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February 20, 2008

How Close?:

Cuban Missiles and the End of the World

Trinity at Almogordo, 1945; Eniwetok, 1952; Soviet MRBM ranges, 1962


My mother burnt red.

My sister burnt red.

And they became a few bones.

--Kawasaki Sakue, age 11, Nagasaki survivor describing a funeral pyre



  • Slideshow of selected photographs (requires Microsoft Powerpoint)
  • Background to the Bomb.
  • Manhattan Project
    • J. Robert Oppenheimer, technical director.
    • Leslie Groves, Army Corps of Engineers. Director, Manhattan Engineer District.
    • 12/2/42 afternoon. Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory.
    • December 1942, $500m appropriation.
    • Hanford
    • Oak Ridge
    • Los Alamos
  • Becoming the Shatterer of Worlds: The Trinity Test
    • Alamagordo Range, Jornada Del Muerto
    • 7/16/45, 5:30. Monday.
    • Groves Memo to Secretary of War Stimson.
    • J. Robert Oppenheimer thoughts. Video, 1965
      • We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, "Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." I suppose we all thought that one way or another.
  • Shattering Worlds: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
    • Fire-Bombing Raids. Beg. March 1945.
    • Potsdam, “unconditional surrender.” July 26 , 1945.
    • Hiroshima: Little Boy, 8/6/45, 8:15 a.m.
    • Nagasaki: Fat Man, 8/9/45, 11:01 a.m.
      • ~40,000 died instantly. 30,000 more in 5 months. Perhaps 140,000 eventually.
      • Photos.
    • Why the Bombs? End war? "Atomic diplomacy"?
    • Smithsonian’s Enola Gay Controversy
  • The Nuclear Age
    • 3 Min. to Midnight: Soviet Bomb, 1949.
    • 2 Min. to Midnight: US Fusion [H-Bomb] Bomb, 11/1/52. Soviet H-Bomb, 8/53.
    • Midnight in Florence, SC. March 12, 1958. Video
    • Hidden Midnight: Over 200 nuclear tests by US between 1945-1962. "The Facts About Fallout."
    • How many bombs do you need? US/USSR comparative graph
        • At height of stockpile in 1976, US had ~15,500 strategic warheads. 10,400 non-strategic warheads, and 26,000 stockpiled.
        • USSR height, 1988, 12,117 strategic, 23,700 non-strategic, 35,817 stockpiled. USSR Graph
        • 1986, 65,056 warheads worldwide between US, USSR, GB, France, and China.
        • 2002, ~20k. US with about half, Russia about 8k.
        • See Natural Resources Defense Council reports


JFK and the Nuclear Age



  Materials for this course were developed by the Presidential Recordings Program at the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs. Site design and Flash transcript+audio design by David Coleman. Flash transcript+audio files by David Coleman, Marc Selverstone, and the Presidential Recordings Program. Audio courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration and the Presidential Libraries of Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. For more resources on the White House tapes see or click here or here.






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