Life under a Cloud: American Anxiety about the Bomb

In This Review

Life under a Cloud: American Anxiety about the Bomb

By Allan Winkler
Oxford University Press, 1993
282 pp. $27.50
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"For all we know, we have created a Frankenstein!" declared H. V. Kaltenborn in one of the first public comments on Hiroshima. No one yet knows whether he was right or not. Allan Winkler, an accomplished historian from Miami University, Ohio, brings us from the dawn of the atomic age to the present in an engaging survey of the politics of the bomb. The ebb and flow of issues such as fear of fallout, civil defense, the role of the bomb in military strategy and nuclear power plants. Landmark works that helped shape public attitudes, ranging from serious tomes to movies, are also discussed. The theme is irony: the United States, in arming to defend itself, became less secure as a result. The tone is pessimistic: Winkler writes that "deep-rooted and corrosive fears of nuclear destruction have failed in the past fifty years to bring atomic weaponry under effective control." Half empty? Half full? For 50 years, the world has had effective control over the use of the weapon. But throughout that period, civilians have been targets and hostages, with who knows what psychological effects. The critical debate of our time is what to do about nuclear matters. Winkler provides an excellent survey of how we got to where we are.