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Spring 2009 HISTORY 393-2, Mondays 4:30-7:10pm, Robinson B 203 Professor Martin J. Sherwin Office: 353 Robinson B Office hours: Mondays: 2-4pm & by appointment TA: Kati Geldermann Office hrs: Tues 4:30-7; 353 Robinson B

America in the Nuclear Age: Fact, Film, Fiction


Course Description:

"America in the Nuclear Age" will focus on the

pervasive impact that nuclear weapons have had on the politics, culture and foreign policy of the United States during the cold war. It is an interdisciplinary course that searches the insights of the humanities in order to better understand the influence of the nuclear arms race on American culture, politics and foreign policy. It is designed on the premise that even current (post cold war) nuclear issues cannot be understood without knowledge of their historical antecedents. It is also a course about film and the construction of history. Does film alter history? What is the difference between memory, oral history, researched written history, historical documentary films and historical feature films? Topics include: The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Hiroshima and the origins of the cold war; the politics of the arms race; the Oppenheimer security trial and McCarthyism; the Cuban Missile Crisis; nuclear weapons and the literary imagination; Hollywood's nuclear wars; the debates over the morality of nuclear weapons and their abolition. Format: Most class meetings will include a lecture, a documentary or feature film, and a class discussion of the film and the related reading assignments.


Writing Assignments and Requirements:

In addition to keeping up

with the reading, and attending all classes, students will be responsible for the following written assignments: (1) A weekly memorandum to your editor. Explanation: You are a writer on the staff of the New York Times Magazine. Your editor has assigned you to write an article for publication late this spring with the working title: “Our Nuclear Culture at Sixty-five (she can’t count).” He has asked you for a weekly memorandum of no more than 200 words (one page) on your thoughts about the films you are viewing, the books you are reading

and anything else you are learning related to the assignment. The memo is not intended to be a summary of assignments but rather a meditation on the issues raised by the films, the readings, discussions and lectures. You may also think of this assignment as a reporter’s journal. Email this assignment to professor Sherwin and Ms. Geldermann within 24 hours of each class. Be sure to keep a copy for yourself in a separate folder on your computer. ALSO, be sure to begin every email in the SUBJECT BOX with H393S09. If you fail to do this there is a good chance it will get lost. (2) Papers and Quizzes for History 393-2: Three papers and three short quizzes will be scheduled on the reading and film assignments. Approximately 60% of the final grade will be based on the papers. Contributions to class discussions, quiz grades, and the weekly memoranda will account for the other 40%. I said approximately because I do not assign grades mechanically. I am interested in improvement and commitment to the subject. (3) The third and final paper will be a creative group project that will be presented to the class during the final two weeks. Explanation: Members of the class will be divided into groups of 5 or 6 students. Each group will write a script for a short documentary film based on the Reagan-Gorbachev summit discussions in October 1986 on the elimination of nuclear weapons at Reykjavik, Iceland. The documentary will consider that event in light of the current world situation as described in Jonathan Schell’s, The Seventh Decade. Transcripts of the Reykjavik Summit discussions are available at: Additional details of this assignment will be discussed in class.

Quiz and Paper Schedule (subject to change with notice):
Quizes in class: Feb 16, // March 30, // April 20 Papers: due: Feb 23 // April 6 // May 4


Assigned Readings:

These books are available at the Book Store. Several

additional articles will be assigned throughout the semester. Ronald Powaski, March to Armageddno: The US and the Nuclear Arms Race ( OUP) John Hersey, Hiroshima Michael Dobbs, One Minute to Midnight (Knopf) Priscilla McMillan, The Ruin of Robert Oppenheimer Martin J. Sherwin, A World Destroyed: Hiroshima and Its Legacies (Stanford U. Press) Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Slaughterhouse Five (Dell) Herbert York, The Advisors: Oppenheimer, Teller and the Superbomb (Stanford U. Press) Jonathan Schell, The Seventh Decade: The New Shape of Nuclear Danger (Metropolitan)

Weapons, Fear and Hope: A Framework
Nuclear weapons were controversial from their inception. Even before they were used to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki they were seen and valued by members of the

United States government as effective instruments for containing the Soviet Union. But nuclear weapons also were feared as the potential instruments of human extinction through madness or accident, a fear that the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis validated. This fear, shared by Americans and Soviets alike, led to an arms control process that sought to square the circle of the nuclear arms race by creating a stable international nuclear regime that would prevent war by maintaining an expanding stable balance of forces. The process began informally, late in the 1950s, and was stimulated by the Cuban Missile Crisis. The SALT and, later, the START negotiations moved this process forward. The Reagan administration's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, aka "Star Wars”) stagnated due to its inherent technological difficulties and enormous potential expense. Then at a meeting in 1986 at Reykjavik, Iceland, President Reagan and Premier Gorbachev came “within an inch” of reaching an agreement to abolish nuclear weapons altogether. In the early 1990s the Soviet empire, and then the Soviet Union itself, disintegrated as chaos overwhelmed reform. The US-USSR nuclear arms race came to an end, but new rationalizations quickly emerged to prevent any rush to nuclear disarmament. The first nuclear age was characterized by the cold war and enormous USSoviet stockpiles of nuclear weapons. The second nuclear age is different, but the consequences of that difference are not yet clear.

PART I: HIROSHIMA AND ITS LEGACIES: The decisions about the development and use of atomic weapons taken during World War II, and the attitudes that influenced those decisions shaped the post war nuclear arms race. We will therefore focus considerable attention on the early years of the cold war. While many of the decisions are understandable, none of them were inevitable. To understand why they were made we will try to understand the expectations, assumptions, and circumstances, that led to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We will investigate how the scientists responded politically to the discovery of nuclear fission? We will study the arguments put forward by those who believe that the atomic bombings were necessary to bring about the surrender of Japan as well as the arguments put forward by the critics of those decisions. What evidence supports the different arguments? What can we learn about American history and politics from the 1994/95 "Enola Gay Controversy" at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum? WEEK 1. 1/26: INTRODUCTION: Origins of the Nuclear Age No reading for today MOVIE: “Comrades,” (CNN Cold War History; 58m)

READINGS: Sherwin, World Destroyed: read to page 140 Powaski, March to Armageddon, chapters 1 and 2



“The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb” [USA, NBC, 1965, 89m]

WEEK 3. 2/9 : HIROSHIMA and Nagasaki: A British View
Readings: MOVIE: Sherwin, World Destroyed, complete including appendices
+ handout

“World At War: part 24, The Bomb” [UK, Thames TV, 1971, 59m]

WEEK 4. 2/16 : HIROSHIMA AND MODERN MEMORY 1945/1995: USA 50 Years to the Enola Gay Controversy, 1995.

Readings: Hersey, Hiroshima (included in Quiz) MOVIE: “Hiroshima: Why the Bomb Was Dropped.” (ABC, 1995, 90 min.) WEEK 5 2/23: Nuclear Testing and Its Consequences Readings: Powalski, March to Armageddon, chap 3 MOVIE: “Radio Bikini” [58m] and “Atomic Café” *** PAPER ASSIGNMENT DUE AT THE BEGINNING OF CLASS


THE HYDROGEN BOMB DEBATE: The Soviet test of a nuclear weapon in August 1949 precipitated a furious secret debate over whether to initiate a crash program for a hydrogen bomb. What was distinctive about this weapon that generated such passionate debate? What were the arguments for and against initiating a crash program to develop a hydrogen bomb? Who made these arguments? What appear to have been the expectations, assumptions and motivations on each side of the debate. Was this a turning point in the history of the nuclear arms race?

Readings: York, The Advisors: Oppenheimer, Teller and the Superbomb complete Powaski, March to Armageddon, chap 4 MOVIE: “Ultimate Weapon: The H“ -Bomb Dilemma” (Peter Galison, Pamila Hogan, 1999, 45 min.)




BOMB AND THE DOMESTIC COLD WAR: The seeds of US nuclear policy had been sown during the Truman years, but it was during Eisenhower's administration that a nuclear weapons policy was harvested and fully integrated into US foreign policy. As the cold war heated up, anti-Communism played an increasingly


influential role in American politics and its political poison spilled over into the science community involved in advising the government about nuclear weapons policy. Efforts to curb the expansion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal were labeled communist propaganda. An atmosphere of conformity and repression characterized the Eisenhower years in general and, after the “Oppenheimer Affair” nuclear weapons policy in particular.

WEEK 7 3/16– The Red Scare and Nuclear Weapons: The Oppenheimer Case Readings: McMillan, The Ruin of Robert Oppenheimer Movie: “The Day After Trinity: Robert Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb”

Week 8. 3/23 Nuclear Abolition? The Reagan-Gorbachev Nuclear Abolition Discussions at Reykjavik, Iceland, 1986 (Special Class in Preparation for Gorbachev Conference at GMU, March 24 and 25.) Readings: The Reykjavik Transcripts + Powaski, March to Armageddon, chapter 12, 13 and conclusion + TK


THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS: One of the ironies of John Kennedy’s popular legacy is the note of cold war hysteria that he encouraged during the 1960 campaign. He claimed (as Ronald Reagan did in 1980) that the Soviets had achieved nuclear arms superiority. Both men knew that their claims were false. Kennedy also rekindled the “win at any cost” mentality that Eisenhower had (belatedly) attempted to bring under control during the last years of his presidency. (Recall his farewell address warnings about the growth of a military-industrial-scientific complex.) But for Kennedy, confronting communism at home and abroad were activist themes that served his purposes and fit his style. Thus, in the thousand days of his abbreviated administration, new counterinsurgency forces were organized, the CIA was expanded, our nuclear arsenal grew, and the New Look was jettisoned in favor of a newer set of strategies for using nuclear weapons, flexible response. Much of this was based on innovative warhead and delivery system technologies. But much of it was the product of domestic political considerations and an arrogant, dangerous view that sophisticated people could skillfully use the threat of nuclear weapons to contain and manipulate the Soviet Union. Khrushchev found the situation intolerable. Enter the Cuban Missile Crisis.


WEEK 9. 3/30: THE ORIGINS OF THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS: Race to the Brink, 1953 – 1962 **** QUIZ # 2 . . . . ..QUIZ # 2 (includes Powaski reading below but NOT Dobbs)


Dobbs, One Minute to Midnight chaps 1-3 Powaski, March to Armageddon, chapters 5 and 6 Movies: “On the Beach” Second essay assignment POSTED WEEK 10. 4/6: THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS, I: Bay of Pigs ****** Second Essay Assignment due in class today
Reading: Dobbs, One Minute to Midnight, chaps. 4 – 9 Powaski, March to Armageddon, chap. 7

Movie: “The Missiles of October: What the World Didn’t Know” [ABC, 1992, 90m] WEEK 11. 4/13: THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS II: The Thirteen Days
Reading: Dobbs, One Minute to Midnight, complete


QUIZ # 3**** QUIZ # 3***QUIZ includes Vonnegut + Dobbs
Reading: Movie: Bomb” Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five “Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Group Reports

WEEK 13: 4/27

WEEK 14: 5/4 TK Final Essay (Reports) Due in Class NO EXTENSIONS OR INCOMPLETES CAN BE GRANTED. SORRY. Please plan carefully.


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