The Atomic Age & the Cold War Alas, Babylon Historical Background Lectures THE ATOMIC AGE Development of Atomic and Nuclear Technology Manhattan Project: Resulted from the U.S.’s need to develop atomic weaponry before the Germans had a chance. o From 1941 to 1945 (in the midst of World War II), the U.S. secretly poured 2 billion dollars into the creation of the first atomic weapon. o July 16, 1945 – The first atomic bomb is detonated near Alamogordo, New Mexico. The First Atomic Warfare A mere three weeks after the very first atomic bomb is tested, the U.S. launches atomic warfare. August 6, 1945: The Enola Gay detonates an atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan, killing over 80,000 civilians in the explosion. August 9, 1945: Nagasaki, Japan is attacked, killed over 100,000 civilians in the explosion. Nagasaki was actually the secondary target. Kokura, the original target, was obscured by clouds, so the pilots dropped the bomb over Nagasaki instead. In other words, within four weeks of the bomb first being tested, nearly 200,000 people have died from its effects. CAUSES & COMPONENTS OF THE COLD WAR Background --World War II has ended, and America has emerged feeling fantastic. America’s role in the war was decisive, and the outcome establishes the U.S. as an unquestionable global superpower. For the first time in years, the world is in a relative state of peace. --This peace, however, is short-lived. Despite being wartime allies, the U.S. and the Soviet Union return to their usual relationship of mistrust and tension. U.S.-Soviet Tension Differing Worldviews post-World War II: o U.S. and many others aim for the “One World” vision, in which the belief in military alliances would be abandoned in favor of democratic and diplomatic dealings to resolve conflicts. o In addition, there would be an international organization that protected each nation’s interests and right to self-governance and served as arbiter in international disputes. o The Soviet Union (and Great Britain), in contrast, aimed for a world in which the superpowers would control areas of “strategic interest” to them. o In other words, they wanted to remain superpowers and have control over areas that would be advantageous to them in their imperial and military ambitions. o In this scenario, the balance of power that existed in Europe prior to the war would reemerge. o This was more than a mere difference in ideals; it was an ideological struggle for the future of the world. The Red Scare: The Threat of Communism o The Soviet Union was a Communist nation, which the United States viewed as a threat. o What we know as the Red Scare was actually the second period in the 20th century (the first being immediately after the first World War) in which there was a strong anti-Communist sentiment in the U.S. o There was great fear of Russian/Soviet espionage in the United States. The poster children for such espionage were Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted on falsified evidence of having sold atomic secrets to the Soviets. It was during this time that McCarthyism came to influence America. Through the philosophy of McCarthyism, as we now know it, the U.S. established a number of anti-Communist committees that aggressively investigated Americans who were suspected of being Communists or Communist sympathizers. As this would evidence, this was a time of intense fear and uncertainty. The Nuclear Arms Race o The arms race was, quite literally, a race for superiority in the arena of nuclear warfare between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Both struggled to out-do the other in order to become the world’s pre-eminent nuclear power. o Immediately after World War II, the U.S. held the monopoly on nuclear weaponry. o In a move that shocked America, the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic weapon in 1949, a bomb that was nearly identical to one of the bombs the U.S. dropped on Japan. o In response, the U.S. worked furiously to develop the hydrogen bomb (H- Bomb), a far more powerful and destructive weapon, which they detonated for the first time in 1952. Much to their surprise, the Soviet Union caught up far more quickly this time, detonating their first H-bomb less than a year later. The most frightening difference this time was that, while the Soviet Union’s atomic bomb was largely a product of knowledge illicitly gained from the U.S.’s own nuclear research, their H-bomb was mostly a product of their own research. The Space Race went hand in hand with the Nuclear Arms Race. Both the Soviet Union and the U.S. wanted to demonstrate their technological superiority In this “race,” the Soviets won as they had their first satellite in orbit. EFFECTS & EVENTS OF THE COLD WAR Fears on the Home Front Understandably, a great deal of fear poisoned the American mindset. World War III was a constant possibility, and citizens of all ages were educated on and prepared for the real possibility of all-out nuclear war. Schoolchildren, in fact, were instructed in “Duck and Cover” procedures. Much debate still exists as to whether these procedures would have made any real difference in the event of a thermonuclear attack, but the general consensus is that they would not. In fact, the training better served the purpose of alerting the nation that nuclear war was a real possibility. It also sent the message to the world that the U.S. was ready for war, if necessary. The Cuban Missile Crisis...... just FYI (Alas, Babylon was published before it happened) The Cuban Missile Crisis, by many accounts, was the closest the U.S. came to nuclear war. In 1959, Fidel Castro overthrew the government of Cuba and set up a totalitarian government with close ties to the Soviets. John F. Kennedy decided to secretly invade Cuba with Cuban exiles in order to cause a revolution against Castro’s government, but the invasion ended in tragedy at the attempted landing in the Bay of Pigs, where a large number of the exiles were killed or taken captive. In October 1962, photos taken by a U.S. spy plane revealed Soviet missile bases being built in Russia, well within striking distance of the United States, despite the insistence on the part of the Soviet Union that they were doing no such thing. This was in response to the U.S. placing nuclear weapons in Turkey, well within striking distance of the Soviet Union. Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader at the time, was quick to point this fact out. At this point, it’s almost down to the simple question of “Who’s going to shoot first?” In addition, Kennedy’s administration learned that Soviet ships were en route to Cuba carrying nuclear missiles. At this point, he decided to blockade (in effect, quarantine) Cuba and prevent the missiles from reaching the bases. The blockade brought what the opposing sides desperately needed… time. Khrushchev agreed to turn back the Soviet ships if Kennedy agreed not to invade Cuba. It was only later revealed that, had the U.S. launched a full invasion of Cuba, the Soviets would have launched a nuclear attack on the U.S. Conclusion: So this is the world in which the characters of Alas, Babylon live. Many in the U.S. (and in the world, for that matter) lived life in a constant state of subconscious fear, questioning when nuclear war would break out. An entire generation grew up poisoned by this fear.