Faithful readers will remember that I am a fan of “end of the world” stories. I read them regularly and enjoy them immensely. Always on the lookout for something I haven’t read in the genre, I came across “Level 7” by Mordecai Roshwald while exploring a string of “other customers also bought” recommendations on Amazon. I took the plunge, punched the button, and decided to give the book a try.
“Level 7” was first published in 1959. It is constructed as the diary of Officer X-127 – a military officer who is part of his country’s nuclear weapons program. X-127 is deployed to the 7th level of a vast underground complex – the level responsible for the offensive capabilities of their nuclear arsenal (Level 6 is defensive, Level 5 is living quarters for the elite and political classes, etc.). Through his journal entries, you learn about life underground, the eventual start of a full-scale nuclear war, and the aftermath for the survivors.
This book was written at a time when the nuclear arms race was in full swing. Roshwald has said he intentionally removed as many cultural and situational cues as he could; hoping that any reader, American, Russian, etc., could project themselves in to the story and see things through X-127’s eyes. Ultimately that proved to be the book’s fatal flaw.
That sense of moral equivalence is a dangerously naïve way to look at the world. The “they may be bad but we’re no better, we all need to change” mantra is one shared by many. Yes, on a basic human level “we” are all the same; but to think that, in a world of political ideology and governments of men, there is essentially no difference between democracy and communism is foolish at best, dangerous at worst.
Books like these strive to use literary devices to “open the mind” of the reader and show them the futility of war. I don’t buy it. To think that we could solve all of the world’s problems if we could just get rid of all of the weapons is a laudable outcome, supported by a foolish plan of action. To paraphrase a great man, who paraphrased many before him – the path to peace lies through strength.
For some, “Level 7” may present a very nuanced and thoughtful look at the subject of global warfare. For me, it was a simplistic and naïve story told through post-apocalyptic rose colored glasses. I didn’t agree with the political viewpoint of story – but I’ve read plenty of fiction that took a contrary political viewpoint from me, and still delivered an engaging and entertaining story. This was not one of them. Thankfully, much like war it described, this book was short. Unlike X-127, however, I survived – now I have to live with the scars and move on.
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