Spanning countries across the globe, the antinuclear movement was the combined effort of millions of people to challenge the superpowers’ reliance on nuclear weapons during the Cold War. Encompassing an array of tactics, from radical dissent to public protest to opposition within the government, this movement succeeded in constraining the arms race and helping to make the use of nuclear weapons politically unacceptable. Antinuclear activists were critical to the establishment of arms control treaties, although they failed to achieve the abolition of nuclear weapons, as anticommunists, national security officials, and proponents of nuclear deterrence within the United States and Soviet Union actively opposed the movement. Opposition to nuclear weapons evolved in tandem with the Cold War and the arms race, leading to a rapid decline in antinuclear activism after the Cold War ended.
The Soviet Union’s successful launch of the first artificial satellite Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, captured global attention and achieved the initial victory in what would soon become known as the space race. This impressive technological feat and its broader implications for Soviet missile capability rattled the confidence of the American public and challenged the credibility of U.S. leadership abroad. With the U.S.S.R.’s launch of Sputnik, and then later the first human spaceflight in 1961, U.S. policymakers feared that the public and political leaders around the world would view communism as a viable and even more dynamic alternative to capitalism, tilting the global balance of power away from the United States and towards the Soviet Union.
Reactions to Sputnik confirmed what members of the U.S. National Security Council had predicted: the image of scientific and technological superiority had very real, far-reaching geopolitical consequences. By signaling Soviet technological and military prowess, Sputnik solidified the link between space exploration and national prestige, setting a course for nationally funded space exploration for years to come. For over a decade, both the Soviet Union and the United States funneled significant financial and personnel resources into achieving impressive firsts in space, as part of a larger effort to win alliances in the Cold War contest for global influence.
From a U.S. vantage point, the space race culminated in the first Moon landing in July 1969. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy proposed Project Apollo, a lunar exploration program, as a tactic for restoring U.S. prestige in the wake of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s spaceflight and the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion. To achieve Kennedy’s goal of sending a man to the Moon and returning him safely back to Earth by the end of the decade, the United States mobilized a workforce in the hundreds of thousands. Project Apollo became the most expensive government funded civilian engineering program in U.S. history, at one point stretching to more than 4 percent of the federal budget. The United States’ substantial investment in winning the space race reveals the significant status of soft power in American foreign policy strategy during the Cold War.
Mass transit has been part of the urban scene in the United States since the early 19th century. Regular steam ferry service began in New York City in the early 1810s and horse-drawn omnibuses plied city streets starting in the late 1820s. Expanding networks of horse railways emerged by the mid-19th century. The electric streetcar became the dominant mass transit vehicle a half century later. During this era, mass transit had a significant impact on American urban development. Mass transit’s importance in the lives of most Americans started to decline with the growth of automobile ownership in the 1920s, except for a temporary rise in transit ridership during World War II. In the 1960s, congressional subsidies began to reinvigorate mass transit and heavy-rail systems opened in several cities, followed by light rail systems in several others in the next decades. Today concerns about environmental sustainability and urban revitalization have stimulated renewed interest in the benefits of mass transit.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History. Please check back later for the full article.
Nuclear arms control has existed as long as the armaments themselves. American plans to limit or eliminate these weapons of mass destruction were put forward, even as the United States and nine other countries—the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, South Africa, India, Pakistan, and North Korea—amassed stockpiles of explosives that harnessed the energies generated by the fission or fusion of atomic nuclei. Since 1945, the United States has sought to reduce its arsenal conjointly with the Soviet Union and (after 1991) Russia. Efforts have been made to inhibit new states from acquiring nuclear weapons, discourage their military use, and perhaps even allow for their eventual abolition.
Scholars disagree as to why the United States has engaged in nuclear arms control since World War II. The history of nuclear weapons encompasses intellectual theories and cultural attitudes as much as material or strategic developments. The overarching debate is one of structure versus agency: whether the weapons’ sheer power, or the attitudes of historical powers toward them, has driven arms control. Among those who stress agency, there are two further disagreements: (a) the influence of domestic culture, protest, and politics; and (b) whether nuclear arms control is an end in itself, or merely a means to end, namely the entrenchment of American power throughout the world.
The intensity of arms control efforts tends to rise and fall with the apparent likelihood of nuclear war. Faith in the country’s nuclear monopoly encouraged Harry Truman to sabotage early efforts at control, while Dwight Eisenhower’s faith in nuclear deterrence led to a similar destination. Mounting fears of a U.S.-Soviet thermonuclear exchange, in the late 1950s, stirred protest movements and diplomatic efforts in the direction of control. The spread of nuclear weapons to new states impelled presidential administrations from John F. Kennedy to Jimmy Carter to work against the expansion of nuclear arms, culminating in the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Richard Nixon proved the exception to these trends. Not only did he downplay proliferation, but his pursuit of the 1974 Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty was motivated by a cynical goal: improvement of America’s strategic position after the Vietnam War via détente with the Soviet Union. Rising fear of nuclear war under Ronald Reagan produced two more landmark U.S.-Soviet agreements: the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). Since the end of the Cold War, the attention of the United States has swung away from bilateral arms control treaties or nuclear disarmament, to the spread of nuclear weapons as the unipolar moment. The mounting prominence of regional conflicts, failed states, and non-state actors has stolen attention away from efforts to put the atomic genie back in the bottle.
Since the social sciences began to emerge as scholarly disciplines in the last quarter of the 19th century, they have frequently offered authoritative intellectual frameworks that have justified, and even shaped, a variety of U.S. foreign policy efforts. They played an important role in U.S. imperial expansion in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Scholars devised racialized theories of social evolution that legitimated the confinement and assimilation of Native Americans and endorsed civilizing schemes in the Philippines, Cuba, and elsewhere. As attention shifted to Europe during and after World War I, social scientists working at the behest of Woodrow Wilson attempted to engineer a “scientific peace” at Versailles. The desire to render global politics the domain of objective, neutral experts intensified during World War II and the Cold War. After 1945, the social sciences became increasingly central players in foreign affairs, offering intellectual frameworks—like modernization theory—and bureaucratic tools—like systems analysis—that shaped U.S. interventions in developing nations, guided nuclear strategy, and justified the increasing use of the U.S. military around the world.
Throughout these eras, social scientists often reinforced American exceptionalism—the notion that the United States stands at the pinnacle of social and political development, and as such has a duty to spread liberty and democracy around the globe. The scholarly embrace of conventional political values was not the result of state coercion or financial co-optation; by and large social scientists and policymakers shared common American values. But other social scientists used their knowledge and intellectual authority to critique American foreign policy. The history of the relationship between social science and foreign relations offers important insights into the changing politics and ethics of expertise in American public policy.
Gary R. Edgerton
Television is an ever-evolving and multi-dimensional medium, being at once a technology, an industry, an art form, and an institutional force. In the United States, it emerged as an idea whose time had come at the end of World War II. TV eventually grew and matured into the most influential social and cultural catalyst shaping and reflecting American civilization during the second half of the 20th century. Television revolutionized the way citizens and consumers in the United States learned about and communicated with the world; it also recast and re-envisioned the way they experience themselves and others. More than just escapist entertainment, TV reveals the dynamism and diversity of everyday life in the United States and the evolving nature of the nation’s core values. Television is moreover in a continual state of change and renewal. Its history has developed through a prehistory (before 1948) to a network era (1948–1975), a cable era (1976–1994), and finally the current digital era (1995–present). Today there are more than 650 networks in the U.S. marketplace whereby members of the typical domestic household receive 189 channels and watch more than eight hours of TV a day on average. TV in the 21st century also travels anywhere at any time, given its synergistic relationship with the Internet and a wide array of digital devices. It is now increasingly personalized, interactive, mobile, and on demand. Television is presently a convergent technology, a global industry, a viable art form, a public catalyst, and a complex and dynamic reflection of American society and culture.
Christopher P. Loss
Until World War II, American universities were widely regarded as good but not great centers of research and learning. This changed completely in the press of wartime, when the federal government pumped billions into military research, anchored by the development of the atomic bomb and radar, and into the education of returning veterans under the GI Bill of 1944. The abandonment of decentralized federal–academic relations marked the single most important development in the history of the modern American university. While it is true that the government had helped to coordinate and fund the university system prior to the war—most notably the country’s network of public land-grant colleges and universities—government involvement after the war became much more hands-on, eventually leading to direct financial support to and legislative interventions on behalf of core institutional activities, not only the public land grants but the nation’s mix of private institutions as well. However, the reliance on public subsidies and legislative and judicial interventions of one kind or another ended up being a double-edged sword: state action made possible the expansion in research and in student access that became the hallmarks of the post-1945 American university; but it also created a rising tide of expectations for continued support that has proven challenging in fiscally stringent times and in the face of ongoing political fights over the government’s proper role in supporting the sector.