Lars Nowak
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Images of nuclear war in US government films from the early Cold War
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This essay investigates cinema’s contribution to the public imaginations of a global nuclear war in the United States, focusing on U.S. government films from the first two decades of the Cold War that were concerned with issues of civil defense on the one hand and the country’s atmospheric nuclear tests on the other. By carefully moulding their viewers’ emotions, both classes of movies tried to instill a willingness to fight an atomic war in the American people that could be used as a means of deterrence. In this connection, the test films played a key role because, as representations of actual atomic detonations, they possessed a higher degree of realism that gave their propagandistic rhetoric a more persuasive touch.

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Understanding the imaginary war

Culture, thought and nuclear conflict, 1945–90


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