Posts Tagged ‘1950s’

I initially thought this would just be a neat little thing to blog about. I’m not a collector of Cold War Atomic Age Civil Defense paraphernalia — this came from the house I grew up in; my step-father’s family home, where he grew up. It was distributed by the Uniontown Automotive Council, presumably to auto shops and such for folks to pick up. I can absolutely imagine my grandfather bringing this home from whichever shop he was in. Someone — probably him — did a little light math in pencil on the cover. There’s a word I can’t decipher. So, yeah, just an item from the ol’ homestead in rural southwestern Pennsylvania. Anyway, the more I look through it, the more ironic it became.

Why ironic? you ask. Well, let me tell you what’s inside.

After a local and national Civil Defense preamble, we get right into it. Every home should have a “refuge room,” preferably in the basement, with more than one exit. It tells you everything this refuge room needs, such as canned food, cots and blankets, certain attire should anyone have to leave the refuge room, and, of course, chamber pots, toilet paper, and a screen (for the ladies). Outside the refuge room, one should be prepared for a fire, and this “fireproof housekeeping is important.” Then, should an attack occur, the first instruction is “Don’t get panicky,” followed by the statement: “The first warning of an air raid might be the blinding flash of an atomic bomb.”

Well, shit. Who’d panic?

Then, presuming you haven’t been instantly incinerated, it moves on to a laundry list of other instructions to, you know, “keep out radioactive dust.” If you’re out and about, get behind something. Good luck. If you’re at home — once the atomic dust has settled — you’re to keep the children inside the refuge room (not a great time to let them outside to play, apparently), put out small fires, give first aid, keep the radio on, don’t use unapproved water or food sources, don’t use the telephone (emergency calls to be kept to one minute), and just stay the hell home. You’re to get out of clothing contaminated with radiation and “bathe with lots of soap as soon as possible.”

Lots of soap. Noted.

In all caps: “DON’T SPREAD RUMORS.” Man, that’s like asking people not to breathe, especially — especially — when folks don’t know what the hell is going on. The human brain just can’t deal with more than thirty seconds of not knowing what the hell is going on; we will immediately just start making shit up and telling others to make it more real for ourselves. I mean…nice thought, Civil Defense, but…

It then goes on to describe the “three destructive actions” when an atomic bomb explodes. “1) Blast — much greater than an ordinary bomb. 2) Heat rays — much more intense than an ordinary bomb. 3) Atomic rays — not present in ordinary bomb explosion.” Yeah, you’re kind of sleeping through the first two, but “Atomic rays” sure gets your attention. It continues: “The most damaging action is the blast. In Japan it was the cause of more than one half of the total deaths and injuries. Heat rays accounted for nearly one third of the casualties. Least destructive were the atomic rays which caused only 15 percent of the total deaths and injuries.”

“Atomic rays are what most people worry about because their effects have been greatly exaggerated through rumors and unofficial sources of information.”

(“Unofficial sources of information” I’m pretty sure means “Sci-Fi flicks”.)

So, you know — no worries, bruh. The blast and heat rays are more likely to decimate your ass, so don’t stress about the atomic rays. If you survive the blast and heat rays, then you can worry about atomic rays, but they’re not nearly as bad as you’ve heard.

They never exactly tell you what atomic rays do.

So, yeah, a little more information on blast zones and then it wraps up with some “preparedness can mean survival” stuff.

This pamphlet came out in the early 1950s. This was before, you know, Nixon, so people still trusted their government to a probably-unreasonable extent, and some even took this seriously enough to build fallout shelters (the Ferrari of refuge rooms). I’m not positive there was no cultural push-back against this kind of thing, but we never hear about it, and we do know that it merged pretty thoroughly with American culture for decades, so we can probably guess there wasn’t a huge revolution against refuge rooms, at least until the 1960s when the counterculture stopped pussy-footing around the damage “atomic rays” can do and started insisting we’d all die terribly “if we are bombed.”

So, about that irony. This year, August 6th, marked the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Nagasaki was bombed three days later. The estimated death toll of both bombings combined range from 129,000 to 226,000 people. That is appalling. As of today, the death toll from Covid in the United States sits at. 311,000 people. Meanwhile, look at these idiots. I mean, I get it — Nixon happened. And then every other repulsive thing about the government that came to light from then to the present. Sure, our government is garbage and untrustworthy. But it doesn’t change how viruses work — you know, they way we’ve known they work for a long time now. The digital age hasn’t changed that. The consequences of unregulated social media hasn’t changed that. Viruses do what they do and some of them will kill us if given have the chance. Like, what can you say about a society whose fear of the government, or shadowy organizations (members of whom they’ve never set eyes on), or even their neighbors is so great that it bypasses its basic survival mechanism against a known and viable threat?

Answer: You say: “Well, this is done. Probably overdone. In fact, it’s inedible. Let’s just throw it out and order Thai.”

311,000 dead folks, today, and there will be more tomorrow. And no one even asked these people to build a fucking fallout shelter. No one asked them to “removed all readily flammable materials from the attic (furniture, boxes, rags) and from around the outside of the house (leaves, boxes, crates and paper trash), make sure all parts of the house are easily accessible. Place buckets of water or sand and fire extinguishers at strategic points in the house.” (Seriously, this isn’t even, “Hey, bomb’s coming,’ this is just in case. Like fender-bender insurance.) Just to wear a mask, social distance, make a little social sacrifice. I’m not. even talking about businesses, etc. Just regular individuals going about their business. No, we have to trick people into putting on a mask.

And I bet if you asked any of these people how scary a nuclear war would be, they’d answer: “Ooooo, dat scary!

So…yeah. There’s my little bit of Atomic Terror History, and it looks very different to me now, sitting here typing in December of 2020.

Oh, by the way, no, no one in my dad’s house carried out any of these recommendations. I don’t know, maybe someone put a bucket of water by the door for a while. Maybe they cleaned out the attic crawlspace. But there was definitely not a fallout shelter anywhere on the property (much to me disappointment — pretty sure I’d have claimed that as a bedroom). I bet, though, if you’d have asked them to social distance and wear a mask when they left their immediate household for a year or two, they’d have done it, and they would have survived, not just Covid, but having to social distance and wear a mask. Yes, they’d have survived.

One more thing, in case you didn’t have enough stress:

Despite progress in reducing Cold War nuclear arsenals, the world’s combined inventory of nuclear warheads remains at a very high level: roughly 13,410 warheads as of early-2020. Of these, nearly 9,320 are in the military stockpiles (the rest are awaiting dismantlement), of which some 3,720 warheads are deployed with operational forces, of which about 1,800 US, Russian, British and French warheads are on high alert, ready for use on short notice.

Enjoy your day!

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