Q: Civil defense in a way turns domestic life into a sort of military life.
It brings the Cold War right into people's homes.|
LM: Right, right. Well essentially what the FCDA was doing was popularizing
the idea that the home was the site of military readiness, that families, that
American families would fight the Cold War from their homes, from their living
rooms, from their basement or backyard shelters...It really reconstituted the
family as a kind of paramilitary unit that readied itself to fight whatever
kind of Cold War was going to come their way. And it asked American families
to think about themselves not just as friends, neighborhoods, family members,
but as warriors of a Cold War. And this really introduced a military purpose
and practice into American family life.
Q: What do we know about how Americans responded to the Federal government's
civil defense message?
LM: This is a difficult question because the statistics on this are hard to
find because the practice of self-help meant that you did it yourself, and so
there was no formal reporting of who was building a shelter, who was stocking
the basement with extra supplies, who was keeping their house clean to prevent
With the lack of adequate reporting, the best figures suggest about four
million people participated formally as volunteers in local civil defense
programs across the country. More Americans probably read and paid attention
to the information, stocked a few supplies here and there, had the air raid
shelter instruction card taped to the inside of their kitchen cabinet. But
it's very hard to give specifics on numbers of participants.
But in general, it is safe to say that most Americans accepted the premise of
civil defense, that is, the home front had to be ready. And they accepted the
premise that the Soviet threat had to be met with a strong nuclear threat on
the part of the United States, but they rejected the kind of home front
militarization that the FCDA was really asking of them. Reconstituting their
homes as paramilitary defense units, or recreating the living room into a
military space, or converting the basement into a bunker. Most Americans
rejected that. Most Americans did not build fallout shelters in their
basements or their backyards. Numbers on those who did vary from two thousand
to over one hundred thousand. Again, that's a reporting problem, but most
Americans supported the idea of civil defense and the idea of nuclear readiness
as taxpayers, but refused to reorganize themselves into the kind of
preparedness units that the government was asking them.
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