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Meanwhile, the rise of nuclear weaponry made the sudden destruction of the United States an actual possibility. And if the end of the Cold War diminished that particular anxiety, the September 11 attacks thrust the country into something even more intense: the possibility not that someone far away will fire a missile, but that anything around you might be a sign of a new terror plot. When people enter an apocalyptic frame of mind, Landes writes, “everything quickens, enlightens, coheres. They become semiotically aroused—everything has meaning, patterns.” In the months following 9/11, that mentality was almost inescapable.
And then there is what may be the most persistent source of American apocalyptic fear: the country’s physical terrain. Every natural disaster enacts the endtimes in miniature. As Hurricane Katrina crushed the Gulf Coast in 2005, there were enough signs of the last days to fill a thousand folk ballads: a drowning city, death and starvation, martial law, rumors of barbaric behavior. “It was kind of like the end of the world,” one survivor told a reporter from KTRK-TV.
But 9/11 and Katrina also remind us that the last days never quite seem to arrive. We exit apocalyptic time. A city starts to rebuild. Normal life resumes. Many people’s worlds come to an end, but the world itself persists.
And then the next disaster strikes from above, or the next millennial fever surges up from below. The endtimes never really end. It’s always Armageddon somewhere.