After the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945, the Soviets began an intensive effort to build their own nuclear weapons. Tremendous government support and information from spies within the American atomic program enabled them to succeed quickly. In August 1949, the first Soviet atomic bomb was exploded in Kazakhstan.
U.S. officials were determined to maintain the edge in the nuclear arms race. Following detonation of the Soviet bomb, President Harry S. Truman approved the development of a more powerful
fusion-based hydrogen bomb. In November 1952, the first American hydrogen bomb was successfully tested on the Pacific island of Eniwetok. Nine months later, the Soviets exploded their own hydrogen weapon. At the same time, the Eisenhower administration adopted the “New Look,” a defense strategy based on an expanded nuclear arsenal, additional collective security agreements, and
greater use of covert operations. Because nuclear weapons were less expensive than their conventional counterparts, Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson explained, the New Look offered “more bang for the buck.”
As the U.S. nuclear arsenal grew, the federal government tried to calm popular anxiety about atomic war. From 1951 until 1965, the Atomic Energy Commission conducted civil defense programs all over the United States. Through publications, films, and evacuation
drills, the Atomic Energy Commission trained citizens to ‘prepare’ for nuclear attack. During the same period, the U.S. conducted hundreds of atmospheric and underground nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean and the Nevada desert. The tests usually went unnoticed by the general public, and the government made little effort to assess the effects of the fallout released. In response,
atomic scientists and peace activists warned that fallout could trigger epidemics of cancer and widespread birth defects. In 1958, fears of fallout prompted the U.S. and the Soviet Union to suspend atmospheric nuclear tests. (document continued on link above.) This selection includes reading questions.