18. The atomic bomb and culture
In the 1950s the atomic bomb changed world culture, political discourse, literature, comic books, films, television, music, and even fashion. The new two-piece women’s swimwear was given the name bikini by its designer, after the atoll which was by then too hot to occupy. Nuclear fission created nuclear fiction. Nuclear explosions and radiation became plot devices in all sorts of entertainment. Nuclear weapons were used to battle and create monsters of all types, from Godzilla to the Blob. They were deployed against invading aliens, and the creation of a doomsday machine, which would destroy the world of its own accord, appeared in several novels and films, including the black comedy Dr. Strangelove. It was an irradiated spider which was responsible for the birth of Spiderman, and atomic bombs were featured in the creation stories for a new religion, Scientology.
The Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation brought about literature based on espionage, sabotage, and the capture of nuclear weapons and facilities by both sides of the socio-political divide. It became a major debating point during national elections; in 1960 John Kennedy warned of the growing “missile gap” between the United States and the USSR, at a time when US nuclear weapons outnumbered those of the Soviets by a factor of more than 8 to 1. Throughout the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, the Soviets and the United States engaged in an arms race which centered around nuclear superiority, as well as the means to protect their respective nuclear arsenals, including submarines and anti-submarine warfare capability, missiles and tracking satellites, better and faster bombers, and massive espionage programs. The atomic weapons programs of several nations have dominated international diplomacy since 1945, and no doubt will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.