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Going for the Burn: Medical Preparedness in Early Cold War America

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2021


On September 23, 1949, President Harry Truman announced that the Soviet Union had successfully detonated an atomic bomb. The news that the Soviet Union had done this came as little surprise to a number of American scientists and to some members of the intelligence community who had predicted that the Soviets would quickly acquire this advanced weapons technology. But for many Americans this news was disturbing. Truman’s announcement was taken up by, among others, a young Baptist evangelist named Billy Graham. Opening a tent revival in Los Angeles just two days after the President’s report, Graham preached how the news of the Soviet bomb test had “startled the world” and launched an “arms race unprecedented in the history of the world.” President Truman, he informed his listeners, said that we “must be prepared for any eventuality at any hour….” Perhaps even more ominously he asked the crowd, “Do you know the area that is marked out for the enemy’s first atomic bomb? New York! Secondly, Chicago; and thirdly, the city of Los Angeles!” It was not only evangelical preachers who foresaw catastrophic implications from a growing arsenal of atomic weapons.

Copyright © American Society of Law, Medicine and Ethics 2011

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