With fireworks set to fly this coming July 4th weekend, maybe it’s time to reflect upon another kind of rocket’s red glare that–seemingly against all odds–haven’t exploded in the sky over the last 70 years: nukes. Reddit user drwtsn created this visualization of the nuclear arms race, showing how the number of warheads in the world have grown and shrank since 1940.
Represented as a chronological spiral growing out of the artificial horizon of a nuke’s abstracted first person view, each quill of the viz represents the world’s atomic arsenal in a given year. It gives a good overview of just how quickly mankind’s taste for destruction ramped up when we split the atom… and how hard it’s been for us to tamp that appetite back down.
The first nukes, dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, weren’t immediately followed by wide scale nuclear proliferation, but things start changing in the 1950s, when America reacted to the USSR’s first atomic tests by stockpiling bombs. America’s nuclear arsenal continued to dwarf Russia’s for the next twenty-five years.. After that, America’s nukes started dwindling in numbers (if not in power), even as the USSR’s kept growing. And while the number of worldwide nukes may have peaked in 1986, by 2005, the worldwide nuclear arsenal had dwindled to numbers not seen since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
There’s one inaccuracy in the infographic worth noting: America began testing the neutron bomb in the 1960s, where as the chart above confuses Senate debates on appropriating money to the production of nuclear warheads in 1977 with the creation of the first neutron bomb. Otherwise, it all seems accurate. The data was pulled from a slightly older Guardian story (which in turn pulled its data from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, whose most recent figures can be seen here.)
This isn’t the first compelling infographic about the planet’s nuclear proliferation before, but what makes drwtsn’s viz so great is it tells a story about how mankind came to the precipice of oblivion. Have we backed far enough away from that precipice, though?
Not according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, who set the world’s symbolic Doomsday Clock earlier this year to just three minutes until midnight. We might have fewer nukes than since the 1960s, but the ones we have are deadlier than ever… and with extreme drought a nationwide problem, we’ve proven we don’t need to make the skies rain fire to create post-apocalyptic conditions.