“Automobiles can be dangerous too. They sometimes cause bad accidents…Now, we must be ready for a new danger, the atomic bomb.”
Duck and Cover, Federal Civil Defence Administration (1951).
This is the terminology and the outright deceptive message that was being depicted to their people by the American government on a daily basis regarding the atomic bomb and the peoples concerns in the 1950’s. The atomic bomb was only as harmful as other luxuries in life such as car accidents and house fires, so they were told. Yet, the real footage of atomic testing repeatedly displayed on television, to possibly demonstrate America’s strength and capabilities, contradicted the calm and smoothing message that something like “Duck and Cover” brought to the American people, especially their children.
Knowing this, “Nothing to fear, it’s only a little atom bomb” asks the question of how the fear of the atomic bomb unfolded within different contexts of American life. It attempts to look at the constant fear and anxiety that Americans, especially American children, faced in everyday life, in politics, and in the arms race from more than a top layer view. To examine a fear in greater depth that was constantly ignored, or at the very least compressed, by the American government and many areas within its society.
World War II came to an end with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States of America (USA). This over zealous conclusion to the world’s bloodiest war triggered the start of a new “Cold War” between the Soviet Union and USA. The Cold War revolved around different ideologies and the thirst for power, mainly through atomic armament. With the build up of both countries atomic armaments and the clear friction between the two countries in every encounter, including Olympic games and alike, the realistic possibility of atomic annihilation was unmistakable. With each country attempting to out do each other and prove to be the strongest power, it was the citizens and every day lives of the people of each of these countries that were affected the most.
Some historians such as Stefan Possony actually believe that it was the American government themselves and their act of dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that caused the uprising of fear in the American people (Possony, 1946). The government ultimately causing this rhetoric fear themselves.
This study does not just look at the works by historians of the time. It endeavours to incorporate civil defense films presented to the American people, Official parliamentary and presidential documents to understand how the government viewed this issue within the public eye and behind closed doors. This study also looks into the Strategic Defence Initiative That came to be known as “Star Wars”, named after the famous movie, and the extreme lengths that the American government were willing to go to eradicate the fear within its people and themselves.
Lets ask a question though. Would you not be afraid if something like below was a potential reality within your world, could destroy it at any minute without warning and your government continuously reminded you of this, even if their intentions were to provoke security?
And being that you have a fear of the above impeding on your world, would a cartoon defence film such as this put your mind at ease?
Although something like Bert the Turtle above may seem comical to you (any to many others within todays society), this was a serious part of the American governments initiative to stamp out social fear throughout the Cold War. It was initiatives like this and other failing governmental attempts to eliminate fear that in fact assisted in heightening it throughout this period.
The anxiety that the atomic bomb caused was apparent in many aspects of an Americans life from their school and constant bombing drills, similar to fire drills, all the way to the entertainment that American’s watched at the cinema, within their home or the comics they read. “Nothing to fear, it’s only a little atom bomb” proposes that it was apparent that this atomic fear had affected every aspect of an American’s life and had scared all those who grew up throughout the Cold War period, with lasting effects. Was it due to the American governments own actions that caused this fear? Was the government simply reacting defensively to scare tactics of the USSR and protecting their own people, therefore it’s the USSR who is to blame?
So how did the fear of the atomic bomb play out within different contexts of American society and government throughout the Cold War? Did it play out how you think or where there a few surprising facts in there that you weren’t aware of? Read “Nothing to fear, it’s only a little atom bomb” and find out.
Duck and Cover, Federal Civil Defence Administration (1951).
A is for Atom, John Sutherland Productions (1953).
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