What if modern conservatism is less a reaction to environmentalism than a mutation of it? Historian Natasha Zaretsky’s latest book, Radiation Nation: Three Mile...

What if modern conservatism is less a reaction to environmentalism than a mutation of it? Historian Natasha Zaretsky’s latest book, Radiation Nation: Three Mile Island and the Political Transformation of the 1970s (Columbia University Press, 2018), is a fine-grained examination of the local reaction to the most serious accident in the history of U.S. nuclear energy. It is also a sweeping study of the construction of arguments for and against nuclear energy and atomic weapons from the end of the World War II to the present. Zaretsky follows that debate through a transformative six-year debate in central Pennsylvania, where conservative activists launched protests that drew heavily from the examples of environmentalism, the antiwar movement, second-wave feminism, the black freedom struggle, and black and women’s health activism. Yet rather than pushing them to the left, their fight with pronuclear forces in industry and government made them more conservative. They articulated an ethnonationalist argument about a threatened nation betrayed by its leaders and illustrated it with ecological images of the damaged bodies of mothers, babies, and the unborn. This “biotic nationalism” helped conservatives paint a convincing picture of the America of the 1970s and 1980s and remains potent today, as visible in the “Crippled America” described by Donald Trump.

Natasha Zaretsky is associate professor of history at Southern Illinois University. She is the author of No Direction Home: The American Family and the Fear of American Decline, 1968-1980 (UNC Press, 2007) and co-editor of Major Problems in U.S. History Since 1945 (4th ed., Cengage, 2013). Her articles have appeared in Diplomatic History, The Journal of Social History, The Journal of Women’s History, The New Republic, and elsewhere.


Brian Hamilton is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Wisconsin—Madison where he is researching African American environmental history in the nineteenth-century Cotton South. He is also an editor of the digital environmental magazine and podcast Edge Effects.

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