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Via Ralph Luker, here’s an animated recapitulation of the world’s nuclear tests since 1945. Even with every month reduced to a second, it takes several minutes to gain momentum; from the end of the 1950s through the end of the 1980s, however, the whole thing becomes rather bewildering and about as depressing as tiny beeps and flickers of light can be.

A few random observations:

  1. I can’t imagine most Americans are aware that the US conducted more nuclear tests than every other nation combined from 1945-1998.  For whatever these figures are worth, the number of Soviet tests never eclipsed more than 70 percent of the US total.  By the mid-1970s, when Team B was yodeling about a “window of vulnerability” in the US defense strategy, the US had conducted nearly twice the number of tests as their chief rival.
  2. The British apparently conducted several nuclear tests in the US.  I’ve since learned that there were nine such events from 1983-1991, all apparently in connection to the Trident project.  Didn’t know that.
  3. The most interesting period, in my view, takes place from the end of 1958 through September 1961.  Nothing happens throughout 1959; France sets off a handful of bombs from early 1960 through the spring of 1961; then the Soviets go absolutely apeshit in September of that year, and things don’t really calm down again until the early 1990s.  In this video, the erratic incidence of US and Soviet tests in the 1950s looks and sounds like a conversation.  Afterwards, it’s an incoherent frenzy.

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