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Nuclear Age

Contending Ideas About Nuclear Weapons, Mutual Assured Destruction, Nuclear Thinking In The Post–cold War World

The nuclear age began in mid-July 1945 when an 18.6-kiloton nuclear bomb was detonated at the Trinity test site near Alamogordo, New Mexico. Three weeks later, on 6 August 1945, the world became aware of the existence of nuclear weapons when a U.S. B-29 bomber known as Enola Gay dropped a nuclear bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. That was followed three days later by the dropping of another bomb on Nagasaki. The term nuclear age was coined almost immediately after the two bombs were used. Within days of the Nagasaki bombing, the publisher Pocket Books put out a special primer titled The Atomic Age Opens, edited by Gerald Wendt. The phrase atomic age remained more common than nuclear age through the mid-1950s, but nuclear age already enjoyed wide use in 1945. By the end of the year, it had even been inserted into the title of the second edition of a physics textbook by Harvey Brace Lemon. The title of the original edition, published in 1934, was From Galileo to Cosmic Rays, whereas the second edition, published in early 1946, was retitled From Galileo to the Nuclear Age.

Since those early days, the term nuclear age has been incorporated into almost every language as a designation for the international security system that has existed since 1945. Implicit in the term is the notion that the advent of nuclear weapons marked a far-reaching change from the system that existed until 1945. Although scholars have differed in their estimations of the extent to which the system has genuinely changed, few would deny that nuclear weapons have been one of the major elements in international politics since the mid-1940s.

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