Look 1948: Could the Reds Seize Detroit?

LOOK: August 3, 1948 (“Could the Reds Seize Detroit?”)

It was no doubt on the minds of many paranoid Americans in 1948: "Could the Reds seize Detroit?" Well, perhaps not "many," but it was certainly on the minds of a few Americans (concerned patriots who favored tin foil hat-wear?) and it was, we suppose, a more germane question than "Could the Reds seize Burbank?"

Look magazine staff writer James Metcalfe conceded in his article that "much of America may be apathetic to the dangers of communism," but then added forcefully, "Detroit is not napping."

So it was that the magazine devoted a few pages of its August 3, 1948 issue to the unusual Red Scare scenario of a Communist take-over of the Motor City ("There are Communists in Detroit. Estimates of their strength vary from 3,000 to twice that number. Protected by the Constitution of the government they are seeking to destroy, the Reds are going boldly about their sinister business...").

Look staff photographer Frank Bauman staged the battle for Detroit with the cooperation of the Detroit Police and Sheriff Departments (who “felt that they should do everything possible to enlighten all people to the danger of communism”) and a cameo from Mayor Eugene I. Van Antwerp as a hostage. The resulting photo essay looks like something out of the old television series "The Untouchables."
Look 1948: Could the Reds Seize Detroit? A staged takeover of the police communications
The captions for the pictures pretty much lay out the diabolical Red plot:

"Reds would take over communications centers as part of master plan to grab control of city. Any operator who tried to give an alarm or who disobeyed orders could expect death at hands of raiding squad."

"Red-planned jail breaks turn armed convicts loose upon Detroit streets."

"Damage to Mistersky Power Station would disrupt all of city's municipal lighting, trolley system, water flow."

"All radio stations could be seized in simultaneous attacks enabling Reds to broadcast orders to city."
Look 1948: Could the Reds Seize Detroit? The mayor is taken hostage.
"Mayor Van Antwerp would be an important hostage, but would surrender his city only to prevent bloodshed."

"Stabbing, holdup would give Reds control of police radio."
"Sabotaging war machinery would be part of Communist plan to cripple our manufacturing output.”

"While inspiring an uprising in Detroit, Reds could blow bridges to delay the arrival of armed force."

"Communists would head up labor disturbances, lead in the strike violence, delay settlements."

But the editors of Look couldn't leave their readership worried that such a conquest would be a cakewalk for the Commies, so they included photos of Detroit's authorities training for the resistance ("Reds would find these top men of Detroit Police Department tough foes"):

"Any Red threats would be met by three riot squads, elite units of Detroit Police Department..."

"Members of the Wayne County Road Patrol, in night firing practice, would back up the Detroit Police Department’s riot squads in counterattacks on the Reds."

So, could the Reds have seized Detroit? The magazine offered this qualified answer:

"Does the vigilance of the Police Department eliminate the possibility of the Communists causing trouble? No. Like fire wardens, policemen can only anticipate trouble and minimize it when it occurs. With (Police) men like Toy and Morgan, and with the senior inspectors like Furlong, Throop and Wysocki heading the three major divisions of the force, Detroit's defense against Communist disorders rests in capable hands."

The editors followed their bizarre Communist take-over story in the issue with a lighthearted travelogue of the Cook (Bill and Jan) Family's "Holiday in Portugal." Apparently, the Cooks, who hailed from Manhattan, felt totally at ease leaving their home city for two weeks without fear of a Soviet invasion.

LOOK: August 3, 1948 (“Could the Reds Seize Detroit?”)
By James Metcalfe
Photographer: Frank Bauman
August 3, 1948
Vol. 12, No. 16

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