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The History of the Future. 6: In the Shadow of the Bomb. The Shadow of the Bomb. Constant fear early 1950s – late 1980s Civilization could be wiped out at any time Unusual character of Cold War Long, relatively static confrontation Civilians and cities as prime targets

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The History of the Future

6: In the Shadow of the Bomb

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The Shadow of the Bomb

  • Constant fear early 1950s – late 1980s

    • Civilization could be wiped out at any time

  • Unusual character of Cold War

    • Long, relatively static confrontation

    • Civilians and cities as prime targets

    • Wove itself into politics, industry, technology

  • Nuclear technology influenced entire culture

    • Impact clear in many books and films of period

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One of two bombs dropped on Japan

Uranium based bomb

4 tons, equivalent to 12,500 tons of TNT

About 140,000 people killed by end 1945

Medical effects closely studied

Decision to use remains controversial among historians


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A Triumph for SF?

  • Campbell exultant on hearing news

    • Best case for predictive power of SF

  • Radiation & atoms famous since early 1900s

    • Atomic power, weapons both predicted by 1910s

  • Campbell seized on in 1930s

    • Promoted idea to his readers and writers

    • Incorporated realistic details (isotopes, etc)

  • SF readers well familiar with by 1945

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Atomic Ubiquity circa 1940

  • Asimov – Foundation stories (early 1940s)

    • Reactor on a key chain

    • Atomic spaceships, shields, cars

  • Heinlein – Future History stories

    • Atomic power for spaceships

    • Atomic power station

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Development of Nuclear Weapons

  • Germans discover fission in 1939

    • Einstein & colleagues win FDR backing

  • Manhattan Project launched 1941

    • First controlled reaction, 1942 (Fermi, Chicago)

    • Large scale facilities for uranium, plutonium

    • Bombs designed, built at Los Alamos, NM

  • First test, “Trinity” in 1945 (secret)

    • Public tests in 1946 impress the world

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Nuclear Proliferation

  • Strategic Air Command created 1946

    • 300 atomic weapons, 250 bombers by 1950

    • “Massive retaliation” strategy by late 1940s

  • Soviets explode own bomb in 1949

  • Eisenhower oversees major US buildup

    • Major buildup, many new technologies

    • SAC target list grows to 1,400 initial targets

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Hydrogen Bomb

  • Development authorized in 1950

    • Energy from fusion

    • Set off by conventional atomic bomb

  • Yields of megatons – no theoretical limit

    • Usable weapon by 1954

  • Followed by long range bomber, 1955

    • Atlas (first ICBM) deployed 1958

    • Polaris submarine deployed 1960

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Fear of Soviet Developments

  • Desire to maintain clear lead

    • Massive investment in new technologies

    • U2 spy plane, satellite imaging

  • Paranoia leads to overestimates

    • Imaginary “missile gap” helps get Kennedy elected

    • Soviet missiles actually unable to hit US in 1960

    • In 1962 US has 10:1 advantage in deliverable bombs

  • Elaborate defensive systems

    • SAGE in late 1950s

    • Attempts to build AMB (anti-missile) system

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Film Interlude

  • “Duck and Cover”

    • 1951 Civil Defense propaganda film

    • For school children

  • Stars “Burt the Turtle”

    • “Sometimes the bomb might explode without any warning... Be like Burt...”

    • “Going to school on a beautiful spring day. But no matter where they go or what they do they always try to remember what to do if the atom bomb explodes right then.”

    • “Stay covered until the danger is over.”

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Nuclear Strategy

  • Earliest idea was devastating, total strike

    • “MAD” (Mutual Assured Destruction)

    • Targeting major cities & industrial sites

    • This lacks credibility

  • Studies of “limited nuclear war” in 1950s

    • Henry Kissinger

    • RAND Corporation, Herman Kahn

  • Shift alluded to in Miller book

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Nuclear Strategy II

  • US could not renounce “first use”

    • Nuclear deterrent to Soviet forces in Europe

    • Controversial at home & abroad

  • Tricky political situation

    • Emphasis on limited strikes and “counterforce” capabilities makes threat more credible (technology improves)

    • But as policy suggests US plans to strike first & casts doubts on deterrence

  • All out attack remains official plan into 1970s

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Nuclear Power

  • Initial expectations unrealistic

    • Early experiments by government

    • Need reactors to build bombs, but inefficient

  • 1954 Atomic Energy Act

    • Opens to commercial development

    • Atomic Energy Commission to regulate

    • Also charged with weapons development

  • Slow at first, booms in 1960s

    • Reactors rapidly scaled up

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Spreading Atomic Power

  • Atomic explosions for peaceful purposes

    • “Project Ploughshare”, late 1950s onward

    • Construction projects

    • Space flight

    • Heating

  • US exported reactor technology to allies

    • “Atoms for Peace” UN speech, Eisenhower, 1953

    • Recipients include India, Pakistan – use for bombs

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Nuclear SF in the 1950s

  • Interest in Nuclear Power quickly fades

    • More of an area for thriller writers

    • Some attention to fusion power

  • Focus shifts to nuclear war

    • Generally aftermath – often pastoral

    • Many stories about mutation, radiation

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Post-Holocaust Fiction

  • Depopulated future evokes pre-industrial past

  • Not always atomic

    • Plague - Earth Abides, George R. Stewart, 1949

    • Plants – Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham, 1951

  • Popular through 1960s

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Atomic Mutation

  • Very popular in 1950s fiction

    • Mutation theme predates atomic element

    • Generally persecuted; frequently telepathic

  • Present in serious fiction

    • including Canticle

  • Handy device for monster films

    • of which Them! is the finest example

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Film Interlude

  • “About Fallout”

    • Hold this one in mind as you read Canticle