The Nuclear Seed
Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb would create a path of cultural and military change that America would follow. The first major effect of the bomb was the Baby Boom. Millions of soldiers that would have died in an invasion of Japan now returned home to have several times more children than there would have been. The second major effect of the bomb was the Cold War fear that followed it. The Arms Race ensued shortly after the Japan’s surrender as America and Russia raced for the more potent nuclear weapon. Education was improved to provide bright minds for the arms race. A great nuclear fear also took hold of the people as they genuinely feared that each day might end with an explosion. The nuclear bomb planted a seed that would soon grow into a flourishing tree of internal improvements, but it would bear poisonous fruit that threatened to drop and corrupt the soil.
The Baby Boom changed how and where people lived and would initially aid the economy but eventually strain the economy. Before and during the Baby Boom, the suburbs were taking on an increased popularity. The gained popularity came from the economic attractiveness of living in the suburbs. New factory-like methods were instituted that greatly decreased the time it took to build a house without losing any of the quality. Such techniques lowered the cost of suburban homes and allowed many of them to be made in a period of time. The rush was also caused because:
Government policies encouraged this momentous movement. Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Veterans Administration (VA) home-loan guarantees made it more economically attractive to own a home in the suburbs than to rent an apartment in the city. (Kennedy 864)
To add even more upon this incentive, the “G.I. Bill” which “subsidized the low-cost mortgages for returning soldiers” made it even more desirable for families to move into the suburbs by lowering the cost of living that much more (“Baby Boomers” 2). This movement left the urban cities empty and “migrating blacks from the South filled up the urban neighborhoods” where the white families had once been (Kennedy 864). While this was happening, the Baby Boom was also taking place. From 1946-1952 “76.4 million ‘baby boomers’” were born “in the United States,” a huge leap in population that had never been seen before in the history of America (“Baby Boomers” 1). But the boost was not only to the population, it also greatly affected the economy.
As the babies grew, the demand for manufactured goods also grew. In the early stages, it was canned baby food, diapers, clothing, toys, and things of the like. This demand was already good enough for the factory owners, but as the children matured, they began to want things for themselves. It was extremely easy to influence the young boomers into convincing their parents to buy non-essential items for entertainment. These stacking demands blew up the industries and the boomers were considered the “built-in recession cure” for America (“Baby Boom” 2). On top of that, the boomers would be the ones to control the upcoming fashions as “their sheer numbers” let them dictated the “youth culture” (Kennedy 866). Very quickly, however, everything that caused the boom and what the boomers had done soon went into a “steady decline” (Kennedy 866). Like every bomb, the explosion was dazzling, but like every explosion, the aftermath would not be so attractive.
Fertility rates soon quickly dropped and birth rates with them. Demand for children’s necessities also declined, factories slowed production of infant items and many schools were closed after all of the boomers had moved on from them. Even further in the future, the boomers would also place a great strain on the economy. By the twenty-first century, the boomers would be old enough to enter into retirement. The decrease in births lead to the boomers being the largest generation in America. As the boomers would enter into their retirement age, the government would be pressed to provide for the many that would need it and millions of bodies would be removed from the work force at relatively the same time. Such and event would negatively affect “the overall economy” of America (Bernard 1). Not only was there a boom in population, there was also a boom in the military.
Quickly after the atomic bomb was dropped, the gears of the Cold War were set in motion and rapidly picked up speed. The Cold War was between two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union’s government was a communist one, exact opposite of the United States’ democratic government. Communism was rapidly spreading through several Asian countries and this alarmed the United States. The U.S. saw communism as an evil and decided to combat it through “long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies,” and this goal they would uphold for many years (“Cold War” 1). But in order to uphold this goal, the United States would have to increase its military power, through the atomic bomb.
The nuclear arms race was a competition between the Soviet Union and the United States for power. The definition of an arms race is a “competitive increase in the quantity or quality of instruments of military or naval power” (“Arms Race” 1). The weapon that was being improved in this case was the atomic bomb. Not too long after the war had ended, the Soviet Union detonated its own atomic bomb. Now that the Soviet Union possessed the destructive atomic bomb, “American officials encouraged the development of atomic weapons,” and the arms race officially began (“Cold War” 2). The United States’ answer to this dilemma was the H-bomb. When “the first H-bomb” was tested, it “created a 25-square-mile fireball that vaporized an island, blew a huge hole in the ocean floor and had the power to destroy half of Manhattan”(“Cold War” 2). The U.S. managed to set itself back on top, but it was short lived as the Soviet Union responded with its own H-bomb as well as the ability to launch the warheads on missiles. During this time period “both countries continued building more and bigger bombs”(“Nuclear Arms Race” 1) and both United States and “the Soviets undertook the most massive peacetime military buildup in history”(“Arms Race” 2). This massive buildup did not bloom by itself; it was sustained by thousands of scientists and engineers.
The United States focused more attention towards higher education to help it win the nuclear arms race. Even though the United States and the Soviet Union had been trading back and forth with the nuclear bomb, the U.S. was confident that it would continue to leap ahead of the USSR in nuclear power. This confidence was shattered:
The 1957 launching of Sputnik shattered the sense of comfort in America’s scientific prowess, not only creating the image of an enemy capable of launching missiles of massive destruction, but a widespread fear that America had failed to nurture the sciences and build advanced technologies, with potentially horrifying implications. (Douglass 1)
Now the Soviet Union had the ability to hit potentially anywhere in the world with an H-bomb, and without the risk of a human pilot at that. The United States reached the conclusion that the Soviet Union had reached this accomplishment because it had put proper emphasis on higher education, and that the U.S. needed to improve its own education. Because of this, “science and education” became “the main battleground of the Cold War”(Douglass 1). Under this new perspective, “higher education” was seen as “the primary institution for creating the next generation of scientists and engineers,”(Douglass 1) and as a result, “large scale federal funding for higher education” was majorly increased which “greatly accelerated” the necessary “scientific research”(Douglass 2). But these nuclear advancements were not without internal consequences, fear followed each accomplishment.
Fear of a worldwide nuclear war gripped American society and they began to prepare themselves for what they thought was an inevitable event. With each nuclear improvement, “the two superpowers seemed to move closer and closer to nuclear war”(“Nuclear Arms Race” 1). This was the view that millions of Americans took and they “feared this battle would end with the destruction of civilization.”(“Nuclear Arms Race 1). This fear was so widespread that “In the 1950’s a public safety campaign was launched called ‘Duck and Cover’”(Jeff 1). The campaign had people all over the nation get under desks and tables and lay flat during countless drills, just in case a nuclear bomb was ever aimed at the United States. Even though the drills were pointless as the H-bomb had an explosion radius of twenty-five plus miles, the public still practiced them because they held onto the fragile hope that they might survive. Such was the longing to survive that futile “bomb shelters were erected” in many a backyard for families to cower in if the bombs were let loose (Jeff 1). In the end, the drills were not needed as nuclear war did not break out, but the impression was already left in America and its people were changed.
The dropping of the nuclear bomb would go on and create a chain of events that lead to the Baby Boom and the Cold War. The Baby Boom was able to be as large as it was because the bomb spared the lives of millions of soldiers, allowing them to have kids while simultaneously lessening the grief over dead soldiers that would have also stopped large scale reproduction. The Cold War was a fight between democracy and communism. The arms race was the struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union to assert dominance and spread their governments. Higher education was given a new importance for the improvement of weapon technology, namely nuclear bombs, which caused nuclear fear to increase as the bomb continued to become more devastating with each advancement. Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bomb had enormous effects on American culture and military, altering the United States almost to the point that the Civil War had.
Works Cited“Arms Race.” The History Channel website. 2013. Web. 6 Feb. 2013. <http://www.history.com/topics/arms-race>.
“Baby Boomers.” The History Channel website. 2013. Web. Feb. 6 2013. <http://www.history.com/topics/baby-boomers>.
Bernard, Dave. "The Ripple Effect of Baby Boomer Retirement." US News. U.S. News & World Report, 3 Aug. 2012. Web. 6 Feb. 2013. <http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/On-Retirement/2012/08/03/the-ripple-effect-of-baby-boomer-retirement>.
“Cold War.” The History Channel website. 2013. Web. 6 Feb. 2013. <http://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/>.
Douglass, John Aubrey. "The Cold War, Technology and the American University." Berkeley University of California. UC Regents, July 1999. Web. 6 Feb. 2013. <http://cshe.berkeley.edu/publications/docs/PP.JD.Sputnik_Tech.2.99.pdf>.
Jeff. "Fear of Nuclear Weapons." Fearofstuffcom RSS. Fearofstuff.com, n.d. Web. 6 Feb. 2013. <http://www.fearofstuff.com/objects/fear-of-nuclear-weapons/>.
Kennedy, David M., Lizabeth Cohen, and Thomas A. Bailey. The American Pageant: A History of the Republic. 12[SUP]th[/SUP] ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.
"Nuclear Arms Race." AMNH. American Museum of Natural History, n.d. Web. 6 Feb. 2013. <http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/past-exhibitions/einstein/peace-and-war/nuclear-arms- race>.