Saturday 8 March 2014

Fearful Americans Buy Fallout Shelters

American schoolchildren practise a duck & cover drill courtesy

In light of my recent post called "Bikini Island" I thought I would do a post about the popularity of fallout shelters in the 1950's and 1960's.  It's hard to believe that there was a time when many Americans kept fallout shelters stocked just in case of a nuclear engagement; that American students practised atom bomb drills in which they donned gas masks and crouched under their wooden desks; that the President had his own personal bunker for such a disaster.  Since the cold War ended in 1991, fallout shelters have gone the way of the dinosaur, some turned into museums, others simply abandonned.  Today, we remember the fallout shelters.

Cresson Kearny wrote a manual about Nuclear War Survival Skills.  The most effective fallout shelter was built in a trench covered by a least three feet of earth with a solid roof covered in a plastic sheet.  Essentials recommended for a fallout shelter included:  non-perishable food, a battery powered radio, matches 1 to 2 gallons of water per person per day, a first aid kit, candles, bleach, a ventilating pump, toiletries, medication and potassium iodide (to prevent an iodine deficiency).

The American federal government created the Community Fallout Shelter program which funded a series of shelters.  Fortune magazine published a plan for such a network conceived by Nelson Rockefeller, Edward Teller, Herman Kahn and Chet Holifield.  Project Greek Island and Cheyenne Mountains Nuclear Bunker were two bunkers built for U.S. high profile officials.

It seems like the closest the United States every came to a nuclear conflict was during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.  President John F. Kennedy had his own personal shelter.  For several days, the world waited with baited breath.  In the end, Premier Kruschev backed down and nuclear war was averted.

The possibility of nuclear warfare seeped into popular culture evident in the novel Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank, The Twilight Zone The Shelter episode (1961), the TV movie The Day After in 1983 and Blast from the Past (1999).

With recent events in the Ukraine, the threat of war has reared its ugly head.  Let us pray that we do not return to the days of the fallout shelter.

Fallout shelter circa 1957 courtesy

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