When compared to conventional warfare, nuclear warfare is largely viewed and agreed on as being more destructive over a smaller timespan. The current belief is that the reason Nuclear War does not breakout is due to the concept known as Mutually Assured Destruction, as in the case during the Cold War. The idea of Mutually Assured Destruction implicates that the two super-powers (USSR and the USA) both posses enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world and reduce it to being unfit to life as we know it. Some analysts claim that with this potential nuclear winter side-effect of a nuclear war would mean that almost every human being on Earth would starve to death. The stakes were rather high in those time periods in case of an occurrence of such grim results.
In modern day the assumption that a nuclear war is likely to happen is rather slim, in fact we can see that over the years the assumption of whether the declaration of war implied nuclear warfare has decreased bit by bit over the last 60 years. A local survey taken over a time period 1954-1983 in pittsburgh shows these results.
“…on average, people estimated a one-in-three chance of a nuclear war within their lifetimes ( Fiske, Pratto, & Pavelchak, 1983), and a local sample in Chicago put the estimate at 50/50 ( Tyler & McGraw, 1983). Three decades ago, people were asked about the likelihood of another world war, which they overwhelming believed would be nuclear; they viewed such a war as somewhat more likely than people do now, but the average person still estimated the chances as 50/50 ( Withey, 1954). People are considerably more pessimistic about the possibility of nuclear war if a conventional war should erupt. Ever since 1946, the majority of Americans (between 63% and 79%) have believed that any subsequent major war would necessarily be nuclear ( Kramer et al., 1983). But, on the whole, people apparently view nuclear war as unlikely.”
Interestingly enough reports show that immediate reactions in the late forties and early fifties showed that the general public was more concerned with the material damage that a nuclear detonation would present. But as the cold war progressed the mid sixties showed a change in personal outlook on life in general. Subjects reported feeling bleak and tired. Subjects more often reported hoping to die quickly when asked about the implication of a nuclear bomb being detonated. Possibly the radical changes seen in the sixties could have been an antagonistic reaction to the general despondence of nuclear annihilation.