Alanna Ross, 12th grade Student Historian
This popular 1950 magazine cover depicts one of the most feared threats of the Cold War. Illustrated here is the immediately recognizable New York City skyline covered by a mushroom cloud. The sky is overcast by a gray smog, and smoke has spread over the entire city. The mushroom cloud itself is a vibrant red-orange color, and a red tint highlights the buildings in the front of the picture, signifying a sense of urgency or danger. The alarming painting is underlined by the caption “Hiroshima, U.S.A.: Can Anything Be Done About It?”
Collier’s was a weekly magazine that chronicled political events through reporting and creative illustrations. This cover of the August 5th, 1950 edition perfectly encapsulates the fearful ambience of America throughout the Cold War. The few years after World War II have become known as the second Red Scare, an era plagued with an intense and crippling fear of Communism coming to America. In September 1949, only a few months before this issue was released, President Harry S. Truman announced to the American population that the Soviet Union had successfully created and tested atomic weapons. This announcement increased the fear of Communism that already existed within the country and led people to imagine a scene such as the one above occurring. The caption, “Hiroshima, U.S.A.,” explains the fear that one of the most important cities in America, New York, would be destroyed by nuclear weapons at the hands of Communists just as Hiroshima was destroyed years earlier at the hands of the United States.
The second line of the caption poses the question “Can Anything Be Done About It?” This question refers to the looming threat of a Communist attack. In the eyes of American politicians, the answer to this question was the containment of Communism to countries that were currently under a Communist regime. This policy of containment follows the logic that preventing other countries from falling to Communism would preserve democracy and weaken already Communist nations, ultimately leading to the collapse of the system altogether. To follow this policy, the United States involved itself in various proxy wars against Communists in countries at risk of falling under the regime. The most famous and destructive of these wars was the Vietnam War.
After a Communist government emerged in North Vietnam in the 1950s, America began a roughly twenty-year involvement in the affairs of the country in order to prevent the spread of Communism to South Vietnam. The hope of the American government was to keep Communism contained in the North and promote democracy in the South. The main reason for America’s involvement is illustrated in this magazine cover from 1950: fear of Communism spreading and endangering America, both politically and physically. Collier’s was widely distributed at the time and contributed to the extensive fear of Communism throughout the country, which would later help to generate support for the Vietnam War.
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