Watch Now: Going Nuclear: Science, Diplomacy, and Defense

November 9, 2022
By Perry World House

Reflecting on a war against Ukraine that looks oddly “familiar” in the nuclearized history of global conflict since 1945, this event explores the legacies of the scientific excesses of the Cold War. As a “social scientists’ war,” the Cold War depended on psychology, persuasion, ideology, and propaganda in a conflict built around widely dispersed fear of nuclear weapons. The scientific and technological priorities of that era still resonate and still threaten the global order today in recursive ways.

US President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” program presented nuclear power as a key to economic development. However, the nuclear power plants intended to facilitate peace and prosperity have now been reconfigured as potential nuclear weapons, vulnerable to fractured energy grids and hostile troops. During the “Atoms for Peace” program, “peaceful” scientific disciplines, like archaeology, benefitted from sophisticated atomic technologies and used the appeal of international heritage to collect intelligence and build informational networks for their own governments. Archaeologists at the University of Pennsylvania played key roles in those strategies and deployed them internationally, advocating exchanges with Soviet Union scholars as an antidote to the Cold War nuclear threat.

This edition of “The World Today” discussed these technical and military fusions. How do peace and violence come together to shape the global order? How do state interests shape technology, and science? What can these converging histories help us understand about contemporary and future wars?

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