The atomic bombs that ended World War II heralded the rise of the United States to first place in the realm of science. Expectations of what American science and technology could accomplish in an era of peace were virtually unlimited. Disease would be conquered and hunger eradicated. New industries and inventions would create global prosperity, and the rockets that had carried German bombs would instead extend human exploration to the moon and beyond.
Seventy-five years later, we look back and wonder: What happened to the dream?
That’s the question Cliff Conner explores in his new book, The Tragedy of American Science. The book’s subtitle, From Truman to Trump, defines the timeline of this history of scientific corruption and abuse—from the nuclear bombs that obliterated two Japanese cities, through the Cold War and the never-ending “War on Terror,” to the existential threat posed by global warming and the pandemic today.
It’s not a happy story, but it’s one that must be confronted if the tragedy is to be overcome.
Clifford D. Conner is a historian of science at the School of Professional Studies, CUNY Graduate Center. He is the author of A People’s History of Science (Bold Type Books, 2005) and biographies of three revolutionaries: Jean Paul Marat, Arthur O’Connor, and Colonel Despard. You can get a copy of his latest book with Haymarket, The Tragedy of American Science, today.
Sarah Lazare is web editor and reporter for In These Times. She comes from a background in independent journalism for publications including The Nation, The Intercept, and Jacobin. A former staff writer for AlterNet and Common Dreams, Sarah co-edited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Sarah got her start in journalism reporting for the Independent Media Center movement.