The Anxiety of Urban Destruction During the Cold War and Post-9/11 America

In “Disaster and Decentralization: American Cities and the Cold War”, Matthew Farish discusses the relationship between the suburbs and the city during the Cold War, and how the atomic bomb was largely responsible for this relationship. On the importance of the suburb, Farish notes that “It was these suburban ‘citadels’ that infiltrated the discourse of Cold War geopolitics: they were the quintessential sites of American life, the spaces where history was being actively rewritten.” The suburbs represented the panic of the white conservative “average” American as they fled from central cities. A central theme of Farish’s argument is that these families fled the city because of fear of nuclear destruction. Cities, especially high density ones, were seen as primary targets of nuclear weapons. With images of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still fairly fresh in the American consciousness, coupled with constant disaster scenarios in popular media, many Americans were afraid to live in the city. Those who could afford it moved out to the suburbs, which as Farish describes, became the center of the “quintessential” American life

Just like the images of Hiroshima affected the American psyche during the Cold War, so too did the destruction of the Twin Towers affect America post-9/11. The attack on September 11th targeted landmark buildings in a massive urban center, New York City. The imagery of those towers falling reminded Americans of the panic induced by nuclear destruction during the Cold War. A similar fear of a vague foreign threat with the capability and desire to target large American urban centers resurfaced. Once more, it created a fear of living in urban centers and shifted a preference toward the suburban. I think that a general fear of urban destruction can be seen in the resurgence in popularity of destruction movies in the last decade. These movies, just like the magazine articles mentioned in Farish’s essay, fuel the flames of American anxiety towards urban destruction. In addition, the suburbs are still seen as preferable living situations for most American families.


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