[In The Cambridge History of the Cold War, editor Odd Arne Westad] credits George Orwell with introducing the term in a 1945 essay on the meaning of the atomic bomb. Orwell wrote of the prospect “of two or three monstrous super-states, each possessed of a weapon by which millions of people can be wiped out in a few seconds, dividing the world between them…”
This new form of supreme power would lead to an uneasy standoff between states, with each in “a permanent state of cold war with its neighbors.” As he saw it, this would lead to more effective ways of controlling the world’s exploited classes and “a peace that is no peace” between “horribly stable…slave empires.”
Orwell feared that such an order could result in a system of universal totalitarianism like that in his dystopia, 1984. The idea that atomic bombs would rob the exploited “of all power to revolt” may not have appeared so far-fetched at the time given the totalitarianism seen in Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union. Click here to keep reading…
Lawrence D. Freedman is Professor of War Studies at King’s College, London.