Apocalypse Then

I've been working a little fitfully on an audio piece with a post-apocalypse theme. As soon as I started thinking about "post-apocalypse," I realized that I'd already lived through one–the aftermath of World War II–and grew up thinking that another apocalypse, a nuclear war, was imminent.

Was the shadow of that soon-to-come war really so tangible? Well, I remember the Chicago Tribune printing a map in 1962 that purported to show how far the Soviet missiles that had been discovered in Cuba could fly and seeing that our hometown was well within range. And then there were the movies–"Fail-Safe" and "The Bedford Incident" and "On the Beach" among others–that portrayed a world in which the nukes were turned loose for no particular reason.

Anyway, doing a little research, I came across some civil defense films from the 1950s designed to condition the public for the possibility of a nuclear war and instruct the citizenry how to respond to it. Here's the script for the beginning of a film titled "Let's Face It."

"Let’s face it: The threat of hydrogen bomb warfare is the greatest threat our nation has ever known. Enemy jet bombers carrying nuclear weapons can sweep in over a variety of routes and drop bombs on any important target in the United States. The threat of this destruction has affected our way of life in every city, village, and town from coast to coast. These are the signs of the times."

At this point, a siren sounds.

"Only in practice now, a rehearsal, a training exercise. But tomorrow, this siren may mean the real thing. And if you hear it—as you drive in your auto, as you sit in your office, as you work at your bench, wherever you are—what will you do? What will happen to you? Let’s face it. Your life, the fate of your community and the fate of your nation, depends on what you do when enemy bombers head for our cities."

Hear that? When enemy bombers head for our cities! Not "if." When!

I found another film that gives basic tips on surviving an atomic attack in your home and neighborhood. Surprisingly, it omits the timeless advice "kiss your ass goodbye" and focuses on strategies like throwing yourself face down on the pavement and covering your head with a coat (if caught out on the street in a surprise attack) or climbing under Dad's basement workbench with the rest of the family (if the air-raid sirens go off while you're watching "Ozzie and Harriet").

And here it is: eight-minutes plus of instruction that could save your life.

2 Comments

Filed under Current Affairs, History

2 Responses to Apocalypse Then

  1. Marie

    You live through a couple of these major fear cycles, and you start to see a pattern. If there’s one thing our government does (not necessarily well, but a lot of), it’s using an event to keep the people in fear. Why else would we keep the coffers of the military industrial complex so full, while people are sleeping in the street?

  2. Dan

    Yeah, you’re right–fear is brought to bear on just about every decision we make. But the way to deal with that, apparently–inside and outside the military-industrial complex–is more good guys carrying more guns.

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