Historical Social Research

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Simone M. Müller: “Cut Holes and Sink ‘em”: Chemical Weapons Disposal and Cold War History as a History of Risk [Abstract]

Using the incident of the scuttling of the USS Le Baron Russell Briggs, loaded with roughly 22,000 tons of outdated chemical weapons in 1970, this contribution extrapolates how, why, and when in the United States chemical weapons that had been produced as the ultimate answer to the risk of nuclear war became reframed as a risk themselves. The analysis settles on how questions of knowing and not-knowing about potentialities of future events influenced these re-negotiation processes between the myriad actors involved such as the US military, politicians, environmentalists, Anti-Vietnam activists, and the American public. Beyond analyzing historic examples of risk assessment and management, this contribution also demonstrates how we can read the history of the Cold War as a history or risk. I argue that studying the controversy of operation CHASE 13, the sinking of the SS L. B. Briggs, from a risk perspective opens up new avenues into understanding the Cold War from a social and cultural perspective while integrating political and environmental history.

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