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FALLOUT PROTECTION: WHAT TO KNOW AND DO ABOUT NUCLEAR ATTACK

“In the coming months, I hope to let every citizen know what steps he can take without delay to protect his family in case of attack.”

-- President John F. Kennedy

It all started with the line quoted above from President John F. Kennedy’s televised speech on the crisis in Berlin on the evening of July 25, 1961. Kennedy had given civil defense speeches before, but none of those previous talks had been linked so closely to an unfolding superpower stalemate with the potential to touch off World War III.

The Berlin crisis does not enjoy instant name recognition today because of the subsequent and more operatic Cuban Missile Crisis. But with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev threatening to take over West Berlin and the new President strongly reiterating a pledge to protect it, these were indeed tense times. And, as it turns out, the world had no idea just how volatile the Berlin situation was behind the scenes. In an October 2001 Atlantic Monthly article journalist Fred Kaplan revealed that the Kennedy administration had seriously considered plans for a limited surprise nuclear attack on the Soviet Union to prevent a takeover of West Berlin.

However, the public aspect of the Berlin crisis was scary enough for most Americans. As such, people paid particular attention to the President’s words during his speech and his promise for an as yet undefined guiding light on the subject of survival. Of course, other parts of the President’s Berlin crisis address led to a home fallout shelter boom and a collateral morality debate on whether it is acceptable to kill one’s neighbor for seeking refuge in one’s family shelter. But that is another story.

This is the story of the absurd amount of high-level effort and second guessing that went into creating Fallout Protection: What to Know and Do About Nuclear Attack, the 46 page civil defense booklet that made good (kind of) on President Kennedy’s pledge the night of July 25, 1961.

***

National civil defense policy was a convoluted mess in the last half of 1961. The Kennedy administration’s schizophrenic behavior on shelter issues was having a public and political impact. Driving the administration’s disjointed statements on civil defense was an internal debate over private family shelters versus government funded fallout shelters. The President was also facing pressure from a likely 1964 political opponent, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller (1908-1979). Rockefeller, who had something of an obsession with civil defense, lobbied the President and Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, McGeorge Bundy (1919-2006) on the issue on May 9, 1961 when he was in Washington for the Conference of Governors.

In the midst of the policy debate, the President issued Executive Order 10952 that placed civil defense responsibilities under the control of the Defense Department effective August 1, 1961. Up until this point in the administration’s tenure civil defense had been handled under a separate agency known as Office of Civil Defense and Mobilization (OCDM) headed by a Kennedy political appointee by the name of Franklin B. Ellis (1907-1969). On August 30, 1961 President Kennedy announced the appointment of Steuart L. Pittman (1919- ), a Washington, D.C. attorney, as director of the new incarnation of civil defense. Ellis eventually received a judgeship in Louisiana as a parting gift.

Prior to Mr. Pittman’s selection, the Pentagon, freshly charged with civil defense matters, planned an educational booklet to help satisfy the promise made by President Kennedy in his July 25th speech. An assistant to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (1916- ), Adam Yarmolinksy (1922-2000), managed this project – the ultimate goal of which was to produce, publish and mail a copy of the civil defense pamphlet to every household in the United States. His first step was to engage the editorial team from Life magazine that had recently completed a cover story on civil defense. This September 15, 1961 issue of Life featured a man in a “civilian fallout suit” on the cover and a special introductory letter to readers on the importance of civil defense from President Kennedy.

The six member Life team, headed by Life’s editor himself, Edward K. Thompson (1907-1996), worked with Yarmolinksy and others on the government side to produce a slick draft copy of the pamphlet. Thompson recounts the frustrations of taking suggestions from the bureaucratic officials in his 1995 memoir A Love Affair with Life & Smithsonian:

“One government think-tanker had an idea for a sketch with which to open the booklet: A frontier family is besieged with Indians in a log cabin. Of the ten family members, five would get scalped because they had no blast shelters, and five would be saved because they did have a shelter. The idea man was of a low enough rank to ignore.”

McNamara himself was something else. About a chapter on treating nuclear burns, he sent a terse message, ‘Kill it!’ It seems that the Ford Motor, Co., when he was chairman, had an unfavorable public reaction on the subject of burns in a Ford public service ad campaign.”

In a memo to his boss McGeorge Bundy dated October 17, 1961, one of the key persons tasked with civil defense policy analysis, Marc Raskin (1934- ), sought to preemptively torpedo the Life version of the booklet. He wrote in part:

“As you know, the DOD is sending over a document in the next few days which will be the most widely distributed piece of literature in man’s history outside of the Bible. I have just read part of it and feel very strongly that this document should not be sent out even if technical improvements can be made in it. Presently, the statements are inaccurate and disputable. The effects per se of sending the document are incalculable.”

Despite Mr. Raskin’s best efforts, the final, heavily illustrated draft copy produced by the Life team made the rounds for official internal comment in November of 1961. It did not fare well.

The following is a sampling of the caustic reactions to the draft version of the pamphlet from some of the “best and brightest” in the administration:

“…The feel of the pamphlet, especially the drawings, is not reassuring. I suspect a poor public reaction to this.”

-- Excerpted, Special Assistant to the President, Fred Dutton (1923-2005) memo to Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, McGeorge Bundy (1919-1996), 11/3/1961

“…A distribution of 60 million Americans necessitates full consideration of the ability to absorb the contents of a manual such as this on the lower intellectual level—this is far too verbose…”

-- Excerpted, Special Assistant to the President, Larry O’Brien (1917-1990) memo to Special Assistant to the President, Ken O’Donnell (1924-1977), 11/6/1961

“…The present pamphlet is a design for saving Republicans and sacrificing Democrats. These are the people who have individual houses with basements in which basement of lean-to fallout shelters can be built. There is no design for civilians who live in wooden three deckers, tenements, low cost apartments, or other congested areas. I am not at all attracted by a pamphlet which seeks to save the better elements of the population, but in the main writes off those who voted for you. I think it is particularly injudicious, in fact it is absolutely incredible, to have a picture of a family with a cabin cruiser saving itself by going out to sea. Very few members of the UAW can go with them.”

--Excerpted, Ambassador to India, John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) memo to President Kennedy, 11/9/1961

“…On page 7 there is a statement which says, ‘The next pages tell you how to react to whatever warning you may get from a few seconds to a day or even longer. Study these pages. Then make sure you have the protection you need.’ This assumes that the paterfamilias has some objective tool to ascertain what protection he’ll need to survive. That is nonsense. This part also gives the impression that the booklet is something to ‘study’ since it is the key to survival. This is also nonsense. …Also on page 12 there is a woman who looks like Mrs. Kennedy. We might want to change her so that she looks like Mrs. Rockefeller.”

-- Excerpted, Assistant to McGeorge Bundy, Special Staff, National Security Council, Marc Raskin (1934- ) memo to Deputy Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, Carl Kaysen (1920- ), 11/15/1961

“…It is notable that the illustrations in the proposed DOD pamphlet are almost all drawn from middle class living; we are shown office-buildings and suburban homes with large basements and gardens. There is practically nothing in the pamphlet with which a workingman can identify.”

-- Excerpted, Special Assistant to the President for Latin American Affairs, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (1917- ) memo to President Kennedy, 11/22/1961

“…As presently drafted, this booklet would also force the issue even further out of perspective – providing ammunition for both the SANE pacifists, etc., who think we’re substituting Civil Defense for out ‘peace-race’ efforts, and the hard-line militarists, etc, who look upon a nuclear war as just another war (97% survive, etc.). Sending it to every home is justified only as a means of clarifying the confusion and saving lives in case of attack – but this means considerably revised and stripped down text with different pictures.”

-- Excerpted, Special Counsel to the President, Theodore Sorensen (1928- ) memo to President Kennedy, 11/23/1961

According to a 1966 oral history interview with Carl Kaysen, even President Kennedy became involved in the editing of the civil defense booklet. The following is an anecdote from Kaysen that illustrates how important civil defense was at the time of the Berlin crisis and, at the same time, the absurd amount of high level attention the booklet received:

“…One amusing incident – which I think of as a real Kennedyism – arose in connection with the pamphlet. I was going over the pamphlet with him, which he insisted that we do word by word. He wanted to be sure of what was said, and this again reflected the Berlin incident, the feeling that was terribly sensitive. At one point there was something about simple remedies for burns. It said ‘putting grease on a burn.’ He said, ‘That’s wrong. You should put cold water on it.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ll check that with the Surgeon General, Mr. President.’ He said, ‘Listen, I know.’ So we went on. I called the Surgeon General and explained what it was all about. He said, ‘Well, the President’s right, but in fact that’s rather advanced medical practice and most doctors still use grease. My recommendation would be that the pamphlet should say either grease or nothing, because if it says cold water it’s going to stir up a lot of fuss.’ I told this to Kennedy at the appropriate time, and he said, ‘Look, cold water’s right, isn’t it? It’s going to say cold water,’ which was kind of funny.”

After the negative comments came rolling in on the booklet, a decision was made to revise the booklet. Steuart L. Pittman recalled the circumstances in his 1970 oral history interview:

“I should mention that it was the White House and not the Defense Department that finally said the thing that had to be said: ‘Before we put out a booklet telling everybody what to do, we’ve got to have a program so that we can tell people what the federal government’s going to do.’ And McNamara resisted that. He did not want to be committed to a federal program before the booklet. He wanted to get the booklet out first to tell people what they could do in their homes. This was a mistake. It seemed to me it was a mistake at the time, but it took a White House decision, (Carl) Kaysen’s basically, I think, to say, ‘We just can’t put out a booklet after all this background and all that the president’s promised without defining the federal role."

On November 29, 1961 the last question at the President’s press conference concerned the status of the booklet to which Kennedy replied in part:

“I stated we are going to send out a booklet when it is ready. I hoped it would be ready by the end of November. The booklet will reflect the decisions we made in November, and I think it will tell them what the Federal policy will be; and what we hope to do, and what each individual can do in his own home, which will provide greater assurances if an attack should come.”

Pittman, again from his 1970 oral history interview, recounted what happened next:

“What was finally done was to drag somebody down from Battle Creek (Michigan) where the civil defenders of the past (OCDM) were still sitting it out, waiting for the Pentagon to take over. This public information man from the old program named (Donald E.) Thomas was finally given the job to pick up the pieces and put the booklet together. They’d put out many, many booklets on similar subject in the past, and he wrote a good little booklet. It was very modest, but was called ‘the yellow peril’ because it had a yellow cover.”

In recalling the issue of the booklet from the comfortable, less heated vantage point of 1970, Pittman could not resist marveling at the amount of senior level time wasted on “the yellow peril”:

“The White House—it was extraordinary the number of man hours from the president, Bundy, Wiesner, Kaysen, McNamara—all these kinds of people were crawling all over this piece of paper which was to be a booklet, arguing about whether you should show a boat as a fallout shelter because it might offend the poor people that don’t have boats. It was really a ridiculous episode, and I think it did more than any one thing to queer people on the whole subject… The last paragraph of this little episode is that, after several tortured months, we did what we could’ve done almost immediately, which was to take the material that had already been written by OCDM, revise it somewhat, and put it out in the name of the Defense Department."

A combination of several factors weighed on the President’s mind in deciding against the Pentagon’s desire for a grand roll-out of the booklet complete with a televised speech dubbed a civil defense “fireside chat.” First there were the recommendations against sending the booklet to every household in America expressed by many of his advisers; and then there was the fact that the Berlin crisis was cooling off; but perhaps the biggest impact of all was Dr. Edward Teller (1908-2003). As recounted in Fred Kaplan’s essential Cold War history, The Wizards of Armageddon (1983) the shelter-fixated father of the H-Bomb paid the White House a visit on November 29, 1961 and proceeded to alarm everyone he spoke with. Teller’s recommendation was essentially to create a reactive, ongoing civil defense industrial complex that would construct deeper-dug, more blast-resistant public shelters for each advance in the Soviet arsenal. It is no accident that Teller is frequently cited as one of the main inspirations for the character of DR. STRANGELOVE.

According to Wizards of Armageddon, the President was “half shocked, half bemused, incredulous to the spectacle (of Teller’s pitch) before him.” McGeorge Bundy, a subsequent recipient of Teller’s shelter speech that day, wrote a memo to the President a few days later on December 1st that said, in part:

”I must say I am horrified by the thought of digging deeper as the megatonnage gets bigger, which is the notion of civil defense that Dr. Teller spelled out to me after your meeting with him the other evening. He thinks it can be done quite easily for $50 billion spent over a period of years. This is a position from which you will wish to be disassociated.”

In his memo, Bundy then recommended that a policy shift be made by the administration to “a very low key and distinctly modest program.”

The above factors help explain why a booklet whose publication was once envisioned as a high profile media event wound up as a holiday document dump that occurred with little fanfare. A December 26, 1961 memo from Pittman to Kaysen discusses the mechanics of the low key release with such muted enthusiasm for the booklet that it is worth quoting the entire document:

MEMORANDUM FOR MR. KAYSEN

SUBJECT: Release of Civil Defense Booklet.

The method of distribution is designed to make the booklet as rapidly available as possible with a minimum of promotional effort. If it appears necessary or desirable to promote more widespread distribution, this will be done after a few weeks of experience in both the distribution process and in public reaction to the booklet.

Initial distribution of the civil defense booklet will start on January 2 (1962). The principal distribution points will be state and local civil defense directors’ headquarters, federal civil defense regional offices, the Office of Civil Defense at Battle Creek and at the Pentagon, and all post offices. Of 25 million copies printed, about 15 million will be distributed through the post office system, about 5 million through federal, state and local civil defense offices and about 5 million held in reserve for resupply. The public will be advised through news media for release on Saturday, Dec. 30 (1961), of the date and places of availability of the booklet, that it can be had without charge by writing to specified addresses or by picking it up at the local post office.

We have decided not to hold a press conference in the Pentagon unless and until extensive press inquiries build up, in which case I would make myself available for questions.

Advance copies go to the press for Saturday PM release and will also be mailed for arrival on the release date to members of both houses of Congress, to our mailing lists covering state and local government officials directly concerned with civil defense, and to private associations with which we have been working in developing the Shelter Incentive Program.

In view of past identification of the President with widely anticipated information on this subject, it is suggested that he make a short statement in Palm Beach on Saturday, Dec. 30th. Attached is a suggested text. The last paragraph reflects my concern, with which you are familiar, that the President take a step beyond the “personal choice” rationale for civil defense and establish clearly that there is an individual responsibility for survival of others, of the institutions and culture, and of the Nation.

PROPOSED STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT ON RELEASE OF THE BOOKLET (Draft: SLPittman, 12/23/61)

The new Civil Defense publication, called “Fallout Protection,” has just come off the press and will be available throughout the United States beginning next week. It contains information about what you should know and what you can do if there should ever be a nuclear attack on the United States. As I have said before, your Government is taking every opportunity to create the conditions for a lasting peace and to reduce the chances of war by accident or miscalculation. Preparation for this unlikely event is insurance which our Nation and our people should not be without. So I urge every citizen to give his attention to this booklet. The information in it could save many lives.

Those who have responsibility for their families, employees, and people in their neighborhood should start thinking about long-term plans for preparation and protection in homes and communities. This booklet will help. But organization and leadership is needed to provide guidance to you and your neighbors in deciding what to do in your community. This will not happen without your support and voluntary cooperation to back up the efforts of your local government.

There is no evidence that CONELRAD was able to find that President Kennedy ever made a statement regarding the booklet on December 30, 1961 or at any time approximate to its publication.

If the Kennedy administration was hoping for a quiet delivery of its troubled civil defense opus, they mostly got their wish. There were, however, a few notable reactions to it.

REACTIONS TO THE GOVERNMENT CIVIL DEFENSE BOOKLET

On January 2, 1962 the New York Times published a withering critique of the booklet by the multi-Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Arthur Krock. Krock recommended that the millions of Americans who receive the pamphlet should also read or re-read Nevil Shute’s depressing World War III novel On the Beach which he viewed as having a certain inverse thematic relationship to the government’s document:

“Shute’s vision of a planet damned by the viciousness of its own inhabitants gives no consideration to this inconceivable method of humanity’s salvation because to do so would have cluttered his tale and deflected its impact. The booklet, since its purposes are to concentrate the public on chances of survival that cannot stand harsh analysis, and to demonstrate that the Government at last has a viable policy, omits the harsh analysis and gilds the policy.”

Even with the offending cabin cruiser excised from the published version, Krock commented on the booklet’s seeming targeting of the “more fortunate” members of society. But he also remarked “hopefully, there seem to be numerous Americans who reject as immoral and degrading the booklet blueprints—for $150 and up—of the cellars and backyards that their superior resources permit.”

Another “review” of the booklet, by the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) dated January 9, 1962, caught the attention of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. who passed it along to Carl Kaysen on January 13th with the comment “The (attached) criticism of the Department of Defense pamphlet seems to me to have a certain point.”

What did the ADA say? The following is the portion of their official statement on civil defense that Schlesinger marked for Kaysen:

“Regrettably, the Department of Defense has already acted to undermine public confidence in its announced policy. Again, doubt, confusion, and uncertainty have taken possession of civil defense. In an official pamphlet, ‘Fallout Protection,’ released December 30, 25 million of which are now being circulated throughout the country, the Department of Defense devoted five pages and three illustrations to the ‘essential element’—community shelters, while it spent 18 pages and 13 illustrations on the construction, equipping, and operating of family shelters. All of this despite the fact that the same pamphlet clearly states: ‘Experience in Europe in World War II and other human experiences under disaster conditions have pointed to distinct advantages of the community or neighborhood fallout shelter when compared with the family shelter.’

The Department of Defense pamphlet also places the federal government in support of trade association, product-oriented, family-shelter builders, by listing a number of trade combines through which the individual is urged to seek advice on shelter construction.”

The above assessment of the booklet is, as Mr. Schlesinger concluded, accurate, but the author of the ADA statement neglected to point out a glaring absurdity with regard to one of the aforementioned “trade associations” that is recommended on the last page of the Fallout Protection pamphlet: The National Lumber Manufacturers Association! When one thinks about shelter protection from the effects of nuclear weapons, wood is not the first building material that leaps to mind. However, it must be pointed out that the government (under Eisenhower) actually put out a separate shelter manual trumpeting lumber as an effective shelter construction option.

On January 20, 1962 the Washington Association of Scientists issued a critical statement on the government’s booklet that read, in part:

“It (the booklet) does not make clear that any hope to protect our citizens from the main effects of most kinds of nuclear attack is an illusion… It does not emphasize the truth that no individual can by his own efforts insure his survival in a nuclear war.”

Mathematician, lawyer, author and Scientific American editor James R. Newman (1907-1966) wrote a scathing indictment of the booklet in a lengthy editorial titled “A Communication” in the January 1, 1962 edition of the Washington Post. The following is a particularly incensed passage:

“Enough. Nothing. I should think, more markedly exposes the irresponsibility, the indifference, and the duplicity of the Government’s civil defense program than this pamphlet. There is no effective shelter program; there will be none. No one is willing to spend the money needed to put even a half-effective program into effect. It is doubtful, even if the will to do so were there, that we have the resources for the job. And it is certain that if we had the resources and the will, our society as a structure would not survive wholesale and long-term incarceration in underground prisons. But this publication, let it be emphasized, has nothing to do with anything so ambitious, so honest, so tragic and so insane. It is a contemptible public relations hoax. It is designed to make you think you have a chance when, in fact, you have none. It treats human beings as things. It is indifferent to their needs, their self-respect, their dignity. It puts the entire emphasis on a kind of brute survival infinitely worse than that which any tyranny might impose.”

The New Republic devoted 40 pages of its January 15, 1962 issue to what it referred to as “the civil defense muddle.” And, fittingly, a few of the pages concerned the infamous Department of Defense booklet. The magazine correctly points out that the pamphlet’s introductory statement from Secretary of Defense McNamara contains some curious language. Specifically, the line “The factual information in this booklet has been verified by independent scientific authority.” The New Republic writers wonder why the government would need an “independent scientific authority” to endorse the booklet. They then provide the back-story of how the Pentagon wrangled with the National Academy of Sciences’ Civil Defense Advisory Committee over language. CONELRAD has obtained documents that reflect this textual debate. It is not clear from all of the available documents just who the “independent scientific authority” was that vetted the booklet. Mr. Wizard, perhaps?

The New Republic also takes issue with the booklet’s reliance on a 5 megaton hydrogen explosion as the weapon being defended against. The writers argue that the low-yield device does not make sense given that the Russians had already tested 20 megaton weapons. The Pentagon spokesman who responded to the magazine’s request for an explanation stated that the 5 megaton weapon was chosen “merely for illustration.”

But perhaps the most interesting and inventive reaction to the pamphlet came from a Berkeley, California group called Women for Peace. On February 1, 1962, the women from this organization, including Mardi Ruvolo and Madeline Duckles and hundreds of others participated in a protest that they officially dubbed “Operation Mailback.” In a November 4, 2007 e-mail interview with CONELRAD, Ms. Duckles summed up the action of Operation Mailback: “We women took those pamphlets, marked them up with all the things wrong and about 200 women joined in to return them all to the (downtown Berkeley) post office.”

On November 6, 2007 CONELRAD’s Bill Geerhart spoke with an archivist at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum who informed him that there are no returned and marked civil defense booklets in their holdings. When informed of this finding, Ms. Duckles replied via e-mail to CONELRAD: “Since the returned booklets were delivered by us to the post office, they probably threw them out.” She probably has a point since return postage was apparently not a consideration in the Operation Mailback strategy. Women for Peace did, however, capture national media attention with their stunt. The New York Times, the Associated Press and other outlets reported on the protest.

Not all of the reaction to Operation Mailback was of the neutral newspaper coverage variety. One citizen by the name of James S. Driver of Hayward, California was so unhappy with the announced plans for the organized protest that he wrote a letter of warning to the readers of the Oakland Tribune that was published on January 14, 1962:

“Editor: Very shortly the Tribune Forum (the newspaper’s letter section) will be filled with letters from women who are “scared to death” of nuclear war. These women will hysterically plead with Tribune readers to send back the U.S. government’s pamphlet on fall-out shelters to JFK. They’ll suggest that by standing up and defending what is rightfully ours that we are being aggressive, and will cause ‘the end of the world.’ This latest movement, called Operation Mailback, lists as the sponsor an organization called ‘Women for Peace.’ It sounds to me like the Women for Peace want the Communists to get a piece of the Congo, a piece of Asia, a piece of South America, a piece of Europe and so forth. I hope that the readers of the Tribune will not fall for the propaganda that this ill-informed and ill-advised group is sending out."

The public reception of the Fallout Protection pamphlet was not all negative. One example of an open arm embrace of the booklet was published on December 31, 1961 by the Washington Post. In a column headlined “A Booklet for Those Who Care,” Roscoe Drummond wrote, in part:

”If you do not believe in trying to save the lives of your children, your family, and yourself; if you do not believe in trying to save the lives of others at a time of great catastrophe; if you do not think that our governments—national, state and local—have any duty to protect the lives of citizens; if you do not believe in humanity’s capacity to survive the inhumanity of nuclear attack: if you do not believe any of these things, then this column is not for you.

There is an alternative. It is a good alternative. It is in the new Department of Defense booklet on what to know and do about nuclear attack. Here are the facts which every American needs to have about radioactive fallout and what we can do to protect ourselves.

If you have listened to the hopeless and hypnotic argument that all is lost if nuclear war should come, that 185 million American men, women, children and babies might just as well be considered a total casualty—I invite you to reject this thinking completely…

…I commend to you—for your reading, your study and your practical use—the Defense Department’s free booklet, “Fallout Protection: What to Know and Do About Nuclear Attack.” It is candid, factual, blunt and highly informative…”

Another endorsement of the booklet came from the Op-Ed pages of the January 10, 1962 edition of the Albuquerque Tribune:

”Since the last war there has been a snowstorm of civil defense pamphlets, mostly worthless. The latest, just issued by the Defense Department, is a far superior product, if only because it takes some of the superstitious dread out of the bomb by explaining it in plain language…”

***

In retrospect, of course, Fallout Protection: What to Know and Do About Nuclear Attack cannot help but read like a joke. It is a sign of the times in which it was written that the first chapter of the booklet is headlined with an appeal to patriotism: “How to survive attack and live for your country’s recovery.”

Against the backdrop of many of the salvaged Time-Life Art Department illustrations from its previous incarnation, Fallout Protection recycles many of the civil defense clichés and advisories from numerous similar documents cranked out since the earliest days of the Cold War. For example:

“The need for preparation—for civil defense—is likely to be with us for a long time, and we must suppress the temptation to reach out hastily for short-term solutions.”

“In the event of nuclear attack, be prepared to live in a shelter for as long as two weeks, coming out for short trips only when necessary.”

“When large amounts of radiation are absorbed by the body in short periods of time, sickness and death may result.”

“Ten thousand calories will be adequate for an adult during an inactive two-week shelter stay. Select familiar foods (they are more heartening and acceptable during times of stress)…”

“Experience has shown that many human beings act cooperatively when disaster strikes…”

“Measures to control vermin would be vital in the event of an attack…Do not use spray insecticides in an occupied shelter…”

One of the things that distinguish the booklet from earlier civil defense publication efforts is its frankness in describing the impact of nuclear war (“There is no escaping the fact that nuclear conflict would leave a tragic world. The areas of blast and fire would be scenes of havoc, devastation and death.”). But even this type of language gets contradicted by later mitigating statements such as the old chestnut about only needing to stay in a fallout shelter for two weeks.

In one case, an illustration calls into question the sincerity of the text. On page 38 of the booklet the following words appear under the heading “FIRST STEPS TOWARD RECOVERY”:

“The world and your community would be shattered by a nuclear war. Normal services would be disrupted; essential skills could be in short supply; equipment you had taken for granted might not be available. You would face the aftermath of a catastrophe, but if there had been previous planning, you need not face it alone.”

The illustration above this dire text features a group of men cleaning up some kind of spill in a parking lot under a fully raised American flag (doesn’t a nuclear war rate a half-mast?), next to a mailbox and in front of undamaged vehicles.

The booklet also departs from previous civil defense pamphlets in that it acts as a kind of half-hearted sales pitch for the new federal public shelter program. But since most of the pages are concerned with family shelters, the impact is not very effective. Indeed, the focus throughout most the booklet is so tilted toward home fallout shelters that an advisory to consumers is included on page 22:

“A number of firms have entered the home shelter field. As in any new commercial activity there are abuses. Advertising claims may be misleading; designs and products may be inadequate. Your State and Federal governments will do what they properly can to minimize these abuses, but the most effective discouragement to those taking advantage of the rising interest in home shelters is your caution and shrewdness.”

It is interesting to note that in an earlier draft of the booklet, capitalism received more of a hearty boost than the cautious disclaimer that made the final edition: “The anticipation of a new market for home shelters is helpful and in keeping with the free enterprise way of meeting changing conditions in our lives.” More than one of Kennedy’s advisers objected to this line including Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. who thought it smacked of an abandonment of the average citizen to private enterprise.

The American public would not see such a high profile survival manual for another thirty years. And just as the Berlin crisis had helped spawn Fallout Protection: What to Know and Do About Nuclear Attack, 9/11 was responsible for the slickly published Preparing Makes Sense. Get Ready Now, one of the chief educational components in the Department of Homeland Security’s Public Relations “Ready” campaign launched in 2003.

Comparing the two booklets is fascinating because it demonstrates just how far the government has come in its ability to rapidly produce vague, bland nonsense that is presented as an informational tool for the concerned citizen. Indeed, it is doubtful that future historians will find as rich a history behind the Homeland Security pamphlet. But then again, War on Terror historians will have plenty of other things to look into...

RESEARCH NOTES

CONELRAD relied upon the following sources for its history of the 1961 civil defense pamphlet Fallout Protection: What to Know and Do About Nuclear Attack.

BOOKS

A Love Affair with Life & Smithsonian (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1995) by Edward K. Thompson

Wizards of Armageddon (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983) by Fred Kaplan

GOVERNMENT DOCUMENTS

Memorandum for Carl Kaysen
November 15, 1961
Marc Raskin
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum
National Security Files
Box 295 / File 8
Civil Defense 11/13/61 – 11/19/61

Memorandum for Carl Kaysen
December 26, 1961
Steuart L. Pittman
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum
National Security Files
Box 365
Carl Kaysen / Civil Defense Fallout Program

Memorandum for Carl Kaysen
January 13, 1962
Arthur M. Schlesinger
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum
National Security Files
Box 365
Carl Kaysen / Civil Defense Fallout Program

Memorandum for Kenneth O'Donnell
November 6, 1961
Lawrence O'Brien
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum
National Security Files
Box 295
Civil Defense 10/28/61 – 11/12/61

Memorandum for McGeorge Bundy
October 17, 1961
Marc Raskin
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum
National Security Files
Box 295
Civil Defense 10/1/61 – 10/27/61

Memorandum for McGeorge Bundy
November 3, 1961
Carl Kaysen
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum
National Security Files
Box 295
Civil Defense 10/28/61 – 11/12/61

Memorandum for McGeorge Bundy
November 3, 1961
Frederick G. Dutton
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum
National Security Files
Box 295
Civil Defense 10/28/61 – 11/12/61

Memorandum for the President
November 9, 1961
John Kenneth Galbraith
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum
National Security Files
Box 295
Civil Defense 10/28/61 – 11/12/61

Memorandum for the President
November 22, 1961
Arthur M. Schlesinger
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum
President’s Office Files
Box 65
Staff Memoranda 10/61 – 12/61

Memorandum for the President
November 23, 1961
Theodore Sorenson
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum
Theodore Sorensen Papers
Box 30
Subject Files 1961-1964, Civil Defense

Oral History Interview with Adam Yarmolinsky
November 28, 1964
Interview conducted by Daniel Ellsberg
For the John F. Kennedy Library

Oral History Interview with Carl Kaysen
July 11, 1966
Interview conducted by Joseph E. O’Connor
For the John F. Kennedy Library

Oral History Interview with Steuart L. Pittman
September 18, 1970
Interview conducted by William W. Moss
For the John F. Kennedy Library

INTERVIEW

Madeline Duckles via e-mail on November 4 and 6, 2007.

PERIODICALS

“Adam Yarmolinsky Dies at 77; Led Revamping of Government,” New York Times, January 7, 2000 by Neil A. Lewis

“A Booklet for Those Who Care,” Washington Post, December 31, 1961 by Roscoe Drummond

“A Communication,” Washington Post, January 1, 1962 by James R. Newman

“Director Chosen for Civil Defense,” New York Times, August 30, 1961 (no byline)

“E.K. Thompson, 89, Editor Who Helped Shape Life Magazine,” New York Times, October 9, 1996 by Eric Pace

“Fallout Pamphlet,” Albuquerque Tribune, January 10, 1962, editorial

“JFK’s First Strike Plan,” Atlantic Monthly, October 2001 by Fred Kaplan

“Fallout Shelters: Low-Key Plan,” Newsweek, January 8, 1962 (no byline)

“Operation Mailback,” Oakland Tribune, January 14, 1962 by James S. Driver (letter to the editor)

“President Kennedy Press Conference,” Washington Post, November 30, 1961 (no byline)

“Scientist Group Blasts U.S. Fallout Pamphlet,” Washington Post, January 21, 1962 (no byline)

“Shelters and Survival: A Report on the Civil Defense Muddle, New Republic, January 15, 1962 by Asher Brynes and Garrett Underhill

“The Shelters Are From Harsh Reality,” New York Times, January 2, 1962 by Arthur Krock

“U.S. Booklet Alerts Nation to Bomb Peril,” Washington Post, December 31, 1961 by John M. Goshko

“U.S. Modifies Plan on Shelter Data,” New York Times, January 1, 1962 by Peter Braestrup

“Women Conduct Peace Mailback,” Oakland Tribune, January 31, 1962 (no byline)

“Women for Peace to Conduct Mailback Protest Thursday,” Oakland Tribune, January 28, 1962 (no byline)

“Women to Hold March for Peace, Coast Group Will Also Mail Fall-Out Pamphlets Back,” New York Times, January 29, 1962 (No byline)

FALLOUT PROTECTION: WHAT TO KNOW AND DO ABOUT NUCLEAR ATTACK
H-6 December 1961
Department of Defense, Office of Civil Defense
U.S. Government Printing Office: 1961 O—621904
46 Pages / Text – Illustrations

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