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Managing nuclear terror: The genesis of American civil defense strategy

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References Notes

  1. See Michael S. Sherry,Preparing for the Next War: American Plans for Postwar Defense, 1941–45 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), pp. 198–219.

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  2. On this early phase of Cold War national security strategy see especially Stephen T. Ross,American War Plans 1945–1950. (New York: Garland Publishing, 1988). See also Marc Trachtenberg, ed.,The Development of American Strategic Thought, Vol. 3 (New York: Garland Publishing, 1987); “A Wasting Asset: American Strategy and The Shifting Balance, 1949–1954,”International Security 13 (Winter 1988/89), pp. 5–49; and “Strategic Thought in America, 1952–1966,”Political Science Quarterly 104 (Summer 1989), pp. 302–22.

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  3. See “Defense Lack Seen As Pearl Harbor,”The New York Times, October 10, 1949, p. 9; “Baruch Is Critical Of Defense Plans,”The New York Times, October 31, 1949, p. 41.

  4. Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas,The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986), p. 480. See also Richard G. Hewlett and Francis Duncan,Atomic Shield: A History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, 1947–1952, Vol. 2 (Washington D.C.: U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, 1972), pp. 363–369, and Gregg Herken,The Winning Weapon (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980), pp. 302–337.

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  5. On this interpretation of the Korean war, see Fred Kaplan,The Wizards of Armageddon (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983), p. 10.

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  6. According to a Gallop Poll conducted in August, 1950, 57% of those polled believed that World War III had already begun. In an earlier Gallop Poll taken in January, 1950, 70% of those polled believed that the Soviet Union was “out to take over the world.” By November, 1950, five months after the beginning of the Korean War, 81% of those polled thought the Soviets were bent on world conquest. SeeGallop Poll of Public Opinion 1935–1971, Vol 2 (New York: Random House, 1972), pp. 949, 993.

  7. Louis J. Halle, “The Cold War Revisited,”Survey 50 (January, 1964), p. 35.

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  8. Tomorrow! (New York: Rinehart and Company, 1954). On Wylie's career, see Truman Frederick Keefer,Philip Wylie (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1977). On the background ofTomorrow!, see Philip Wylie, “A Better Way to Beat the Bomb,”Atlantic CLXXXVII, February, 1951, pp. 38–42, and Lewis Nichols, “Talk with Philip Wylie,The New York Times Book Review, February 21, 1954, p. 12.

  9. Philip Wylie,Triumph (Garden City: Doubleday, 1963), p. 134.

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  10. See Philip Wylie Collection, Firestone Library, Princeton University, Box 224, Folder 4.

  11. See “For Your Information,” Education Services #284, Public Affairs (Battle Creek, Michigan: Federal Civil Defense Administration, 1956).

  12. Dr. Harold C. Urey, as told to Michael Amrine, “I'm a Frightened Man,”Collier's, January 5, 1946, p. 18.

  13. E. U. Condon, “The New Technique of Private War,” p. 40 in Dexter Masters and Katherine Way, eds.,One World or None (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1946).

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  14. “If the Bomb Gets out of Hand,”One World or None, pp. 1–6.

  15. “How Close is the Danger?,”One World or None, pp. 42–46.

  16. Ansley J. Coale,The Problem of Reducing Vulnerability to Atomic Bombs (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1947), p. 24. See also pp. 41–42, 106.

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  17. A Study of Civil Defense (Washington, D.C.: National Military Establishment Office of the Secretary of Defense). On the history of the Bull Board and the details of its recommendations, see Nehemiah Jordan,U.S. Civil Defense Before 1950 (Washington, D.C.: Institute for Defense Analyses, 1966), pp. 64–69 and Lyon G. Tyler, Jr., “Civil Defense: The Impact of the Planning Years, 1945–1950,” Ph.D. dissertation, Duke University, 1967, pp. 41–64.

  18. A Study of Civil Defense, p. 3.

  19. A Study of Civil Defense, p. 3.

  20. A Study of Civil Defense, p. 19.

  21. Civil Defense for National Security (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1948). On the background and substance of the Hopley report, see Jordan,U.S. Civil Defense Before 1950, pp. 73–77 and Tyler, “Civil Defense: The Impact of the Planning Years, 1945–1950, pp. 79–116.

  22. Civil Defense for National Security, p. 186. Studies such as the Bull Report and the Hopley Report led to the formation of a succession of federal civil defense bureaucracies. Concern with the problem of panic and how it might be controlled by means of a public information program appears frequently in the correspondense of these agencies. See, for example, the following: inter-office memorandum of November 30, 1950, from James Aswell to John A. De Chant, Office of Civil Defense, National Security Resources Board, concerning a forthcoming article “A Civil Defense Plan for Your Family” inThis Week magazine (National Archives, Office of Civil Defense Mobilization, Records Group 304, Box 13, Public Education, General File); correspondence of February, 1, 1951 from John A. De Chant, Public Affairs Office, FCDA, to M. J. Clement ofPageant magazine concerning the article “Two A-Bombs Blast U. S. City” by Quentin Reynolds (National Archives, Office of Civil Defense Mobilization, Records Group 304, Box 13, Public Education, General File); and correspondence of February 15, 1951, from Howard R. H. Johnson, Chief, Motion Picture Branch, Public Affairs Office, FCDA, to David I. Rees of Reeswood Productions Corporation concerning revisions on the motion picture script “The Sixth Horseman,” a dramatization of civil defence against atomic attack (National Archives, Office of Civil Defense Mobilization, Records Group 304, Box 13, Civil Defense Films File). Especially interesting in this context is a letter of July 13, 1951, from Millard Caldwell, President Truman's administrator of the FCDA, to Philip Wylie. Caldwell expresses skepticism about the position that no population could withstand an atomic attack. However, he claims that even if this view were correct, it should not be publicized because of its emotional impact on the public. On this point, Caldwell compares the American public facing atomic attack with a cancer patient. “Sometimes, when a situation is utterly hopeless, it may be better not to say so. The doctors often conclude against telling the hopeless cancer patient what the situation is.” In the area of civil defense, Caldwell insists, the principal threat is not an atomic attack, but public reaction to the possibility of such an attack: “I incline to the belief that fear represents the big danger—a far greater danger than the physical effects” (Firestone Library, Princeton University Philip Wylie Collection, Box 184, Folder 3, FCDA).

  23. Civil Defense for National Security, p. 101. See also p. 260 on the importance of public information as a means of maintaining national morale by preventing panic and confusion.

  24. Quoted in “The Press and Civil Defense,” Federal Civil Defense Administration,For Your Information, No. 153 (December 3, 1954), p. 5.

  25. Frederick “Val” Peterson, “Panic: The Ultimate Weapon?”, August 21, 1953, pp. 99–109. See also “The Problem of Panic,” Civil Defense Education Project Information Sheet No. 28 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, 1955).

  26. Peterson, “Panic: The Ultimate Weapon?,” pp. 99–100. Ellipsis in original. According to Peterson, less intelligent people are more panic-prone than the intelligent. In addition, women are more panic-prone—by almost 30%—than men. The latter datum is explained by the routines of female life, which are claimed to pose fewer hazards than the work world of men. As a result, women do not have as much practice in “conquering fear” (pp. 106–107).

  27. Peterson, “Panic: The Ultimate Weapon?,” p. 100.

  28. Peterson, “Panic: The Ultimate Weapon?,” p. 101. The doctrine that the strategic bombing of cities would panic urban populations and diminish or destroy the will of an adversary to wage war was not, of course, a product of the Cold War. On the same fears expressed by both British and German leaders during the infancy of aerial bombing in World War I, see Jordan,U. S. Civil Defense before 1950, pp.1, 9–10 and Sherry,The Rise of Air Power, pp. 12–21. The effect of aerial bombardment on civilian morale was also an important strategic issue in the years immediately before World War II. War planners hypothesized that sudden, massive, and utterly catastrophic aerial bombardment would produce panic, collapse of public resolve to-fight, and a swift surrender See Sherry,The Rise of Air Power, pp. 64–69.

  29. Edward Shils,The Torment of Secrecy: The Background and Consequences of American Security Policies (Glencoe, IL: The Free Press 1956), p. 68.

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  30. Hanson A. Baldwin “The Atomic Weapon,”The New York Times, August 7, 1945, p. 10.

  31. SeeThe New York Times, August 7, 1945, p. 4. On the background of the Truman announcement, apparently based on a draft prepared in May, 1945 by William Laurence, theNew York Times science reporter for whom General Leslie Groves had reserved exclusive access to the coverage of the Manhattan Project, see Spencer R. Weart,Nuclear Fear (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988), p. 103.

  32. For a comprehensive account of the press response to the atomic bomb in the period 1945–1947 as an expression of nuclear terror, see Paul Boyer,By the Bomb's Early Light (New York: Pantheon, 1985), pp. 3–32, 59–75. Some of the same territory is covered by Weart (Nuclear Fear, pp. 103–111), although in much less detail.

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  33. Cousins' widely read essay (Saturday Review, August 18, 1945) was quickly reprinted as a book. See Norman Cousins,Modern Man is Obsolete (New York: The Viking Press, 1945), p. 37.

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  34. Alice Kimball Smith,A Peril and a Hope: The Scientist's Movement in America: 1945–47 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965).

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  35. SeePublic Reaction to the Atomic Bomb and World Affairs: A Nation-wide Survey (Ithaca: Cornell University, 1947), p. 27.

  36. See “Scientists Scare Congress,”Life, December 31, 1945, p. 18.

  37. “A Report to the Secretary of War,”Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1 (May, 1946), p. 2.

  38. U.S. Senate, Special Committee on Atomic Energy,A Resolution Creating a Special Committee to Investigate Problems Relating to the Development, Use, and Control of Atomic Energy, Hearing Pursuant to Senate Resolution 179, 79th Congress, 1st Session (November 30, 1945), Part I, pp. 116–117. On Langmuir's testimony, seeThe New York Times, October 9, 1945, p. 9.

  39. Hearings Pursuant to Senate Resolution 179, pp. 116–117.

  40. Urey, “I'm a Frightened Man,”, p. 18.

  41. Urey, “I'm a Frightened Man,”, p. 18.

  42. On the response to the publication of “Hiroshima,”, see Michael John Yavenditti, “American Reactions to the Use of Atomic Bombs on Japan, 1945–1947,” Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1970, pp. 356–371.

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  43. Bruce Bliven, “Hiroshima,”The New Republic, September 9, 1946, p. 300.

  44. Charles Poore, “The Most Spectacular Explosion in the Time of Man”,The New York Times Book Review, November 10, 1946, p. 7.

  45. John Hersey,Hiroshima (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1946), p. 39.

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  46. — Hersey,Hiroshima, pp.44, 68.

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  47. On the management of emotions, see Arlie Russell Hochschild,The Managed Heart: The Commercialization of Human Feeling (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press 1983); Carol Zisowitz Stearns and Peter N. Stearns,Anger: The Struggle for Emotional Control in America's History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986); Peter N. Stearns,Jealousy: The Evolution of an Emotion in American History (New York: New York University Press, 1989), and “Suppressing Unpleasant Emotions. The Development of a Twentieth Century American Emotional Style,” pp. 230–261 in Andrew E. Barnes and Peter N. Stearns, eds.,Social History and Issues in Human Consciousness (New York: New York University Press, 1989); and Peter N. Stearns and Timothy Haggerty, “The Role of Fear: Transitions in American Emotional Standards for Children, 1850–1950,”American Historical Review 96 (1991), pp. 63–94.

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  48. On emotions as cultural artifacts, see E. Doyle McCarthy, “Emotions are Social Things: An Essay in the Sociology of Emotions,” pp. 51–72 in David D. Franks and E. Doule McCarthy, eds.,The Sociology of Emotions Original Essays and Research Papers (Greenwich, CT, JAI Press, 1989).

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  49. By June, 1951, 16.5 million copies ofSurvival Under Atomic Attack had been sold or distributed gratis. See “U.S. Unprepared for Attack,”Science News Letter, June 9, 1951, p. 357.

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  50. U.S. Federal Civil Defense Administration,Survival Under Atomic Attack (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1950), p. 1. Emphasis in original.

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  51. Survival Under Atomic Attack, p. 8.

  52. “Information and Training for Civil Defense,”Project East River, Part IX. National Archives, National Security Resources Board, Record Group 304, Box 19, Project East River File.

  53. Project East River, pp. 1–43.

  54. Survival Under Atomic Attack, pp. 21, 26.

  55. See, for example, R.E. Lapp,Must We Hide? (Cambridge, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1949) and Edward Teller, “How Dangerous Are Atomic Weapons?”Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 3 (January, 1947), pp. 35–36.

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  56. See, for example, Irving L. Janis,Air War and Emotional Stress (New York: McGraw Hill, 1951), and “Psychological Problems of A-Bomb Defense,”Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 6 (August/September, 1950), pp. 266–62; and Lapp,Must We Hide?

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  57. President Roosevelt established the United States Strategic Bombing Survey on November 3, 1944 to study the effects of the Allied bombing of Germany. On August 15, 1945, President Truman extended the Survey to include an analysis of the bombing of Japan, and especially the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Survey staff included 300 civilians, primarily scientists and engineers, 350 officers, and 500 enlisted men. Among the reports issued by the Survey during 1945–46, the study most relevant to the issues of the present paper is the special inquiry into the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings: U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey,The Effects of Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1946). The Survey reports have, of course, taken on a life of their own. During the Vietnam war, for example, partisans of strategic bombing used data allegedly drawn from Survey reports to justify the bombing of North Vietnamese cities. Critics of strategic bombing used the same data to attack this policy. The same issue—the efficacy of strategic bombing as documented by the Survey-reappeared in recent debates over American bombing strategy in the war in the Persian Gulf.

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  58. See U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey,The Effects of Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, pp. 3, 15, 38, 41. The linkages between the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, the conventionalization argument, and civil defense strategy against atomic attack are nicely illustrated in the immediate post-war career of Paul Nitze, one of the principal architects of the containment policy. A director of the Strategic Bombing Survey in Japan and an observer of the results of the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Nitze regarded the bomb as “just one more weapon, more devastating perhaps, but not qualitatively different from other bombs.” See Isaacson and Thomas,The Wise Men, p. 489. After the war, Nitze returned to the United States with a conception of the atomic bomb as part of the standard military hardware of the future and attempted to prepare America to survive an atomic attack by advocating a national shelter program and the dispersal of industrial and medical facilities. See Isaacson and Thomas,The Wise Men, p. 485.

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  59. p. 38.

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  60. , p. 48–49. Lapp added the hazards of modern conventional warfare to this catalogue and asked rhetorically: “Who can say that the victim of an atomic attack suffers more than the victim of a flamethrower or a person who has broken down mentally under the stress of combat?” (p. 18).

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  61. , p. 14.

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  62. “Psychological Problems of A-Bomb Defense” p. 259. See alsoAir War and Emotional Stress, pp. 23, 44–45, 59.

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  63. Operation Crossroads consisted of two atomic tests carried out in 1946. The first took place on July 1, the second on July 26. The first test, code named ABLE, was intended to ascertain the effects of an air burst of a Nagasaki-type bomb on a fleet of U.S. Navy ships. The second, code named BAKER, was an attempt to determine the effects of an underwater atomic explosion on a fleet of warships. A third test, code named CHARLIE, was cancelled for reasons the government did not reveal. The Navy had vital interests in diminishing the impact of these tests, especially in view of its struggle with the Air Force. This was a bureaucratic turf fight of considerable proportions and with major implications for both services. The Air Force argued that the Navy had become obsolete because of its inability to develop a war fighting role for sea power in the atomic age. The Navy, of course, rejected this view and determined that Operation Crossroads should make a conclusive case for the viability of seagoing forces in a nuclear war. For contemporary media speculation on the Crossroads tests, see Sidney Shalett, “Test Atomic Bombs to Blast 100 Ships at Marshall Atoll,”The New York Times, January 25, 1946, p. 1; Walter S. Sullivan, “Film Spots Trace Vast A-Bomb Range,”The New York Times, May 23, 1946, p. 1. For media response to the tests themselves, see “Close View Shows More Bikini Havoc,”The New York Times, July 3, 1946, p. 1; “Congressman Surprised,”The New York Times, July 1, 1946, p. 1; Hanson A. Baldwin, “Atom Bomb Proved Most Terrible Weapon,”The New York Times, July 7, 1946, p. 1. For the Navy view, see “Bikini Atom Bomb Not So Powerful As One At Nagasaki, Blandy Says,”The New York Times, July 3, 1946, p. 1.

  64. See, for example, the following correspondence: February 23, 1951 letter from Edwin Zittel ofLook magazine to Millard Caldwell administrator of the FCDA; February 15, 1951 letter from Howard R.H. Johnson, Public Affairs Office, FCDA, to David I. Rees of Reeswood Productions Corporation; and February 23, 1951 letter from Charles Ellsworth, Publications Division, FCDA to J. H. MacNiven of Graphic, a comic book company that called itself “Creators and Publishers of Comic Art Media.” National Archives, Office of Civil Defense Mobilization, Records Group 304, Box 13, Public Education File.

  65. Collier's, October 27, 1951, p. 17. The entire issue was entitled “Preview of the War We Do Not Want.”

  66. Collier's, October 27, 1951, p. 20.

  67. Collier's, October 27, 1951, p. 30.

  68. See Clayton R. Koppes and Gregory D. Black,Hollywood Goes to War: How Politics, Profits and Propaganda Shaped World War II Movies (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987).

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  69. Collier's, October 27, 1951, p. 6.

  70. “Panic Prevention and Control,” Appendix IXB ofProject East River, Part IX, p. 55.

  71. “Panic Prevention and Control,” Appendix IXB ofProject East River, Part IX, p. 64.

  72. “Panic Prevention and Control, Appendix IXB,Project East River, Part IX, p. 61.

  73. “Panic Prevention and Control,” Appendix IXB,Project East River, Part IX, p. 58.

  74. “Panic Prevention and Control,” Appendix IXB, Project East River, Part IX, p. 59.

  75. Peterson, “Panic: The Ultimate Weapon.” See pp. 106–107: “Test Yourelf: How Panic Proof Are You?”

  76. Peterson, “Panic: The Ultimate Weapon,”, p. 101.

  77. Peterson, “Panic: The Ultimate Weapon,”, p. 108.

  78. Peterson, “Panic: The Ultimate Weapon,”, p. 108.

  79. Janis,Air War and Emotional Stress, p. 195.

  80. Janis,Air War and Emotional Stress, pp. 195, 220–22.

  81. Janis,Air War and Emotional Stress, p. 250.

  82. Janis,Air War and Emotional Stress p. 202.

  83. Janis,Air War and Emotional Stress, p. 202.

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Oakes, G., Grossman, A. Managing nuclear terror: The genesis of American civil defense strategy. Int J Polit Cult Soc 5, 361–403 (1992).

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  • Social Psychology
  • Defense Strategy
  • Political Psychology
  • Civil Defense