Richard Matheson's brilliant 1954 novel I Am Legend takes place between January 1976 and January 1979, with several flashbacks to 1975, when the vampire plague began to spread.
Throughout the novel, there are several references to a "war" which, the way I read it, likely happened less than ten years before the events.
“Oh, it means they're . . . changing [the insects]. Suddenly. Jumping over dozens of small evolutionary steps, maybe developing along lines they might not have followed at all if it weren’t for . . .”
“The bombings?” she said.
“Maybe,” he said.
“Well, they’re causing the dust storms. They’re probably causing a lot of things.”
She sighed wearily and shook her head.
“And they say we won the war,” she said.
“Nobody won it.”
I Am Legend, chapter 8
Robert Neville is born in 1940, give or take a year (as he's described as being thirty-six in the first chapter, which takes place in 1976). Thus, the war he refers to when talking with Ruth is unlikely to be one of the latest major wars the year 1954 had faced (World War Two, Korean War).
“I don't know about you. As for me, while I was stationed in Panama during the war I was bitten by a vampire bat. [...]”
I Am Legend, chapter 17
I understand the novel was written at the beginning of the Cold War, shortly after the first thermonuclear bombing test (known as Ivy Mike, 1952) and the Korean War (1950-1953). I guess that setting the story in the future was the most logical way to introduce a new "war" and its aftermath, while still appealing to 1954's concerns.
However, I wonder whether a politician/newspaper/rumour may have predicted a new war to end specifically in the mid-70s, or if these years were supposed to be some technologic turnaround (relevant to the novel's plot), or anything like that, which would justify the timeline.
Has Richard Matheson ever stated whether the late 70s were meant to have a historical significance (or any kind of significance)? Or why he specifically chose the 70s over, say, the 80s-90s?
I'm mainly looking for a statement from Richard Matheson himself, but as always, educated guesses are welcomed.
If it's of any help, here's a Paint-drawn timeline of the events described above: