‘The overriding motif Cold War graphic design was giving shape to those things which could not be seen, or had not yet happened: the invisible atom, the sine-wave-like drawings or warning signals blasted from air-raid sirens…’ (2001)
This statement was from an article “Cold War Graphics, or how we learn to accept nuclear devastation without becoming unduly alarmed” by Tom Vanderbilt. He was describing the visual culture of the day, where an invisible war, a war in the minds of individuals and of entire societies. Today, though the threat of nuclear annihilation is still present, attention has moved to a different form of global catastrophe, global warming. Controversy still surrounds the whole idea of global warming within the scientist community according to the Conserve Energy Future Community. The debate rages on between the difference of climate change and global warming. However, the graphics that influenced society and the ideologies of the environmental war can be traced to its predecessor the Cold War; both have an underpining invisible war.
THE COLD WAR
One of the final and lasting image of the Cold War was the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Stone by stone, brick by brick, it marks a resolution for new era. However, the Cold War left behind an afterimage on the peripherals of our everyday existence; an iconic symbol that was once ubiquitous, now slipped into the shadow of society gaze: the fallout shelter sign (Vanderbilt, 2001). The fallout shelter sign was what can be budded as “survival” graphics, yet it is just one step away from its cousin icon: the “rad” warning sign. The fallout shelter sign was the antithesis of its cousin, but with only a minute change of the graphics. However, the “rad” sign implies another imagery, one that was the primary driver of the entire Cold War: the image of the mushroom cloud.
As these imageries assimilate into society, they marked, a rather, speculative conflict that was ubiquitous; no longer the demarkations for were battles clear, nor at a far-off designated zones (Vanderbilt, 2001). Even though presented with this scenario of war, much of society had never actually seen the devastation that the atom bomb can create. “This was psychological warfare at its most sophisticated…” (p226) quote Philip M. Taylor (2003), author of the book “Munitions of the Mind”. “Official propaganda therefore had to ensure that the fear of the enemy was sustained at a higher than fear of the Bomb” (pp252-253). In the advent of this invisible war, it was then priority to convince the public that the fear of the enemy was genuine, sensible and justified. This in turn legitimise the need to sustain a nuclear arsenal that would have been at least matchable to the other side. There was never a use for them, for what Taylor (2003) would call it an “inescapably logical course”. (p253)
The logical chain of events that occurs would then involved the ‘demonising’ of the other party. Steven Heller in the article “Cold War Design: Battling the Red Menace” (1992) for PRINT magazine commented “Communism was represented not as an ideology with a range of political agendas and tonalities, but as a pervasive evil — a disease that had to be rooted out of capitalist culture through the identification and quarantine of infected members.” “The Cold War was Stalin’s war,” writes William G. Hyland, the editor of Foreign Affairs and author of the “The Cold War: 50 Years of Conflict”. (Heller, 1992) There was two battlefields present at the same time: one that involves attacks against the ideological evil, the other involves curbing the spread of the evil within society itself. Groups like the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) were created to sniff out infected individual or groups and ‘cure’ them. The HUAC spent significant probing into Hollywood construed to investigation on how Communist propaganda propagate in the film industry (Heller, 1992). Even with their failure to root out the Communist subversion in the film industry, they made life pretty miserable for those woking in the industry.
From the iconic fallout shelter sign to the radical groups, the underlining driver for all these events is that of an unseen fallout of an invisible war. A psychological war and a war of attrition, with survival in mind, because there can no true victor in a nuclear apocalypse. After the Berlin wall, the Cold War was effectively pronounced over by 1990. The end of one period merely opens another in which the past continues to loom, even in the peripherals. As what the writer and former U.S. Marine, Anthony Swofford, would say, “Every War is different, every war is the same.”
THE ENVIRONMENTAL WARS
Majority consensus seems to agree on this particular global phenomenon. In a web summary for the book “The Discovery of Global Warming”, author Spencer Weart gives a brief history of events behind global warming. Prior to the 21st century, scientist recognised the intrinsically complex issue of global warming and the lack of competent measuring equipments brought much debate within the scientific community (Weart, 2007). He further notes “the mass media (to the limited extent they covered the issue) were confused, sometimes predicting a balmy globe with coastal areas flooded as the ice caps melted, sometimes the warning of the prospect of a catastrophic new Ice Age (pp 2-3).” However, since the 21st century, more advance computers along with prolific quantities of data enabled scientist to conclude that, indeed, human emissions are likely to cause climate change. The subject then went mainstream; rallying large numbers of individuals, government units, and corporate entities for the cause, thus solidifying the image of a possible environmental catastrophe (Weart, 2007, p4).
Tiny minority of the public and scientists who held on to the earlier views were accused of ideological convictions or sheer stubbornness (Weart, 2007, p4). One of its proponent, Dr. Ivar Giaever, a Noble Prize Winner for physics in 1973, disagreed on this concept during his speech titled “Global Warming Revisited” at the Nobel Laureates meeting on 1st July 2005. He points out that, in fact, global warming was not the cause of climate change, but rather, the climate changes anyway. He declared
“I would say that basically global warming is a non-problem. Just leave it alone
and it will take care of itself”. (2005)
The media seemed to have hopped on the band wagon, pressing for the noble cause; and possibly inadvertently created a global crisis that has it ramifications unseen or unclear.
Taylor, P. M. 2003. Munitions of the mind. Manchester University Press, third edition.
Vanderbilt, T. 2001. Cold War Graphics, or how we learn to accept nuclear devastation without becoming unduly alarmed.