Four of these novels are political, not to be taken lightly. Acts of Faith and The Nuclear Age are concerned with the terror offered to us all by the nuclear deterrent. This is a large theme and it is proper to adopt a grave, tongue-biting tone, as our ancestors did when considering H-11 and the D-v-1. Unlike 'terrorism' - which it otherwise somewhat resembles - the nuclear deterrent is presented by state authority as a measure for preserving the great peace: it is customary for state authority thus to associate peace with terror. In Shakespeare's Henry VIII, the King's infant daughter is praised in a powerful prophecy: 'She shall be loved and feared,' and her royal attributes shall be 'peace, plenty, love, truth, terror'. Our disputations about the nuclear deterrent are connected with the suspicion that it terrifies the tender but not the tough. The narrators of the first two novels, middle-class American citizens, admit to being terrified out of their wits: they fear that the martyr-venerating warriors of Islam and the rough Catholics of Latin America may not be deterred from small-scale warfare by the threat of international escalation. Acts of Faith, Hans Koning's scenario, warns of a danger of global nuclear war arising from the Hispanic connections of the United States. Tim O'Brien's more discursive narrative, The Nuclear Age, breaks out in desperate little cries, like: 'Beirut was a madhouse. The graveyards were full ... ' This narrator is not really concerned about the deaths of Beirut citizens: his terror is that a Middle East crisis might 'escalate'.
LRB 8 May 1986 | PDF Download