Nuclear weapons have had a profound impact upon the world at large, as well as upon the United States of America, since they were researched and created within the middle of the 20th Century. The political ramifications of the possession of, monitoring of, and even the occasional use of such weapons have drastically influenced the way nation states conduct themselves towards one another. There was a prolonged time period in which most of the world was actually anticipating, and dreading, the day a full scale nuclear war would take place due to the deployment of such weaponry. International conflicts such as World War II -- in which nuclear weapons were first used -- the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as the prolonged Cold War that largely pitted the Soviet Union against the United States helped to fuel this conception and to place nuclear weapons at the forefront of some of the most deadly creations engendered by man. The dismemberment of the so-called Iron Curtain that the Soviet Union extended throughout parts of the world is largely responsible for a reduction in this fear. However, with nuclear weapons reportedly available in parts of Iran, China, and North Korea, the political and social impact of this creation still resounds even today.
The world first bore witness to the widespread destruction and awesome potency of nuclear weapons in World War II. On August 6 of 1945, the United States was responsible for detonating an atomic bomb in the modest city of Hiroshima, Japan. Although efforts were made to evacuate the city, hundreds of thousands of people (conservative estimates indicate that at least 250,000 victims were slain in the initial explosion and in the deadly aftermath) (Epperson 299) lost their lives as the world saw just how lethal -- and efficient -- nuclear power could be when it was employed as a weapon. The devastation would continue two days later when the city of Nagasaki, also in Japan, was essentially razed by yet another atomic bomb. As if to demonstrate the efficacy of this weapon, World War II was concluded within days of the bombing of Nagasaki. Japan capitulated, Germany was mostly in ruins, and the most destructive killing apparatus that the world had ever known was the crowning moment of the Allied victory.
Research for the initial atomic bombs began as early as 1939 -- the year in which World War II started, interestingly enough -- and was known as the Manhattan Project. Although the murders that took place in Japan at the conclusion of World War II confirmed the devastation of the power of nuclear weaponry, successful field tests were issued of atomic bombs in 1945 prior to the August slayings. The Manhattan Project was largely funded and carried out by the U.S., disparate nation states within the United Kingdom (Bernstein 208), and Canada. Workers were employed in several different sites within those parts of the world, including, of course, in parts of New York. The construction of the first nuclear weapons largely involved the use of uranium, as well as plutonium. It is noteworthy to mention that parts of Europe, including Germany, were also attempting to harness the explosive power of atoms as nuclear weapons around the same time that the Manhattan project was conceived of and implemented. Some participants in the Manhattan Project even went abroad to gather information and to prepare research for the project.
However, the primary focus of much of the Manhattan project was in the building of the factories in which nuclear reactors were furnished and used, as well as is the deployment of uranium. Uranium served multiple purposes in the initial weapons constructed by nuclear power. It was the fuel that powered the reactors, it could transform plutonium into a form that could be used as a destructive force, and its enriched form caused incendiary reactions within the atomic bombs used against Japan. The three most readily accessible supplies of uranium during World War II were in the possession of the Allied forces, and were located in the Belgian Congo, in northern Canada, as well as within Colorado (Smith 39). The fourth most accessible supply was in Czechoslovakia, territory that was in German hands and would later be transferred to the Soviet Union, which was largely powered by Russia. When analyzing the political implications of the power of nuclear weapons displayed during World War II, it is no surprise that Soviet Union would emerge from the war, along with the United States, as one of the world's superpowers. With Czechoslovakia under the Iron Curtain (it was appropriated by the Soviet Union later in 1945,), the Soviets were able to access one of the most plentiful supplies of uranium. Additionally, due to the fact that Russia was also one of the Allied powers during World War II that emerged triumphant, it had the economic force to begin studying and creation nuclear weapons of its own, which it was able to foster shortly after the war's conclusion.
It was largely due to the Soviet Union's threat as a power that wielded nuclear weapons that most of the important international events of the 20th century took place subsequent to World War II. The political objectives of Russia, of course, was the dissemination of its Communist doctrines, which just so happened to directly conflict with the Capitalist ideology propagated by the United States and it what was considered the "free world." Still, the Soviet Union would repeatedly threaten to employ and continue to manufacture nuclear weapons during the tenure known as the Cold War, which spanned approximately from 1945 to the early part of the 1990s. Its ability to reinforce its communist propaganda with the ongoing threat of nuclear assault was largely responsible for the extending of the Iron Curtain from Russia throughout several countries in Eastern Europe to parts of Asia and even Afghanistan. Furthermore, it was able to establish its communist ideology in other parts of the globe such as North Korea. Yet one of the most problematic issues of the Soviet Union's strength, which was largely backed by its ability to utilize nuclear weapons when it wanted to, that proved to be most influential to the U.S. was its role within the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The Cuban Missile Crisis actually was an event that took place at the height of the Cold War, in 1962, and was responsible for truly instilling fear within many U.S. citizens of a possible nuclear attack. The Cuban Revolution, which was largely headed by Fidel Castro and took place from 1957-1959, installed Castro's Communist regime into the island located just a couple of miles away from the mainland U.S. The Soviet Union was eager for allies and to spread its communist ideology throughout as much of the world as possible, and was responsible for placing nuclear weapons, which could be pointed right at the U.S. just a few miles away, within the country of Cuba.
On October 16, 1962, President John Kennedy called a meeting at the White House because his intelligence sources were advising him that Russian government was placing missiles and atomic weapons in Cuba…The Central Intelligence Agency made a formal presentation to those in attendance by showing them photographs taken at various missile sites in Cuba (Epperson 120).
This quotation is indicative of the fact that although in a philosophical sense America may have disapproved of Communist thought and rhetoric, it was the propensity for buttressing this political stance with very real, very tangible weapons -- the likes of which the world had witnessed nearly 20 years earlier at the end of World War II, that was the real threat. It was due to the fact that the Russians who controlled the Soviet Union had nuclear and atomic weapons that could decimate any population it struck, that the political might of the Soviet Union was actually reared. It could have been professing any political viewpoint at variance with that of the United States -- so long as those nuclear weapons were present, the danger from that viewpoint would be imminent.
Therefore, it was due to the fairly constant threat of nuclear weapons that the Cold War was able to drag on for the better part of 40 years. The effect of nuclear weapons on both sides, both America's and the Soviet Union's, was great enough to polarize the majority of the world during that timeframe into either pro-communist or anti-communist, in favor of either free enterprise or a communist equity of sources and goods. Furthermore, it should be noted that during the majority of this time period, with the possible exception of Vietnam, nuclear weapons were able to significantly alter both the nature of war as well as the political fronts that contested it. During the same time period in which the Cuban Missile Crisis was taking place, the United States had similar nuclear weaponry stationed in parts of Italy and Turkey that were targeted towards the Soviet Union. In order to convince the Soviets to…