“We Knew That If We Succeeded, We Could At One Blow Destroy A City”

A final interview with the most controversial father of the atomic age, Edward Teller

On October 31, 1952, Halloween was just getting rolling in California when, half a world away on the South Pacific island of Elugelab, the firing circuits closed on Ivy-Mike, the first practical test of the prototype hydrogen bomb. Ghosts and goblins roamed the Berkeley streets as Dr. Edward Teller, the driving force behind the new weapon, sat quietly in a darkened basement, patiently scanning for subtle, indirect evidence that he had irrevocably altered the world yet again.

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“A Straight Path Through Hell ”

Stationed near Nagasaki at the close of the war, a young photographer ventured into the devastated city, and stayed for months

 

I had trained at Parris Island thinking, I was going to the Pacific to fight the Japanese or at the very least to photograph American troops fighting the Japanese. That whole time it had been drummed into us Marines how fiendish the Japanese were. We knew the story of the Bataan death march by then. We knew about the kamikaze pilots crashing into our ships. We knew the Japanese would never surrender.

Eisenhower

His farewell speech as President inaugurated the spirit of the 1960s

Whatever the calendars say, in some figurative sense America’s 1950s ended, and the 1960s began, on January 17, 1961, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered the most memorable farewell address by a Chief Executive since another old soldier, George Washington, warned his new nation back in 1796 to stick together always in the cause of its founding principles. Ike, of course, had led the Allied forces in Europe to the triumph of democracy in World War II, a century and a half after General Washington had won America’s freedom in the Revolutionary War.Read more »

Mr. Smith Goes Underground

The strangest of all Cold War relics also offers a clue to why we won it

At six-thirty on Monday evening, October 22, 1962, 146 members of the Folding Paper Box Association, highballs and filter-tipped cigarettes in hand, swung into the cocktail party preceding the group’s evening banquet at the venerable Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

 
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“Aircraft 53-1876A Has Lost A Device”

How the U.S. Air Force came to drop an A-bomb on South Carolina

On the afternoon of March 11, 1958, the Gregg sisters—Helen, six, and Frances, nine—and their cousin Ella Davies, nine, were in the playhouse their father had built for them in the woods behind their house in Mars Bluff, South Carolina. About four o’clock they tired of the playhouse and moved 200 feet to the side yard. This kept them from becoming the first Americans killed by a nuclear weapon released on U.S. territory. U.S.

 
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Dr. Strangelove’s Children

Growing up on a Cold War air base in the shadow of the big one

“Do you realize there are fifteen hundred babies born a month in SAC?” says Jimmy Stewart, playing a B-36 pilot in the 1954 film Strategic Air Command . I was raised among those babies. I grew up near Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, during the Cold War, amid the presence of the Strategic Air Command and the eagle vision of Curtis E. Lemay. I spent the first few years of my life with great silver B-36 Peacemakers flying overhead. “Silver overcast,” they were wryly called.Read more »

Ground Zero

Twice a year hundreds of people make a pilgrimage to the spot where the nuclear age began

 

I am standing where the great blue sky of New Mexico meets the parched white sand of its desert, and where physics changed the course of world history. It is a bright, clear day. There are no clouds, no wind, no disturbance. The circle I’m in—maybe a hundred yards across—is fenced off by barbed wire. Had I been here on July 16, 1945, at 5:29:45 A.M. , I would have been instantly incinerated by ten-million-degree heat from fissioning plutonium atoms. Not today.

 
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The Strategy Of Survival

A lifelong student of military history and affairs says that nuclear weapons have made the idea of war absurd. And it is precisely when everyone agrees that war is absurd that one gets started.

Edward Luttwak is the author of nine books on the art of war, and he pronounces with startling confidence on a great array of events, as the titles of his works suggest. One is The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire, another The Grand Strategy of the Soviet Union. His most recent book is last year’s Strategy (Harvard University Press). Read more »

When Bunkers Last In The Backyard Bloom—d

The fallout-shelter craze of 1961

It all began on the evening of July 25, 1961, when President John F. Kennedy went before television cameras to explain to his countrymen the grave meaning and still graver consequences of the deepening crisis over Berlin. The Russians were threatening American access rights to that isolated city, the President told an audience of 50,000,000 tense and expectant Americans. Those rights might be terminated on December 31 when Premier Khrushchev signed, as he threatened to do, a separate peace treaty with East Germany.Read more »

“i Am Become Death…”

The Agony of J. Robert Oppenheimer

In the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer-the American physicist and scientiststatesman who directed the building of the first atomic bombs at Los Alamos, New Mexico, during World War II, whose government, discerning “fundamental defects” in his character, denied him security clearance in 1954, who died of throat cancer in 1967—some have professed to see embodied the moral ambiguities of twentieth-century science, science charging breakneck over human institutions, scientists waking compromised from Faustian dreams.Read more »