a hope for success rested in the nuclear bombs only America knew how to make. This confidence quickly dissipated in the fall of 1949 when United States scientists recorded underground nuclear activities in the Soviet Union ( Editors). With possibly the greatest enemy the United States has ever seen suddenly on equal ground, stakes raised and the country altered its plans to include missile strikes from the Soviet Union in another world war. Politics consisted of little besides responses to nuclear threats.  On December 8, 1953, President Eisenhower said, “Even a vast superiority in numbers of weapons, and a consequent capability of devastating material retaliation, is no preventive, of itself, against the fearful material damage and toll of human lives that would be inflicted by surprise aggression” (Adams).

Bradbury paints a picture nearly identical to Eisenhower’s. “There Will Come Soft Rains” was written under his certainty that a nuclear war would consume humanity. The destruction is not apparent until the end of the story, but the house’s emptiness is significant starting in the beginning. Bradbury uses details in the house’s mind, the morning alarms going off “as if it were afraid that nobody would” get up. He also uses words like “empty” and descriptions like “no doors slammed.” Later, the house mentions that it was raining outside, further emphasizing the dreariness of the world (Bradbury 1). This desolation displays the world everyone feared. The destruction and lack of hope that were silently creeping up on the people in America were changing the habits that people were making and the dreams they harbored after finishing another devastating war. In the end, nothing would be left but broken buildings and empty dreams.

With the Soviet Union growing in power, many people were filled with questions. Who would make the first move? Was there a way to protect the people in either country? The United States government made plans to win a nuclear war, seeing no option to promise peace short of the destruction of one of the countries. Slowly, it all came down to image. “If the price of freedom proved to be nuclear war, even this price was not too high…. The preferred conception of nuclear reality would demonstrate that Americans were capable of confronting a nuclear emergency through their own efforts” (Oakes 340). The country that had helped win both World Wars would certainly win a war more  dangerous than those preceding it. Though they had little knowledge of how to fight this war, they were prepared to prove that America could stand, despite nuclear threats.

The technology that the world had created left nothing to be gained. At noon, the family dog came into the house, “covered with sores.” It tracked mud into the house and the “copper scrap rats” angrily cleaned up after it (Bradbury 2), showing that the house was not as happy to serve as it had been intended to be. When the dog died, the house “delicately sens[ed] decay at last” (2, emphasis added), further indicating that it was happy to be rid of the job it had been left with, despite the emptiness. The house had not found company in the dog, nor had the dog found solace in the house. The house was quick to deal with the dog in an emotionless display, marking the death and disposal with time stamps rather than feelings. The house was reluctant to perform any tasks outside of what it had been programmed to do. Perhaps it was content to have the house rid of people, where it could work on its tasks without interruptions.

Although the United States citizens did not truly understand how the government planned to respond to a nuclear threat from the Soviet Union, they understood enough from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to have a somewhat clear idea of what some of the aftereffects would be. Even though the United States had helped win World War II, the people had not forgotten what had happened in Japan. “With this fear of the unknown and tension rising between the U.S. and U.S.S.R., people became stressed and didn’t know if they would be alive much longer” (Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bombings”). Many survivors of the bombings were developing fatal diseases. With deaths still occurring from the bombings five or six years later, what hope was left for the world? There was no way to change the events that the United States had caused in Japan. The aftereffects would last through generations, increasing the likelihood of cancer in both those who had been exposed to the radiation and their children.

Bradbury’s disappointment in society is apparent in the destruction of the house at the end of the story. Technology, while created to serve, was destroyed. It wasn’t meant to last. The fire and the house each contained human characteristics, fighting a war with each other in an effort to keep or destroy what remained of the house. The house “gave ground” (Bradbury 3) and the fire “backed off” (4). In some ways, “The house represents technology and the fire stands for the natural force. The victory over the house shows the supremacy of nature over technology” (Musleh and Fahmi 281). Even the ceiling sprinklers, designed and intended to preserve the building and its occupants, could not stop the fire from ravaging the building.

On August 6, 1945, a nuclear bomb was dropped over Hiroshima, resulting in about 140,000 deaths. Three days later, another bomb was dropped over Nagasaki, killing 74,000 people. Many Japanese citizens who traveled to the cities to provide aid later died from exposure to the radiation (“Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bombings”). The destruction from these two major events changed the way people around the world thought. News of the devastation placed fear in everyone. The inability for neighbors to help without risking their own lives increased suffering in people distanced from the events.

Bradbury claimed that he did not believe in optimism, choosing to focus more on “optimal behaviors.” However, his story left a small feeling of hope to many who read it. Though the story occurs in an empty place devoid of human activity, “soft rains will come and wash out all the ugliness and, eventually, a new dawn will rise up” (Musleh and Fahmi 281). The fear that silenced the entire world began with a bomb on August 6 and was remembered on the anniversary of the day for many years. Whether Bradbury intended to or not, the destruction of the house finished on August 5, 2026, one day before the anniversary of the bombings. Never again would the world remember the sad event that took place in 1945. The chaos that was caused by the house and the silence that was about to ensue became a fulfillment of the prophecy written by Sara Teasdale thirty years before Bradbury wrote his story. “Spring herself, when she woke at dawn / Would scarcely know that we were gone” (Teasdale).

Works Cited

Adams, Mark. “Atomic Bomb: August 6, 1945.” Truman Library,  National Archives and Records Administration, Accessed 9 December 2022

“Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bombings.” The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, Accessed 9 December 2022

Oakes, Guy. “The Cold War Conception of Nuclear Reality: Mobilizing the American Imagination for Nuclear War in the 1950’s.” International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society (1993): 339-363.

Sleman, Sokar Musleh, and Ismail Muhammad Fahmi. “The Destiny of Humanity in the Future Cities of Ray Bradbury.” Zanco Journal of Humanity Sciences 24.1 (2020): 278-288.

Teasdale, Sara. “There Will Come Soft Rains.” Poets, Beacon Rains, 2003,


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Beginnings and Endings: A Critical Edition Copyright © 2021 by Liza Long is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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