American Experience
Let's Face It Let's Face It

video | transcript

Part OnePart Two

Part One (6:06)



Produced By


NARRATOR: Let's face it, the threat of hydrogen bomb warfare is the greatest danger our nation has ever known. Enemy jet bombers carrying nuclear weapons can sweep over a variety of routes and drop bombs on any important target in the United States. The threat of this destruction has affected our way of life in every city, town and village from coast to coast. These are the signs of the time.

Only in practice now, a rehearsal, a training exercise; but tomorrow this siren may mean the real thing. And if you hear it, as you drive in your auto, as you sit in your office, or work at your bench, wherever you are -- what will you do? What will happen to you? Let's face it: your life, the fate of your community and the fate of your nation depends on what you do when enemy bombers head for our cities. And that is why civil defense was organized: to teach you how to survive in the thermonuclear age, by taking shelter, or by evacuating your area as directed.

Civil defense will teach you how to take care of yourself, your family and neighbors, how to get official instructions and act according to plan. In time of atomic attack the usual professional services -- police, fire, welfare, hospital, and ambulance -- could be bombed out, too busy, or unable to get to you and your family. Civil defense control points would function as the nerve centers for dispatch of organized assistance to disaster areas from outside the target districts. Every preparation is being made to deal with emergency conditions which would be created by enemy attack. To provide for communication with the public during an actual attack, our broadcasting industry and the federal government developed CONELRAD. This system permits the broadcasting of official news and civil defense instructions without helping enemy navigators find our cities by following radio beams. The CONELRAD frequencies are 640 and 1240 on your standard radio dial.

A hazard unique to nuclear warfare is radioactive fallout. Unseen, unheard, and odorless, this substance can only be detected with sensitive instruments. Special training is necessary for radiological safety experts. Their duties will be to check radiation levels in both damaged areas and probable fallout areas. When sufficient warning time can be obtained by early detection of approaching enemy aircraft, withdraw from key target cities or fallout areas may be ordered by local civil defense authority. The instinct of survival is inherent in all of us, and national survival requires that each one of us assume his share of the responsibility. There is work to be done and each must cooperate.

Opportunities for training with the Red Cross and other groups are everywhere. The combined efforts of many trained individuals are needed to make civil defense a forceful reality. This training is invaluable in preparation for enemy attack, or the savage fury of nature. Experience in past disasters has proved the value of advanced training, and the need for more stockpiling of emergency food supplies, medicines, and other critical items to care for the injured and homeless.

However, it was the awesome power of atomic energy as demonstrated in wartime use that brought to sharp focus the new problems concerning human survival and the urgent need for a civil defense program based on facts about the atomic bomb. Opportunities to gain this information came with the study of structures in controlled atomic tests, conducted at Enewetak Atoll in the central Pacific. The main objective of testing is weapons development, to strengthen national security. But also included are scientific experiments for the Atomic Energy Commission, military projects for the Air Force, Army and Navy, and defense tests for the Federal Civil Defense Administration, primarily concerned with the effects of nuclear weapons on cities, industries, and people. The tremendous effects of heat and blast on modern structures raise important questions concerning their durability and safety.

Likewise, the amount of damage done to our industrial potential will have a serious effect upon our ability to recover from an atomic attack. Transportation facilities are vital to a modern city. The nation's life blood could be cut if its traffic arteries were severed. These questions are of great interest not only to citizens in metropolitan centers, but also to those in rural areas, who may be in a danger zone because of radioactive fallout from today's larger weapons.

Las Vegas: An Unconventional History American Experience PBS