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Bachelor of Arts

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Professor Michael Mayer

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bikini atoll, nuclear test, castle bravo, 1954, newspapers, hydrogen bomb

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Woolley, Benjamin, B.A., December 2015 History

The Castle BRAVO Nuclear Test and Press Reaction

Faculty Mentor: Professor Michael Mayer

On March 1, 1954, the United States detonated the first deliverable hydrothermal nuclear weapon at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. This test was called Castle BRAVO. This moment marked an extraordinary event in military technological achievement. The nuclear explosion nearly tripled its expected size, making it a massive scientific and military success. However, due to its unpredicted payload, the weapon caused massive fallout damage and could not be kept a secret. The American press quickly became aware of the event and reported about the new hydrogen bomb.

This research paper begins with the background of nuclear testing at the Marshall Islands after World War II. The paper then briefly discusses the science behind hydrogen weapons. Both of these subjects are derived from secondary sources and government documents on the topic. Next the paper discusses what actually occurred at Bikini Atoll on March 1, including the fallout and cleanup of the event. This information is from the government files on nuclear testing released in the 1980s. After this section, the paper extensively analyzes the press coverage of this event. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Chicago Tribune are the main sources, however many of the articles were written by the Associated Press so they would also have been circulated nationally. The paper then compares these articles to the government files to see what the press knew and reported. These articles informed and terrified the American public of the new destructive capability of hydrothermal technology.

The overall argument of this research paper is that due to the United States government’s inability to conceal the seemingly catastrophic effects of the BRAVO test, American newspaper headlines soon revealed something exceptional had occurred with unexpected consequences. The sensational press coverage released a media frenzy about the new hydrogen bomb technology and its terrifying capabilities. This news brought the fearful reality of plausible hydrothermal annihilation to the American public.

Honors College Research Project




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