Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in History



First Committee Member

David S. Tanenhaus, Chair

Second Committee Member

Joseph A. Fry

Third Committee Member

Colin T. Loader

Fourth Committee Member

Andrew G. Kirk

Graduate Faculty Representative

David R. Dickens

Number of Pages



This history of America's post-World War II atomic program examines the institutional impulses that drove its evolution from 1945 through the 1958 moratorium on atmospheric weapons testing. Based on archival research and methodologies borrowed from sociologists and legal theorists, it focuses on the motivations of and decisions made by military officers, program managers and affiliates in the private sector, their relationships, and the alliances they formed with congressmen. This analysis identifies a two-stage process of self-interested decision-making through which the armed forces, seeking to mitigate postwar loss of funding and influence, gained de facto control of the atomic program that it maintained throughout the atmospheric era. During Militarization (1945-1948), officers capitalized on the political instrumentality of weapons testing at Operation Crossroads and benefited from the organizational expertise of Manhattan administrators, consolidating their authority and monopolizing program resources and production. This culminated in Atomic Governance (1949-1958), when officers, pro-military program officials, affiliates, and congressmen combined their institutional and political influence to marginalize the civilian authority of the Atomic Energy Act. During both phases, officers used strategies of control adopted from the Manhattan Project to deceive elected officials and the public about the hazards of testing and the utility of nuclear weapons. These findings significantly revise the standard Cold War narrative of atomic testing. First, the significant turning points and officers' use of strategies of control demonstrate that it was not national security imperatives, but the combined effects of self-interested behavior by historical actors with their own institutional goals that most influenced the program's development. Second, the way the armed forces used the program shows that it was the engine, and not an aspect, of Cold War mobilization. Third, the hazards of the program were not due to ignorance but rather understanding of the boundaries between dosages known to cause acute injury and those expected to cause illness only in the long term. Officers and officials used that scientific knowledge to conduct tests they expected would cause illness years later, but would not result in immediate, acute injury.


Armed forces officers; Nuclear weapons testing; Nuclear weapons testing victims; Military research; Military administration; Cold war history; Dwight D. Eisenhower; Gordon Dean; Harry S. Truman; Lewis Strauss; United States; Nevada Test Site (Nev.); Military policy


History | Military History | Political History | United States History

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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