IDS 101 - College Colloquium - Fall 2010, Prof. Mark Janeba
Skating on the Edge of the Unthinkable: The Nuclear Arms Race

From Hiroshima to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world lived in fear of annihilation by nuclear weapons. Suspicion led to the building of over fifty thousand nuclear weapons, thousands of bombers and missiles, fallout shelters, and a society that thought it could be the last generation of humans on earth. Atomic fear affected, or even drove, popular culture and world politics throughout the period. This course will study nuclear history from Hiroshima forward. Topics include the technology of nuclear weapons, military and political decisions that kept the arms race going, the difficulties of arms control, close calls with disaster (e.g., the Cuban Missile Crisis), and the impact on popular culture. Questions include whether nuclear weapons prevented war, what to do about today’s nuclear arsenals, and what the past can tell us about understanding current nuclear crises in North Korea and Iran.

The course will be divided into four main units, with a fifth topic spread throughout the term:

  1. This is the way the world ends, or What was everyone afraid of?
      Two widely read/viewed narratives about a final nuclear war.
  2. The dawn of the nuclear age
      The building of the first bomb, the decision to use it, and its effects.
  3. Strategy in a new world
      How nuclear weapons changed military planning and world politics in the 50s and 60s.
  4. Crises and the growing peace movement
      How the Cuban Missile Crisis and Able Archer unfolded, and the concurrent growth of the peace movement.
  5. "After" the cold war
      Nuclear proliferation, current events, and a possible restart of the arms race with different adversaries.
Required texts, available in the campus bookstore:
Nevil Shute, On The Beach, Random House, ISBN
Ronald Powaski, March to Armageddon, Oxford University Press, 1989, ISBN 0-1950-4411-8
John Hersey, Hiroshima, Vintage Books/Random House, 1989, ISBN 0-679-72103-7
Fred Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon, Stanford University Press, 1983, ISBN
Sheldon Stern, The Week the World Stood Still, Stanford University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-8047-5077-7
Jonathan Schell, The Fate of the Earth, Stanford University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-8047-3702-9
Diana Hacker, A Pocket Style Manual, 4th ed,, St. Martin's Press, 2004.

Additional resources:
Films and video (some of the films will be in the evening)
Web/WISE resources:
Class meetings begin during opening days as scheduled by the Opening Days program, then continue MWF 12:40-1:40[corrected Aug 1], ending the week of Thanksgiving break.


percentage of
your grade
Discussion participation, includes assigned "preparation" homework,
a journaling assignment on WISE, and a small individualized research assignment
Three assigned thesis papers: 13%,18%,24% respectively

Last Modified March 30, 2010.
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