The world history of the twentieth century after the Second World War was by large dominated by the relationships that formed as a result of the opposition between the United States of America and the USSR.

The two mega-powers were struggling for global influence, and since they possessed completely antipodal views on what the ideal state should be like, this confrontation shaped into the so-called Cold War. Among the main features of this bloodless war was arms race that involved a harsh competition, inter alia, in the sphere of nuclear weapons.

The post-war United States could boast a yet unsurpassed advantage over the military arsenal of any other country: their main strategic weapon was the atomic bomb, which became an almost legendary symbol of the US power. The attitude to the atomic bomb and its role in the Cold War sufficiently changed with the course of time, and this change is reflected, in particular, in the coverage of Cold War events by the US Life magazine.

The atomic bomb explosions on Hiroshima and Nagasaki allowed the USA to demonstrate an unprecedented military might and to declare their ambition of global control by means of atomic weapon. The devastating power of the latter allowed the US military authorities to build ambitious strategies involving the use of atomic bomb as a nuclear deterrent and annihilator of the enemy.

Provided that the US atmosphere was strained in the expectance of the enemy strokes and acknowledgement of the “ever-returning concept of war”[1], atomic bomb was an impressive weapon of intimidation.

Inspired by the immense destructive force of the atomic bomb, military officials built ambitious hostility strategies that were characterized as “military profitable” due to the involvement of the atomic bomb[2]. But despite this confidence in the offensive qualities of the atomic bomb, strategists remarked on the necessity for updating the military fleet for more efficient bomb application[3].

As the communistic regime took over Hungary, the US military recognized the increasing speed of the threatening danger and emphasized the importance of not only creating new superfast and light aircrafts for carrying the atomic bomb, but also adapting the US building styles and relocating industrial so that the devastating effects of the possible USSR attack were minimized[4].

The anti-soviet attitudes grew with the news of the coup-d’etat in Czechoslovakia, when the United States realized that “the remote threat of the atomic bomb was no match for Red guns and tanks on the borders” and that Communism was an obviously uncooperative regime[5]. Americans realized that power was in their hands as long as they kept the monopoly on the atomic bomb which is the only device for balancing the Russian military weight in Europe[6].

The feeling of insecurity grew, as the United States realized that the chances of involving into a war were growing with every day[7]. After the Soviets surpassed the expectations of the US military and detonated their own bomb in 1949 instead of working on it till the predicted mid-1950s, the understanding of the non-absolute character of the atomic bomb came[8].

Doubt in the exclusive efficiency of the atomic bomb in fighting the enemy appeared in a discussion on what exactly constitutes success in fighting the Russians. Analyzing the course of the World War II, American experts on psychological warfare remarked that “as Hitler’s reliance on physical force let him to scorn the help of the Soviet people, reliance on the atomic bomb could lead us into comparable folly[9].”

Panic was slowly but steadily spreading over the American population which could not avoid worrying about the atomic war threat since information on it was literally everywhere: in February 1950, Life dedicated a whole issue to discussion of the atomic bomb under a motto that no compromise could be reached with the communists and that war was inevitable[10].

Psychologists connected the reaction to the possible atomic war with the US baby boom of the late 1940s: “The war psychology must have changed our values, and the Cold War and atomic bomb have brought on a revival of the will to survive[11].”

In the atmosphere of society experiencing great psychological stress of the atomic threat, cardinal changes also occurred in the specialists’ attitudes. More openly than ever, scientists voiced their opposition to further development of the mass-destruction bombs[12].

In their letters to the editors of life, representatives of Research Institute of America call to common sense and express harsh criticism of the atomic defense plan in terms of general humanity principles[13]. Atomic bomb and weapon in general was no longer regarded as the best way to work out the contemporary geopolitical problems, since considering the huge military potential of both hostile mega-powers any serious warfare with them could lead to catastrophic consequences.

On the one hand, appeals were published in the press to revise the approach to warfare and stop putting the whole responsibility for military success or failure on scientific achievements[14]. On the other hand, claims were made to review the application of atomic energy for not military but peaceful use since “all the heads of the state including even the Russians [were] pulling back from atomic abyss[15].”

The press coverage of the Cold War events appears to have been quite sensitive to the changing role of the atomic bomb in the nuclear arms race. Positioning the Russians as a thoroughly uncompromising enemy to be fought at any rate, the Life magazine nevertheless demonstrates a significant shift in the attitude to the atomic bomb function. First envisaged as a crucial and universal weapon, the atomic bomb gradually loses its positions as the Russians acquire a bomb of their own and the world realizes the possible catastrophic consequences of a nuclear war.

References

The atomic bomb. (1950, February 27). Life, 28(9), 91–100.

Bullitt, William S. (1948, August 30). How we won the war and lost the peace. Life, 25(9), 83–86.

Bush, Vannevar. (1949, November 14). Scientific weapons and a future war. Life, 27(20), 112–130.

Carroll, Wallace. (1949, December 19). It takes a Russian to beat a Russian. Life, 27(25), 80–88.

Hyland, T. S. (1949, December 26). The fruitful mountains. Life, 27(26), 60–67.

Letters to the editors: Atomic defense plan. (1951, January 8). Life, 30(2), 4.

Murphy, Charles J. V. (1947, January 20). The Polar concept: It is revolutionizing American strategy. Life, 22(3), 61–62.

The nature of the enemy. (1950, February 27). Life, 28(9), 30–31.

Spaatz, Carl. (1948, July 5). If we should have to fight again. Life, 25(1), 34–44.

Spaatz, Carl. (1948, August 16). Phase II Air War. Life, 25(7), 90–104.

Strauss, Lewis L. (1950, July 24). Some A-bomb fallacies are exposed. Life, 29(4), 81–90.

US foreign policy takes a licking. (1948, March 8). Life, 24(10), 27–30.

The US surveys its weak defense. (1947, June 16). Life, 22(24), 27–33.

Wallace, Henry. (1956, May 14). Henry Wallace tells of his political odyssey. Life, 40(20), 174–190.

Charles J. V. Murphy, “The Polar concept: It is revolutionizing American strategy,” Life (January 20, 1947), pp. 61–62.
Ibid.
Charles J. V. Murphy, “The Polar concept: It is revolutionizing American strategy,” Life (January 20, 1947), pp. 61–62.
“The US surveys its weak defense,” Life (June 16, 1947), pp. 27–33.
“US foreign policy takes a licking,” Life (March 8, 1948), pp. 27–30.
Carl Spaatz, “Some A-bomb fallacies are exposed,” Life (August 16, 1948), pp. 81–90; Carl Spaatz, “Phase II Air War,” Life (July 24, 1950), pp. 90–104.
William S. Bullitt, “How we won the war and lost the peace,” Life (August 30, 1948), pp. 83–86.
Vannevar Bush, “Scientific weapons and a future war,” Life (November 14, 1949), pp. 112–130.
Wallace Carroll, “It takes a Russian to beat a Russian,” Life (December 19, 1949), pp. 80–88.
“The atomic bomb,” Life (February 27, 1950), pp. 91–100.
T. S. Hyland, “The fruitful mountains,” Life (December 26, 1949), pp. 60–67.
Lewis L Strauss, “Some A-bomb fallacies are exposed,” Life (July 24, 1950), pp. 81–90.
“Letters to the editors: Atomic defense plan,” Life (January 8, 1951), p. 4.
Lewis L Strauss, “Some A-bomb fallacies are exposed,” Life (July 24, 1950), pp. 81–90.
Henry Wallace, “Henry Wallace tells of his political odyssey,” Life (May 14, 1956), pp. 174–190.