Archive for December, 2012


Nuclear history bibliography, 2012

Friday, December 28th, 2012

As 2012 draws to a close, I thought it might be useful to try and draw together a bibliography of nuclear history scholarship that was published over the course of the year.

Some TOP SECRET stamps from the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy files. Just inserted here so there is something to look at other than text!

This list is unlikely to be complete — I've made something of a preliminary survey, but I don't claim to have checked everywhere — and if there are things I'm missing, please let me know in the comments or by e-mail. I'll update this as new information comes in. One obvious thing missing are chapters in edited volumes; those are harder to find using traditional academic search engines.

As for the "rules for inclusion," they are both boring and common-sensical. Must have a publication date of 2012. Must look like "scholarship" of some sort. Must be something that is primarily in the genre of the history of nuclear weapons or nuclear power. I'm just trying to make a useful list here (for myself as well as others) and some inclusions/exclusions are going to be necessarily arbitrary. I have not read all of these — not even most of these — I do not endorse any of them. This is just a list. The citations might not be complete; it is just a guide. I thought about including book reviews, which are often quite useful and insightful (and hey, I wrote a few), but decided it would make this list completely ungainly and my task disproportionately difficult. 

Looking this over, the obvious trend is that 2012 was the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which meant a lot of monographs on the subject came out this year. Without further ado...


Barrett, David M. and Max Holland. Blind over Cuba: The Photo Gap and the Missile CrisisCollege Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2012.

Blight, James G. The armageddon letters: Kennedy, Khrushchev, Castro in the Cuban missile crisis. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2012.

Brown, Andrew. Keeper of the Nuclear Conscience: The Life and Work of Joseph Rotblat. Oxford University Press, 2012.

Burke, David Allen. Atomic testing in Mississippi: Project Dribble and the quest for nuclear weapons treaty verification in the Cold War era. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2012.

Burtch, Andrew. Give Me Shelter: The Failure of Canada'’s Cold War Civil Defence. University of British Columbia Press, 2012.

Coleman, David G. The fourteenth day: JFK and the aftermath of the Cuban Missile CrisisNew York : W.W. Norton & Co., 2012.

Fraser, Gordon. The quantum exodus: Jewish fugitives, the atomic bomb, and the Holocaust. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Fuhrmann, Matthew. Atomic assistance: how "atoms for peace" programs cause nuclear insecurity. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2012.

Gavin, Francis J. Nuclear statecraft: history and strategy in America's atomic age. Cornell University Press, 2012.

Gibson, David R. Talk at the brink: deliberation and decision during the Cuban Missile CrisisPrinceton: Princeton University Press, 2012.

Hecht, Gabrielle. Being nuclear: Africans and the global uranium trade. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2012.1.

Heefner, Gretchen. The missile next door: the Minuteman in the American heartland. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2012.

Hosaka, Masayasu. [Japan's Atomic Bomb : Its Development and Procedural Setbacks] Nihon no genbaku: sono kaihatsu to zasetsu no dōtei / 日本の原爆: その開発と挫折の道程 . Tōkyō: Shinchōsha, 2012.

Hymans, Jacques E. C. Achieving Nuclear Ambitions: Scientists, Politicians, and Proliferation. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Iversen, Kristen. Full body burden: growing up in the nuclear shadow of Rocky Flats. New York: Crown Publishers, 2012.2

Johnson, Robert R. Romancing the atom: nuclear infatuation from the radium girls to Fukushima. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Praeger, 2012.

Kaufman, Scott. Project Plowshare: The Peaceful Use of Nuclear Explosives in Cold War America. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012.

Khalatnikov, Isaak M. From the Atomic Bomb to the Landau Institute: Autobiography. Top Non-Secret. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2012.

Khan, Feroz Hassan. Eating grass: the making of the Pakistani bomb. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2012.

Larsen, Jeffrey Arthur. Rearming at the dawn of the Cold War: Louis Johnson, George Marshall, and Robert Lovett, 1949-1952. Washington, DC: National Defense University Press for the Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2012.

Matthews, Melvin E. Duck and cover: civil defense images in film and television from the Cold War to 9/11. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2012.

Mikoyan, Sergo, and Svetalana Savranskaya, ed. The Soviet Cuban Missile Crisis: Castro, Mikoyan, Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the missiles of November. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2012.

Miyamoto, Yuki. Beyond the mushroom cloud: commemoration, religion, and responsibility after Hiroshima. New York: Fordham University Press, 2012.

Monk, Ray. Inside the centre: the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer. London, Jonathan Cape, 2012.

Munton, Don. The Cuban Missile Crisis: a concise history. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012

Priestley, Rebecca. Mad on radium: New Zealand in the atomic age. Auckland, N.Z.: Auckland University Press, 2012.

Schweber, S. S. Nuclear forces: the making of the physicist Hans Bethe. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2012.

Stern, Sheldon M. The Cuban Missile Crisis in American memory: myths versus reality. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2012.

Stoddart, Kristan. Losing an empire and finding a role: Britain, the USA, NATO and nuclear weapons, 1964-70. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ;New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Szasz, Ferenc M. Atomic Comics: Cartoonists Confront the Nuclear World. Reno, Nevada: University of Nevada Press, 2012.

Takahashi, Hiroko. [Closing Hiroshima & Nagasaki: The American Nuclear Experiment and Civil Defense Planning] Fūinsareta Hiroshima, Nagasaki: Bei kakujikken to minkan bōei keikaku / 封印されたヒロシマ・ナガサキ: 米核実験と民間防衛計画. Tōkyō: Gaifūsha, 2012.

Taubman, Philip. The Partnership: Five Cold War Warriors and Their Quest to Ban the Bomb. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 2012.

Touze, Vincent. Missiles et décisions: Castro, Kennedy et Khrouchtchev et la crise de Cuba d'octobre 1962. Bruxelles: Versaille, 2012.

Walker, John R. Britain and disarmament: the UK and nuclear, biological and chemical weapons arms control and programmes, 1956-1975. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012.

Van Lente, Dick, ed. The nuclear age in popular media: a transnational history, 1945-1965. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Weart, Spencer R. The rise of nuclear fear. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2012.

Wilson, Jim. Britain on the brink: the Cold War's most dangerous weekend, 27-28 October 1962. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2012.

Yamamoto, Akihiro. [A Discourse on the Postwar History of Nuclear Energy, 1945-1960 : "Memories of the Bomb" and "Dreams of Nuclear PowerKaku enerugī gensetsu no sengoshi, 1945-1960: "hibaku no kioku" to "genshiryoku no yume" / 核エネルギー言說の戦後史, 1945-1960: 「被爆の記憶」と「原子力の夢」. Kyōto-shi: Jinbun Shoin, 2012.

Zellen, Barry Scott. State of doom: Bernard Brodie, the bomb, and the birth of the bipolar world. London: Continuum, 2012.


Børresen, Hans Christofer. “Flawed Nuclear Physics and Atomic Intelligence in the Campaign to deny Norwegian Heavy Water to Germany, 1942–1944.” Physics in Perspective 14, no. 4 (2012).

Connelly, Matthew, Matt Fay, Giulia Ferrini, Micki Kaufman, Will Leonard, Harrison Monsky, Ryan Musto, Taunton Paine, Nicholas Standish, and Lydia Walker. "'General, I Have Fought Just as Many Nuclear Wars as You Have': Forecasts, Future Scenarios, and the Politics of Armageddon." The American Historical Review 117, no. 5 (2012).3

Dvorak, Darrell F. "The Other Atomic Bomb Commander: Col. Cliff Heflin and his 'Special' 216th AAF Base Unit." Air Power History 59, no. 4 (Winter 2012).

Dorn, A. Walter, and Robert Pauk. "The closest brush: How a UN secretary-general averted doomsday." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 68, no. 6 (November/December 2012).

Edwards, Paul N. "Entangled histories: Climate science and nuclear weapons research." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 68, no. 4 (July/August 2012).

Fischer, Benjamin B. "Anglo-American Intelligence and the Soviet War Scare: The Untold Story." Intelligence and National Security 27, no. 1 (February 2012).

Geist, Edward. "Was There a Real 'Mineshaft Gap'?: Bomb Shelters in the USSR, 1945–1962." Journal of Cold War Studies 14, no. 2 (Spring 2012).

Goodson, Donald L. R. "Catalytic Deterrence? Apartheid South Africa's Nuclear Weapons Strategy." Politikon: South African Journal of Political Studies 32, no. 2 (2012).

Grant, Matthew. "British nuclear weapons and the test ban, 1954–73: Britain, the United States weapons policies and nuclear testing: tensions and contradictions." Journal of Transatlantic Studies 10, no. 3 (September 2012).

Hamblin, Jacob Darwin. "Fukushima and the Motifs of Nuclear History." Environmental History 17, no. 2 (2012).

Hastings, Justin V. "The geography of nuclear proliferation networks: the case of A.Q. Khan." Nonproliferation Review 19, no. 3 (2012).

Hecht, Gabrielle. "An elemental force: Uranium production in Africa, and what it means to be nuclear." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 68, no. 2 (March/April 2012).

Higuchi, Toshihiro. “‘Genshi maguro’ no tanjō: Dai go Fukuryū maru jiken go no kankyō hōshanō sokutei jō no hantei kijun no hensen” [The Birth of “Atomic Tuna”: Changes in the Administrative Criteria for Environmental Radiation Monitoring in Japan after the Lucky Dragon Incident of 1954], Seibutsugakushi kenkyū [Japanese Journal of the History of Biology] 87 (2012).

Hogg, Jonathan and Christoph Laucht. "Introduction: British Nuclear Culture." British Journal for the History of Science 45, no. 4 (December 2012).

Jasper, Ursula. "The ambivalent neutral: rereading Switzerland's nuclear history." Nonproliferation Review 19, no. 2 (2012).

Johnston, Sean F. “Making the invisible engineer visible: DuPont and the recognition of nuclear expertise.” Technology and Culture 53, no. 3 (2012).

Jolivette, Catherine. "Science, Art and Landscape in the Nuclear Age." Art History 35, no. 2 (April 2012).

Kemp, R. Scott. “The end of Manhattan: How the gas centrifuge changed the quest for nuclear weapons.” Technology and Culture 53, no. 2 (2012).4

Kinney, D.J. "The otters of Amchitka: Alaskan nuclear testing and the birth of the environmental movement." The Polar Journal 2, no. 2 (December 2012).

Kirk, Andrew. "Rereading the Nature of Atomic Doom Towns." Environmental History 17, no. 3 (2012).

Krige, John. “Hybrid knowledge: the transnational co-production of the gas centrifuge for uranium enrichment in the 1960s.” British Journal for the History of Science 45, no. 3 (2012).

Krige, John. "The proliferation risks of gas centrifuge enrichment at the dawn of the NPT: Shedding light on the negotiating history." Nonproliferation Review 19, no. 2 (2012).5

Lewis, John W. and Xue Litai. "Making China’s nuclear war plan." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists  68, no. 5 (September/October 2012).

Malloy, Sean L. “‘A very pleasant way to die’: Radiation effects and the decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan." Diplomatic History 36, no. 3 (2012).6

Mundey, Lisa M. “The Civilianization of a Nuclear Weapon Effects Test: Operation ARGUS.” Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 42, no. 4 (2012).

Norris, Robert S. and Hans M. Kristensen. "The Cuban Missile Crisis: A nuclear order of battle, October and November 1962." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 68, no. 6 (November/December 2012).7))

Overpeck, Deron. "‘Remember! it's Only a Movie!’ Expectations and Receptions of The Day After (1983)." Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 32, no. 2 (June 2012).

Robb, Thomas. "Nuclear Illusion, Nuclear Reality: Britain, the United States and Nuclear Weapons, 1958–64." The International History Review 34, no. 2 (2012).

Sethi, Megan Barnhart. "Information, Education, and Indoctrination: The Federation of American Scientists and Public Communication Strategies in the Atomic Age." Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 42, no. 1 (2012).

Sime, Ruth Lewin. “The Politics of Forgetting: Otto Hahn and the German Nuclear-Fission Project in World War II.” Physics in Perspective 14, no. 1 (2012).

Slaney, Patrick David. “Eugene Rabinowitch, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and the Nature of Scientific Internationalism in the Early Cold War.” Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 42, no. 2 (2012).

Sobek, David, Dennis M. Foster, and Samuel B. Robison. "Conventional Wisdom? The Effect of Nuclear Proliferation on Armed Conflict, 1945-2001." International Studies Quarterly 56, no. 1 (March 2012).

Theaker, Martin. "Elemental Germans: Klaus Fuchs, Rudolf Peierls and the Making of British Nuclear Culture 1939–59." Contemporary British History 26, no. 4 (December 2012).

Tobey, William. "Nuclear scientists as assassination targets." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 68, no. 1 (January/February 2012).8

Walker, John R. "Potential Proliferation Pointers from the Past: Lessons from the British Nuclear Weapons Program, 1952–69." Nonproliferation Review 19, no. 1 (2012).9

Weisiger, Marsha. "Happy Cly and the Unhappy History of Uranium Mining on the Navajo Reservation." Environmental History 17, no. 1 (2012).

Wellerstein, Alex. “A tale of openness and secrecy: The Philadelphia Story.” Physics Today 65, no. 5 (2012).10

Wellock, Thomas R. “Engineering Uncertainty and Bureaucratic Crisis at the Atomic Energy Commission, 1964–1973.” Technology and Culture 53, no. 4 (2012).

Wilson, Richard. "The Development of Risk Analysis: A Personal Perspective." Risk Analysis 32, Issue 12 (December 2012).


Some of the citations I got from the Alsos Digital Library for Nuclear Issues; others were found from keyword searches against the Harvard Library catalog (old habits die hard) and some publisher-specific searches. Google Scholar proved to be no help whatsoever — too much noise, too little signal, too hard to filter by discipline. Thanks to my old friend Anthony Walker for helping me with the Japanese translations. Thanks to Will Thomas and Michael Gordin for giving this a look-see before I put it up. If I've missed something or screwed something up — highly likely — please get in touch.

  1. I wrote an essay-review of this for Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences under the title "Nuclear others," available here. []
  2. Iversen's biographical account of Rocky Flats was discussed by me in part here. []
  3. Winner of the 2012 "Wow That's a Lot of Co-Authors Award." []
  4. I discussed Kemp's article on the development of the centrifuge here. []
  5. I discussed these Krige articles on US-UK centrifuge history in this post. []
  6. For a discussion (and review) of Malloy's article on radiation effects, see my post here. []
  7. For a discussion of Norris and Kristensen's accounting of those nukes in Cuba and elsewhere, see my post here. []
  8. A little discussion of Tobey's article on nuclear assassination is here, along with my own thoughts. []
  9. Winner of the 2012 "Most Alliterative Article Award." []
  10. My article on the "Philadelphia Story" is discussed and linked-to here. []

A glove box Christmas tree

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

Well, it's not actually a glove box, but it's meant to approximate one, I think. Decorating a tree, Hanford-style:

Hanford glove box Christmas tree

The photo was taken at the Hanford Science Center in the 1960s, and was from an exhibit probably meant to illustrate how dextrous the remote-handling equipment was.

But let's imagine it's a real glove box, and that the tree is dangerously radioactive. Just for fun, and in the spirit of Christmas cheer. 

Happy Holidays, from Restricted Data!


Duck and Cover All Over Again

Friday, December 21st, 2012

Hiding from nuclear attacks under ones school desks has got to be one of the most salient memories of Americans who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s. I get told about it with some regularity when I tell people about my work — the recollections of the "Duck and Cover" drills are spoken of with a sense of grim humor, in a tone of "can you believe they made us do that?"

I'm not the world's biggest critic of Civil Defense measures of this sort. Yes, Bert the Turtle is a bit condescending, but he was aimed at children, and for 1951 his message isn't too far off. In 1951 the Soviets still lacked ICBMs and had bombs no more than double the yield of the Nagasaki weapon. Hiding under your desk probably wouldn't help you much if the bomb went off right over your head, but could be significant for all of the people who were within a mile or so of the blast.

Cold War children performing a "Duck and Cover" drill.

Civil Defense became a more problematic affair in the megaton and missile ages, especially since the Civil Defense planners were often kept out of the loop as to what the actual state-of-the-art was regarding bombs and tactics. There's also a broader question about whether confidence (justified or not) in one's ability to survive a nuclear attack drives states or individuals towards more dangerous behaviors with regards to nuclear weapons. But as a whole I think we've probably gone a little too far, culturally, in ridiculing Cold War Civil Defense measures — thanks in no small part by handling such as that in Atomic Caféwhich uses these films out of context.

I grew up in California in the late 1980s. I never did any "Duck and Cover" drills for nuclear threats — I wasn't even aware of nuclear threats, to be honest. One of my first "political" memories is of the Berlin Wall coming down, when I was in the 6th grade. I remember being irritated, since I had just memorized which of the Germany's was the "good" one and which was the "bad" one — no easy task for me at the time, given that the one with "Democratic" in its name was anything but!

FEMA poster for earthquake drills

I don't remember being told to "hold" in the 1980s, but it was more or less like this.

We did have drills, though. The most common were the standard fire drills that everybody does — flee ("leave your bags!") and line up a safe distance from the school. Boring. Next on the list were earthquake drills, a staple in California. These are basically "duck and cover" drills with less fear. You hide under your desk, or you stand in a doorway. The hardest part about earthquakes is recognizing when one is happening; unless you've been through a few of them (I had some practice when I lived in Berkeley) it can take practically the length of the whole earthquake for your brain to realize exactly what's going on. What I think people who haven't been in one don't realize is how strangely noisy they are — they make doors shake in their hinges, and it is a very unusual sound, and your brain (at least, my brain) takes a little time to process this, which makes it hard to act rapidly.1

But the most unusual drill we did where I grew up was something quite different, and I was reminded of it when I read about the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School last week. I may digress a minute here.

"Stockton, California: These are the most interesting things we could find to photograph."

"Stockton, California: These are the most interesting things we could find to photograph. Two of them are the same thing from different angles."

I grew up in Stockton, California. It's right in the middle of the long Central Valley that runs through the middle of the state; it's about an hour-and-a-half drive northeast of the Bay Area, or a 45-minute drive south of Sacramento. "I've driven through there," people often tell me. Rarely anybody knows much about it though, if they aren't from California, despite its being a perennial favorite for top slots in Forbes' America's Most Miserable Cities list (#1 in 2009 and 2011!) and occasionally making the front-page of The New York Times for its economic woes (housing bubble, city government going bankrupt,  and so on).

The reason you probably don't know much about it is because there isn't a whole lot to say, and certainly very little to romanticize. It doesn't have a "company town gone bust" story (e.g. Flint), or a "former grandeur gone to squalor" (e.g. Baltimore), and nobody makes national commercials using it as some kind of comeback story (e.g. Detroit). It's a medium-sized American city that has many of the problems of other medium-sized American cities, just more so. It's problematic mixture of bad economy, crime, and mundanity isn't glamorous, and it doesn't fit into any of the well-worn American archetypes.

1989 - LA Times - Stockton massacre

But we did have a school shooting. On January 17, 1989, a disturbed loner, Patrick Purdy, brought a Chinese-made AK-47 to the Cleveland Elementary School and started firing. He killed five children and wounded 30 others, including one teacher. He then killed himself. The victims were mostly from Cambodia and Vietnam — Stockton is one of the major hubs for South Asian refugees.

I didn't go to Cleveland Elementary; I was on the other side of town. I want to make explicit that I'm not trying to co-opt any tragedy, whether the one at Sandy Hook or at Cleveland, nor am I claiming any special knowledge of these things. But I remember the day pretty clearly. Not out of horror — I don't think I was old enough to really process horror very well — but just out of awe. How does one live in a city, or in a world, where this sort of thing happens? What do you, as a kid, even think of in such a situation? (I didn't know much about my own mortality at age 8, so that didn't really factor into it.)

Michael Jackson visiting Cleveland Elementary after the shooting.

Stockton was in the national news — as always, just for something awful. Michael Jackson visited the city to show support for the children at Cleveland (very eighties). The state passed an assault weapons ban, part of a longer push for the Congressional assault weapons ban that was passed in 1994, and was allowed to lapse in 2004. The same ban that they are talking about revisiting today, as a result of Sandy Hook. As Michael Herr put it, "Those who remember the past are condemned to repeat it too, that's a little history joke." 

But, to circle back, after the Cleveland massacre, all of the elementary schools in my town had "guy on campus with a gun" drills. Specifically, if the adult "yard duty" dropped to one knee and blew a whistle in three, long tones, we were all supposed to hit the deckThis wasn't something we were just told, or that teachers had contingency plans for — we practiced it. I can remember this pretty vividly. It was our "Duck and Cover," I suppose. 

I've told this as stories to people before — prior to Sandy Hook — and their eyes widen, their mouth drops. Some have accused me of making it up! (I didn't, and I've double-checked with others who I went to school with.) One friend of mine who grew up on the East Coast suggested that as children we must have been terrified. But I don't remember being terrified. One isn't terrified of fire when one is lining up outside, one isn't terrified of earthquakes when one is standing in a doorway. The drills aren't the thing. If anything, they're either welcome interruptions to your daily routine, or they are boring activities involving standing in lines until everybody is accounted for.2

Human beings, especially children, have a tremendous capacity for normalizing the horrific, if it is presented to them as "normal," if they live it as "normal." We've gone, over the space of six plus decades, from teaching our children that they will be atom bombed by the Soviet Union, to teaching them that they will be shot by unstable loners. What was a war from above became a war from below.

"1989 file photograph: Stockton Police Capt. J.T. Marnoch holds up a Chinese-made AK-47 assault rifle that gunman Patrick Purdy used to kill five schoolchildren and injure 30 others at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)"

"1989 file photograph: Stockton Police Capt. J.T. Marnoch holds up a Chinese-made AK-47 assault rifle that gunman Patrick Purdy used to kill five schoolchildren and injure 30 others at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)"

In a way, wars from below are always the scarier threats, the ones that keep families and policymakers up at night, even though their ability to do mass damage is considerably diminished most of the time. "Conventional" threats, like other nation-states, can be understood through the sanitized lens of game theory, rational actors, and deterrence. Such a lens might not actually tell you much about real world behavior, but it makes the problem seem solvable. Threats that seem to come from everywhere at once, from the social fabric itself, are necessarily more diffuse, appear un-categorizable, and sometimes seem to have cures that are worse than the disease.

I don't know what the exact response to the Newtown massacre should be, other than a long, long-overdue patching up of gun sales loopholes and maybe a reinstatement of that lapsed assault weapon ban. But I'm glad it's not my job to try and hash out the details, or try and sell them politically. I do hope, though, it goes beyond telling children to hide under their desks, to expect that they might have to "hit the deck" to hide from their fellow countrymen. The "Duck and Cover" drills of the Cold War were evidence of a dangerous international regime — one where a "full nuclear exchange" was seen as a likely future outcome. School-shooter "Duck and Cover" drills of yesterday and today are evidence that something's very profoundly wrong with how we're doing things in this country.

  1. When we had that earthquake in DC in 2011, I was completely prepared, I have to admit. I recognized it for what it was very rapidly, and moved to a doorway. All of that California training was put to use. Part of my rapidity, then, was that I was too daft not to realize that earthquakes were so very rare in the mid-Atlantic states, and so didn't rationalize it away. I did, however, do a back-of-the-envelope reasoning about what the effects of a thermonuclear blast set off in DC would feel like at my office in College Park, Maryland... []
  2. And in any case, Stockton had enough horrors to go around. Among other things, the apparent inspiration for that urban legend about flashing your headlights at gang members was the shooting of a secretary at my own elementary school. Even that is more sensational and unusual than the more quotidian threats that one felt in a city with a pretty high crime rate, gang problems, drug problem, etc. The place was once Steinbeck country, it's now something more like Breaking Bad country. []

Advertising for weapons designers

Friday, December 14th, 2012

Advertising, annoying as it is in the present, is a great tool for looking at the past. You really do get a sense for what passed as acceptable, who people thought the ideal consumer was, and what kind of life people dreamed they could have, when you look at the elaborate construction of fantasy and insecurity that plays out in the advertising medium.1 This is one of the reasons it is especially galling, as an historian, that many digitized archives of past magazines or journals do not let you search advertising copy, or even — gasp! — have all advertising cut from them. This sort of thing is so irritating for historians, just passing that on.

Jack and Heintz missile systems ad, August 1958. See what you're missing if you cut out the ads? No comment necessary.

Scientific American is a periodical whose online archival incarnation thankfully retains the ads. You can't search them through the default search engine, but they're in the PDFs. By downloading lots of PDFs in bulk (it can be done), you can then run searches for specific ad copy across all of them, or compile the individual articles into massive PDFs that roughly approximate a full bound set. (There are some ways in which having digital sources are a convenience — instant searching! — and some ways in which it is a pain — difficult browsing.)

During the Cold War, Scientific American was a major periodical, much more so than it is today. Its publisher since 1948, Gerard Piel, was not a scientist, but saw himself as an ideal Cold War liberal intellectual lay science enthusiast. He was anti-nuclear weapons and pro-nuclear power, if that helps solidify the type. In the 1950s he was anti-McCarthy and pro-Oppenheimer, by the 1970s he was criticized as being too old for the New Left. When he took over Scientific American, it was still being pitched at industrial researchers and tinkerers; under his management, it became something of a luxury "lifestyle magazine," where the lifestyle in question was science.2

Of these early ads, the ones that really have gripped me in the past are the ones advertising for nuclear weapons scientists and for rocket scientists. They were advertisements that said — in fairly blunt language — that you'd be happier if you were making weapons of mass destruction. There's something particularly American about that.

Without further ado, here are a few of my favorites, culled from issues of Scientific American from the 1950s:

How do you recruit a nuclear weapons designer? Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory tried a number of approaches. Some of these, like the one you see above from September 1956, emphasized that living out in the middle of nowhere could be "leisurely living," and also emphasized the cool topics you'd get to work on: weapons physics, nuclear propulsion, etc. You've also got to admit that Los Alamos had a pretty cool logo at the time, as well. The "we work in an awesome place" pitch is one that Los Alamos would return to on a regular basis.

Los Alamos could also emphasize its history. It was over a decade old at this point, and had done some pretty important things. The above ad, from October 1956, has a wonderful message of "Los Alamos gets in the newspaper because it's important" mixed in with an attempt to recruit young scientists.

Livermore, on the other hand, started out with a much more blunt approach: Got any new nuclear weapons ideas? Tying their work in with the work at Berkeley helped, of course — the Berkeley Rad Lab had at least as fabled a history as Los Alamos, and some of their later ads would do this even more explicitly.

To draw a contrast, take a look at this Sandia advertisement from May 1958. It's more heady and ideological than the "come do science" and the "we have nice mountains" sorts of pitches:

For centuries men have tried to develop new and more powerful weapons to achieve victory in war. Lately these have been weapons of unprecedented power. Now war can become race suicide, and victory thus gained is a delusion. Yet we keep on trying to develop new and more powerful weapons, because we must. Not because we seek victory through a nuclear war, but because through strength we may prevent one. For as long as there are powerful forces with a record of cynical duplicity and oppression, the free world must have weapons capable of neutralizing them. At least until men learn that the only alternate to peace is oblivion. At Sandia, we play an important part in providing this protective strength..."

Although, for all of that rallying against "cynical duplicity and oppression," a few months later (December 1958) a Sandia advertisement compared them to the Spanish Conquistadors — not exactly known for their peaceful ways. But lest you think this is the most politically incorrect form of scientist recruitment you might find from the period...

...Los Alamos had this one in the same issue. No comment here, other than the fact that this is obviously pre-Wen Ho Lee.

Los Alamos also had this wonderful little ad from April 1959, where the fact that they used obscure weapons-physics jargon was taken to show that they were on the cutting edge of science. It's a rather clever advertising approach, you have to admit — taking what might otherwise be seen as a weakness and turning it into a strength. They didn't use this tactic very often, though; other ads from this period had someone different messages, like "Scientists are people," or "we do peaceful stuff, too."

The gender stuff in some of these ads is incredible. This is an ad that ran a few times in 1958, recruiting for rocket scientists at the AC Spark Plug division of General Motors:

This is the Mrs. Behind the Missile... It takes a special kind of woman to be the wife of one of today's missile men. ... They know more about the problems of raising a family virtually alone than they do about the business of producing the missiles themselves. This advertisement is a tribute to the courage of such women, and to the very real contribution they are making to the development of a guided missile arsenal for this nation's defense. ... If you are such a woman, and your husband has engineering or scientific training which could make a contribution to this program, and is not a member of the armed forces, ask him to write — or write yourself — to the personnel section of AC in Milwaukee.

What's most interesting to me about this one is that it, unlike most of the advertisements in Scientific American from this period, is written under the conceit that women are going to be reading the magazine. Most of the ads, it almost goes without saying, were pitched at white, scientifically-educated men. This one seems to be pitched at that guy's wife. Which might seem progressive if it wasn't a pitch for wives to sign their husbands up as rocket scientists so they could live a patriotic life in depressing isolation.

Douglas Aircraft was also on board with the "rocket scientist's lifestyle" pitch, though it's interesting how much more chummy it seems for men than was the one for women. This is from April 1957; it's amazing how many of these rocket scientist ads were just pre-Sputnik. Things got so much crazier after Sputnik that it's hard to forget that people were already pretty hyped up about rockets.

Douglas also used the "our work is so awesome it's secret" pitch as well. "Look at all the nuclear-tipped missiles we've made! Actually, half of them are still secret!" I also really like the line, "These are the projects that require engineers who are looking far beyond tomorrow." An impressive sounding bit of nonsense, no?

In the 1960s, Los Alamos' as got a little more unusual — emphasizing that there was culture out where they worked. I'm not sure too many other places took this approach, though Los Alamos did it quite a few times. These ads are one part recruitment — meant to appeal — and one part projection. How much is the above ad actually soliciting scientists, and how much is it trying to say, "did you know that Los Alamos men appreciate art?"

It's a stark contrast from this sort of ad from Lockheed (October 1956), which makes it look like your non-science time there will be spent playing golf, tennis, or boating.

What to make of all of these? There are a lot of obvious — perhaps too obvious — observations here. Gender stuff. Lifestyle stuff. Technoscientific enthusiasm. You know. But what strikes me as most interesting here is that in some of these, there's a bit of explicit rah-rah Cold War ideology, but mostly it is absent. Is this because ideology is messy, or because it could be taken for granted? That is, do you appeal to rad science and rad living conditions because you don't want to turn off people who aren't totally sold on WMDs, or do you assume that the only people who are going to apply have already made their peace with that idea? I don't know — there's only so much you can see on the surface of these ads, without delving into the processes of their creation, much less their success or failure. Still, as source materials, these sorts of ads are wonderful windows into the past — often as much or more so than the magazine content they abutted. And like all good windows into the past, they raise as many questions as they answer...

  1. There's an obligatory Mad Men reference here, but I never got into the show so I'd probably bungle it. I'm more of a The Wire sort of guy when it comes to television shows, I've got to admit. []
  2. Everything I know about Scientific American and Gerard Piel comes from an excellent senior thesis I had the good fortunate to be an adviser for while I was at Harvard: Emma Benintende, "Who was the Scientific American? Science, Identity, and Politics through the Lens of a Cold War Periodical" (Senior thesis, Department of History of Science, Harvard University, 2011). []
Meditations | News and Notes

That Doomsy Time of the Year

Friday, December 7th, 2012

It's that time of the year again — when The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists hosted their Doomsday Clock Symposium, the cheeriest conference ever. Basically it was an all-day conference where experts present on what appears to be the status quo in various doomsy topics: nuclear weapons, nuclear powerw, bioweapons/bioterrorism, climate change, and so on. At the end of it, the Science and Security Board of The Bulletin (a group of smart and well-credentialed folks) convened privately and decided whether things are doomy enough to move the Doomsday Clock another minute or so towards midnight, or whether it should be moved back a minute or so, or whether things are basically the same.

(Yes, I know that this oft-used image is not really a Mayan calendar. Cut me some slack. C'mon, admit it, it's kind of clever. A little bit.) The Doomsday Clock is a registered trademark of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, used here only in playful jest.

I went last year, but didn't make it this year. The Doomsday Clock is currently at five minutes to midnight, which is to say, the same as it was in 2007, and the worst it has been since the end of the Cold War. (The clock's closest times were two minutes in 1953, and three minutes in 1984, both of which were admittedly pretty tense times. Interestingly, in both cases, the clocks were radically moved back within a few years.) They changed the clock one minute forward after last year's meeting, which was in line with my predictions having sat in on the event.

Everything looked not-so-good at the beginning of 2012: India and Pakistan seemed to be charging ahead with fissile material production without much heed to anything else (even each other); the United States was so crippled by Executive-Legislative in-fighting that it could barely pass completely sensible, bi-partisan treaties, much less hard stuff; Fukushima had happened just the previous year, with ill implications for nuclear energy regulation; and nobody was doing anything significant about climate change, despite the evidence getting stronger and stronger that things were accelerating as bad as the worst-case models had predicted. The closest thing to good news was that it would still be some time before kids could cook up decent biological weapons in their college bio classes.

How are things on the cusp of 2013? My basic read is: nothing's changed too much from the last time. (This is also the gist of what I've heard from folks who were at the conference this year.) Pretty much all of those individual items are the same as they were. What would that mean towards the clock? In a world where the clock was a simple, objective measurement of "doom," you'd say that inaction would count as a net increase of badness. With climate change, that argument is especially strong: if the models are correct, then every year we spend not mitigating or at least slowing climate change means some greater amount of mitigation in the future. The longer it goes untended, the harder it will be to fix in the future, and the longer the negative effects will last. (The EPA explains this as a "carbon bathtub" effect -- the input vastly overpowers the drain, and even decreases the size of the drain.) So that's pretty doomy.

Of course, the Doomsday Clock isn't an objective measure of doom — it's a piece of publicity meant to focus attention onto key issues. In this sense, nothing changing might be a sign to just keep the clock where it is. Moving it forward, without any really strong reasons to do so, might dilute its publicity power. And if you're moving it forward just because nothing positive is being achieved, well, you've only got a few more years of being able to do that before you run out of minutes! (A negative-time wouldn't really work, conceptually, would? "Doomsday was five minutes ago." Well, at least it gives The Bulletin something to do in the post-apocalyptic world...) I think of the "minutes" as something that can be "spent" — you only have a few of them, and if you wiggle the clock each and every year by a little bit without a really strong reason, it'll look like the Clock that called "wolf." I do think the change last year was justified — in part because the "optimistic" aspects of the 2010 change had seemed already undone — but I just haven't seen a strong reason to tweak it again.1

Anyway, my guess is that the Doomsday Clock won't move this year. But we'll find out in January, says the BAS. Which, you have to admit, is kind of a hedging of bets: if the Mayan apocalypse happens on December 21st, they can always change their clock time to zero and nobody will know whether they really predicted it or not.

I leave you with one of my favorite "Doomsday" quotes, from Time magazine, December 3, 1945:

"What is the goal of science? To blow up the world? If scientists mean what they say — and they generally do — scientific progress is within sight of that nihilistic goal, and may soon succeed in reaching it. ... But the scientists, with the purest scientific motives in the world, still toy with the idea of a scientifically induced Doomsday. They know the gun is loaded, but their fingers itch to try the trigger."2

What a line! And on that happy note...

It's that time of the year again — where one hunts, frantically, for some kind of gift for those hard-to-satisfy family members and friends. I thought I might post a little update about some new products I've added to the Restricted Data Store, as well as one other non-self-serving gift suggestion. But first, Season's Greetings from the Eniwetok Atoll:

(These particular pictures from an eBay offering; more information about the card itself is here.)

Over the last few months I've been adding a few designs to the Restricted Data Store. I should note that I think such things are not necessarily laudatory or condemnatory — I've chosen all of the images for how graphically interesting they are, and the fact that the bomb is nothing if not an ambiguous object. You can always say you're wearing it ironically if someone asks — apparently that lets you get away with anything these days.

Above is the official emblem of the Manhattan Project — devised after the bombs were dropped, of course. The little castle at the bottom is from the emblem of the US Army Corps of Engineers. It has a wonderful retro aesthetic style, I feel, and I managed to get a very high-quality scan of it, which I then cleaned up, and applied to all manner of clothing. There are two variants: a light logo on dark clothing (as on the left), or a dark logo on light clothing (as on the right).

Above we have the first official depiction of a nuclear fission chain reaction from the Princeton University Press edition of the Smyth Report. I've always really liked this drawing: it is very seriously drawn (no fancy embellishments), yet it is really quite understandable. This is one of the shirts that get people to ask, "what is that?" when I wear it. "Oh, nothing," I casually reply, desperately trying to keep my giddiness under wraps, "it's just, you know, a nuclear fission chain reaction from the Smyth Report! Let me tell you about what that means to me..." At which point the person asking usually regrets it, but it's far, far too late for them.

Lastly, I've recently added two more shirts: one featuring that Soviet drawing of the American implosion bomb, derived from espionage, and the other of the striking diagram illustrating the concept of "critical mass" from Glasstone and Dolan's 1977 edition of The Effects of Nuclear Weapons:

Both combine a gnomic technicality with geometric simplicity, which, as you can see, appeals to me. Maybe it will appeal to someone else in your life as well, if not yourself! For all of the clothing, I've tried to include a pretty wide range of styles and sizes. If you find your body-type or inclinations not represented, just let me know and I will be happy to try and accommodate.

There are also still many nice mugs:

All meager profits go towards the upkeep of the blog.

Lastly, I want to highlight two calendars. The first is one that I made, the 2013 Nuclear Testing Calendar. It features 12 months of striking, high-resolution photographs of American atmospheric nuclear testing. Throughout the calendar are also a number of nuclear anniversaries noted — some fairly well-known, some that will probably be new to you. The cover image is a nice indication of the sort of thing you get from this: this is an image of the nuclear test Greenhouse ITEM (1951), which I personally scanned at the US National Archives at very high resolution, and then edited out any smudges, fingerprints, and dust spots. The colors are as they were in the original — vivid reds and oranges, with an otherworldly turquoise at the center of the fireball.

The calendar is through, a self-publishing enterprise, but they are very high quality — the pages are crisply printed, and the page stock is heavy and professional.

One more calendar: my employer, the history program at the American Institute of Physics, sells a calendar each year as well. This year the theme is the life of Niels Bohr, since 2013 will be the 100th anniversary of the Bohr atom. The calendar is quite beautiful and would be a real boon to any science fans out there:

All sales of the Bohr calendar benefit the Emilio Segrè Visual Archives and the Niels Bohr Archive, Denmark.

  1. I should say, just to drift for a second: I actually think the Clock is a useful piece of publicity. A lot of coverage after the movement last year was, "oh, this doesn't mean anything, it's just a bunch of experts, you know, making a statement about how dangerous the world is"... which is exactly the point. To argue that it is anything but that is to construct an obviously foolish straw man. And really, I don't understand what the counter-argument really was, anyway. That the world was safer than the experts concluded? Maybe it was the inclusion of climate change and Congressional intransigence as serious global security issues that got the critics hackles up, but dismissing the Clock as "just publicity" is just a fool's argument, the ultimate head-in-the-sand gesture. []
  2. "They Know It's Loaded," Time (3 December 1945). The context of the story is a proposal by John A. Wheeler for studying cosmic rays, which he claimed could help further figure out how mass-energy transformation works:

    The present atomic bomb, Professor Wheeler believes, is a mere firecracker. The cornerstone of atomic physics is the Einstein Equation, which shows that all matter, on earth and elsewhere, is merely frozen energy. "It tells us that the most powerful nuclear transformation so far known, the fission of a heavy nucleus, releases only one-1,000th of the energy locked up in its mass." The sub-atomic particles which form the uranium nucleus are not themselves transformed. They are only reshuffled into smaller nuclei, with a tiny loss of mass. If protons, for instance, which are found in all nuclei, could only be transformed into energy, the explosion would be really vigorous.