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Cold War Cities

History, Culture and Memory

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Edited By Katia Pizzi and Marjatta Hietala

The Cold War left indelible traces on the city, where polarities on the global stage crystallized and intersected with political and social dynamics predating and bypassing the Blocs. This collection taps into the rich fabric of memories, histories and cultural interactions of thirteen cities worldwide and the lived experience of urban communities during the long Cold War: activated and mobilized by atomic technologies, taking tourist photographs, attending commercial fairs, enjoying the cinema and the ballet, singing in choirs, paying respect in local cemeteries, visiting museums, and responding to town councils, unions and the local press. Literature, film, photography, the press, the monument, the cemetery, the factory, the ruin, the archive and the natural ecosystem are some of the key frameworks of cultural production elucidated here with a view to countering and exploding received myths about the Cold War.
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5 ‘A Strange Beeping Noise’: The Plutonium Legacy in a Former Cold War Citadel

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Growing up tall and proud, in the shadow of the mushroom cloud.

— RICHLAND HIGH SCHOOL FIGHT SONG, CLASS OF 1996

Richland, Washington, on the high dry plateau of the interior American West, is a baffling city. Originally a farm town on the banks of the Columbia River, it was made over in 1943 into what Du Pont Company executives dubbed a ‘nuclear village’. After Army Corps Engineers bulldozed the original ranch town, a Du Pont architect redesigned the new city from scratch, sparing little expense to create a comfortable town of tract houses and shopping centres that looked much like what would become the postwar American suburb. The new city was built exclusively for workers of the enormous plutonium plant complex, called the Hanford Works, thirty miles down a guarded road. Du Pont managers gave rental housing only to male employees of the plant and their families. Female and ‘low-level’ workers (janitors, construction crews, and soldiers) had to live outside Richland in neighbouring towns in more expensive, substandard housing.

The idea behind the ‘nuclear village’ was to secure dependable, obedient and stubbornly silent workers to produce the world’s most dangerous product, plutonium, for nuclear weapons. The concept came into being gradually during wartime construction. From 1943 to 1944, construction crews of migrant workers, soldiers and prisoners built the plutonium factory, consisting of three reactors, a vast, ship-sized chemical processing plant, plus an impressive infrastructure to support the works. This labour force of...

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