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America's History in the Making

Postwar Tension and Triumph

Theme 2

The dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki created new fears of mass destruction, raising the stakes in the American effort to combat communist influences at home and abroad.

After the atomic bombs annihilated Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, many Americans became anxious about the destructive power of this new technology. Science-fiction stories described a world devastated by nuclear war, while movies such as the The Attack of the Crab Monsters depicted a world full of radiation exposure. In 1949, the Soviet Union successfully detonated an atomic bomb, which shocked the American public into the realization that the United States no longer held a monopoly on atomic power. In 1952, the successful testing of the hydrogen bomb, a thousand times more powerful than the atom bomb, further heightened the fear of mass destruction.

This fear became exacerbated when the Soviets used a rocket to launch the space satellite, Sputnik. Some feared the Soviets would deliver a bomb via a rocket. A competitive arms race developed in which both the United States and the Soviet Union stockpiled nuclear weapons. Controversy ensued about the use of nuclear weapons, with scientists warning that all life on Earth could be wiped out. The production of nuclear weapons alone fatally exposed thousands to radiation, produced radioactive waste, and stirred such fear of fallout that some Americans purchased bomb shelters. With the mission of leading "mankind away from war and toward peace and justice," the Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy (SANE) alerted the public to the risks of nuclear radiation. Inspired by the SANE effort and worried about the effects of nuclear radiation on their children, women activists took to the streets and organized protest movements to halt the testing and proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Primary Sources