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A Voice of Conscience: How Eleanor Roosevelt Helped to Popularize the Debate on Nuclear Fallout, 1950–1954

  • DARIO FAZZI (a1)


This article looks at Eleanor Roosevelt's role within the intense debate on nuclear fallout as it developed in the US in the early 1950s. In particular, the article analyzes Mrs. Roosevelt's position on nuclear weapons, deterrence, and disarmament; her condemnation of nuclear testing; and her role as both a public intellectual and a mass educator who helped people to understand the real consequences of nuclear fallout. Here, Mrs. Roosevelt emerges as an active voice that, by defending freedom of speech, also contributed to popularizing the issue of nuclear fallout and making American citizens aware of the urgency of a ban on nuclear testing.



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1 See Gregg Herken, The Winning Weapon: The Atomic Bomb in the Cold War, 1945–1950 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988), 46.

2 See Paul Boyer, By the Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 102.

3 This is well described by Shane J. Maddock, Nuclear Apartheid: The Quest for American Atomic Supremacy from World War II to the Present (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010).

4 See Joseph Cirincione, Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 21.

5 See Melvyn P. Leffler, “The Emergence of an American Grand Strategy, 1945–1952,” in Melvyn P. Leffler and Odd Arne Westad, eds., The Cambridge History of the Cold War, Volume I, Origins (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 67–89, 83. See also Campbell Craig and Sergey Radchenko, The Atomic Bomb and the Origins of the Cold War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 111.

6 See Melvyn P. Leffler, The Specter of Communism: The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1917–1953 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1994), where the author well explains how the Cold War took shape when ideological rivalry merged with fear of Soviet expansion.

7 See Lawrence S. Wittner, The Struggle against the Bomb, Volume I, One World or None: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement through 1953 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993), 257.

8 See, for example, Daniel Yergin, Shattered Peace: The Origins of the Cold War and the National Security State (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977).

9 See Thomas R. Rochon, Mobilizing for Peace: The Antinuclear Movements in Western Europe (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988), 55.

10 See Boyer, 103.

11 See “General Advisory Committee's Majority and Minority Reports on Building the H-Bomb, October 30, 1949.” It is possible to find the document on the PBS-American Experience website at See also Lawrence S. Wittner, Rebels against War: The American Peace Movement, 1933–1983 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1984), 200. With a few colleagues, Linus Pauling also wrote an “Open Letter to President Truman,” in which the scientists argued that “the decision to manufacture the hydrogen bomb has thrown a shadow of horror across the homes and minds of all Americans.” See “Open Letter to President Truman, February 9, 1950,” Linus Pauling and the International Peace Movement, Web archive, at

12 See McGeorge Bundy, Danger and Survival: Choices about the Bomb in the First Fifty Years (New York: Random House), 1988, 176–84.

13 See US National Archives Records Administration (NARA), Record Group (RG) 59, General Records of the Department of State, Records of the Division of Public Studies (RDPS), “Reports on Public Attitudes toward Foreign Policy 1943–1965,” Box 16, “Opinions and Activities of American Private Organizations and Groups” (OAAPOG), Jan. 1951–Dec. 1952. During these months there are no references to such issues as “atomic energy or “H-bombs.” According to the American nuclear scientist Edward Teller, “thermonuclear weapons made deterrence much stronger.” See Teller's interview at “U. S. Strategic Nuclear Policy: A Video History, 1945–2004. Sandia Labs Historical Video Documents History of U. S. Strategic Nuclear Policy,” at See also Peggy Rosenthal, “The Nuclear Mushroom Cloud as Cultural Image,” American Literary History, 3, 1 (Spring 1991), 63–92; and Margot A. Henriksen, Dr. Strangelove's America: Society and Culture in the Atomic Age (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), xix.

14 See Richard Rhodes, Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995), 406. See also Wittner, The Struggle against the Bomb, Volume I, 258; and Boyer, 105.

15 The most important biographical works on Eleanor Roosevelt are Joseph P. Lash, Eleanor: The Years Alone (New York: Norton & Company, 1972); and Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume I, 1884–1933, and Volume II, 1933–1938 (New York: Viking Penguin, 1992). Doris Kearns Goodwin's No Ordinary Time. Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994); and Maurine H. Beasley, Eleanor Roosevelt: Transformative First Lady (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2010) represent the reference point for analyses dealing with Eleanor Roosevelt during her White House years. Joan Hoff-Wilson and Marjorie Lightman, eds., Without Precedent: The Life and Career of Eleanor Roosevelt (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984); to a certain extent Richard Henry, Eleanor Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); of course, Allida Black's seminal work Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996); and the primary sources collection that she is editing that has so far produced two volumes on the so-called “human rights years” – The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Volume I, The Human Rights Years, 1945–1948 (Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2007) and The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Volume II, The Human Rights Years, 1949–1953 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012) can be considered the most important scholarly works on Eleanor Roosevelt's autonomous political role, as well as on her humanitarian activism. However, the only works on Eleanor Roosevelt's ideas about foreign and security policy are “Turn toward Peace: ER and Foreign Affairs,” the chapter that Blanche Wiesen Cook contributed to Hoff-Wilson and Lightman, Without Precedent, and Jason Berger, A New Deal for the World: Eleanor Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981), 108–21. The quotation is from Black, 3.

16 See “Foreign Policy,” in Maurine H. Beasley, Holly C. Shulman, and Henry R. Beasley, eds., The Eleanor Roosevelt Encyclopedia (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001), 195.

17 Eleanor Roosevelt, My Day, 6 Oct. 1945. All of the My Day columns have been digitized by the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project at the George Washington University and are available on line at Hereafter they are simply mentioned as My Day.

18 Lash, Eleanor, 168–69.

19 Tracey A. Johnstone, “Opinion Polls,” in Beasley, Shulman, and Beasley, The Eleanor Roosevelt Encyclopedia, 393–94.

20 See Beasley, Eleanor Roosevelt, 214.

21 See Black.

22 Berger, 77.

23 My Day, 29 April 1948, 9 March 1948.

24 Ibid., 29 Oct. 1947

25 Ibid., 11 March 1950, 22 March 1950, 22 Oct. 1951.

26 Addressing the ADA convention in 1950, Eleanor Roosevelt ironically admitted to being “afraid to sit down with people I do not know because five years from now someone will say that five of those people were Communists and therefore, you are a Communist – that will be a bad day.” Instead, she wanted “to be able to sit down with anyone who may have a new idea and not be afraid of contamination by association. In a democracy you must be able to meet with people and argue your point of view – [with] people you have not screened beforehand. That must be part of the freedom of people in the United States.” See FDR Library, Recorded Speeches and Utterances by Eleanor Roosevelt, 1933–1962, 1 April 1950, “Mrs. Roosevelt speaks at Americans for Democratic Action Third Annual Convention. Washington, DC (CBS) (6 min),” 68–3, and “Highlights from ‘Americans for Democratic Action.’ Five Tracks,” 63–3.

27 In October 1950, Eleanor Roosevelt endorsed an appeal promoted by the Americans for Democratic Action, which was titled “The Truth about ADA.” The document stated that since Republicans sought to smear democratic candidates, they accused the ADA of being soft on Communism. But the ADA instead “had supported positive programs to defeat communism,” as in the cases of aid to Greece and Turkey, the Marshall Plan, the North Atlantic Pact, or Korea. “Misrepresentations of Republican leaders about ADA are a deliberate part of the attack on forward-looking candidates,” and if these tactics succeed then “the future of democracy is dark indeed.” See Roosevelt Study Center, Presidential Collection and Administrations (hereafter RSC), Papers of Eleanor Roosevelt, 1945–1952, Part 3: General Correspondence, 1950, Reel 2, 0001, ADA, 1950–1952, 30 Oct. 1950.

28 See My Day, 8 Aug. 1945.

29 Regarding Eleanor Roosevelt's ideas, see My Day, 8 Aug. 1945. On the role of the so-called “Doomsday rhetoric,” see, among the others, Nina Tannenwald, The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Non-use of Nuclear Weapons (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Patrick Mannix, The Rhetoric of Antinuclear Fiction: Persuasive Strategies in Novels and Films (Cranbury: Associated University Presses, 1992).

30 See My Day, 25 Sept. 1945.

31 Ibid., 10 Aug. 1945.

32 See Wiesen Cook, “Turn toward Peace,” 118.

33 My Day, 25 Sept. 1945.

34 Ibid., 25 Sept. 1945.

35 According to the former first lady, the risk of losing mutual trust was exacerbated by atomic weapons. Moreover, American monopoly was just a temporary illusion. See My Day, 6 Oct. 1945, where Eleanor Roosevelt says, “We can feel safe in controlling the secret of the atomic bomb until, somewhere else in the world, someone makes the same discoveries that we have made. The minute that happens – and there is no reason it should not happen, since the theoretical principles are known to all scientists – we will realize that we only won a race. We didn't stop all scientific achievements for the future.”

36 See for example Macdonald, Dwight, “Editorial,” Politics, 2, 8 (Aug. 1945), 225 , quoted in Farrell, James J., “American Atomic Culture,” in American Quarterly, 434, 1 (March 1991), 157–64, 157.

37 See Odd Arne Westad, “The Cold War and the International History of the Twentieth Century,” in Leffler and Westad, Cambridge History of the Cold War, Volume I, 1–19, 3.

38 See Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986), 751. See also Glenn T. Seaborg, The Plutonium Story: The Journals of Professor Glenn T. Seaborg, 1939–1946 (Columbus: Battelle Press, 1994), 117 and Boyer, By the Bomb's Early Light, 50. Finally, see Jessica C. E. Gienow-Hecht, “Culture and the Cold War in Europe,” in Leffler and Westad, 398–419, 398.

39 On this point, nuclear analysts have developed the appealing idea of “nuclear sublime.” See Masco, Joseph, “Nuclear Technoaesthetics: Sensory Politics from Trinity to the Virtual Bomb in Los Alamos,” American Ethnologist, 31, 3 (Aug. 2004), 349–73. See also Wilson, Rob, “Towards the Nuclear Sublime: Representations of Technological Vastness in Postmodern American Poetry,” Prospects, 14 (Oct. 1989), 407–39. This triumphalist idea is strictly connected to the concept of nuclearism, as developed by Robert Jay Lifton and Richard A. Falk in Indefensible Weapons: The Political and Psychological Case against Nuclearism (New York: Basic Books, 1991); and more recently explained by Taylor, Bryan C., “‘Our Bruised Arms Hung Up as Monuments’: Nuclear Iconography in Post-Cold War Culture,” Critical Studies in Media Communication, 20, 1 (Oct. 2010), 134 .

40 See William L. Laurence, “The Atom Gives Up,” Saturday Evening Post, 7 Sept. 1940, 32–33, quoted in Tom Zoellner, Uranium: War, Energy, and the Rock That Shaped the World (New York: Viking, 2009), 134.

41 On the controversial figure of Edward Teller see Gregg Herken, Brotherhood of the Bomb: The Tangled Lives and Loyalties of Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, and Edward Teller (New York: Henry Holt, 2002); Peter Goodchild, Edward Teller: The Real Dr. Strangelove (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004). The AEC reports are quoted in the New York Times, 14 April 1958.

42 Morgenthau, Hans J., “The H-Bomb and After,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 6, 1 (March 1950), 7677 . See also Boyer, 101.

43 See Melvyn P. Leffler, “The Emergence of an American Grand Strategy,” in Leffler and Westad, 67–89, 70.

44 See Farrell, James J., “Making (Common) Sense of the Bomb in the First Nuclear War,” American Studies Journal, 36, 2 (Fall 1995), 541 , 7–8, quoting Wertsch, James V., “Modes of Discourse in the Nuclear Arms Debate,” Current Research on Peace and Violence, 10, 2–3 (1987), 102–12.

45 Such nuclear optimism, which combined discourses of nationalism with elements of scientism, encompassed a variety of Western, mainly American, ideals and mainstream beliefs: individualism, overcoming of spatial and ideal frontiers, an energetic capitalist spirit and entrepreneurship, competitiveness and technological superiority, the idea that natural resources can be legitimately exploited to achieve superior ends. See Shane J. Maddock, Nuclear Apartheid: The Quest for Atomic Supremacy from World War II to the Present (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010). Regarding the process of institutionalization see National Security Council document no. 30 (NSC 30), which was titled “United States Policy on Atomic Warfare” and set up the bases of the early US nuclear policy. NSC 30 considered nuclear weapons as instruments to counterbalance Soviet military preponderance in Eastern Europe. Among the other indications, the document also stated that “in event of hostilities, the National Military Establishment must be ready to utilize promptly and effectively all appropriate means available, including atomic weapons, in the interest of national security.” See David A. Rosenberg, “Constraining Overkill: Contending Approaches to Nuclear Strategy, 1955–1965,” at; and Rosenberg, “American Atomic Strategy and the Hydrogen Bomb Decision,” Journal of American History, 66, 1 (June 1979), 6287 . See Tannenwald, The Nuclear Taboo, 112. See also Philip L. Cantelon, Richard G. Hewlett, and Robert C. Williams, eds., The American Atom: A Documentary History of Nuclear Policies from the Discovery of Fission to the Present (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992). The text of another fundamental National Security Council nuclear paper, NSC 20/4, “U. S. Objectives with Respect to the USSR to Counter Soviet Threats to U. S. Security,” 23 Nov. 1948, is available at–4.htm. See Edwards E. Spalding, The First Cold Warrior: Harry Truman, Containment, and the Remaking of Liberal Internationalism (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2006), 163–168.

46 See FDR Library, Recorded Speeches and Utterances by Eleanor Roosevelt, 1933–1962, 12 Feb. 1950, Today with Mrs. Roosevelt.

47 See the report in Newsweek, 27 Feb. 1950, which is also quoted by Helen Jane Wamboldt, “A Descriptive and Analytical Study of the Speaking Career of Anna Eleanor Roosevelt,” PhD dissertation, University of Southern California, June 1952, 307.

48 Eleanor Roosevelt regretted Lilienthal's forced resignation and publicly sympathized with him: “Mr. Lilienthal, on behalf of all of us who are citizens of this country and as a sign of our appreciation for your many years of public service, I would like to present you this token of our gratitude,” the former first lady said, presenting him a silver plate after hosting him in a radio show. “We regret your resignation from the post of chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission … I think I couldn't tell you how much I regret you are going,” she concluded. See Franklyn D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Recorded Speeches and Utterances by Eleanor Roosevelt, 1933–1962, 12 Feb. 1950, Today with Mrs. Roosevelt: “Atomic Energy and the H-Bomb,” 75–8:23.

49 See Library of Congress, J. Robert Oppenheimer Papers, Speech, Lecture, and Writing File, 1926–1966, Roosevelt, Eleanor, NBC program, 1950, Folders 1 and 2. Oppenheimer, at that time president of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies, privately confessed to Mrs. Roosevelt that “even a group of scientists is not proof against the errors of suggestion and hysteria,” and that scientists’ accounts are “fallible and subject to error.” But since reaching consensus, especially on nuclear matters, was such a troublesome and difficult task, dialogue and free exchange of opinions had to be granted and promoted. See Robert Oppenheimer, signed letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, 19 May 1950, in Library of Congress, J. Robert Oppenheimer Papers, General Case File, 1799–1967, Roosevelt, Eleanor (1884–1962), 1950–1965.

50 For newspaper clippings relating to Einstein's pronouncement see Library of Congress, J. Robert Oppenheimer Papers, Speech, Lecture, and Writing File, 1926–1966, Roosevelt, Eleanor, NBC program, 1950, Folder 2. See also “Albert Einstein Warns of Dangers in Nuclear Arms Race,” NBC News, New York: NBC Universal, 02/12/1950, at

51 See FDR Library, Recorded Speeches and Utterances by Eleanor Roosevelt, 1933–1962, 12 Feb. 1950, Today with Mrs. Roosevelt, television show.

52 Ibid.

53 My Day, 3 July 1950, 22 Aug. 1950.

54 See RSC, Papers of Eleanor Roosevelt, 1945–1962, Part 1, Reel 27, 00670, “United States Delegation to the General Assembly of the United Nations, Press Release No. 14193, February 1, 1952, Text of the Weekly Commentary by Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, in French, broadcast at 8 P. M. (Paris time), Sunday, Feb. 3, on the Programme Parisien of the Radio-Diffusion Francaise.”

55 For the popular impact that Eleanor Roosevelt's radio programs had in the early 1950s see Anya Luscombe, “Eleanor Roosevelt as ‘Ordinary’ Citizen and ‘Expert’ on Radio in the Early 1950s,” in SAGE Open, Sept. 2014, 4.

56 RSC, Eleanor Roosevelt Radio Programs, 1950–1951, 3 Dec. 1950, “From Transcription Disk, NBC TV Presents ‘Mrs. Roosevelt Meets the Public.’ Discussion: Should We Use the Atom Bomb Now? (WNBT Channel 4).” The guest was Dr. Theodore Benjamin.

57 RSC, Eleanor Roosevelt Radio Programs, 1950–1951, 31 Jan. 1950.

58 In November 1951 Mrs. Roosevelt initiated a series of weekly talks to be broadcast in French by her over the French National Network. The commentaries, reordered in Paris and broadcast in Belgium, Switzerland, Eastern Europe, and North Africa, through the facilities of Voice of America, touched upon a wide range of issues. See RSC, Papers of Eleanor Roosevelt, 1945–1962, Part 1, Reel 26, 00514, “Weekly ER Radio Broadcasts,” 7 Dec. 1951.

59 See ibid., 29 Nov. 1951.

60 Ibid., Nov. 16, 1951. She was very critical of Acheson's timid proposal, which she regarded as “signally silent,” to outlaw the atomic weapons. She said, “with a commission of control which does not yet exist there can be no prohibition … Let us leave this pseudological argumentation to the logicians and sophists.” See RSC, Papers of Eleanor Roosevelt, 1945–1962, Part 1, Reel 26, 00149, “US Delegation to the 6th GA, Verbatim Text of the Statement by the Representative of the USSR in the 453rd Meeting of Committee 1, November 24, 1951.”

61 RSC, Eleanor Roosevelt Radio Programs, 1950–1951, 14 Dec. 1950.

62 See Eleanor Roosevelt Address to the UN General Assembly, “Freedoms We Do Not Want to Lose,” 17 Dec. 1951, RSC, Papers of Eleanor Roosevelt, 1945–1962, Part 2, United Nations Human Rights Commission Correspondence and Publications, Reel 2, 0496, General Correspondence and Materials, 1948–1953 (Jan.–Dec. 1951).

63 See RSC, Eleanor Roosevelt Radio Programs, 1950–1951, 31 Jan. 1950. She also said that she would love to have “something which would oblige us to sit down around the table first instead of second,” and remarked that this could not be the H-bomb.

64 Ibid.

65 Ibid.

66 Two weeks after the elections, Eleanor Roosevelt received a letter from the Department of State, in which it was suggested that she tender a “letter of resignation on or before December 15, 1952, addressing it to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and postdating it Jan. 20, 1953.” See RSC, Papers of Eleanor Roosevelt, 1945–1952, Part 4: General Correspondence, 1951–1952, Reel 6, 0446. When she received the request, she said that her appointment as a delegate to the General Assembly would expire automatically at the close of the assembly itself and that as for her appointment as United States Representative on the Human Rights Commission the custom that all presidential appointees shall automatically resign upon a change of administration applied. She also added that she did not know the plans of the incoming administration but she would, of course, “continue to work for the advancement of human rights and the other objectives of the United Nations.” See statement by Mrs. Roosevelt, undated, in RSC, Papers of Eleanor Roosevelt, 1945–1962, Part 1, Reel 27, 00650. She wrote at least four different revised version of the resignation letter between 4 and 8 December. In the end, she issued the letter on 15 December, but she did not renounce stressing the importance of the human rights discussions at the UN and she hoped they would continue under new President's auspices. Eisenhower accepted her resignation on 30 December 1952, when he was not yet President. See RSC, Papers of Eleanor Roosevelt, 1945–1962, Part 1, Reel 27, 00651.

67 See John L. Gaddis, Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar National Security (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), 147; T. V. Paul, The Tradition of Non-use of Nuclear Weapons (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009), 142. See also Appu K. Soman, Double-Edged Sword. Nuclear Diplomacy in Unequal Conflicts: The United States and China, 1950–1958 (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000), 37.

68 See Robert J. McMahon, “U.S. National Security Policy from Eisenhower to Kennedy,” in Leffler and Westad, Cambridge History of the Cold War, Volume I, 288–311, 289.

69 The full text of NSC 162/2 is available online; see Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952–1954, Volume II, Part 1, National Security Affairs, Document 100, “S/S–NSC files, lot 63 D 351, NSC 162. Report to the National Security Council by the Executive Secretary,” at See David Holloway, “Nuclear Weapons and the Escalation of the Cold War, 1945–1962,” in Leffler and Westad, 376–97, 385.

70 A Special Committee for World Reconstruction and World Disarmament was organized in 1950 to undertake research; offer publications; and conduct widespread community meetings, conferences, and workshops on these issues. Papers of that committee are among the Swarthmore College Peace Collection; see and–050/dg043wilpf/index.htm. In 1952, the name of the committee was changed to the Committee for World Development and World Disarmament. The New York office of the WILPF served as headquarters of this committee. See “Pioneers for Peace and Freedom: A Short History of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom,” WILPF, 1952, in RSC, Papers of Eleanor Roosevelt, 1945–1952, Part 4: General Correspondence, 1951–1952, Reel 20, 00773; and–050/dg043wilpf/history.htm.

71 See Mrs. William Barclay Parsons to Eleanor Roosevelt, 14 July 1952, in RSC, Papers of Eleanor Roosevelt, 1945–1952, Part 4: General Correspondence, 1951–1952, Reel 14, 000534.

72 On 21 June 1952, 20 organizations submitted a declaration to the US ambassador to the UN. See Press Release No. 1503, in RSC, Papers of Eleanor Roosevelt, 1945–1952, Part 4: General Correspondence, 1951–1952, Reel 14, 000536.

73 See RSC, Papers of Eleanor Roosevelt, 1945–1952, Part 4: General Correspondence, 1951–1952, Reel 14, 1038.

74 See RSC, Papers of Eleanor Roosevelt, 1945–1952, Part 4: General Correspondence, 1951–1952, Reel 15, 000954.

75 My Day, 16 April 1954.

76 See Rochon, Mobilizing for Peace, 58–73.

77 See Robert Kleidman, Organizing for Peace: Neutrality, the Test Ban, and the Freeze (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1993), 23. See also NARA, RG 59, RDPS, Box 17, OAAPOG, May 1954, Jan. 1955, and Feb. 1955.

78 But the reality was slightly different. Indeed, as many official documents show, the administration still had a policy of “free use of nuclear weapons,” in utter contrast with the administration's public moves. See, for example, “Use of United Kingdom Bases and Consultation with the United Kingdom on the Use of Atomic Weapons, Memorandum of Conversation, 6 March 1953, Top Secret”; “Memorandum for the President from Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, The Eden Visit: Use of Atomic Weapons, 7 March 1953, Top Secret”; and “Memorandum for Mr. Gordon Arneson from Under Secretary of State Walter B. Smith, 12 March 1953, Top Secret,” in NARA, RG 59, Decimal Files 1950–1954, 711.5611, various dates, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) release.

79 See Holloway, “Nuclear Weapons and the Escalation of the Cold War,” 383; and Coleman, David G., “Eisenhower and the Berlin Problem, 1953–1954,” Journal of Cold War Studies, 2, 1 (Winter 2000), 334 .

80 See “U. S. Strategic Nuclear Policy: A Video History, 1945–2004,” at

81 The roentgen (R) is a unit that measures ionizing radiation; the maximum tolerable by human beings before serious problems or relevant genetic modifications can appear is about 1 R per hour.

82 On 11 March the AEC announced that 236 inhabitants of the Marshall Islands and 28 Americans were evacuated from the area of the test because they “had unexpectedly become the subject of some radiation during a nuclear test routinely conducted at the Marshall Islands.” See Simpson, Mary M., “Atomic Weapons at Home and Abroad,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 10, 4 (April 1954), 141–44, 141.

83 For further details on the Lucky Dragon incident see Mark D. Merlin and Ricardo M. Gonzalez, “Environmental Impacts of Nuclear Testing in Remote Oceania, 1946–1996,” in John R. McNeill and Corinna R. Unger, eds., Environmental Histories of the Cold War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 167–202.

84 For technical data related to this test see the Nuclear Weapon Archive, “Operation Castle 1954: Pacific Proving Ground,” at

85 See Lawrence S. Wittner, The Struggle against the Bomb, Volume II, Resisting the Bomb: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, 1954–1970 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997); Paul Boyer, Fallout: A Historian Reflects on America's Half-Century Encounter with Nuclear Weapons (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1998); and Robert Divine, Blowing on the Wind: The Nuclear Test Ban Debate, 1954–1960 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978). See also Barton C. Hacker, Elements of Controversy: The Atomic Energy Commission and Radiation Safety in Nuclear Weapons Testing, 1947–1974 (Berkeley: University of California Press), 181–82, 198, 222–30; Peter Eisler, “Fallout Likely Caused 15,000 Deaths,” USA Today, 28 Feb. 2002; James Glanz, “Almost All in the U. S. Have Been Exposed to Fallout, Study Finds,” New York Times, 1 March 2002.

86 The conversation is reported by Wittner, The Struggle against the Bomb, Volume II, 128–29.

87 See Armed Forces Special Weapons Project, “Technical Analysis: Radioactive Fall-Out Hazards from Surface Bursts or Very High Yield Nuclear Weapons,” May 1954, excised copy, US Department of Energy, FOIA release, online at

88 See “Editor's Note,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 9, 7 (Sept. 1953), 235; and Eugene Rabinowitch, “Hydrogen Bomb and the Great Unsolved Problems,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 10, 5 (May 1954), 146–47, 146.

89 See Hans Bethe, “1954,” in Los Alamos Science, Fall 1982, 43–53.

90 Wittner, The Struggle against the Bomb, Volume II, 2. On Strauss see US Atomic Energy Commission, Letter from the Chairman and Members of the United States Atomic Energy Commission (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1954), 41.

91 See Boyer, Fallout, 82.

92 See Divine, Blowing on the Wind, 78; see also Howard D. Lipshitz, ed., Genes, Development and Cancer: The Life and Work of Edward B. Lewis (San Francisco: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2004); Richard L. Miller, Under the Cloud: The Decades of Nuclear Testing (London: Two-Sixty Press, 1986); Jennifer Caron, “Edward Lewis and Radioactive Fallout: The Impact of Caltech Biologists on the Debate over Nuclear Weapons Testing in the 1950s and 1960s,” (senior thesis, California Institute of Technology, 2003); Caron, “Biology and ‘the Bomb’,” Engineering and Science, 67, 2 (2004), 1627 ; Dexter, Ralph W., “The Crisis between Science and Society: A Modern Paradox,” Ohio Journal of Science, 58, 1 (Jan. 1958), 16 .

93 See Sturtevant, Alfred H., “The Genetic Effects of High Energy Irradiation of Human Populations,” Engineering and Science, 18 (Jan. 1955), 912 .

95 See David R. Inglis, “Comments on Atomic Energy Control and Disarmament,” Washington Post, 18 Jan. 1953, in NARA, RG 59, RDPS, Box 17, OAAPOG, Jan. 1953.

96 My Day, 5 April 1954.

97 Ibid., 13 April 1954.

98 Ibid., 15 Sept. 1954.

99 See FDR Library, Recorded Speeches and Utterances by Eleanor Roosevelt, 1933–1962, 11 April 1954, “Mrs. Roosevelt Interviewed on Meet the Press: On the Army, McCarthy Hearing. (NBC), ” 75–8:32.

100 My Day, 3 July 1957.

101 Ibid., 14 Aug. 1958, 16 Aug. 1958.

102 Ibid., 21 Feb. 1955.

103 Ibid., 7 April 1958

104 On how such public intellectuals as Bertrand Russell, Norman Cousins, Albert Schweitzer, and Linus Puling influenced Eleanor Roosevelt's attitudes toward the nuclear debate, I would like to refer to my forthcoming book A Voice of Conscience.

105 My Day, 4 Nov. 1959

106 See Milton S. Katz, Ban the Bomb: A History of SANE, the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, 1957–1985 (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986)

107 At the moment, I am working on a monograph specifically aiming at uncover more details about such an intriguing relationship; see note 104 above.

108 See Wittner, The Struggle against the Bomb, Volume II, 13.

109 The cartoon, Our Friend the Atom, was aired on 23 Jan. 1957 by the ABC network and it is available online at

110 See Harriet Hyman Alonso, “Peace and Women's Issues in U.S. History,” OAH Magazine of History, 8, 3, special issue on peacemaking in American history (Spring 1994), 20–25, 22. See also Marian Mollin, Radical Pacifism in Modern America: Egalitarianism and Protest (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006).

111 See, for instance, Hubert H. Humphrey, “What Hope for Disarmament?”, New York Times, 5 Jan. 1958; “The Price of Disarmament,” New York Times, 29 March 1960; and finally also “Texts of Nixon–Brezhnev Declaration and of Joint Communique at End of Visit,” New York Times, 30 May 1972. In all of these sources, the idea that national states should renounce part of their sovereignty in order to make progress in nuclear negotiations is stated clearly.

The author is grateful to his colleagues at the RSC for their invaluable help with the primary research on Eleanor Roosevelt and to professors Lawrence Wittner, Allida Black, Charles Postel, and Mario Del Pero for being a constant source of inspiration. The author would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers of this article for their precious comments and suggestions.


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