Q: The head of the Federal Civil Defense Administration under President
Eisenhower used to talk about useful fear. What did he mean?|
LM: There was a kind of pop psychology approach to helping people through their
fear. Civil defense wardens were supposed to go from house to house, and
inventory what the family had done to protect themselves, but also to
acknowledge family fear and to say some fear is good, in fact, it's natural to
be afraid in the atomic age.
On the other hand, there are steps you can take to manage your panic. You can
drill yourselves so that you instinctively move from A to B, that you
instinctively move from living room during a dinner party to shelter. They
talked about the fact that panic had one function, and that was to make people
move, to do something. But too much panic was actually going to cause apathy,
cynicism, perhaps even hostility to the whole nuclear program.
Of course. one of the reasons they wanted to manage panic was also to manage
public opinion about the whole premise of nuclear deterrence. If people didn't
have faith in civil defense, that meant that they didn't believe nuclear war
was survivable, and that perhaps would lead to larger questions about the
entire premise of atomic diplomacy.
Q: In some ways the civil defense program is counter productive. By
making the population think about the possibility of nuclear war, it makes more
and more Americans worry about nuclear weapons.
LM: Yes. Well when you, when you think about it, asking the entire population
to think about daily life in different ways, to think not from a position of
peace but from a position of war preparation, to practice peace through
preparation for war is a paradox. And not everybody bought it. And various
groups protested, some formally, some informally. Some people protested in
groups in antinuclear peace groups. Other civilians, one could argue other
civilians protested by simply not participating in these mass exercises.
And again, one of the things that the exercises confirmed over and over again
was that this was not feasible, this being protection from the hydrogen bomb.
It was not feasible. And so it had, sowed the seeds of its own demise by
revealing the flaws and by suggesting that the problems were insurmountable.
People began to realize that this was a ritual and nothing more.
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