1953 — Ray Bradbury publishes “Fahrenheit 451”

Bradbury’s best known novel is a savage and dystopian satire of media trends in Bradbury’s day. He foresaw such implausibilities as wall-sized tv screens with hundreds of channels of aneasthetizing pap playing 24 hours a day, while literacy was not merely rare but close to outlawed. It was a world where firemen start fires instead of putting them out, but only to burn books.

As such, it played into the prejudices that every new medium has faced, that it would enfeeble the minds of those who followed it. “Fahrenheit 451” depicts a world where every channel is Fox News (or some close affiliate), and the only escape is to destroy it all and start anew in the ashes of the world – although Bradbury himself (an Emmy winner) presumably has a more nuanced attitude to the glass teat than this novel would indicate

December 6, 1953 — Nabokov finishes writing “Lolita”

Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel is one of the most controversial books of the twentieth century. Its subject matter – a middle aged man lusting after a teenage girl (the title character, although the name is a pet name he had for her rather than her actual name) – along with the clear unreliability of the narrator, making it unclear how true his words are, made the book both fascinating and infuriating to many readers.

The novel was filmed twice, in 1962 and again in 1997, and brought to the stage on multiple occasions, but surely its greatest accolade is that an entire genre of porn is named after it.

Lolita 1955.JPG
By Olympia Press, Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

Don’t Stand So Close To Me — The Police

September 1, 1953 — The Doomsday Clock is set at two minutes to midnight

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is one of the world’s most prestigious scientific publications in the world. Its first issue, published on December 10, 1945, was only two pages in length. It has grown since then.

In June of 1947, its cover featured, for the first time, what became known as the Doomsday Clock. This would become the regular cover for Bulletin, throughout the run of its print edition, and even today’s online version, which has no cover per se, maintains the clock. The number of minutes before midnight – measuring the degree of nuclear, environmental, and technological threats to mankind – is periodically corrected; when it was first published, the clock was set at seven minutes to midnight.

In September of 1953, Volume IX, Number 7, the Clock was set to 2 minutes to midnight – the closest they had ever been. The hands remained here until January of 1960, and in the following years, would peak at 17 minutes to midnight. In 2018, the hands were once again set to 2 minutes to midnight, where they remain to this day.

June 19, 1953 — Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are executed

Julius and Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg were a married couple from New York City. Of Jewish-American origin, the two had met in 1936 at a meeting of the Young Communist League.

Julius joined in the army in 1940, where he served in the Signal Corps, working on radar equipment. He was recruited by the NKVD as a spy in 1942, and passed a considerable body of data to the Soviets, notably the proximity fuse used to shoot down Gary Powers in 1960.

But with the arrest of Klaus Fuchs at Los Alamos, the dominoes started to fall. Fuchs fingered another spy: his courier, Gold. Gold has also been a courier for David Greenglass – Ethel’s brother. Greenglass testified that he had been recruited by Julius, though he denied Ethel’s involvement.

The Rosenbergs were convicted on March 29, 1951, and sentenced to death on April 5. The conviction helped to fuel Senator Joseph McCarthy’s investigations into anti-American activities by U.S. citizens. While their devotion to the Communist cause was well-documented, the Rosenbergs denied the espionage charges even as they faced the electric chair. They were the only two American civilians to be executed for espionage-related activity during the Cold War.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg NYWTS.jpg
By Roger Higgins, photographer from “New York World-Telegram and the Sun” – Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c17772, Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel

June 17, 1953 — The East German Uprising peaks

Beginning as a strike by 300 construction workers in East Berlin on June 16, 1953, what would become known as the East German Uprising rapidly spiralled out of control of the authorities.

This led to greater and greater measures being employed to stop the uprising, which only intensified the reaction on the part of the protestors. The flames of rebellion were fanned by West German radio, which broadcast the news all over communist-controlled East Germany, leading to a wave of sympathetic strikes across the entire nation that continued for some days after the 17th.

An estimated 40,000 protestors gathered in East Berlin the next day, and numerous other rallies, strikes and protests took place elsewhere in the nation. In the capital, the protests were brutally suppressed by Soviet troops, with nearly 500 deaths caused by rioting or summary executions, and just under another 2000 people injured. More than 5000 people were arrested for their roles in the uprising.

In later years, the anniversary was celebrated as a national holiday in West Germany, under the name of the “Day of German Unity”. In East Germany, it was remembered, but celebrated rather more furtively.

Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F005191-0040, Berlin, Aufstand, sowjetischer Panzer.jpg
By Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F005191-0040 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, Link

As mentioned in:

Summer in Berlin — Alphaville
We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel

June 2, 1953 — Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom

Technically, Elizabeth Windsor became the Queen of England as soon as her father, King George VI died on February 2 of 1952. But until her actual coronation – a lengthy religious ceremony held in Westminster Abbey – took place more than a year later.

This was necessary for political and religious purposes – without this apparently meaningless ceremony, the divine right of kings (well, queens in this case), would fall by the wayside, and that would just be unacceptable. Elizabeth would eventually reign for more than 70 years – the longest reign of any British monarch, and the second longest verified reign of any monarch of a sovereign state in history.

April 28, 1953 — The coverup of toxic waste dumping at Love Canal begins

To be fair, it wasn’t that much of a cover-up on the part of the company. The deed of sale for the site, sold by Hooker Chemicals to the Niagara Falls School Board in 1953 for $1 does specifically mention the presence of the toxic waste, mostly so that the company’s legal liability for the 21,000 tons of chemicals including caustics, alkalines, fatty acids and chlorinated hydrocarbons – residue and waste from the manufacturing of dyes, perfumes, solvents for rubber and synthetic resins – could be limited. The company specifically enjoins against building on the site, because they had a very good idea of how dangerous these chemicals were.

The school board went ahead and built primary schools on the area, and later houses were built as well. Presumably, no members of that school board lived in the area or sent their children to school there. In 1976, journalists began investigating rumours regarding the abnormally high rates of birth defects and diseases in the area – leading to a poorly kept secret becoming front page news across America.

Love Canal protest.jpg
Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

Cesspools in Eden — Dead Kennedys

April 13, 1953 — The CIA launches the MK-ULTRA project

CIA director Allen Dulles ordered the creation of the MKUltra project intending it to create techniques to fight what was believed to be an extensive Communist brain-washing program (at various times identified as being conducted by one of, or some combination of, North Korea, China and the USSR). Its scope became broader than that, attempting to create drugs for mind control, for compelling the truth from interrogation subjects, for duplicating the symptoms of various diseases, for stimulating or retarding aging, and more. Often, subjects were experimented on without their knowledge or consent, leading to several nervous breakdowns and at least one confirmed suicide, as people who did not know they were drugged assumed that they were losing their minds.

The project ran from 1953 through to 1973, although many of the records of it were destroyed in 1974 (a measure ordered by CIA director Richard Helms as the Watergate scandal mounted). This lack of records helped to conceal the extent and outcomes of the program when they were investigated by both the Church Committee and the Rockefeller Commission, but enough was found to confirm much of what was suspected of the program, and the information made public. A further investigation took place in 1977, after the discovery of MKUltra records that had escaped the destruction of the rest due to being misfiled. Afterwards, several of those drugged in the program sued the government for the lack of informed consent, not all of them successfully. Even now, it is not clear whether we know everything about the MKUltra program.