OF THE DISSERTATION
Defense, Nuclear Strategy, and Popular Culture in Cold War America
defense during the Cold War was a method of escape on the part of officials
and public advocates who were obsessed with thinking the unthinkable.
Unwilling to believe or admit that the U.S. was helpless in defending
its population from Soviet nuclear attack, civil defense advocates encouraged
Americans to "stand-up to the bomb" and communist aggression by
preparing for nuclear war. The
task was a difficult one for these proponents.
Though consistently favoring the general concept of civil defense, most
Americans, stricken by apathy or fatalism, simply didn't want to think about
dissertation analyzes the support for and opposition to civil defense between
1945 and 1988 and it has four objectives in mind.
First, it tries to assess the role that civil defense played in the
devising of nuclear strategic doctrine between 1945 and 1988 as a method of
escaping the reality of nuclear war. Second,
it attempts to evaluate the extent to which civil defense, which ultimately
depended on public support for its implementation, serves as a barometer of
the public's perception of nuclear war, its attitude towards survival, and its
support of nuclear deterrence. Third,
this project strives to measure the influence of cultural strategies used to
promote civil defense, and the success or failure of such strategies within
the public arena. Finally, it
seeks to define the lines of the debate over civil defense and gauge the
effectiveness of the opposition, particularly in the form of grassroots
is a detailed description of the dissertation chapters.
1 - "The Age of Vulnerability"
- This chapter details the initial reactions to the destructive power of the
atomic bomb by the public, elected officials, and policy analysts.
American reactions were a combination of awe, ambivalence, and apathy.
By the end of 1950 with the increased tensions of the Cold War and
little doubt that the U.S.S.R. had developed its own atomic bomb, Americans
came to accept the necessity of civil defense.
2 - "A
Shield and a Sword: The Strategy
of Civil Defense" - Chapter 2 deals with the strategic concepts of
civil defense and its relationship to nuclear strategic doctrine.
Was the rationale for civil defense to be insurance, an element of
strategy, or both? This chapter
details the debates within the Truman and Eisenhower years.
3 - "Dig,
Die or Get Out: Implementing Civil
Defense in the 1950s" - Conceptualizing civil defense was much easier
than actually implementing it. This
chapter discusses the problems of devising a program in the late 1940s and
1950s. Before 1960, civil defense
planners continuously faced obstacles as the technology and destructiveness of
nuclear weapons advanced faster than did the means of defending a population
against these weapons.
4 - "Family
Room of Tomorrow: Selling Survival
and the Public's Response" - Civil defense officials tried to
"sell" the public on the concept of survival by using themes that
included patriotism, self-interest, and cultural integration.
This chapter also addresses the public's response before 1961 - either
through support, apathy, or outright opposition.
5 - "The
Great Shelter Debate: Civil Defense
in the 1960s" - Chapter 5 deals with the Kennedy program proposed in
1961, the public's reaction, and its fadeout by early 1964.
Kennedy proposed civil defense on the basis of an insurance rationale,
but its deterrent value was never far from public discussion by defense and
government officials. The public
hysteria that followed Kennedy's call for shelters seriously undermined public
support for a program when the Berlin Crisis abated.
6 - "Civil
Defense in the Age of Mutual Assured Destruction" - This chapter
details the fadeout and resurgence of civil defense in the context of the debate
going on over counterforce doctrine and mutual vulnerability.
Civil defense eroded when MAD was embraced as a doctrine, and was
resurrected as a strategic concept when the Nixon Administration embraced a
counterforce doctrine, even as it was supporting arms control agreements under
the rubric of MAD. This was not a
smooth transition, however, as indicated by the debates within the Carter years
over MAD and counterforce, and the role that civil defense should play.
"Thinking the Unthinkable in the 1980s:
Civil Defense in the Reagan Years" -
The debate over MAD and counterforce intensified with the election of Ronald
Reagan and his intention to implement a "war-fighting doctrine."
Such a strategy, however, could only be credible if the population was
sufficiently protected from nuclear attack.
Some Americans answered the call for civil defense, but most did not.
This chapter details the policy progression of Reagan's nuclear strategy
and its relationship to the public through home front protection.
Chapter 8 - "Evacuating Skeletons: The Case Against Civil Defense" - Since the Truman Administration, every proposal for civil defense had encountered some form of resistance from a small minority. The significance of the Reagan years is how effective that minority was through the larger Peace Movement. The American public was receptive to these protests because by and large it no longer believed that nuclear war could be survived, let alone won. Without active public support, the Reagan Administration could not implement a civil defense plan. It could (and did), however, offer a strategic defense plan which not only would ensure its counterforce doctrine, but did not require public participation.