Nuclear Rhetoric: Time and Space in Cold War America

Authors: Jacquelyn Southern*, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Topics: Cultural Geography, Landscape, Anthropocene
Keywords: Nuclear weapons and power, geographic imaginary, nuclear landscapes, Cold War
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: 8224, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Numerous scholars have noted the use of an exoticizing, racist geographic imaginary to legitimate open-air nuclear tests in the 1950s. Atomic bombs were dropped on indigenous lands in the United States, its territories, and other nations’ colonial outposts, with a trope of ‘empty wasteland’ serving as justification for repositioning what were in fact occupied, often sovereign lands as suitable sacrifice zones for the nuclear arms race. In this paper I explore postwar geographic imaginaries and rhetoric to understand how they helped to enlist support for expansion of nuclear labs, factories, and other projects throughout the United States, especially in what then were literally greenfields. I focus especially on a close reading of contemporary journalism as a part of the dialogical field whose statist voice primitivized people and places identified as ripe for atomic transformation by military and scientific modernization. Although important journalists like Gladwin Hill and Daniel Lang later became vocal critics, their writings in the 1950s and 1960s helped to normalize nuclear expansion in rural areas and small towns; contain objections to lost landscapes, voice, and ways of life; and interpellate postwar subjects who accepted and even embraced the growing nuclear presence.

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