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Laura McEnaney on: Civil Defense Literature
Laura McEnaney Q: Why don't we talk a little bit about the way that the civil defense films and the pamphlets really kind of played down the calamity that could strike the U.S. in the event of a nuclear war.

LM: The FCDA got itself into some tricky positions. On the one hand they had to emphasize the danger of nuclear war, particularly the hydrogen bomb and the radioactive cloud, on the other hand they had to say to people, though there is this danger, you can survive this. So they had to scare the pants off of people, as they would say, but not scare them so much into panic. And so there was this delicate balancing act between frightening people into taking action, but not frightening them so much into inaction, or hysteria, or cynicism, or malaise.

One of the things that the brochures often talked about was the fact that radioactive ash, fallout, was just an ordinary household hazard, as one would confront in gardening poisons, or that radioactive fallout was a typical disaster that one would meet if they lived in tornado alley, or if they lived in a flood-ridden area. In other words, the hydrogen bomb was compared to natural disasters, and so people didn't need to take extraordinary measures in the face of this mushroom cloud. They needed to do routine household chores.

And in regards to women, one of the things they told women in the literature for family and for family safety was that radioactive fallout was just like dust, and one could get rid of it by taking a shower, carefully washing oneself, dusting off the tops of cans and jars if the ash happened to fall into the kitchen, dusting off tables and couches and other pieces of furniture, vacuuming the floor. That women could get rid of radioactive fallout simply by using traditional household cleaning methods, again, making the point that there was nothing unusual about the hydrogen bomb, that one could survive by simply practicing nuclear safe housekeeping.

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