The Quest for American Atomic Supremacy from World War II to the Present
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: The University of North Carolina Press
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In 1998, South African president Nelson Mandela urged the world to ponder a question of profound importance, one that demanded attention from even the most ardent defenders of nuclear might: Why does the world “need” nuclear weapons “anyway.” An attraction to “the threat of brute force” offered...
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1. The Ideal Number of Nuclear Weapons States Is One: Nuclear Nonproliferation and the Quest for American Atomic Supremacy
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Rejecting the stigma shadowing nuclear weapons in the early 1950s, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles declared: “In the past higher civilizations have always maintained their place against lower civilizations by devising more effective weapons.” A half century later, President Bill Clinton...
2. Too Stupid Even for the Funny Papers: The Myth of the American Atomic Monopoly, 1939–1945
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In September 1945, nuclear physicist James Franck warned President Harry S. Truman that “the idea that there exists a secret formula [for the atomic bomb] which can be guarded in its entirety” should be dismissed “as too stupid even for the movies and the funny papers.” The president ignored this warning...
3. Winning Weapons: A-Bombs, H-Bombs, and International Control, 1946–1953
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In 1946, Harry Truman swore that the United States would not “throw away our gun until we are sure the rest of the world can’t arm against us.” By late 1945, many government officials had embraced Truman’s belief that weapons rather than treaties ensured U.S. security. They made no pretense of sharing...
4. The President in the Gray Flannel Suit: Conformity, Technological Utopianism, and Nonproliferation, 1953–1956
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“Soon even little countries will have a stockpile of these bombs, and then we will be in a mess,” exclaimed Dwight D. Eisenhower in spring 1954. The president had grown frustrated with his advisers’ resistance to a nuclear test ban and other nonproliferation measures. Many administration officials viewed...
5. Seeking a Silver Bullet: Nonproliferation, the Test Ban, and Nuclear Sharing, 1957–1960
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In April 1957, Dwight D. Eisenhower averred that the Soviets had “more to gain from preventing the spread of atomic weapons to fourth countries than do we.” That belief shaped U.S. policy throughout Eisenhower’s second term. The United States sought to control, not prevent, proliferation within the...
6. Tests and Toughness: JFK’s False Start on the Proliferation Question, 1961–1962
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“Courage,” John F. Kennedy claimed, stood as the “most admirable of human virtues.” As a senator, Kennedy lent his name to Profiles in Courage, a ghostwritten paean to politicians who bravely resisted popular pressure to compromise their “ethics,” “integrity,” and “morality.” Principle proved more important...
7. Too Big to Spank: JFK, Nuclear Hegemony, and the Limited Test Ban Treaty, 1962–1963
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“Personally, I am haunted by the feeling that by 1970 . . . there may be ten nuclear powers instead of four, and by 1975, fifteen or twenty,” President John F. Kennedy confessed in March 1963. After becoming president, Kennedy sought but failed to achieve a nonproliferation treaty because of...
8. Hunting for Easter Eggs: LBJ, NATO, and Nonproliferation, 1963–1965
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Lyndon B. Johnson told one Soviet official that when it came to arms control, Moscow and Washington “were like children hunting for Easter eggs.” But the president often forgot that other “children” also needed to join the hunt. By late 1963 when LBJ entered the Oval Office, the superpowers had...
9. A Treaty to Castrate the Impotent: Codifying Nuclear Apartheid, 1965–1970
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“If I had a dollar for every time I consulted with the Germans, I’d be a millionaire,” snorted President Lyndon Johnson in March 1967. Johnson’s anger flared after the Bonn government complained of the superpowers’ “atomic complicity” in negotiating a nonproliferation treaty. The president had...
10. The Legacy of Nuclear Apartheid
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Herman Kahn’s warning of 1960 that soon even a “Hottentot” would be able to produce nuclear bombs resonated in the decades following the NPT’s signature. The treaty’s passage seemed a harbinger of a safer world, one wherein the nuclear threat would be regulated and contained. Yet the terms of the...
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Page Count: 416
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2010