The Atomic Age Feasted On Fear

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The unknown outcome of the Atomic Age plagued American society with fear. The public was influenced by the use of what some may call propaganda and tales of doom. Sources such as Duck and Cover by the Office of Civil Defence, Atomic War! by Ace Comics, and Snow by Julia Alvarez, show the Atomic Age was fueled by the fears of the American citizens.

Three American values that were prevalent during the Atomic Age were unity, honesty, and optimism. During the Atomic Age, unity was promoted as the only way America would survive a nuclear incident. For example, many people worked together during the Atomic Age to create safety zones that could protect people in the event of a nuclear war. American comic artists in the Atomic Age used honesty in order to capture people’s attention. For example, the Atomic War! comic illustrates with brutal honesty that not even the strongest and largest of cities, such as New York, are safe from a nuclear bomb. The image of the Empire State Building, an iconic landmark, can be seen bending under the pressure of an atomic explosion. Lastly, the American value of optimism kept Americans hopeful. All of the actions used as precautionary measures such as, “Duck and Cover”, shelters, and uniting together, brought optimism to the American people because it made them feel that they would ultimately be safe. (If Americans can be trained to find cover, they would have the hope and optimism of surviving.)

The general argument made by the Office of Civil Defense in their work, Duck and Cover, is that Americans should be fearful of a nuclear war because it could happen at anytime and anywhere (but at the same time, hopeful for their survival). More specifically, the Office of Civil Defense argues that like Bert the turtle hides under his shell, Americans must find some sort of shelter. They write, “You must learn to find shelter” (Office of Civil Defense, 1470). In this document, the Office of Civil Defense is suggesting that in the event of a nuclear war, finding shelter is the most optimistic solution for survival. In conclusion, the Office of Civil Defense’s belief is that finding shelter (and having constant drills) will save people’s lives.

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Although, what the Office of Civil Defense says about fallout shelter saving lives in the event of a nuclear war may be true in some cases, their position fails to take into account the time needed to find a shelter before the bomb strikes. A closer look at Duck and Cover reveals people in the 20th century thought the atomic bomb was like any other, non-radioactive bomb. (Looking back with a 20th century view, the American government in the 1950’s did not have the knowledge that Americans have today.) This suggests that in order to squelch fear, the government tried to instill optimism by convincing people that any form of cover would protect them, even something as simple as a desk or a piece of newspaper. Therefore, people were too naive in the 20th century to realize the true threat of a nuclear bomb.

The argument made by Ace Comics in their work Atomic War! is that without a strong government, atomic war is inevitable. More specifically, Ace Comics argues that atomic war will destroy large cities by its brutally honest illustration of the utter devastation of New York as a result of a nuclear blast. The write, “Only a strong America can prevent atomic war!” (Ace Comics, 1467). In this comic, Ace Comics uses art and statements, which could be seen as threats, to make Americans fear the future. In conclusion, Ace Comics’ belief is that America needs to stay strong by uniting to stop possible nuclear threats.

Although what Ace Comics says about preventing atomic war may be true in some cases, their position fails to take other factors to preventing war into account. A closer look at Atomic War! reveals that whoever is close enough to the detonation site of the nuclear bomb will perish no matter the strength of unity throughout the country. This suggests that depending on where the nuclear bomb lands, many people’s precautions in preparing were done for nothing. Therefore, no matter how well Americans work together, their efforts would be wasted if the bomb detonates.

The general argument made my Julia Alvarez in her work Snow is that a misconception of reality can make something seem more dangerous than it truly is when paranoia is in the air. More specifically, Julia Alvarez argues that everyone is so paranoid and fearful of nuclear fallout that they perceive something as simple as snowflakes as something harmful, like ash from a nuclear bomb. She writes, “One morning, as I sat at my desk daydreaming out the window, I saw dots in the air like the ones Sister Zoe has drawn -- random at first, then lots and lots” (Julia Alvarez, 1478). In this passage, Julia Alvarez is suggesting that when people are fearful, their mind immediately goes to a scary place and they are relieved the honest truth is not so scary. In conclusion, Julia Alvarez’s belief is that fear of violence can cause a distortion of reality.

Although, what Julia Alvarez says about society’s view distorting reality may be true in some cases, her position fails to take the imagination of children into account. A closer look at children’s imagination reveals that a kid’s perception of reality is skewed towards what they believe to be truthful and what is not. This suggests that adolescents are more likely to perceive something as malignant if they had just learned about a violent topic and are scared. Therefore, it is difficult to determine whether or not to believe what children say because of their imaginative minds.

The Atomic Age fueled America with fear to make it more dramatic than necessary. Many believed that the only way to prevent war is to unite the whole country. Honesty was valued as a reality check to the utter devastation of nuclear activity and that things aren’t what they seem. Even though many people feared the worst, they tried to remain optimistic. It’s hard to tell how America would address fear with the values of unity, honesty, and optimism in this day and age. With the technology and resources available in this world today, how would America defuse modern fears?

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