Rice, Holly

After World War II, the relationship between the United States and Soviet Union was tense due to the differences between the economic strategies they held: capitalism vs. communism. This lead to the Cold War between the two spanning from 1947-1991. A large part of this “war” was the silent nuclear arms race between the two countries and the paranoia of bomb threats. The development of nuclear weaponry started back in 1939 the United States began the Manhattan Project, a top secret project dedicated to the development of nuclear bombs. The result was two atomic bombs that would later be used to attack on Japan in August 1945, ultimately drawing an end to World War II. After the end of the war, life for the United States citizens was at an all time high. Unemployment was low and the idea of the United States was the most powerful country on earth, but on August 29, 1949 the Soviet Union detonated its first nuclear bomb “First Lightning.” The Soviet Union developing their own nuclear bomb meant they held the power to launch a nuclear attack on the United States. This lead to fear and paranoia of nuclear attacks, and shaped the lives of the american citizens throughout the 1950s to the late 80s.

One of the changes brought by the threat of nuclear war economic change. The idea of nuclear deterrence, the belief that having strong enough weapons to deter the enemy from attacking due to fear of mutually assured destruction, caused the government invested more money into nuclear weapon research trying to develope more nuclear weaponry. The canned food industry prospered, as the demand for foods that would not expire over a long period of time was needed to be stored in bomb shelters. These bomb shelters also were apart of economic change, as the demand for new houses to be built with bomb shelters and old houses to have bomb shelters added created a new market for building companies.

The culture in which United States citizens went about their lives changed as well. Since the Soviets had nuclear weaponry, children and adults had to be constantly prepared for attack. Schools introduced lessons such as “Duck and Cover” into their curriculum and held practice drills in their classrooms. Adults had the responsibility of preparing for life inside of a bomb shelter and being informed on possible situations that could happen, such as a power outage. They had to learn how to safely live inside an enclosed space for a long period of time, such as acquiring the knowledge on how  to ration food and contain human waste. These culture changes were all brought by the threat of nuclear war and the american people’s attempts to survive it’s possibility.


image: http://boingboing.net/2006/11/21/fallout-shelter-hand.html

Painter, David S. The Cold War an International History. London: Routledge, 2002.

Scheibach, Michael. “Part Six.” “In Case Atom Bombs Fall”: An Anthology of Governmental Explanations, Instructions and Warnings from the 1940s to the 1960s. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009. N. pag.