Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Game of Death

“Every other year or so, when the new crop of youngsters comes along, we can repeat many of these things again. Generation after generation, as sure as the kites and skipping ropes that blossom in the spring.” These were the words of a “premium specialist” recorded in a newspaper article, in October 1948, titled


Millions spent to get Junior to eat through Premiums

According to the article “the No. 1 headliner for the kids was that atom bomb ring. When you put your eye close to the plastic bomb you could see a radiant substance inside that sparkled as if alive. More than 3,500,000 children sent 15 cents and a box top for that one.”

On September 4, 1950 there was a science-fiction convention (Dianetics was a popular discussion) in Portland, Oregon. Attending was a famous fan turned science fiction author, E. E. “Doc” Smith. Smith was a chemist, and general manager of a Chicago manufacturer of doughnut mix. In 1914 he wrote a story about an atom bomb used to destroy a planet. The story was not published until 1928.

“I blew that planet completely to hellangone. I made a nova out of it. It was roughly comparable to what the hydrogen bomb would be if they used a ton of lithium hydride. I got $75 for it.”

Those were the good old days; between 1954 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, every kid born in Canada after1940 went through yearly air raid drills -- heading for the basement to lie in a fetal position and await the Commie bombs and oblivion. We may have been irradiated already since we lived over the border north of the Hanford nuclear plant at Richland, Washington which leaked and sent airborne radiation ‘downwind’ between 1944 and 1949. No doubt much of it went upwind to British Columbia as well. We lived in Trail, B.C. by 1956, a five hour drive from Richland. The smelter where heavy water for the bombs was manufactured (my mother worked there during the war) poisoned the Columbia at Trail with zinc and lead while Hanford was poisoning the Columbia with radioactive cooling water at its confluence. The present owners have cleaned the Columbia river considerably since then.

Government pamphlets available at libraries were a hoot -- one image that stuck in my head was of a nondescript-looking man caught outside during a nuclear attack. The artist depicted the flash in the sky which was a signal to lie down in a shallow ditch -- supposedly radiation would float over top of you and be dispersed in minutes. Then you could get back on your feet and continue with your morning walk.

By 1962 Dr. James Van Allen, who had discovered the radiation belt named after him, said that a “huge new radiation belt in the lower reaches of the Van Allen belt has been formed around the earth as a result of the July 9 high-altitude nuclear test conducted by the United States over the Pacific.”

*Top: Bert the Turtle (April 25) reassures the kiddies in one of seven comic strips published in 1952. Bottom: American Bomb pamphlet.

**Selection from Albert E. Kahn's 1953 Game of Death HERE.

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