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Laura McEnaney on: Civil Defense Films
Laura McEnaney Q: During the course of Truman's administration a large number of civil defense films were produced. What were the American people being told about how to protect themselves?

LM: Right. Well before the propaganda was produced, some of the initial problems were, do we have American citizens help themselves, protect themselves, or does the federal government step in and provide this kind of protection?...So the debate about Federal assistance or self-help, as they called it, continued throughout the 1950s, and what the Truman administration basically did was put formally in place a policy of self-help. Without money for sheltering, without being able to work out logistically what people could do and how the federal government could shelter all those people, they settled on a policy of self-help and that instructed people to duck and cover, stockpile supplies, food, sanitation materials, to build basement shelters or backyard shelters. To take, in other words, the Truman administration told families that they were responsible for helping themselves, that the federal government could not provide the kind of assistance that people might be looking for. And that really, the Truman effort was really a public relations campaign selling this concept of self-help. And it was only mildly successful. It was, it was quite an impressive public relations campaign, but the question was, who was listening?

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