7 episodes

A podcast about the dawn of the nuclear age, hosted by Usha Sahay and produced by War on the Rocks, with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. In each episode, Usha takes listeners on a journey into the early years of the Cold War, telling stories about the dilemmas nuclear weapons posed for American and Soviet leaders, and introducing a fascinating cast of characters who were all trying to prevent Armageddon in different ways. Along the way, Usha interviews scholars and other nuclear experts to help make sense of the many atomic mysteries that have yet to be solved.

A Most Terrible Weapon Usha Sahay

    • Education
    • 4.9 • 72 Ratings

A podcast about the dawn of the nuclear age, hosted by Usha Sahay and produced by War on the Rocks, with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. In each episode, Usha takes listeners on a journey into the early years of the Cold War, telling stories about the dilemmas nuclear weapons posed for American and Soviet leaders, and introducing a fascinating cast of characters who were all trying to prevent Armageddon in different ways. Along the way, Usha interviews scholars and other nuclear experts to help make sense of the many atomic mysteries that have yet to be solved.

    The Humanity Beneath the Bomb

    The Humanity Beneath the Bomb

    In the final episode of the series, Usha takes a closer look at the people behind the nuclear arms race. At the 1955 Geneva Summit, the superpowers tried to manage the dangers of the Cold War through face-to-face diplomacy, dealing with each other as people rather than as faceless nuclear arsenals. Yet Khrushchev's frosty reception of Eisenhower's Open Skies proposal showed just how far the two sides still had to go. Usha interviews several experts who stress that, decades later, empathy and respect are still critical -- and, right now, conspicuously absent -- elements of U.S.-Russia nuclear diplomacy. Meanwhile, in the secretive atomic communities built for plutonium production, the human toll of nuclear competition was becoming painfully clear. From Eisenhower and Khrushchev to factory workers in the atomic cities to morally conflicted scientists like Andrei Sakharov, every human being with a role in the nuclear Cold War had to wrestle with the physical and emotional costs, the moral dilemmas, and the irresolvable contradictions of this most terrible weapon.
     
    Guests: Alexandra Bell, Dr. Anya Fink, Dr. Kate Brown, Dr. Olga Oliker

    • 33 min
    The Soviets' Dark Nuclear Romance

    The Soviets' Dark Nuclear Romance

    Once the Soviets got the nuclear arsenal Stalin had sought, they had to learn to live with the bomb - and all the dilemmas that came with it. This episode examines how the Soviet Union adjusted to the difficult new reality of being a nuclear power. Leaders like Khrushchev and Molotov struggled to resolve the contradictions of nuclear warfare, while the scientists felt burdened by the emotional impact of what they saw at the atomic test sites. Usha looks at how the Soviet military planned for nuclear war and tries to understand why the two sides continued to build up ever-bigger arsenals even after they had enough firepower to destroy the enemy several times over. For the Soviets, as for the Americans, living with the bomb was a never-ending struggle to prepare for nuclear war while trying to keep the nuclear peace.
     
    Guests: Dr. David Holloway, Dr. Pavel Podvig, Dr. Olga Oliker 

    • 31 min
    Building Stalin's Nukes

    Building Stalin's Nukes

    What happens when a poor country, ravaged by war and brutalized by a totalitarian dictator, but dead-set on international greatness, tries to become a nuclear superpower? This episode - the first of three covering the Soviet nuclear program - explores how Josef Stalin, desperate to match American nuclear might after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, set his country on a path from which it would never turn back. Usha looks at the shadowy network of spies bringing atomic secrets into the Soviet Union, the rise and fall of the terrifying Stalinist henchman Lavrenty Beria, and the mysterious "atomic cities" where battle-hardened prison laborers helped produce nuclear fuel - when they weren't drinking and getting in fights. Four years after Hiroshima, Stalin's orders became a reality when the first Russian atomic test lit up the sky over the Kazakh steppe - and the nuclear arms race truly began.



    Guests: Dr. David Holloway, Dr. Kate Brown

    • 34 min
    The Perverse Sensibility of Nuclear War

    The Perverse Sensibility of Nuclear War

    In the 1950s and 1960s, it became clear that any strategy that involved threatening to start a nuclear war was playing with fire. But what was the alternative? Strategists began searching for ways to wage "limited" nuclear conflicts that wouldn't bring about Armageddon. But they soon found that putting limits on unlimited destructive power is easier said than done. This episode looks at the early efforts to contain the devastating potential of nuclear war, from an Army nuclear exercise in Louisiana to the Single Integrated Operational Plan to the Trump administration's effort to build lower-yield nuclear weapons. Usha tries to understand the mindset of the people making decisions about nuclear war - human beings trying to solve a problem that seemed to challenge their very humanity. 
     
    Guests: Dr. Alex Wellerstein, Dr. Janne Nolan, Dr. Will Hitchcock, Dr. Lynn Eden, Dr. Marc Trachtenberg.

    • 28 min
    The Dilemmas of Deterrence

    The Dilemmas of Deterrence

    The idea of nuclear war became unimaginable almost overnight when the United States and Soviet Union tested the first hydrogen bombs in the early 1950s. But for President Dwight Eisenhower, preventing nuclear war meant convincing everyone that you weren’t afraid to fight one. Was Eisenhower playing with fire - or taking the only sensible path? This episode explores the challenges and contradictions of nuclear deterrence. Usha examines the strategy of “massive retaliation,” the challenge of defending America’s European allies, and Eisenhower’s nuclear threats against Khrushchev, asking the question at the heart of nuclear history: Did nuclear weapons make the world safer or more dangerous? Figuring out the answer is more complicated than you might think. 
     
    Featuring Dr. Will Hitchcock, Dr. Alex Wellerstein, Dr. Susie Colbourn, and Dr. Marc Trachtenberg

    • 32 min
    Planning Armageddon

    Planning Armageddon

    A podcast about the dawn of the nuclear age, hosted by Usha Sahay and produced by War on the Rocks, with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. In each episode, Usha takes listeners on a journey into the early years of the Cold War, telling stories about the dilemmas nuclear weapons posed for American and Soviet leaders, and introducing a fascinating cast of characters who were all trying to prevent Armageddon in different ways. Along the way, Usha interviews scholars and other nuclear experts to help make sense of the many atomic mysteries that have yet to be solved.
     
    How do you plan for the most destructive war the world has never seen before? After the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, American leaders had to figure out how - or whether - nuclear weapons would be used in the wars of the future. In the pilot episode of A Most Terrible Weapon, Usha looks at the very first nuclear war plans, the debates inside the Truman administration about whether the bomb could ever be used again, and a terrifying new development - the arrival of the hydrogen bomb. 
     
    Featuring: Dr. Lynn Eden, Dr. Marc Trachtenberg, Dr. Alex Wellerstein

    • 34 min

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5
72 Ratings

72 Ratings

Seth-NM ,

Excellent

Well produced and well written. An interesting look at the history of nuclear weapons. Definitely worth binge listening. I would really appreciate publication of the references used in this podcast.

JungleBirdvsWebbSimpson ,

Excellent podcast

Must listen for nuke nerds and anyone interested in international security and Cold War history. Totally awesome.

Nickolasray ,

This podcast is da bomb!

I very much enjoyed this first episode and am eagerly awaiting the next episodes.

I love how the history of such an important and broad topic is being presented in such an entertaining format. The host does a amazing job delivering a wealth of information in succinct packets and examples.

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