Ground Zero: The Atomic Tourist, Part Three

PART ONE: Project Greek Island
PART TWO: Showering with Bob Dornan and Strom Thurmond
>PART THREE: Where the Hell are all the guns?
Arms and the Man
Hard hat, baton, riot gun, hard hat, baton, riot gun, hard hat, riot gun...

IF THE BOMB FALLS: Vinyl Instructions from 1961 for "Sheltering in Place"

THE COMPLACENT AMERICANS: The Classic Civil Defense 'scare' LP [1961]

OPERATION ALERT BUFFALO: Buffalo Blitz of 1956

IN TIME OF EMERGENCY: Civil Defense Reminder from 1968

ATOMIC HONEYMOONERS: LIFE Magazine's 1959 Fallout Shelter Couple Tell Their Tale

SIRENS, DOG TAGS & PS 11: Atomic Testimony from
Laura Graff

SWINGING 1970's EBS JINGLE: Snap Your Fingers to These
Familiar Lyrics

CD SHORT SUBJECTS: A List of Films Available on Video, DVD
and the Internet

The Green Brier: Five Satr Fallout Shelter

PART THREE: Where the Hell are all the guns?

The single most impressive aspect of this entire operation is its vast communication apparatus. Also the single most useless if you subscribe to the notion that—aside from the stray tribe of mutants—there would be no one left to gab with. In addition to radio studios, phone banks and e-mail, the bunker boasts a fully equipped TV studio complete with Capitol dome backdrop. No doubt there was a similar underground studio in the former Breaker! Breaker! Is this thing on? Soviet Union with a Kremlin backdrop. And just how were these broadcast signals supposed to reach the survivor (s) of World War III? Well, antennae were supposed to spring through the earth—or molten lava—from concrete silos to transmit them. Whomever the audience, this would have been the liveliest programming in C-SPAN history.

One of the burning questions I have throughout the tour is WHERE THE HELL ARE ALL THE GUNS!?! Every bomb shelter worth its salt has to have firearms and one would expect a multi-million dollar government facility to have really impressive ones. Upon entering the Congressional Record Room, we are treated to a rather modest gun rack with pistols, rifles and riot gear. When, like a third grader I ask if the guns are real, a helpful veteran assures me that they are. Thanks Teach. Mary adds that the room we are standing in was the most sensitive in the entire complex. It was here that the blueprints for the shelter were kept as well as what would have been top secret congressional paperwork. During the Cuban missile crisis crates of records were transferred here.

Blue Skies over the Capitol...

One of the eeriest scenes inside the bunker, and the one that most closely resembles one's imaginings of an Oliver Stone-like shadow government, is the House Chamber. It looks like a smaller version of the real House Floor complete with flags and pictures of the founding fathers hanging behind the podiums. There is enough space here to accommodate every single member of the House (there is also a Senate Chamber next door) as well as a few aides. There are even outlets for microphones at each seat to amplify what surely would have been rancorous partisan bickering over which party started the war.

A huge, 16,000 square foot workspace is located outside the chamber halls and this is our final stop on the tour. The room is completely empty except for the 18 gigantic concrete and steel beams that reinforce the ceiling. This is where congress would have set up shop and started churning out the red tape legislation that would have inevitably resulted from World War III. This is also the site of the House Chaplain's' "booth" or "stall." It is difficult to imagine much real work getting done during the end of the world, but one thing is for certain: The chaplain would most likely have had his hands full. What with the No-Atheists-in-Fox Holes theory getting the ultimate test.

Mary, who is a patriotic sort, concludes the tour by paying tribute to those Greenbrier employees who managed to keep mum for the thirty years of the shelter's construction On our way home...and operation. She hails them as "true Americans." Probably so, but Mary fails to point out that had any of these employees gotten loose lips they would have had to have relocated at least a hundred miles to find jobs.

The tour bus awaits us at the end of the tunnel beyond the blast door where we disembarked two hours earlier. As Jim gradually wheels the door back open, the group walks somberly towards the daylight. The Private Ryans talk amongst themselves as their wives follow silently behind them. I wonder if these retirees find this place just another living Discovery Channel moment or something more significant. Whichever, this bizarre, near-death-experience of a march from Doomsday Central is a fitting end to this excursion.

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