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Herbert York on: Civil Defense
Herbert York Q: Were you involved at all or aware of discussions inside the Administration about the civil defense issues?

HY: When I finally got to Washington and got to a position in the Pentagon -- the White House first, the Pentagon afterwards, where I had access essentially to everything about the Soviet Union that related to technology and military preparedness and so forth, I saw what other people didn't see. I mean, I saw that it's a bad situation but it's nothing like what we've been hearing from the press or from the Congress or elsewhere. It's nowhere near that bad...So, on the basis of what I knew myself, as well as what I saw as being Eisenhower's views, I came to the view very soon that...that the Soviet threat had been greatly exaggerated and it was still being greatly exaggerated. And it looked like it was going to continue to be greatly exaggerated. That's a position I've held ever since 1958. It never was as bad as people said it was. It was bad, but it never was anywhere near as bad as people said.

Q: Of the specific measures that were debated about civil defense, the evacuation plans and bomb shelters and things like that, did these programs seem plausible to you?

HY: Well, at first I thought civil defense made sense. But what turned me against civil defense was -- I remember quite sharply -- and that is when I finally got dealing with people at the White House level, that included [New York Governor] Nelson Rockefeller who was one of the big promoters of civil defense, what I discovered is it wasn't civil defense per se. They wanted civil defense in order to make sure that the American people would not be too frightened. And specifically I remember talking with Nelson Rockefeller about it. He said, what we need to do is stiffen the backbone of the American people, that's why we need civil defense. Not to save lives, but to make people believe that they can survive a nuclear war. So they won't be so soft on Communism or so concerned about war. I said that's a dumb idea for having civil defense. It's not merely dumb, it's wrong.

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