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Course Intro Hist 17B
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Tim Kelly, Ph.D.
Instructor of History and Poli Sci

West Valley College
14000 Fruitvale Ave
Saratoga, CA  95070
(408) 741-2546

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Selling Survival through Civil Defense and the Public's Response in the 1950s

Jon Timothy Kelly, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of History and Political Science
Marymount College

Presented at the 2001 Regional Meeting of the Southwest/Texas Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association

March 7-10, 2001
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Do not cite without author’s written permission.


Schenectady , New York had a plan to respond to nuclear attack.  Upon a red-alert signal, local civil defense volunteers were supposed to go into action, meeting at predetermined locations and waiting for Conel-rad instructions over the radio to start evacuation along prescribed civil defense routes.  But on July 22, 1957 at 4:30 a.m. , when a fire-alarm operator relaying a routine call accidentally set off the air-raid siren in this city of over 100,000, only one man took the alarm seriously.  He packed his pregnant wife into the car with two thermos bottles of water and some extra clothing and drove several hours before finally turning back when the radio reported no news of an attack.  In contrast, most residents did what Mayor Samuel S. Stratton confessed doing:  they rolled over and went back to sleep.  Others turned on lights, came out into the streets, jammed the phone lines with calls to the police and fire departments - all actions civilians were instructed NOT to take in case of an attack.  The county civil defense director, William Dunn, maintained that the whole affair was a demonstration of "civil defense awareness" within the community.  "The fact," he said, "that residents of the area in which the sirens were heard realized that they did not indicate an emergency is commendable."  Harper's Magazine found Dunn's explanation an ironic description of the public's interest in civil defense.  "Never before," contended the publication, "has the principle been so clearly stated that our civil defense setup works only because everyone ignores it."[1]

The image of bomb shelters during the early years of the Cold War reminds us today of the naivetè of those Americans who believed that with proper preparation, protection from a nuclear war was possible.  Civil defense in the 1950s embodied this innocence as the Boy Scouts of America passed out millions of pamphlets on how to survive a nuclear attack, newsreels and periodicals exhorted Americans to spend a weekend building that backyard fallout shelter, and Bert the Turtle told school children all across the country how to duck and cover should they suddenly see a flash of light.  The postwar decade was the golden age of civil defense - or so it appears.  In reality, Americans were largely passive to official efforts to promote civil defense as both a means to protect the homefront from an attack and a civic duty to fight the Cold War.  Policymakers were well aware that a civil defense program without civilians was no program at all, and they tried to confront the public's apathy head on through a number of promotions to encourage citizen involvement.

Selling Civil Defense

When news of the second Russian atom bomb test reached the White House press corps in the Fall of 1951 there was hardly the excitement that had accompanied the momentous announcement two years earlier.  Reporters took a break from the televised baseball game they were watching in the press room to file their reports, then went back to watching the game.  That the Russians possessed bombs and might use them was an idea Americans had already become accustomed to.  Even the initial fears of an atomic attack spurred by the outbreak of the Korean War had largely subsided within the public by 1951.  The challenge the Federal Civil Defense Agency (FCDA) faced, then, was not just implementing a civil defense program, but motivating the public to participate.[2] 

The initial reaction to the Truman Administration's civil defense initiative was positive.  A 1950-51 University of Michigan survey noted that 64% of respondents gave an accurate response when asked what the term civil defense meant, and 71% were willing to volunteer a few hours a week.[3]  FCDA officials answered thousands of letters requesting information on home-built shelters or how individuals and organizations could be involved in the country's commitment to home defense.  No group was unimportant - even dietitians were told by one federal employee in a letter that there would be "the greatest need for the technical knowledge and experience of trained dietitians, since any mass feeding operation will have to be undertaken in the affected communities."  Hundreds of letters were received in support of civil defense, including from the American Diabetes Association, the American Dental Association, the Artistic Weaving Company, and, rather ominously, from the American Cemetery Association.[4]

Yet there was also growing concern among FCDA officials that the American public may have been putting too much faith in the American military to defend the homefront in case of attack.  The University of Michigan survey showed in 1951 that 68% of respondents believed that the armed forces could protect American cities completely or at least from heavy damage.[5]  Clearly a greater portion of the public would need to be more aware of the facts in order to take civil defense seriously.  The public also would need to learn through a nationwide education program that the civilian defense of World War II - which conjured up images of wardens in white hats telling neighbors to turn out their lights - should not be connected with the organization and objectives of a civil defense program which sought to tackle the problems of the nuclear age. 

The FCDA sought to "sell" the concept of civil defense to the public in a way that would rouse both civilians and their legislative representatives from apathetic states.[6]  This advertising strategy consisted of focusing on "independent self-contained" units, among which the FCDA targeted industry and the home.  By concentrating on these units, it was hoped that the community which they comprised would come to support a vigorous civil defense effort regardless of politics.  "Advertising on a planned basis can do this," read an Agency memorandum.  Rather than being dependent on the whims of an editorial mind, advertising had the advantage of planned consistency, the end result being that the public and their leaders could be stirred into action.[7]  Advertising agencies such as Johnson and Johnson and The Advertising Council were recruited to help publicize the FCDA's message that the time to prepare for nuclear war was now.  Copywriters, artists, and layout and production men had been used to great effect to motivate Americans on the home front during World War II, and FCDA officials hoped to recreate that motivation through a newly designed advertising campaign to encourage Americans to help win the Cold War.[8] 

  In search of a "gimmick," FCDA officials arranged to publicize their message through motion pictures, television, radio, pamphlets, comic books, and posters.  One FCDA panel even suggested using pinball machines to further awareness of the importance of civil defense.[9]  Leaders in industry and the media were briefed to familiarize them with the government's objectives and to seek their help.  Officials from publications such as Vogue, Good Housekeeping, Life, Time, Redbook and Parade Magazine were all consulted, as well as executives from the ABC, CBS, and NBC networks.  Corporate sponsorships were sought with Tide, Lipton Tea, and Hearst publications, while public personalities such as Arthur Godfrey and Edward Murrow were enlisted to support the FCDA's efforts.  Theater operators and television producers were linked throughout the country to host "closed circuit" civil defense training shows in which viewers could address a television screen with questions and receive an immediate and direct answer.  These films could then be rebroadcast on television stations and supplemented with FCDA films such as "Survival Under Atomic Attack," "Duck and Cover," and "Our Cities Must Fight."[10]

One early promotional event sponsored by the FCDA was the Alert America Convoy, which traveled to over 60 principal target cities in 1951 and 1952 in order to drive home the threat that Americans faced in the nuclear age.  Exhibits within the 10 truck convoy provided information on both the peaceful uses of atomic energy and its horrors in war, and included a film strip of an actual atomic explosion and a diorama of what one bomb could do to a city.  Hands-on displays featuring push button machinery, radiological devices, and fire-fighting equipment were also included to allow viewers a measure of participation.  Finally, everyone who passed through the convoy was asked in the "pay-off" room to pledge to do something positive - such as volunteering in the local civil defense organization or teaching members of their family how to protect themselves.  Local media was saturated with advertisements announcing the coming and arrival of the convoy, and usually a "Civil Defense Week" was declared by the hosting city to heighten awareness.[11]

Yet advertising could not carry the full load of the FCDA's campaign on behalf of civil defense.  Though initially excited in 1951 at the prospect of creating a nationwide ad campaign, both the Advertising Council and Johnson and Johnson were discouraged a year later with the public's lack of response to Congressional opposition to fully funding FCDA requests.  While they believed that an ad campaign which urged concrete and simple protective measures could yield positive results, they were also persuaded that a campaign in which the sole objective was the changing of public assumptions would fail.  These advertising agencies simply found it untimely and inappropriate "to ask the public to become actively serious or advertising to give its time and space when the Government itself appears to indicate a lack of concern."[12]  Civil defense proponents needed a more coherent strategy to achieve their goals of a citizenry ready to participate in its own protection.


A related endeavor of civil defense authorities was to integrate their ideas into American culture itself by enlisting as their storm-troopers cultural professionals throughout society.  To achieve this, the FCDA offered short courses in civil defense preparation during the 1950s to thousands of clergy, educators, doctors, nurses, police and fire-fighters at its Battle Creek , Michigan headquarters. 

A crucial element of this cultural strategy was to bring in religious institutions as an advocate for the FCDA's civil defense plans.  "Certainly no greater single force than religion exists to sustain that intangible portion of man - his spirit - with the courage necessary for survival in these trying times," FCDA Director Millard Caldwell told a conference of religious leaders in 1951.  Clergy would be indispensable at a time of attack to tell survivors that there was no price too high to pay to keep fighting for America 's way of life.[13]  They could also be instrumental in urging congregations to embrace civil defense before an attack.  A National Religious Advisory Committee within the FCDA was organized in February 1951 which recommended the appointment of state religious advisory committees and a chief of clergy operational services in each local civil defense organization.  At its height, there were 33 state and many local religious advisory committees.[14]

Another strategy of the FCDA's cultural campaign was to use the family as the focal point of an effective civil defense program.  There were practical reasons for placing so much emphasis on the family in civil defense planning since by law, the FCDA was limited in what it could do.  The Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950 specified that the FCDA's role was one of "organizing" the nation for the protection of life and property, and it specifically cautioned the Agency from attempting to protect life and property itself.  Moreover, in any crisis situation, aid from state and local authorities would be slow in coming.  Thus the family unit would have to be self-reliant in the immediate aftermath of any nuclear attack.

There was also, however, a practical angle to the promotion of civil defense as an embodiment of values such as self-reliance, personal responsibility, and volunteerism that the American family was believed to represent.  By infusing civil defense with what President Dwight Eisenhower observed was the "moral structure" of the family and the "spiritual strength" of American home life, a civil defense program could be sold on the basis that it strengthened the moral foundations of the American home.[15]  Civil defense could be represented in the form of the family.

Nuclear war was not a pretty subject, but civil defense officials encouraged parents to be open and honest with their children about the bomb, and to devise tasks for them should an attack occur.  One child could be put in charge of gathering blankets and games, while another's duties could be keeping the radio and flashlight in working order.  Public schools were enlisted by teaching children how to "duck and cover" should they see a flash of light.[16]   The New York City Board of Education instructed teachers to avoid frightening children during air raid drills by smiling when announcing the drill.  The exercise should be treated as a game, accompanied with songs, dances and other entertainment for the children during their time in the shelters.  "Schools are a prime channel of communication between the local disaster program and the homes of the community," wrote the Safety Journal in 1959 as it encouraged schools to devise a disaster preparedness curriculum for the atomic age. 

"People need to be sold on civil defense, and many people have children in school.  Whether the children bring the disaster protection message home verbally or as take-home material, the schools are an effective agent for its distribution."[17]

Though children were central in civil defense thinking, the primary targets of this cultural campaign were women.  In July 1950, officials at the National Security Resources Board felt it wise to consider the potential role of women in civil defense operations and encouraged the appointment of a consultant or assistant that represented the women of the nation.[18]  The 11 million member General Federation of Women's Clubs lobbied that such a position be created, and offered any assistance it could to help set a program in place that would involve its members.  Likewise, the New York City Federation of Women's Clubs and the National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs urged that the government take a leading role in devising a strong homefront security which included the full participation of women.[19]  One FCDA consultant in January 1951 encouraged the Agency to draw on women's clubs in states where there was a problem with apathy.  In both Ohio and Arkansas , for example, he stated that women's organizations "were very enthusiastic and eager to get started."[20]

Women were seen as a natural constituency by civil defense advocates because it was thought that they embodied the traditional role of the homemaker.  Historian Elaine Tyler May has argued that a "major goal of these civil defense strategies was to infuse the traditional role of women with new meaning and importance, which would help fortify the home as a place of security amid the cold war."[21]  Thus the task of these homemakers was to learn the proper methods to achieve home security in the nuclear age.  One New York television station in early 1951 aired 15 ten minute programs aimed at teaching housewives what they should do to prepare their family in case of attack, including learning first aid, storing food and equipment, fighting fires, and identifying the ideal spot for a family shelter.[22]  Evoking nostalgic memories of a simpler past, a nationwide publicity campaign urged women to stock their home shelters much like their grandmothers would have stocked their pantries - so they would always be ready "when the preacher came on Sunday" or "when the relatives arrived from Nebraska ."  Canned milk, meats, soups, fruits and vegetables, as well as bottled beverages, and miscellaneous items such as flour, sugar, utensils, and toiletries, would ensure a family's survival.  "Grandma's Pantry Was Ready - Is Your Pantry Ready in Event of Emergency?"[23]

As wives and as mothers, wrote correspondent Jeannie Willis in American Home, women needed to take the initiative in learning about the effects of atomic weapons and the measures needed to protect themselves and their families.  Using examples that she felt her readers could relate to, Willis equated women's confusion about civil defense to "sort of like not reading the instructions on labels, then complaining when the product doesn't work."  In regards to the seeming contradiction between the FCDA's simultaneous promotion of shelters and evacuation, Willis explained that both were integral parts of overall planning.  "You don't have just one dress; you have different dresses for different occasions.  And so it is with these plans."[24]  Women could also be the key to America 's post-nuclear recovery, argued UCLA's Medical School Dean Dr. Stafford Warren , by using their knowledge to help the family overcome the shock and the distress of atomic attack.  "They are the ones that will do the cooking and they will do the mothering of the children and the husbands."  Fortunately, mothering was an activity "that satisfies the woman and gets her mind on the immediate problem - the things she can do and do well."[25]

Women were particularly encouraged to take on leadership responsibilities because, as Eisenhower argued, any man "married as long as I have doesn't underrate the persuasive powers of a lady."[26]  Jean Wood Fuller was a good example of persuasiveness.  As director of women's activities for the FCDA, she wrote newsletters, spoke at women's clubs, and was proud to say that she participated in one nuclear test by crouching in a trench 3,500 yards away from the blast.  "We suffered no ill effects from the blast," she told her readers, "because we had been thoroughly prepared with information on what to do and how to do it."[27]  Katherine Howard, Assistant Administrator for Educational Services in the FCDA, also took an active role in encouraging women to participate.  She toured the country with two unbroken dishes and a cookbook she retrieved out of a home at a nuclear blast in order to illustrate that proper precautions could save a family.  Howard spoke to woman's groups, and service clubs and appeared on radio and television, making an appearance on the popular Arthur Godfrey show.[28] 

The Problem of Secrecy

Having made such efforts to sell survival through public relations campaigns and domesticate it through families and women, civil defense officials in the mid-1950s were discouraged by the lack of interest on the part of most Americans.  They were particularly disturbed by polls such as one of 1953 that found 72% of Americans believed Russian planes incapable of penetrating American defenses, despite the abundance of information to the contrary.[29]  People needed to know more about the threat they faced, contended former Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) Chairman David Lilienthal.  Unless they were told what America 's strengths and weaknesses were, they would not see the face of danger with clarity or reality.  Too much security breeds misperception, argued physicist Ralph Lapp, adding that America stifled a discussion of the atom at its own peril.[30]  Civil defense advocates were united in their belief that secrecy was undermining their efforts to raise the public's level of concern.[31]

Of course, secrecy concerning the American nuclear program was hardly unique to the Eisenhower Administration.  President Harry Truman had strongly supported a policy of secrecy, insisting on it at every opportunity with regard to the changing size and shape of the American nuclear stockpile.  Later Eisenhower followed Truman's example, telling a press conference in October of 1953, "We do not intend to disclose the details of our strength in atomic weapons...but it is large and increasing steadily."  Moreover, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles felt it prudent to remain silent about the results of the BRAVO tests of thermonuclear weapons, fearing that Western Europe might be frightened into concluding that NATO was a hopeless gesture in the face of the hydrogen bomb.[32]

However, the Administration was forced to be more forthcoming about the danger of fallout when Lapp published two articles in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists detailing the dangers of nuclear fallout and the new challenge it posed for civil defense planners.  The first one in November 1954 speculated that the BRAVO test's radioactive cloud extended 4,000 square miles, and a second article in February 1955 revised the estimate to 10,000 square miles - an area the size of Maryland .  The AEC went public soon afterwards, admitting to a 7,000 square mile fallout pattern in the BRAVO test and confessing to its deadly effects.[33]

But misinformation continued to be published by the AEC's press office, breeding distrust in the public, the Congress, and particularly the scientific community.  When Senator Estes Kefauver held hearings in 1955 following the release of the AEC's report on radioactive fallout from the BRAVO tests, several scientists came before his Armed Services Committee to complain that the Commission ignored potentially deadly implications should a hydrogen bomb be detonated near a body of salt water.  "A bomb burst close to sea water would produce vast quantities of radiosodium and radiochlorine," Lapp explained.  "For example, a bomb burst in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Los Angeles would probably cloak the city in a lethal fog even though no blast shook the city."  The AEC was accused of glossing over the long-range effect of radiation as witnesses disclosed that the 200,000 Japanese survivors of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki suffered more cataracts and leukemia than did other Japanese.  In addition, scientists asserted, experiments on animals were conclusive in demonstrating that radiation shortens life and causes genetic defects in offspring.[34]

The FCDA had long supported a more open policy about the effects of nuclear weapons, and, in an effort to shock the public into taking these weapons seriously, it staged a test in conjunction with the military at the Yucca Flats, Nevada site in March of 1953.  Trying to create the setting of a "typical American town," the FCDA placed two homes with store-window dummies near Ground Zero in order to show televised viewers the importance of civil defense.  Over one-thousand civil defense representatives, including governors of many states, police and fire chiefs, and, Life reported, "even public spirited housewives," were on hand to watch the exercise, and millions of viewers tuned in via television to see the damage inflicted on Elm and Main Streets.  The effect on the homes was substantial, but, contended the FCDA, residents taking shelter would have survived.[35]

The intent of the FCDA was to alter the widespread conviction that no reasonable precautions could save one from atomic attack.  However, a contradictory message was also generated since the army moved its troops closer to Ground Zero than ever before - only two miles - trying to show that atomic weapons were not as terrorizing as many had portrayed.  Indeed, Lt. General John Hodge, Army Field Forces Chief, told reporters that foot soldiers with proper precautions need not fear the bomb more than any other weapon.  Moreover, the FCDA's later discussion of the test in a publication entitled Operation Doorway was, Time reported, less than frank.  The agency's conclusion was that dummies placed in wooden shelters survived in good condition.  What the booklet did not make clear was that the houses were covered in a cloud of radiation after the explosion which would certainly have killed anyone in the basement shelter.  Nor did it explain that the test itself was unrealistic, having used a weapon only a tenth of the size of other atomic weapons in the U.S. arsenal.  The houses had been painted white to reduce the effect of the explosion's heat, and these homes contained no electric wiring, gas pipes, oil burners, or other household items that might catch fire.  Except for outside chimneys, there was no masonry which surely would have crashed into the basement, crushing both the shelters and their occupants.  But, wrote Time, the "FCDA is correct in saying that its shelters will protect some people who happen to live in wooden houses at the proper distance from an explosion that does not set the houses on fire or spray them with radioactivity."[36]

In a second attempt, the FCDA staged a much more elaborate test in 1955 to analyze the effects of an atomic weapon on a typical American home.  The CBS and NBC television networks worked with the FCDA to give the test the maximum amount of publicity, sharing the $200,000 cost to produce a 7 day series of episodes at the Yucca Flats site.  Special editions of "Youth Wants to Know" and "Adventure" were filmed at the Flats, and "Today," "Home," and "The Morning Show" made regular visits to acquaint their viewers with " Survival City ," a community of ten houses completely furnished and situated on Doomsday Drive .  Reporters conducted one-sided interviews with the Darlings, a family of clothing store dummies, while Kit Kinne, Foods Editor of the "Home" show, led America 's housewives on a tour through the Darlings' cupboards and icebox, speculating on the effects the blast would have on everything from dishwashers to children's nightgowns.  Newscasters such as Charles Collingwood, John Cameron Swayze, and Walter Cronkite offered serious commentary on the implications of the test and in the process built up suspense for the viewing audience.  It would have been a perfect public relations event for the FCDA - except that the test was plagued by bad weather conditions.  As it turned out, the bomb was triggered after 9 days of delays - and three days after the television personalities that kept viewer interest focused had left.  CBS and NBC both ultimately presented a rather cursory account and picture of the test, and "Home" gave a filmed version of the explosion five minutes between a lesson in meringue whipping and a plug for Mother's Day.[37]

The test did produce results that the FCDA could use to tout in its civil defense mantra, however.  Under the impact of a 50 kiloton weapon (twice the combined size of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs), both brick and wooden homes 4,700 feet away from Ground Zero were destroyed, but homes built to California earthquake specifications stood up well.  The AEC reported that of the ten houses included in the test, "the condition of seven was such that they could be made habitable for emergency occupancy by shoring and repairs."  Dogs that were housed in shelters within the ruined buildings survived, and white mice sheltered closer to the blast were also unharmed.  But the insides of the standing homes showed clearly the type of horrors that human beings would face should they be caught above ground during an attack.  Venetian blinds had been tossed around like bundles of spears, and furniture had been hurled across rooms.  In one home, a refrigerator had exploded from the change in air pressure, while in another a doorknob had been ripped from its door and thrown half through a wall.  A mannequin still sat at a kitchen table in one house, but her wig had been stripped off and flung into the remains of the refrigerator.  In another, a dummy was skewered with jagged glass.  Despite criticisms that the device exploded was small compared to the H-bomb, the FCDA considered the test and the information it gathered a success.[38] 

Yet the public was apparently unmoved.  Could it be that despite its efforts to educate Americans, the FCDA was providing information that was simply too mind numbing?  Americans read in magazine and newspaper stories about what would happen to New York as the result of an atomic attack.  They saw the footage of the explosions in Nevada .  But, asserted correspondent Ronald Sawyer in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, there was "a morbid unreality about all this."  Magazines and newspapers could be folded up.  Televisions and radios could be turned off.  "We don't like to meet these questions face to face," he wrote.  The real secret of the bomb is "fear."  One Newsweek reader in South San Gabriel , California agreed when he concluded in a letter, "Sure, many people don't read about the tests and they are scared; many of us do read about them and we are still scared."

When in March 1955 a radioactive cloud from a new AEC Nevada test drifted across the United States , Americans were uneasy about the dangers.  Disclosing that the air was four times more radioactive than usual, the AEC called the cloud harmless - explaining that radioactivity 30,000 times normal would still not endanger human life.  But the nation buzzed with old wives' tales as people were sure that the AEC's tests had changed weather for the worse and was causing abortions, stillbirths, and sterility.  In Southern California , residents were nervous over the atomic tests and Survival Food Kits for $5.40 were "going very well" at local retailers, reported civil defense officials.  Why were Americans so afraid?  Because, reported Newsweek, they refused to learn the true facts about nuclear weapons.  "The whole idea of atomic war was so horrible, they just declined to think about it."  Civil defense proponents could provide facts and survival techniques to civilians that, they were told, would help save them and their loved ones; but officials could not force Americans to listen.[39 

The Public Response

Civil defense was an opportunity for Americans to do their part in the Cold War fight against communism by actively volunteering.  Yet if Operation Skywatch is any indication, public response was mixed at best.  In 1952, the Air Force sought 500,000 volunteers to fill 19,400 observation posts around the country to spot low flying planes that radar could not pick up.  "This vital flaw in the nation's defense," said Brig. Gen. George F. Smith of the Eastern Air Defense Force, "can only be corrected by the people themselves."  Perhaps the first warning of a Russian attack would come from a Protestant missionary among the Eskimos of Alaska, or a high school kid in Maine !  Thousands of housewives, clergy, forest rangers, prison guards, police, and even hospital patients gave their time by calling-in reports of unidentified aircraft to a central observation station.  Still, even the importance of this 24 hour operation could not overcome the widespread reluctance of the public to get involved.  By 1953, less than 300,000 volunteers were operating 10,000 posts in 36 states.  Within 9 of those states, the program was on stand-by basis, operating only 12 hours a month.[40]

A civil defense program constructed on the principle of self-help could only be effective if a majority of the population participated.  Yet despite periodic upswings of public interest when international tensions increased, indifference throughout the 1950s was notable.  In fact, opinion polls suggested that the public felt less and less there was a likelihood of war, from 53% in 1952, to 47% in 1954, and 38% in 1956.[41]  Other surveys indicated that while civil defense remained a popular program, most people essentially believed that it was a task to be performed by the government - not the individual.[42]

One local civil defense director in Rochester, New York, attributed public apathy to the fact that after countless hours of preparation for an enemy attack during World War II that never materialized, many Americans in the 1950s reasoned, "Once a sucker - never again."[43]  Others were reluctant to put themselves up to ridicule by friends and family.  A "peculiar difficulty" that civil defense volunteers had to overcome, Eisenhower admitted to a woman's conference in 1954, was that "Americans have a very great fear of being thought a little 'Boy Scoutie,' or maybe I should say 'Girl Scoutie;' that is being a little too naive, too childlike in their approach."[44]  There were, of course, those who took the government at its word.  When in 1960 the members of Full Gospel, Inc. of South Dakota were found by local law enforcement huddling in their bomb shelters, certain that the Lord had told them nuclear war was imminent, an angry Gospeler named Glenn Scott told deputies, "We are doing what the Government has told everyone to do.  We're taking an active part in civil-defense preparation."[45]

Fighting the perception of eccentricity was a constant battle for civil defense proponents since the popular press was filled with humorous stories of Americans doing more than their part to "stand up" to nuclear war.  In 1951, Leo Pauwels of Los Angeles developed a suit of armor for his 6 year old son that weighed 10 pounds.  (The Atomic Energy Commission called it the first of its kind and said it had "possibilities.")  Later, during the intense interest in protection from fallout of the late 1950s, stories about families participating in shelter tests became common.  In Miami , a newlywed couple spent their two week honeymoon in a fallout shelter (with a two week vacation in Jamaica awaiting them if they could stick it out).  Did they fight, one reporter wanted to know?  Yes, they had had a small argument over checkers the first day, but nothing else.  The couple said their relationship was strengthened by the experience and both were "proud" that they were able to take part in the test.  When the Powner family of Highstown , New Jersey participated in a Princeton University shelter experiment, they took along with them games and tranquilizer pills for their kids, plus a bottle of whisky and the unexpurgated version of Lady Chatterley's Lover for their own diversion.  After fourteen days, the Powners emerged "happy and healthy" from the shelter.  "I think everyone should have one in his home," Mrs. Powner concluded.[46]

Shelters ranged in price and quality.  Mr. and Mrs. Harry E. Thomason and their five children built a fallout shelter under the porch.  At $350, it was pretty Spartan.  For the "ultimate" shelter experience, few could beat Battle Creek , Michigan steel contractor Earl W. Reichert's 20x40-foot structure which for $10,000 had access to a 98 foot well, private electricity generating plant, and electric and hand operated blowers for the filtered air system.  For those with limited financial resources, a Chicago Savings and Loan in 1959 became the first S&L to finance a loan for home fallout shelters.  Borrowers were told that such shelters could be multi-purpose, serving as a year round storage closet, a practice room for young family musicians, a carpentry work shop, a record and television room, or a wine cellar.[47] 

Stories such as these did little to create a positive image of civil defense, and advocates were aware of the need to get respected community leaders involved to set an example for others.  "To be frank about it," said one FCDA official, "civil defense needs this element of 'respectability.'  It needs to be accepted as something which everybody with a reputation for prudence and common sense works into his pattern of daily living, just as he buys life insurance and teaches his children traffic safety."  The Chicago Daily News speculated that many people were reluctant to talk about building a shelter for fear of "being thought crackpots."  Writing in Life, William Bascom of the National Academy of Sciences suggested that "a social atmosphere must be created in which a person can provide a shelter for his family without being regarded as an idiot or an alarmist by his neighbors."  Eisenhower official Leo Hoegh recommended a public information program that would portray a person building a shelter for himself as a patriotic citizen rather than an eccentric.[48]

Though the lack of public attention was no doubt frustrating, civil defense planners hoped that Americans could be motivated with a continuing process of education to overcome their fears and their apathy.  What worried these planners was that there might be something more than apathy at work in the public's mind:  namely, fatalism.  In Evanston , Illinois , civil defense officials could only garner 5 volunteers after mailing out 11,300 pamphlets on the H-bomb three weeks before.  Alderman Eddy S. Brandt, Evanston 's Civil Defense chief, was convinced that this response was produced by a "queasy feeling that the H-bomb is so terrible that there is no defense."  FCDA Director Val Peterson was sensitive to the assumption that a nuclear attack on the U.S. would be so devastating that Americans could do nothing about it.  "To be completely candid," he said in 1953, "there is some truth [in] this attitude."  The obstacles faced by those in target areas under the shadow of the H-bomb were so vast and bewildering that it was difficult for civilians and local leaders not to feel that any attempt at defense was futile.  Granted, the Eisenhower Administration may have worried more than it needed to about feelings of despair among the population.  In 1956, in a University of Michigan poll conducted for the FCDA, only 4% actually expressed a belief that civil defense was hopeless.  Still, as the reports of the dangers of fallout increased during the decade, so did concern within the Administration that a feeling of helplessness was growing.[49]

This concern is best witnessed in the Eisenhower Administration's reaction to the 1959 release of the movie On the Beach.  Following closely the 1957 novel of the same name by Nevile Shute, the film takes place in 1964 following a nuclear war in which all the earth's inhabitants, save those in Australia , have perished from radioactive fallout.  There are no scenes of fire and mushroom clouds engulfing American cities, only images of empty and lifeless streets in San Francisco and San Diego .  The film focuses on the human relationships formed by the survivors in Australia who are gripped by a sense of impending doom as the fallout from the northern hemisphere moves into their atmosphere.  Everyone implicitly agrees that there is no escape from certain death, and so rather than suffer from radiation sickness, people line up to receive government issued suicide pills.  In the final scene, the viewer is shown an empty townsquare where a revivalist meeting was held earlier, now left with only a banner reading:  "There is still time...Brother."  Staring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Anthony Perkins, and Fred Astair, the film premiered simultaneously in 4 American cities ( Chicago , Los Angeles , New York , and Washington ) and 15 foreign cities, including Johannesburg , London , Moscow , and Tokyo .  A publicity campaign was designed to give the motion picture maximum exposure and included extensive advance showings to film critics, government agencies, and other groups in the United States and abroad.[50]

On the Beach aggravated and worried the Administration and civil defense proponents because, thy argued, of its inaccuracies in dealing with the hazards of radiation.  Never in the film is there any discussion of the types of preventive measures that could be taken to protect individuals from fallout.  Nor is evidence offered to support the theory that a nuclear war in the northern hemisphere based on hydrogen bombs would so poison the atmosphere as to kill all life on the planet.  One New York civil defense director attacked the movie as lacking scientific basis for its views on radiation effects.  Protection against fall-out, he argued, was "not only possible but relatively simple."  Senator Wallace Bennet (R-Utah) criticized the film as being "completely unrealistic," "distorted," and "misleading," while the New York Daily News charged the film with being "defeatist" and playing "right up the alley of (a) the Kremlin and (b) the Western defeatists and/or traitors who yelp for the scrapping of the H-bomb."  Though the Administration instructed its subordinates to take a low profile in criticizing the film,  internal memoranda show that national civil defense Administrator Leo Hoegh believed it to be "very harmful" because of the feeling of "utter hopelessness" that it engendered, thus undermining civil defense efforts.[51]

As for the public's reaction, New York Times media critic Bosley Crowther noted that the film had an impact on its viewers who left the theaters sober and contemplative.  "For a few hours, in 1960, one is vicariously taken to the edge of doom, then reprieved."  Crowther wondered why any guardian of the public would quarrel with such a reaction on an incredibly important subject?  The film, as well as the discussion surrounding it, he thought, could well fuel the public's desire to take more initiative in civil defense.  Indeed, a 1960 Gallup Poll conducted on the eve of Premier Nikita Khrushchev's announcement that the Soviet Union had downed an American U-2 spy plane found 71% of those polled favoring a law that would require each community to build public bomb shelters.  In the same Gallup Poll, however, only 21% reported that they had given any thought to building a home shelter, and 50% said they were uninterested in paying $500 for one to be built.[52]  Thus, civil defense advocates could not ignore the fact that despite all of their efforts at educating the public, Americans remained as lethargic at the end of the decade as they were at the beginning.

The Case Against Civil Defense

From its inception in the post-war years, civil defense had always garnered at least limited opposition.  The Scientists' Movement of the late 1940s, for example, spoke extensively against passive defense measures such as dispersal or shelters, arguing that the only true defense against atomic weapons was a political one.[53]  Within the halls of Congress, the Civil Defense Act of 1950 passed the House by a 247 to 1 margin, but the measure was not enthusiastically supported.  Representative Dewey Short (R-MO) of the House Armed Services Committee explained, "I do not like castor oil but sometimes I am forced to take it," and he warned that Congress must guard against "vicious boondoggling and waste" in civil defense.  When the FCDA first debuted in 1951 with its shelter proposal, Congressional opponents such as Representative Charles H. Elston (D-OH) argued that Americans would never have enough time to get in them unless a city was "completely covered with shelters."[54]  And Representative Clarence Cannon (D-MO), Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, went so far as to say that no civil defense program, no matter how elaborate, could respond to the catastrophe that America should expect from a nuclear attack.[55]  Congress was willing to fund a civil defense program only as long as the federal role remained limited to advising and research. 

Within the general public, the historian is hard pressed to find criticism of civil defense before the mid-1950s.  In fact, public opinion surveys, such as those conducted by the University of Michigan , showed civil defense to be very popular among Americans.[56]  In  opposing civil defense, one took the risk of being branded a subversive or unpatriotic.  Yet there were a few citizens who dared to take this risk.  New York resident Mary Jane Melish was one who in 1950 sought to organize a protest against atom bomb air raid drills in the public schools when she sent out letters to parents that read in part, "Were you shocked when your children came home and reported that they had A-Bomb Air Raid Drills?  Is your child one of those who is waking up in terror because of these drills?"  Though New York civil defense directors reportedly took a keen interest in Melish's efforts, they allowed the letter to be ridiculed or denounced by local mothers' clubs and parent-teachers associations.[57] 

In another example, the FBI was called in to investigate a wave of anonymous letters received by several hundred volunteer workers through the spring of 1951 in the cities of New York , Columbus , Detroit , Cleveland , and San Francisco .  In these letters, civil defense was mocked by recommending that participants purchase items such as a belt with hooks for carrying four buckets of water and four buckets of sand and a steel helmet with a turned-up brim for carrying extra water.  The civil defense director for Columbus believed the letters should be taken much more seriously than a practical joke, while FCDA Director Millard Caldwell said they were "obviously the work of some subversive group."[58]

As civil defense grew more established, so too did criticism of the program.  In noting a 1951 air raid drill in New York City , the New Yorker magazine commented as to how well behaved the citizens were, "docile as lambs, huddled in hallways and tunnels while a hush fell over all."[59]  Though major newspapers and most magazine publications offered editorial support of these protective measures, there were a few such as the Nation, Commonweal, and the New Republic which ridiculed these efforts.  "Civil defense is a farce," declared Harper's in 1955, "and a farce only slightly relieved by the fact that very few people ever thought it otherwise."[60]

By 1955, one could discern a nascent opposition emerging within the public, organizing around three general arguments:  first, that civil defense was a cruel deception of those it was intended to protect; second, that, regardless of its effectiveness, the result would militarize our society; and finally, that it psychologically conditioned Americans to go to war.  This was not a unified movement, however, but a somewhat related miscellany of reactions on the part of pacifists, religious leaders, politicians, educators, and other professionals.  Nor was civil defense always the principle target.  Groups such as the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) and the Fellowship of Reconciliation (a religious pacifist organization for radical Protestants), were more often focused on the larger picture of the nuclear arms race.  But civil defense was perceived as an important link within the military structure that they opposed.  A.J. Muste of the Catholic Workers of New York explained the situation:

"Civil defense, after all, is an integral part of the total preparation for nuclear war.  We, on the other hand, are convinced that the only way to a secure defense is for people to refuse to participate in any way in the preparation for war."[61]  

Civil defense personalized the dangers of war in a way that a lecture or pamphlet on the arms race could not.  Turning on its head the government's argument that citizens could make a difference in the Cold War by participating in civil defense, opponents argued that Americans could make a difference by not participating.

At the forefront of opposition against civil defense efforts were the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Catholic Workers, who, with the assistance of the War Resisters League and other activists, carried demonstrations against the Operation Alert Air Raid exercises which the Eisenhower Administration held annually.  On June 15, 1955 , 29 people were arrested for refusing to enter a shelter, a misdemeanor crime.  When they were brought before the bench of Judge Louis Kaplan, he called them "murderers," set bail at $1,500 each, and threw them in jail.  "Such, it seems, is the price of nonconformity in America today," editorialized the religious publication Commonweal.[62]  But these activists were undeterred, showing up in the same location each year thereafter to protest Operation Alert exercises.

Humor was an effective way for opponents to get the message across that civil defense was inappropriate.  In one spoof, the New Republic put forward a special disaster plan, "under government subsidy," to designate metropolitan taverns, bars, and cocktail lounges as Disaster Comfort Stations where recipients could consume as much special disaster reserves of bourbon whiskey as they had time for.  "Tipsification, leading to euphoria, then complacency, and finally stupefaction are the avowed objects of the Plan."  When the bombs fell, "No one, as they say, would know what hit him."  In an editorial criticizing the 1960 Operation Alert exercise, the Nation expressed feigned awe that among the 3,935,490 hypothetical deaths in New York City , the thousands of spectators at Yankee Stadium who were directed to seek shelter under their benches survived.  "Not one was hurt, which suggests that bleachers may be the answer to the shelter problem."[63]

Other critics of civil defense, such as New Jersey Democratic Governor Robert B. Meyner, were more blunt in their assessments of the situation.  Civil defense, asserted Meyner in speeches and publications, by trying to convince everyone that their salvation lay in underground shelters, was a "cruel deception on the American people."   If an enemy was intent on destroying a city and its inhabitants, shelters would not be a difficult obstacle to overcome.  Indeed, those who did survive in the shelters would re-emerge into a world of desolation which promised their inevitable deaths.  "What would they use for air?  What would they use for food?  What would they use for hospitals...streets...people?"  There is but one defense against nuclear war, Meyner argued, "and that is peace."[64]

Some critics charged that regardless of the effectiveness of civil defense, America ran the risk of turning itself into a garrison state should it follow through on trying to seek absolute security.  This argument was put forward as early as 1946 when the executive director of the Federation of American Scientists W.A. Higinbotham wrote in the New York Times that defense measures such as dispersal or shelters "would bring economic and personal regimentation approaching that of Nazi Germany."  America risked poisoning its way of life by preparing for atomic war.  "It would mean a massive military establishment, not simply a stockpile of atomic bombs but industry geared to instant conversion, every man a soldier, peacetime evacuation drills in America 's schools."[65]  The point was made again in 1947 when CIA official Cord Meyer wrote in the Atlantic Monthly that a home defense based on total security would result in a drastic curtailment of democratic freedom.  "Total preparedness means totalitarianism for American citizens.  There is hardly an aspect of human life that will not have to be corrupted to the organized pursuit of force."[66]

Even supporters of civil defense were sensitive to the charges of regimentation.  Paul Larsen of the Office of Civilian Mobilization in the NSRB told Congress in 1950 that "total" defense was impossible.  As for forced dispersal, "The social and political costs of such decentralization might put an end to democracy as we know it.  To accomplish such a program of compulsory dispersion we would have to be willing to become a garrison state."[67]  Eisenhower, too, was aware of the dangers that civil defense entailed, confessing to a group of mayors in 1953 that there was a limit to the discipline that could be imposed upon civilians to prepare them for nuclear attack.  He suggested that, while Americans must always retain a respectable posture of defense, everyone had to use their best judgment as to how that defense would be maintained.

                "We can't be an armed camp.  We are not going to transfer [sic] ourselves into militarists.  We are not going to be in uniform, going around yelling 'heil' anything.  We are simply going to do our job, but do it intelligently."

In other words, Americans had to be persuaded to do what was necessary to avoid having to walk constantly in the shadow of fear.[68]

But it was precisely that fear of nuclear war that opponents of civil defense in the 1950s, like the earlier Scientists' Movement, wanted to encourage.  What else would prevent Armageddon if not the fear of annihilation?  Activists charged that civil defense was psychologically preparing Americans for war rather than peace.  "If war comes, if the bombs fall," argued Carl Soule of the Methodist sponsored Division of Peace and World Order, "become when the war comes, when the bombs fall."[69]  The Executive Council of the Friends Committee on National Legislation concurred, arguing that civil defense increased the chances of war by creating the sort of climate that would produce it.[70]  Stanley Meisler, writing in the Nation, contended that Americans must not drive from their minds the unspeakable horrors of war - the "writhing bodies and screaming flesh" - for then war becomes thinkable.  "In the nuclear age, war must be unthinkable."[71]

By 1960, opponents of civil defense had become more confident in their activism.  The annual protests against Operation Alert in New York City had grown to over 150 persons, with over 550 more demonstrating at City College , Brooklyn College , Queens College , Hunter College , and several New York high schools.  In Hartford, Connecticut, students from Wesleyan University and Hartford College picketed in front of the state capital with signs that read:  "Civil Defense Breeds Militarism," and "There is still time, Brother." 

Did the protest movement of the 1950s make any difference?  Probably not, because its activism never reached beyond a small segment of an overall population that continued to give wide support to civil defense in public opinion polls.  That support, however, was contingent upon someone else making the effort.  Thus the greatest obstacle civil defense planners faced was not overt opposition, but public apathy.  Without a crisis to motivate participants, a civil defense system dependent on volunteerism was doomed to failure from its inception.

Nevertheless, opposition to civil defense in the 1950s did serve a purpose - and would continue to do so as it became more powerful in the early 1960s (and later in the 1980s) - by providing an array of arguments against a program that went largely unchallenged (if also ignored) by the public.  The possibility of nuclear war was a danger that Americans needed to recognize - either by taking measures to protect themselves against it through civil defense, or by trying to prevent it by actively working for peace.  By arguing against the former, critics were establishing guideposts for thinking about the latter.  Doing nothing, millions of Americans took the risk that nuclear bombs would not fall on their homes - a risk that in the end paid off but had no guarantee of that outcome.


When the American Institute of Decorators took up the task of making fallout shelters less cold and frightening, it unveiled at a Chicago furniture show in January of 1960 what it thought "every space-hungry American family" would be enthusiastic about:  a shelter that not only looked inviting but could also be used for everyday living.  This 9x12 foot room had all the comforts of home, including sleeping, cooking, and bathroom facilities.  Bunk beds could be converted into sofas by day, and there was ample space for clothing, a television, a radio, and food for 42 meals.  There was even provision for a family pet.  Designed to accommodate a family of five for two weeks, this shelter allowed its occupants to practice the ultimate in family togetherness.  Even if "war never comes," Life cheerily noted, "children can claim it for a hideaway, father can use it for poker games and mother can count on it as a guest room."  But few in the audience on its opening day wanted to live in it, fearing the close quarters would induce a hysterical state of claustrophobia.  Entitled the "Family Room of Tomorrow," visitors found it a tasteless joke.  "If they want to invent a name for it," one asked angrily, "why not call it a mausoleum?"

Overcoming the public's apathy was the most frustrating task for proponents of civil defense.  Of course, many criticized the FCDA and its predecessor, the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization, for poor leadership in informing and motivating Americans; but the public itself came in for much blame for its lack of interest.  In one 1959 editorial, Life Magazine ridiculed the public's fatalism when it asked,  "Since when has survival been too dreadful to think about?"  The publication literally demanded that the public face up to the reality of nuclear war.  "We won't all be dead, that's sure."[72]

Yet civil defense required a rather large leap of faith, particularly for urban dwellers.  Just how great was indicated by one reporter from the New Yorker who disclosed that whenever an air raid drill was conducted in his downtown Manhattan tower, he and his workmates would descend from their nineteenth floor office to the corridors of the tenth floor where they huddled with other baffled laymen.  Evidently, he conceded, someone had "figured out" that the tenth floor was proof against explosions.  "Everything above this floor might be vaporized and everything below it smashed to rubble," he wrote in 1960, "but the floor itself, and all its grateful occupants, would waft gently down into the crater.  We find this a wonderful calculation.  We only wish we had more faith in it."[73]

Regardless of what Americans did or did not do to protect themselves, advocates of civil defense were well aware that the public would expect their elected representatives to take prompt and effective action should an emergency arise.  They also knew that public attitudes were changeable, depending on civil defense policy, scientific knowledge, and particularly the state of international relations.  For this reason they would continue to call for strong leadership to educate the public about the possibility of survival from nuclear attack; to prepare for today rather than wait for the crisis of tomorrow.  In 1961, proponents finally found that leadership in President John F. Kennedy who faced a series of international crises that raised public fears of nuclear war to new heights.  What resulted was the most extensive civil defense effort yet of the Cold War era.


[1].  "False (?) Alarm," Haper's Magazine, November 1957, p. 24-26.

[2].  "What Stalin's A-Bomb Means to the West and Its Defense," Newsweek, 15 October 1951, p. 24.

[3].  "A Preliminary Report on Public Attitudes Toward Civil Defense," 1950-1951, HSTL, President's Secretary Files, Box 144, Agencies - FCDA.

[4].  Letter from R.T. Scheffer, Acting Director Emergency Welfare Services to the American Dietetic Association, 24 January 1951, NAII, Entry 31B, Box 16, Records Relating to Civil Defense, 1949-1953.

[5].  Memorandum to Robert A. Lovett from Millard Caldwell, undated, HSTL, President's Secretary Files, Box 144, Agencies-FCDA.

[6].  Letter from The Advertising Council to Charles W. Jackson, 14 August 1951, HSTL, Quick Files, Box 5, CD Campaign Correspondence.

[7].  "An FCDA Mass Consumer Advertising Campaign," undated, HSTL, Quick Files, Box 5, CD Campaign - Correspondence, 1952-1953.

[8].  Memorandum to John A. DeChant from Edward Lyman, 29 May 1951, HSTL, Quick Files, Box 1, Civil Defense Program; Letter to Willard Pleuthner from Edward Lyman, 4 June 1951, HSTL, Box 1, Civil Defense Program.

[9].   "Basic Problems for C.D. Information and Training," Panel on Public Information and Training, 4 January 1952, HSTL, Psychological Strategy Board Files, Box 34, 384.5, Project East River.

[10].  Memorandum to Charles Jackson from Spencer Quick, 15 April 1952, HSTL, Spencer Quick Files, Box 5, Civil Defense Campaign Correspondence;  "The Federal Civil Defense Audio-Visual Program," undated, HSTL, Spencer Quick Files, Box 5, "Civil Defense Campaign Correspondence, 1952-1953.

[11].  Letter from Millard Caldwell to Matthew Connelly, 11 December 1951, HSTL, Official File, Box 1743, Folder 2965, 1945-51.

[12].  For views on this by the ad agencies themselves, see the following:  Letter from Henry Wehde, Jr. to Spencer Quick, 31 July 1952, HSTL, Spencer Quick Files, Box 5, CD Campaign Industrial; Letter from E.G. Gerbic to Charles Jackson, undated, HSTL, Spencer Quick Files, Box 1, Civil Defense Program.  John A. DeChant, Director of Public Affairs for the FCDA expressed the same thought as early as 1951 in a letter to Edward Lyman, 29 May 1951, HSTL, Spencer Quick Files, Box 1, Civil Defense Program.

[13].  "Clergy Urged to Take Part in Civil Defense Program," The Civil Defense Alert, HSTL, Quick Files, Box 1, CD Program.

[14].  Because more than 60% of the American population belonged to a church in the 1950s, FCDA officials argued, the church consistently touched more people more intimately than any other agency in American society.  "The Church and Civil Defense," FCDA, HSTL, Papers of Sidney Yates, Research Material, Box 75, CD#1; "Consider the Church in Civil Defense," DDEL, Virgil Couch Papers, 1951-1980, Box 2, Church in Civil Defense, 1956.

By 1956, Christian Century reported, the number of religious advisory committees had fallen to no more than 10 state and 100 local committees.  There were perils to the FCDA in enlisting clergy.  While officials professed civil defense symbolized a commitment to peace, many clergy felt exactly the opposite was true.  When in June 1956 the FCDA sponsored a series of courses in civil defense preparation for several hundred clergy from around the country, organizers realized the difficulties they faced in enlisting the churches.  The first course got off to a bad start when clergymen had to take a loyalty oath, including the affirmation:  "I do not advocate, nor am I a member of any political party or organization that advocates, the overthrow of the government of the United States by force or violence."  One member refused on principle to take the oath.  When the ideological phases of civil defense were mentioned, the course again bogged down.  Clergy were unimpressed with charts that sought to oversimplify the differences between democracy and communism in their concepts of God, man and morality.  Nor were many converted to the cause when Lutheran chaplain and Director of the Religious Affairs Office Fred Kern warned of the danger America faced from the "500 million pinks" around the world, or when he likened recent cuts in Russian armed forces to the "kiss of Judas."  "Prime Clergymen On Defense Role," Christian Century, 27 June 1956, pp. 781-2.

[15].  Guy Oakes, The Imaginary War:  Civil Defense and American Cold War Culture (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 105-106.

[16].  For the efforts of American schools to prepare children for nuclear attack, see JoAnne Brown, "'A Is for Atom, B Is for Bomb':  Civil Defense in American Public Education, 1948-1963," The Journal of American History 75 (June 1988), pp. 68-90.

[17].  "Atom Raid Drills In Schools Scored," New York Times, 20 October 1950, p. 17; Safety Journal quote from Margot Henriksen, Dr. Strangelove's America:  Society and Culture in the Atomic Age (Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1997), pp. 108-109.

[18].  Memo to Paul Larsen from William A. Gill, 18 July 1950, NAII, Record Group 304, Entry 31A, Box 1, Civil Defense, General.

[19].  Letter from Thalia S. Woods to W. Stuart Symington, 1 September 1950, NAII, Records Group 304, Entry 31A, Box 2, Federal, State, Local Relationships; "Civil Defense Plan Urged for Atom Attack," New York Times, 6 May 1950, p. 18; Lawrence Davies, "Women Seek Role in Mobilization," New York Times, 8 September 1950, p. 16.

[20].  Letter from Merle Huntington to James Wadsworth, 18 January 1951, NAII, Record Group 304, Entry 31A, Box 1, Federal-State-Local Relationships.

[21].  Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound:  American Families in the Cold War Era (New York:  Basic Books, Inc., 1988), pp. 103, 105.

[22].  Jack Gould, "Margaret Arlen Presents Civilian Defense Guide for Housewives in 'Course in Self-Preservation,'" New York Times, 28 February 1951, p. 37.

[23].  Newsletter from Jean Wood Fuller, "Grandma's Pantry Belongs in Your Kitchen," DDEL, Couch Papers, Box 3, Operation You, Your Role in Civil Defense, Information Kit, 1955.

[24].  Jeannie Willis, "Can You Survive This?  Yes!" American Home, August 1955, pp. 8-9.

[25].  Dr. Stafford Warren, "The Woman's Role in Atomic Warfare," DDEL, Couch Papers, Box 14, Washington Conference of National Women's Advisory Committee, Report on, 1956.

[26].  Eisenhower Remarks, 26 October 1954, EPP: 1954, p. 962.

[27].  Newsletter "By, For, and About Women in Civil Defense, No. 5" from Jean Wood Fuller, DDEL, Couch Papers, Box 3, Operation You, Your Role in Civil Defense, Information Kit, 1955.

[28].  Interview With Katherine Howard, 24 September 1968, DDEL, Oral History, p. 191.

[29].   "The Sanguine People," Time, 24 August 1953 p. 12.

[30].  David Lilienthal, "The Case for Candor On National Security," New York Times Magazine, 4 October 1953, p. 13; Dr. Ralph Lapp, "Too Many Secrets Spoil the Atom," Collier's, 5 July 1952, p. 15.

[31].  Baldwin, "Atomic Secrecy - 1," New York Times, 1 March 1953, p. 6.  Even FCDA employees responsible for devising plans to protect Americans were limited to what they could know about the numbers and types of weapons in America's stockpiles, the estimated strength of Russia, the effectiveness of delivery, and the full consequences of radiation.  FCDA Director Val Peterson testified before a Senate Committee in March 1955 that the method of security classification "made it extremely difficult for us to work in the area of preparation to take effective steps to meet the threat of fallout."  One man in the Agency might have access to certain information while another did not.  Max Freedman, "Washington in Focus," Nation, 9 April 1955, pp. 299-300.

[32].  For Truman, see McGeorge Bundy, Danger and Survival:  Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years (New York:  Random House, 1988), p. 201.  For Eisenhower, see Stephen Ambrose, Eisenhower:  The President (New York:  Simon and Schuster, 1984), p. 131, 132   "To Live - or Die - With It," Newsweek, 28 February 1955, p. 19.  Eisenhower was not happy about keeping from the American people information he felt important for them to know.  He considered a major address on the effects of the hydrogen bomb, but deferred to his Secretary of State's position by putting the speech on hold.  The speech would eventually develop into Eisenhower's "Atoms For Peace" address on December 8, 1953 to the U.N. General Assembly.

[33].  "To Live - or Die - With It," Newsweek, 28 February 1955, p. 19; Robert Divine, Blowing On the Wind:  The Nuclear Test Ban Debate, 1954-1960 (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1978), pp. 36-37; Ralph Lapp, "Civil Defense Faces New Peril," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November, 1954, pp. 349-351; Ralph Lapp, "Radioactive Fallout," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, February 1955, pp. 45-51; William Blair, "U.S. H-bomb Test Put Lethal Zone at 7,000 Square Miles," New York Times, 16 February 1955, p. 1.

[34].  "The Atom:  Even Deadlier?", Newsweek 7 March 1955, pp. 23-24.

[35].  Charles Murphy, "Outcasts at Yucca Flats," Life, 30 March 1953, p. 24; "2 Dummy Families Await Atom Blast," New York Times, 16 March 1953, p. 11; "William Laurence, "35th U.S. Nuclear Blast Tests Tactical Weapon," New York Times, 18 March 1953, p. 1.

[36].  "Operation Doorway," Time, 6 July 1953, p. 67.

[37].  "It Better Be Good," Newsweek, 9 May 1955, pp. 84-85; "Mouse at Yucca Flat," Newsweek, 16 May 1955, p. 63.

[38].  "The Atom:  What It Will Do," Newsweek, 16 May 1955, p. 31; "Rehearsal for Disaster," Time 16 May 1955, pp. 24-25; Gladwin Hill, "Atom Blast Rocks A 'Capsule Town' and Tank Troops," New York Times, p. 1.

[39].  Ronald Sawyer, "It's Up to You, Mr. President," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September 1953, p. 245; Letter from J.B. Gabrielson, Newsweek, 4 April 1955, p. 8; "Atomic Light on the Desert...And Answers to Fearful Questions People Ask," Newsweek  21 March 1955, pp. 30-31

[40].  Popular publications found the topic of Operation Skywatch irresistible as it was rich in human interest stories.  Some of the most interesting are the following:  "Plane Spotters Fill Radar Gaps," Life, 22 January 1951, p. 30; "The Skywatch needs 350,000," Newsweek, 11 August 1952, p. 30-41; Sidney Shalett, "They Hope They're Wasting Time," Saturday Evening Post, 26 September 1953, pp. 40-1+; James Liston, "Scramble two...bogey at 40,000," Better Homes and Gardens, November 1954, p. 66+; "The Long Skywatch," Newsweek, 18 July 1955, pp. 23-27.

[41].  Stephen B. Withey, The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. (Ann Arbor:  University of Michigan, 1962), p. 36.

[42].  Jiri Nehnevajsa, "The American Public and Civil Defense," in Survival and the Bomb:  Methods of Civil Defense, ed. Eugene Wigner (Bloomington:  Indiana University Press, 1969), p. 35.

[43].  Louis B. Cartwright, "Fighting Civil-Defense Apathy," The American City, July 1951, p. 163.

[44].  Eisenhower Remarks, 26 October 1954, EPP: 1954, p. 961.

[45].  "Sealed-Up Sect," Time, 8 August 1960, p. 63.

[46].  "Atomic Suit of Armor Contains 5 Lbs. of Lead," New York Times, 27 December 1951, p. 10.  Ralph Mahoney, "Pair Survive a Survival Honeymoon," New York Journal American, 28 July 1959, (found in an OCDM scrapbook, NAII, RG396, Entry 1022, Box 1, OCDM Publications, 1950-1960, Box 1.)  "For Fallout - A bottle and a Book," New York Times, 24 August 1959, p. 77.

[47].  For Thomason, Reichert, and Chicago S&L stories, see OCDM Scrapbook Ibid.; Edmond Bartnett, "A Shelter Can Be That Extra Room," 5 June 1960, New York Times, §VIII, p. 1.

[48].  Virgil Couch, "The Role of Leadership Groups in Support of the National Plan," DDEL, Couch Papers, 1951-1980, Box 23, National Plan for Civil Defense, Role of National Organizations, 1960.  "Protection from Fallout A Family Responsibility," Chicago Daily News, 27 July 1959, §1, p. 14.  William Bascom, "Difference Between Victory and Defeat," Life, 18 March 1957, p. 156.  "Memorandum of Discussion at the 351st Meeting of the National Security Council," 16 January 1958, FRUS, 1958-1960, Volume III, National Security Policy, p. 11.

[49].  "Atomic Light...", p. 31.  Peterson grew more fatalistic as his tenure as FCDA Administrator dragged on.  At the 1956 Holifield Congressional Hearings on civil defense, he said:  "I would like to just sum up what I said in one sentence.  That we are pitifully prepared and at the best we will be pitifully prepared."  He told the Committee that he had been thinking about the vulnerability of the nation for 3 to 3 1/2 years now, and that "if this kind of a war occurs, life is going to be stark, elemental, brutal, filthy, and miserable.  I do not want to be a party in sitting here and discussing these problems, to any make-believe, that by delegations and by planning and by thinking, that by any stretch of the imagination can you get America fully ready for this kind of an attack on a day-by-day peaceful existence basis....I would say that it would be very questionable with the best preparations whether in any sense that would be understood by the minds in this room right now, with maybe a few exceptions, that we will ever be prepared.  We just are not going to be prepared for that kind of a hell."  Simpson, "A Long Hard Look...", p. 346.

[50].  Stanley Kramer, dir., On the Beach, staring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner, United Artists, 1959; "INFOGUIDE 60-24," 4 December 1959, DDEL, WHO, OSANSA:   Records, 1952-1961, Box 5, Nuclear Energy Matters (8), Sept 1959-Mar 1960.

[51].  The Administration was more worried about the impact that On the Beach might have on disarmament, conceivably leading viewers "to think in terms of radical solutions to the problem rather than in terms of practical safeguarded disarmament measures."  "INFOGUIDE 60-24..."  For Hoegh's criticisms, see "Cabinet Meeting," 11 December 1959, DDEL, Ann Whitman File, Cabinet Series, Box 15.  For press reactions, see Bosley Crowther, "Screen:  On the Beach," New York Times, 18 December 1959, p. 34; "On the Beach:  Scored by Civil Defense Head," New York Times, 18 December 1959, p. 34; "On the Beach Scored," New York Times, 6 January, 1960, p. 24; Bosley Crowther, "Liable to Fallout," New York Times, 17 January 1960, II, p. 1.

[52].  Crowther, "Liable to Fallout," p. 1.  George Gallup, The Gallup Poll: Public Opinion 1935-1971 (New York:  Random House, 1972), p. 1671.

[53].  See chapter 1 for a discussion of the Scientist Movement in the immediate post-war years.

[54].  Thomas J. Kerr, Civil Defense in the U.S.: Bandaid for a Holocaust? (Boulder:  Westview Press, 1983), p. 45.

[55].  Kerr, p. 55.

[56].  Civil defense had an average favorable rating of 71% at the beginning of the decade.  "A Preliminary Report on Public Attitudes Toward Civil Defense," 1950-1951, HSTL, President's Secretary Files, Box 144, Agencies - FCDA.

[57].  "Atom Raid Drills In Schools Scored," New York Times, 20 October 1950, p. 17.

[58].  "Anonymous Notes Jeer At Defense," New York Times, 29 June 1951, p. 8.

[59].  "Talk of the Town:  Notes and Comment," New Yorker, March 1951, p. 31.

[60].  Eric Larrabee, "On Running for Cover," Harper's Magazine, October 1955, p. 24.

[61].  Quote from Lawrence S. Wittner, Rebels Against War:  The American Peace Movement, 1941-1960 (New York:  Columbia University Press, 1969), p. 265.

[62].  "Pacifists at War," Newsweek, 9 January 1956, pp. 62-63; "The Rights of Non-Conformity," Commonweal, 15 July 1955, pp. 363-264.  The editorial in Commonweal sparked a debate within the magazine through letters, articles, and further editorials that lasted through September.

[63].  "None for the Road," New Republic, 11 March 1957, p. 20; "The Next Civil Defense Drill," Nation, 14 May 1960, p. 415.

[64].  Robert B. Meyner, "the Cruel Deception of Civilian Defense," Reprinted from The Progressive, attachment to letter from Herman Will, Jr. to Sidney R. Yates, 25 April 1962, DDEL, Papers of Sidney Yates - Research Material, Box 75, Civil Defense #1.

[65].  W.A. Higinbotham, "There is No Defense Against Atomic Bombs," New York Times Magazine, 3 November 1946, VI, pp. 11.

[66].  Cord Meyer, "What Price Preparedness?" Atlantic Monthly, June 1947, pp. 27-33.

[67].  "Atom Security Set at $300,000,000,000," New York Times, 26 March 1950, p. 29.

[68].  Eisenhower remarks to Mayors, EPP: 1953, pp. 827-828.

[69].  Carl Soule, "Not Fear But a Sound Mind," 19 February 1959, attachment to letter from Herman Will, Jr. to Sidney R. Yates, 25 April 1962, DDEL, Papers of Sidney Yates - Research Material, Box 75, Civil Defense #1.

[70].  "Civil Defense and Peace:  A Quaker View," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May 1957, p. 176.

[71].  Stanley Meisler, "Charade of Civil Defense," Nation, 11 June 1960, p. 510.  OCDM Director Leo Hoegh in a subsequent letter, chided Meisler's assertion that nuclear war must be unthinkable by asking, "Unthinkable to whom - the U.S.S.R., or only the U.S.?  Not thinking about the prospect of nuclear war won't make it go away...."  Leo Hoegh, "In Defense of Civil Defense," Letters,  Nation, 20 August 1960, inside cover.

[72].  Editorial, "Old Subject is Reopened," Life, 20 July 1959, p. 30. 

[73].  "Talk of the Town:  Notes and Comment," New Yorker, 12 March 1960, p. 29.