Monday, May 19, 2014

Constant Vigilance!

Cleaning out the basement of my 1956 home, I found this book tucked away on a high shelf of a cabinet. Somehow I missed it when I moved in 7 years ago. In spite of all the work I need to do, I got lost in this creepy little read. Take a walk back with me to the Cold War mindset of 1968...
The book assures us that a "nationwide civil defense system now exists in the United States and is being enlarged and improved constantly." Good to know the war machine is in place, but citizens are encouraged to lessen the casualty count by preparing in advance. "If an enemy should threaten to attack in the United States, you would not be alone. " Whew! "The entire Nation would be mobilizing to repulse the attack, destroy the enemy, and hold down our own loss of life." Doesn't that just make you feel all warm and cuddly? I could hardly wait to move on to chapter 2:
At least they acknowledge (sort of) that it may be hopeless even in a shelter.  I was particularly struck by the useful information that putting out or avoiding fires helps prevent burns. Thanks, DOD!
Under the heading, "What Would Happen in an Enemy Attack," we discover that those close to the explosion "probably would be killed or seriously injured by the blast, or by the heat of the nuclear fireball." Nice. But if you are a few miles away, you just might live. Long enough to die of radiation sickness, no doubt. Personally, I'd prefer to just take a direct hit and get it over with.
As you can see, the heaviness of the initial dose determines how quickly you sink to the ground in despair. Furthermore, old folks and young children might as well hang it up immediately. (Stop looking up, kid, that's not fairy dust falling on you!) The book is awfully blithe about ongoing dangers, assuring us that simply wiping off food will make it safe to consume and that radiation will settle harmlessly on the bottoms of open water sources. Riiiiight.
In the chapter on warnings, we learn that a 3- to 5-minute wavering siren or a series of short whistle or horn blasts will let us know "that an actual enemy attack against the United States has been detected." Phones are to be kept free for official calls. I flashed back to having seen the movie, "The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming" while living on a Naval Base in the '60's. Afterwards, we kids ran from door to door in our neighborhood, shouting into the mail slots in our best Russian accents, "Emergency!  Emergency!  Everybody to get from street!"
Muggers will abound during a nuclear holocaust. Okay, not really. This is to illustrate that if you are outside during a nuclear flash and you feel warmth, you should take cover instantly. As if skulking in a dark corner is going to save you.  
I believe this is a sketch of the original owner of my house, who constructed a cement-encased bomb shelter in the far end of the basement. According to the book, in 1968 one could be built for $150-$200 in materials (about a thousand bucks now). Judging from the many drawings in this book, only men have what it takes to plan and build a bomb shelter.
Women are too feeble to do anything but the household chores. But at least they get to do laundry in the safe shelter built by their clever, capable husbands!
If you aren't a decent enough American to build a permanent shelter in advance, you can always improvise a shelter when an enemy attacks. All you have to do is "dig an L-shaped trench, about 4 feet deep and 3 feet wide...cover the entire trench with lumber (or with house doors that have been taken off their hinges)" and on top of that "pile earth 1 to 2 feet high." Think about it: nuclear bombs have been launched in your direction and you really think you're going to get all that done in time? I read this to my son and he said, "Yeah, I think you'd be SOL."
Finally, don't forget to duck and cover. Curling into a fetal position has been show time and again throughout history to be an effective defense against catastrophic events.
Just ask the folks of Pompeii.

31 comments:

  1. First, I'm humored that you found 'a citizen's handbook' being the former 'citizen of the world.'

    Second, after touring the bunker at Greenbrier, I'm pretty sure the federal govt only had plans to save themselves, so this literature really is a joke.

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    1. Isn't that funny? But it was definitely aimed at world citizens.

      I figure the goal was to make people think they were being looked out for.

      Delete
  2. I'm way behind with my blogging and trying to catch up. I'm with you on this one a direct hit sounds preferable.

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  3. I think it was Rochester NY where I was on a visit in, say, 1969, and I was awestruck with the signs for bomb shelters. I kept asking the people we were with: where's the war, why did I miss there was a war on here too, I thought it was only in Vietnam? Should we be prepared for war in Canada too?

    I'm so glad you've now explained it for me :)

    XO
    WWW

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    1. It wasn't about Viet Nam, but Russia at a time when the US and the Soviets kept their bombs aimed at each other, ready to launch a strike. You know, the whole :mutually assured destruction" thing.

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  4. Perhaps you should rent either (or both) movies "The Day After" and "On the Beach", that'd be a nice way to end a day of stockpiling water and iodine tablets.
    Cheers

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    1. I saw The Day After when it aired in 1983 - I watched it with a bunch of my dorm mates in college. Unsettling.

      Delete
    2. SAW
      That's coincidence, I saw it on TV the same time. It all seemed so possible back then.

      Delete
  5. Wonder if the book is worth anything? I think I'm with you, a direct hit or I think I would walk into disaster rather than try to cope with the disaster afterwards. I love the comment that women are feeble, how well that would go over these days!

    betty

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    1. I don't know, but I plan to keep it - it doesn't take up much room.

      The book didn't actually say women were feeble, it just implied it through its illustrations.

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  6. i obviously need to start digging my L shaped trench because i am not american enough to have a bomb shelter...ha...what a cool book...def a bit freaky but a cool book....

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    1. Get cracking, Brian - you can never be too careful!

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  7. Do you know what's something? I kinda remember this back in the late 60's because in '68 I was 13 years old. I don't ever remember seeing a book like this, but I do remember the warnings of the possible enemy attack on the news and my parents talking about it.

    "Think about it: nuclear bombs have been launched in your direction and you really think you're going to get all that done in time? I read this to my son and he said, "Yeah, I think you'd be SOL.""

    Exactly!

    I'm with you, I would much rather take a direct hit and have it over with.

    X

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    1. I do, too, and probably more than most since I lived on a Naval base.

      The thought of suffering with radiation sickness horrifies me.

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  8. I remember having bomb drills in school where you had to cower under your desk. Yup, that cheap little elementary school desk would save us from a nuclear bomb : )

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  9. I saw those eerie Pompeii fossils last spring. The one that bothered me most was the one of a mother trying to cover her small child. Too real, even though it has been nearly 2000 years. And as for the bomb shelters, way too recent history. What a fascinating find in your basement.

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    1. Such a sad thing - I have a hard time with the images that include children.

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  10. Growing up during the *cold war* I was used to this type of propaganda. Many of us were quite afraid if we were honest thinking that a nuclear attack could happen at any time.
    Every time a low flying jet whizzed over in a noisy way, my heart used to freeze.
    Terrible really.
    We wouldn't have stood much chance had it happened.
    Maggie x

    Nuts in May

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    1. So insane that world leaders actually thought nuclear bombs were a great idea.

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  11. They can't possibly have thought all those absurdly inadequate procedures would actually protect anybody from a nuclear strike. As Bijoux says, no doubt the government only planned to save themselves, and the handbook was just a pretence at caring about the general public.

    Jenny's cousins in Toronto have a massive bomb shelter in the basement, which they keep stocked with colossal supplies of emergency food. It's highly unlikely they'll ever need either the shelter or the food! Unless climate change brings total disaster of course.

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    1. If climate change brings total disaster, how will surviving a little longer than everyone else help? I just don't get that way of thinking.

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  12. I remember what my social studies teacher who grew up during this era told us in class.

    Kids didn't say "What do you want to be when you grow up". It was, "What do you want to be IF we grow up?"

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    1. I was just a little too young in 1968 for the Cold War to feel real to me, fortunately.

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  13. Interesting find. I don't think Americans can stay off the phone unless it is an emergency though.

    Time to go work on my L-shaped trench...

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    1. You know people wouldn't follow the no-phones rule.

      Now get digging!

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  14. OMG, what a find! I remember in the 50's when we had drills and had to hide under our desks....like that would save us.

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  15. Nuts. The whole world was nuts then.

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