"By the Waters of Babylon" is a post-apocalyptic short story by American writer Stephen Vincent Benét, first published July 31, 1937, in The Saturday Evening Post as "The Place of the Gods."
Benét wrote the story in response to the April 25, 1937 bombing of Guernica, in which Fascist military forces destroyed the majority of the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. The famous painting by Pablo Picasso was also inspired by this event. The plot follows our protagonist’s self-assigned mission to get to the Place of the Gods in a world decimated by an event known as “The Great Burning.”
This story took place before the public knowledge of nuclear weapons, but Benét's description of "The Great Burning" is similar to later descriptions of the effects of the atomic bombings at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. His "deadly mist" and "fire falling from the sky" seem eerily prescient of the descriptions of the aftermath of nuclear blasts. However, the "deadly mist" may also be a reference to chemical weapons in World War I, particularly mustard gas, a feared weapon of war that Benét's generation was very familiar with. The story was written in 1937, two years before the Manhattan Project started, and eight years before there was widespread public knowledge of the project.
“By the Waters of Babylon” by Stephen Vincent Benét…we begin….