Q: There was also great fear not just of panic, but also a breakdown of morals
if indeed the country was involved in a nuclear exchange. Tell me about that.
ETM: Well, there were a lot of fears after World War II that became caught up in fears
of a possible nuclear war. Fears that were there, that had nothing really to do
with the Cold War as an international conflict, but fears of changes in American
society itself. And certainly the fear of social chaos and family breakdown
and the unraveling of social order was very present after World War II.
That experience had been one of tremendous upheaval. Families were separated.
Women took men's jobs. Men lost their jobs and went to war. A lot of
people, certainly a lot of men in the armed services, were killed.
A lot of people were uprooted from their homes. And there was really
this terrible fear that the country would never settle down, and that
the key to settling down was that women would be willing to return
to their domestic roles and take over the helm of the home, as
they had allegedly done in the past. And there were ways in
which the culture expressed fears that this might not, in
fact, happen. And we find that in very odd ways, where
fears of nuclear attack became very much associated
with fears of sexual and social chaos.
In one case in particular, in the Journal of Social Hygiene, which was a journal
of what came to be the American Public Health Association later on, a Harvard
physician and scientist by the name of Clark had written an article.
And Dr. Clark's article was about what might happen in the event of
a nuclear war, and what is the medical and social health response
to such a situation. And he wrote a very long, detailed article
saying that the thing that Americans had to worry about was that
the dropping of a bomb would unleash sexual promiscuity across
the land, and Americans had to be careful to make sure that
they could provide not only counselors and clergy who would be
on hand to settle people down so that they wouldn't go out of
control with their sexual impulses; and that there was also
a great fear that there would be an epidemic of venereal disease.
So as part of the preparedness plan, not only did there
have to be centers of civil defense that had food and
water and other basic supplies for living, but they had to have
adequate supplies of penicillin so that they could inoculate people
immediately who were at risk of, or perhaps spreading, venereal
diseases as a result of this explosion of sexual promiscuity in the
aftermath of an attack. And the article went on in great seriousness
and great detail, to estimate on the basis of how many people in a
community, how many vials of penicillin should be in each emergency
center. And all of this, you know, quite straightforward and quite
serious, as if one of the first things one might have to worry about
in the event of a devastating nuclear attack was that people were
going to be having sex randomly and promiscuously, and had to be protected
against that eventuality.
And I think what that expresses is that there was a feeling that we were on
the edge of sexual chaos in the United States, and that anything could really
bring us to really over the edge, into an era of sexual chaos and sexual
promiscuity, and the decline of the family and the unraveling of the social
order as a result. And so you have here a respected Harvard physician
who quite seriously is making the suggestion that to prepare against
the socially destructive eventuality of a nuclear attack, we had to
prepare against sexual chaos.
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