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University of Massachusetts Press
The Dragon's Tail: Americans Face the Atomic Age

The Dragon's Tail: Americans Face the Atomic Age

by Robert JacobsRobert Jacobs
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When President Harry Truman introduced the atomic bomb to the world in 1945, he described it as a God-given harnessing of “the basic power of the universe.” Six days later a New York Times editorial framed the dilemma of the new Atomic Age for its readers: “Here the long pilgrimage of man on Earth turns towards darkness or towards light.” American nuclear scientists, aware of the dangers their work involved, referred to one of their most critical experiments as “tickling the dragon’s tail.” Even after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, most Americans may not have been sure what an atomic bomb was or how it worked. But they did sense that it had fundamentally changed the future of the human race. In this book, Robert Jacobs analyzes the early impact of nuclear weapons on American culture and society. He does so by examining a broad range of stories, or “nuclear narratives,” that sought to come to grips with the implications of the bomb’s unprecedented and almost unimaginable power. Beginning with what he calls the “primary nuclear narrative,” which depicted atomic power as a critical agent of social change that would either destroy the world or transform it for the better, Jacobs explores a variety of common themes and images related to the destructive power of the bomb, the effects of radiation, and ways of surviving nuclear war. He looks at civil defense pamphlets, magazines, novels, and films to recover the stories the U.S. government told its citizens and soldiers as well as those presented in popular culture. According to Jacobs, this early period of Cold War nuclear culture—from 1945 to the banning of above-ground testing in 1963—was distinctive for two reasons: not only did atmospheric testing make Americans keenly aware of the presence of nuclear weapons in their lives, but radioactive fallout from the tests also made these weapons a serious threat to public health, separate from yet directly linked to the danger of nuclear war.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781558497276
Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press
Publication date: 12/31/2009
Series: Culture and Politics in the Cold War and Beyond Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 168
Sales rank: 1,118,177
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Robert A. Jacobs is research assistant professor, Hiroshima Peace Institute, Hiroshima City University.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction: At the Core of the Bomb, Narratives 1

1 Atomic Familiars on the Radioactive Landscape 12

2 Fallout Stories 29

3 Nuclear Approach/Avoidance: Social Scientists and the Bomb 42

4 Survival of Self and Nation under Atomic Attack 61

5 Good Bomb/Bad Bomb 84

6 The Atomic Kid: American Children vs. the Bomb 99

Conclusion: The Magical and the Mundane 118

Notes 123

Index 145

What People are Saying About This

Allan M. Winkler

This is an outstanding book. It uses examples of different narratives beautifully, both outlining and analyzing them with a sense of style and control. It underscores the importance of these narratives in our understanding of the culture of the nuclear age. And it is accessible in ways that should make it attractive to general audiences as well as specialists in the field.

Customer Reviews