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One World Or None

The Federation of American Scientists
Philip Ragan Productions

The genre of Cold War civil defense films began in 1950 when motion pictures first designed to teach civilian populations how to survive an enemy atomic attack first hit American screens.  Preceding these instructional films, however, was a cautionary tale written to prevent the threat of an atomic war altogether.  One World Or None, released by Philip Ragan Productions in May of 1946, prophesizes a future where antagonistic powers have the ability to destroy one another with atomic weapons.  It begins with a plain statement that the path to unleashing atomic energy was a global effort.  Physicists as diverse as Ernest Rutherford in New Zealand and Lise Mitner in Germany to Enrico Fermi in Italy and Hideki Yukawa in Japan each contributed to what would become the atom bomb.  Stern narration, provided by famed war correspondent and pioneering broadcast journalist Raymond Swing, warns that now, as the atom has been split and its tremendous force unleashed, the world stands at a crossroads.  It can harness atomic energy for peaceful and enriching purposes, or continue to use it as a weapon of war, like the United States did at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The inclusion of this slight criticism of the United States' decision to use the atom bomb is interesting, given that the film was written and released in the immediate Post-War Period, however, it frames the remainder of One World Or None's message.  Sweeping footage of a devastated Hiroshima is shown as Swing asks a hard question: what if such destruction was brought down upon an American city?


In early 1946, seventeen members of The Federation of American Scientists signed their names to a publication titled One World Or None.  Most were veterans of The Manhattan Project and the list of authors included famous names such as Albert Einstein, Leo Szilard, J.R. Oppenheimer and future Office of Civil Defense Assistant Director Eugene P. Wigner.  Subtitled "A Report to the Public on The Full Meaning of the Atomic Bomb" the booklet offers a stark picture of what the future might look life if warring nations possessed atom weapons.  The film version uses morbid graphics to show the potential effects of an atomic attack on America.  If a bomb as powerful as that which struck Hiroshima were to detonate over the heart of New York City, the entire lower end of Manhattan, from Washington Square to the Battery, would flatten.  Over Chicago?  All buildings from Halsted Street to Lake Michigan would be in ruins.  Over San Francisco?  Total destruction from Pacific Avenue to The Ferry Building.  The scale of this predicted devastation is depicted onscreen by superimposing a ghoulish skull over maps of the respective cities, with hundreds of crosses representing likely deaths.  To elaborate on the expected casualties from a single atomic bomb, Raymond Swing offers centuries of historical comparison.  Using a spear, infantry under Alexander the Great could fall a single opponent.  Napoleonic forces with a single canon shot could kill twelve enemy soldiers.  One of Kaiser Wilhelm's Big Bertha artillery shells might kill eighty-eight.  Hitler's V-2 rocket, raining down on heavily populated English cities, could kill nearly two-hundred civilians.  To contrast, a single B-29 bomber carrying a single atomic bomb has the capacity to kill over 100,000.


The ultimate goal of One World Or None was to use these figures to frighten the American public into demanding more control over atomic technology.  The film goes to great lengths to show how American shores are vulnerable to attack.  The threat of "trans-oceanic" rockets, submarine launched missiles or 5th column detonating a clandestinely assembled device are but a few of the ways Americans may face the flash of an atomic bomb.  It is made clear, in no uncertain terms, that the only way to ensure safety from a future crippled by devastation is to establish a neutral global authority to control atomic technology and the weapons produced from it.  In spite of the film's pressing message and the scientific celebrity providing it, One World Or None's goal would not be achieved.  When The Soviet Union developed the atomic bomb in 1949, an arms race ensued with the United States and tensions between the Nations quickly grew.  Interestingly, although its message largely fell on deaf ears, One World Or None would continue to make appearances in propaganda productions in the early years of the Cold War.  Philip Ragan Productions would continue to produce civil defense films for the federal government including Target You, Minute Men of the Cold War and Frontlines of Freedom.  Frontlines of Freedom, produced in 1955, uses much of the opening animation from One World Or None.  It also falsely describes how American authorities attempted to establish a global agency to control atomic weapons, only to be thwarted by Soviet Aggression.  Frontlines of Freedom would not enjoy favorable longevity and would be declared obsolete by Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization in 1959, just four years after its initial release. 

One World Or None may be viewed, in its entirety, HERE.