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A Deterrent Weapon—The History of the Atomic Bomb cover photo

A Deterrent Weapon—The History of the Atomic Bomb 2008

Not Recommended

Distributed by Filmakers Library, 124 East 40th Street, New York, NY 10016; 202-808-4980
Produced by Jakob Gottschau
Directed by Jakob Gottschau
DVD, color, 88 min.



Sr. High - Adult
Political Science, Military Studies, Nuclear Weapons

Date Entered: 11/21/2008

Reviewed by Michael Fein, Coordinator of Library Services, Central Virginia Community College, Lynchburg, VA

This relatively short production is intended to be an introduction to the history of nuclear weapons and the arms race. Using the standard combination of still photos, newsreels, and talking heads, the viewer is given a very cursory overview of the development of nuclear weapons from the Manhattan Project of World War II, through the Cold War and the collapse of the USSR, and finally to the threats from nuclear weapons posed by those who practice asymmetric warfare. In addition to describing the various benchmarks in the proliferation of nuclear weapons the script gives some insights into the cultural impact of these weapons in the early 1950s. While there is quite a bit of emphasis given to the aftermath of the use of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there is little explanation as to why these weapons were used. The incredibly high number of casualties suffered by the U.S. in taking the island of Okinawa is never mentioned and certainly influenced American decision makers. Indeed, the late Paul Fussell, drawing on his own experience in combat during World War II, wrote an essay entitled “Thank God for the Atom Bomb.”

The production seems to draw a moral equivalency between the USA and the USSR. When describing the mood of the US after the first Soviet atomic bomb test we are told that the country “goes from confident to paranoia” and that there were “Communists everywhere.” Perhaps the wide-ranging activity of KGB agents that is documented (including the Rosenbergs) really doesn’t matter. When Ronald Reagan becomes president he “bought [the] bankrupt myths of the Cold War.” One wonders what these myths were. While this is technically a good production, these instances make the production more of a nuclear disarmament piece than a history of nuclear weapons.