By Sarah Robey
[We recently digitized a campaign film from the Adlai E. Stevenson Papers, located in our Public Policy Papers. The film, “Nuclear Test Ban,” was produced as a televised campaign program for Stevenson’s 1956 presidential bid against Dwight D. Eisenhower. The film speaks to an important transitional moment in the American encounter with nuclear weapons.]
With a deafening roar, a mushroom cloud blossoms on the screen. As viewers watch the cloud of smoke, dust, and water vapor take its awful form, a narrator declares, “this is the H-Bomb at work… This is the means for destroying all living things on earth.”
The scene cuts to Adlai Stevenson, Democratic candidate in the 1956 presidential election, as he makes his case to the American public for a ban on hydrogen bomb testing. Stevenson is quick to dispel the notion that his proposal is simply an election maneuver: the issue “was and it is too serious for that,” despite then-Vice President Richard Nixon’s assertion that a ban was “catastrophic nonsense.”
For the next twenty-three minutes, Stevenson and a group of experts in the field present a grim assessment of the possible consequences of America’s nuclear testing: sickness, war, and horrors unknown.
The film ends with Stevenson’s disquieting appeal: “I believe we must somehow guarantee mankind against the horrible destructiveness of the hydrogen bomb… I believe we have no alternative.”
Princeton University celebrated its 200th anniversary with a year-long series of events, starting on September 22, 1946 and ending with a convocation on June 14-17, 1947. The newsreel posted here was shot during the conclusion of the bicentennial celebrations on June 17th, when thirty-six notables received honorary degrees, including US President Harry Truman, who gave the convocation address.
The newsreel opens with footage of Harry Truman, posing with former president Herbert Hoover (already a recipient of an honorary degree) and the widows of US presidents Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson, who were special guests. The first recipients featured are General Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower, who would succeed Harry Truman as US President in 1953, and Admiral Chester Nimitz (0:37). Both were honored for their leadership during the war, Eisenhower as Supreme Allied Commander, and Nimitz as commander of the Pacific Fleet. Other recipients shown are Dr. Vannevar Bush, wartime director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (organizer of the Manhattan Project) and Bernard Baruch, presidential adviser during both world wars. They are followed by Warren Austin, US representative of the United Nations, and Viscount Harold Alexander, governor general of Canada (0:43-0:51). Albert Einstein, based at the Institute of Advanced Studies, but an honored guest on campus, also participates in the procession (0:31). The film ends with President Harry Truman’s rallying address, in which he urges the adoption of universal military training (1:28).