The story "If I forget thee, O earth…" is about the grimmest and scariest consequence imaginable in the aftermath of a possible nuclear war on the earth. Published in 1951, the story reflects the fear and anxieties prevalent at the time. After the Second World War, the world had rapidly been polarizing into two groups ~ the U.S. and its allies and the U.S.S.R. and its allies.
The massive destruction wrought by the twin nuclear bombing in the cities of Japan was still fresh in people's memory. During the Cold War, the U.S., the U.S.S.R. and their allies began to produce nuclear warhead at an unprecedented scale, demonstrating their might and superiority.
The third world war seemed imminent. If it happens it would be a nuclear war. What would be its consequences caught the popular imagination of artists, thinkers and philosophers across the world.
This story is an author’s response to this popular imagination regarding the possibility of a massive nuclear war.
The author Arthur C. Clarke imagines the earth to be an uninhabitable planet. The nuclear war has devastated all forms of life on the planet. The earth is still burning with the poisonous radiation. He paints a ghastly image of the earth when seen from the moon:
"…the portion of the disk (the earth) that should have been in darkness was gleaming faintly with an evil phosphorescence: and he remembered. He was looking upon the funeral pyre of a world—upon the radioactive aftermath…"
The few survivors have built-up a temporary living facility on the lunar surface. They will have to wait there for centuries before they can reclaim the earth. It would happen only when,
“The winds and the rains would scour the poisons from the burning lands and carry them to the sea, and in the depths of the sea they would waste their venom until they could harm no living things.”
Thus the story can be read as a warning to the nations involved in the nuclear arms race. It’s an artist’s urge to the strong and the powerful to create a friendly atmosphere giving away their hostilities.