US Environmental History: Inviting Doomsday

By John Wills | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
The Armageddon Experiment: Doom Town USA

The twelfth of August 1953: in response to the US nuclear operation ‘Ivy Mike’ in the Pacific Ocean, the Soviet Union explodes its own hydrogen bomb, nicknamed Joe 4. Charting the dangers of the new atomic era, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moves its doomsday clock forward, to two minutes to midnight, the closest ever to Armageddon. The editorial in the September issue of the bulletin describes how ‘the hands of the clock of doom have moved again. Only a few more swings of the pendulum, and, from Moscow to Chicago, atomic explosions will strike midnight for Western Civilization.’1

In many ways, the atomic bomb was designed to avoid the strike of midnight, to prevent the very fall of Western civilisation and circumvent doomsday. Funded in secret by Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, the US Manhattan Project (1942–45) ushered in the world’s first nuclear device, nicknamed ‘The Gadget’, exploded at the Trinity test site, New Mexico, on 16 July 1945. The founding remit of the Manhattan Project was to defeat Nazi Germany by supplying a nuclear arsenal ahead of the Axis powers. Capable of putting an end to world war, the nuclear bomb initially symbolised a saviour of civilisation, not a doomsayer.

Just a few months after Ivy Mike and Joe 4, President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered his ‘Atoms for Peace’ speech before the United Nations, establishing a framework for the peaceful development of nuclear energy. Cogitating on the nuclear arms

-50-

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