Study Guide

On the Beach Warfare

By Nevil Shute


The short, bewildering war had followed, the war of which no history had been written or ever would be written now. (1.24)

After all, there won't be anyone around to read history textbooks when everything is said and done. That's a scary thought. Even scarier is how little these survivors actually know about the conflict that turned their planet into a nuclear wasteland.

Here he learned [...] of the Russo-Chinese war that had flared up out of the Russo-N.A.T.O. war, that had in turn been born of the Israeli-Arab war, initiated by Albania. (1.52)

So, the apocalypse was caused by...Albania. Huh. We're not trying to throw shade or anything, but that isn't quite what we expected. It wasn't Russia? Not the U.S.? As it turns out, the big boys didn't even enter the fray until the bombs had already started dropping— and by that time, it was already too late.

"Why should we have to die because other countries nine or ten thousand miles away from us wanted to have a war?" (1.302)

It's hard to argue with Moira's point, but the words "war" and "fair" are rarely mentioned in the same breath, unless you're saying something like, "Goodness gracious, there isn't anything fair about war." (You should probably say that in an Australian accent for accuracy's sake, too, by the way.)

"The seismic records show about four thousand seven hundred. Some of the records were pretty weak, so there were probably more than that." (3.34)

Holy explosions, Batman—that's a lot of bombs. Talk about beating a dead horse. In this instance, unfortunately, the dead horse in question happens to be a perfectly good planet inhabited by billions of perfectly good people (or mostly good people, whatever).

"Do you mean to say, we bombed Russia by mistake?" It was so horrible a thought as to be incredible. (3.62)

This perfectly illustrates the absurdity of war: England and the United States end up demolishing Russia under mistaken pretenses. Calling that an "epic fail" wouldn't come close to doing it justice. Do you know how big Russia is?

"The trouble is, the damn things got too cheap. The original uranium bomb only cost about fifty thousand quid towards the end." (3.70)

With nuclear weaponry this cheap, even the Kardashians could afford their own personal atomic arsenal. Jokes aside, however, this is a pretty sobering thought—with prices so low, a world-ending nuclear conflict becomes inevitable.

"Most of the communications went out pretty soon. [...] All we know is that the command came down to quite junior officers, in most countries." (3.73)

The first round of bombing that struck capital cities left most political and military leaders dead, which foisted responsibility onto dudes who weren't ready to get into the pressure cooker. This ultimately made the conflict even worse—and led to untold devastation.

The scientist said, "I should think you'd have tried to negotiate."

"With an enemy knocking hell out of the United States and killing our people? When I still had weapons in my hands?" (3.81)

After all, how would you feel if everyone you've ever known and loved was killed in the blink of an eye? Oh, yeah—and you also happen to be standing in front of a button that would instantly kill everyone responsible? Pretty tempting, right? We're not quite sure what we'd do in this situation, but we're pretty sure we'd be thinking emotionally, not logically.

"But don't go blaming the Russians. It wasn't the big countries that set off this thing. It was the little ones, the Irresponsibles." (3.82)

Once again, the novel suggests that one real issue with nuclear weaponry is how easily and inexpensively it can be acquired by small countries. We can't argue with that, but we wouldn't complain if there were no nuclear bombs, period.

"Some kinds of silliness you just can't stop. [...] If [...] people all decide that their national honour requires them to drop cobalt bombs [...] well, there's not much that you or I can do about it." (9.200)

This isn't exactly a comforting thought, but it's the truth. Peter and his fellow naval officials could spend a million years hypothesizing ways people could have stopped this tragedy from happening, but they'd just be banging their heads against the wall. In the end, the widespread proliferation of powerful nukes makes a massive world-ending war pretty much inevitable.