“Let us face without panic, the reality of our times.” So begins a widely viewed televised presentation prepared and aired to the public during the long remembered 1950s decade of concern; concern of a coming nuclear attack. The black and white film, prepared by the American Department of Civil Defense, and rich with photos of destruction and billowing mushroom clouds, begins with a simple view of an ordinary women, in her backyard, hanging her laundry to dry in the sun. We are left to imagine what may come in the following seconds.
Such instructional airings were common in those days. School children were taught to listen for the warbling sound of the air-raid siren; should they hear it, they were to seek refuge under their desks or in the school corridor. They were taught to “duck and cover”; to crouch on the floor, arms and legs tightly tucked, their hands behind their heads, then to pull forward to await the blast.
Are we again to face, the “Reality of our times”? The Obama administration is today attempting to remind the American public of the proper response by individuals and families in the event of a nuclear attack. Teaching the population to “duck and cover” without invoking concern seems not an easy task. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has said, “We have to get past the mental block that says it’s [post-blast devastation] too terrible to think about. — We have to be ready to deal with it; to help people learn how to best protect themselves.” FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate says that “adding drills and more education” is the next step.
Advice from the early 1950s and from today is remarkably similar. Reference is made to the three elements of a nuclear attack: the initial blast, the devastating heat, and the radioactivity. Experts from both periods warn of the threat from flying glass and debris, and the fires that will start. One 50’s era film instructed the “man in the street” to take cover, should he see the intense light from a nuclear explosion. If a doorway is more than a step or two away, he should simply fall to the ground, and cover.
The 50’s films, as do those made today, warn that it is wiser to seek shelter than to try to escape the area of the explosion. People in the 50s were reminded that following an attack, it would be necessary to begin preparation to strike back against our enemies. “Factories,” workers were told, “will be battle stations.” Today the advisors say that shielding ourselves from the blast and radiation (Cover windows.Try to be as far below ground as possible) could save hundreds of thousands of lives. Today they add that being inside a car could reduce causalities by 50%.
The Associated Press, on May 6, 1955, details the damage in a Survival City, Nevada “test town”, on a street they call “Doomsday”. The opening line reads: “The darlings of Doomsday Drive are no more, but a preliminary survey of the atomic-battered test town indicates today that YOU can survive nuclear attack if you have the right kind of home.” The story continues with consideration of the Darling family; smashed mannequins who were buried in the explosion of their two–story brick and cinder house, in “yesterday’s huge blast.” But the powerful sledgehammer, the story points out, met with stubborn defiance from two masonry homes on the same street, seven eights of a mile away, “sound, as harbingers of survival in atomic war.” The story says trailers were hurled like match boxes; but a few suffered only broken windows. Split second pictures, they say, tell the story of scorching heat and blast; brick homes that simply “blew apart” from the “terrible pressure”.
The Washington based Victoria Advocate on August 13, 1950, wrote, “If that atom bomb hits, fall flat and double up. Don’t make for cover, if it takes more than a step or two to get there. Whether you live or die may depend on how fast you move in the very first second.
Here we are back in December of 2010. Iran is enriching uranium. So is North Korea. China has 10,000 missiles aimed at Taiwan, whom we must protect and defend. Now the government is presenting us with detailed advice on surviving nuclear explosions. But they remind us that we have no need for concern. It’s “Business as usual”. Rumor has it that several Senators have refused to discuss the matter until bills are added to promote online shopping for flashlights and batteries, and the elimination of soda pop for poor people — let them drink water!