What were you doing in the 1950s?

Well, actually, I was sucking on a bottle and struggling to get potty trained, but I had enough of a taste of that era to shudder at the thought of revisiting it. The Nuclear Secrecy Blog is my idea of a scary horror story — don’t visit it unless you really want to get drawn into a state of grey paranoia and obedience to the military-industrial complex.

1956-Mortuary-services-flow-chart

Look at your congresspeople. The cranky old grey-haired ones? They were all brought up on this stuff. They think this is normal and reasonable.

We haven’t escaped this state of mind quite yet.

(via Charlie Stross)

Comments

  1. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Dang, I remember being expected to hide under the desk on short notice, like the desk was magically impervious to the shock wave and radiation. That, and having a small rag rug for napping on.

  2. mildlymagnificent says

    Me? I was in primary school. Apart from the polio epidemics and then the immunisation campaigns, I do remember going off to the funny shed place where they could show films occasionally – and one of them was the classic get under your desk to protect yourself when the bomb goes off advice things. Anyone who doesn’t get those anti-war, anti-nuclear posters about bend over and kiss your children goodbye probably missed out on these uplifting experiences.

    (The funny shed place? Being in the first cohort of the baby boom, schools hadn’t had time to expand to cope with the numbers so any and every room that could possibly be used for classes was packed like sardines. The ‘shed’ was the woodwork and other mysterious boys only activity room at my school.)

  3. machintelligence says

    I remember the duck and cover drills in elementary school. The unspoken final instruction was:
    If you see a flash, put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye.

  4. chigau (違う) says

    I have a hazy memory of ducking and covering.
    But I think it was for air-raids rather than nukes.

  5. says

    In the ’50s – that would be when I finished out elementary school, attended high school, and started at university. A reasonably good time, overall. But that was down under, where there wasn’t much pushing of the red scare.

  6. says

    I was born in the end of the ’50s, November of ’57. I remember the spectre of nuclear war hanging overhead, but I went to private Catholic grade school and the nuns never said a freaking word about it all, nor did we ever have the drills other kids told me about.

  7. says

    Oddly, I was sitting here watching “The Fog Of War” when I saw you’d posted this. Coincidence?

    BTW – I highly recommend it. Also, for those who are interested in the cold war and how horribly close things got, I highly recommend Reed’s book, “At the Abyss.”

  8. says

    Actually, I probably existed only as an egg in my mother’s ovary, as I wasn’t born until the early 1960s. Even so, I still remember air raid drills, and my grade school still had a fallout shelter in the late 1960s; so this sort of thinking held over at least a decade after the end of the 1950s. Given that my grade school was in the middle of Detroit (the city, not the metro area) and given Detroit’s importance in the defense industry at the time, that fallout shelter would have done us all a fat lot of good in the event of a nuclear war.

    Even though I’m at the young end of the generation(s) that went through height of the Cold War, it’s really hard for me to explain to people in their 20s and 30s the real, visceral fear of nuclear war that even people of my age and older felt, and I know that people a decade or two older than I am felt it even more strongly than I did.

  9. says

    Caine:
    I went to private Catholic grade school and the nuns never said a freaking word about it all

    They were probably more worried about important things. Because if we’d all fried in a nuclear war at least there wouldn’t abortions, gay marriage, and all the later horrors of civilization’s decline. Those nuns had their priorities, no doubt.

    When I was at a book fair in high school I found and purchased a copy of DA PAM39-3 (I still have it, and it still has the calculator in the back) and so I knew more about nuclear weapons than my teachers. I was a bit disruptive a few times, during drills, since I was not a happy sheep.

  10. says

    Marcus:

    They were probably more worried about important things. Because if we’d all fried in a nuclear war at least there wouldn’t abortions, gay marriage, and all the later horrors of civilization’s decline. Those nuns had their priorities, no doubt.

    I imagine it didn’t much matter, ’cause God had it all under control somehow, and anyway, we’d end up in heaven or hell, so it was *meh*.

    I had a grandfather who was a Bircher and I got earfuls of it at home, “cold war, damn commies” all that. Of course, I grew right into being a liberal hippie, which was a source of real joy, lemme tell ya.

  11. machintelligence says

    chigau @ 4
    In the 1950′s, in Chicago, those would have been air raids with nuclear weapons.In 1959 when the White Sox won the American League pennant in a night game, someone tripped the air raid sirens to celebrate and scared the bejesus out of the residents.

    mildlymagnificent @2
    Oddly enough, the elementary school I attended in Chicago was not overcrowded. Built in 1915 it had six rows of eight desks in each classroom. I don’t remember there ever being more than 36 students per class.

  12. dorght says

    Looking at the picture, isn’t there lessons to be learned from the nuke scenario that apply just as well to natural disasters and epidemics? The Department of Defense probably had a budget for just studies of NBC scenarios that the entirety operations of the CDC and FEMA could only dream of.

  13. says

    It also occurred to me that, if you leave out the radioactivity, there was already a precedent for estimating the difficulty of dealing with thousands of crushed and burned corpses as described in the manual, and it was from only a decade before. I’m referring, of course, to the mass casualties in Japan and Germany from the Allied bombing campaign. For instance, the U.S. launched a devastating firebombing raid on central Tokyo on the night of March 9-10, 1945 using 334 B-29 Superfortress bombers. The raid lasted some three hours, killing an estimated 100,000+ people and injuring approximately 1,000,000, 41,000 of them seriously. The raid also left approximately 1,000,000 people homeless, as well over a quarter of a million buildings in Tokyo were destroyed by the resulting firestorm. Photos of central Tokyo after the firebombing raid looked a lot like photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after atomic bombs had been dropped on them.

    It was the highest single day death toll for World War II, and that’s saying a lot given the horrific casualties routinely suffered on the Eastern Front. In any case, it’s exactly the sort of experience that probably informed the writers of this little pamphlet.

  14. says

    I recall an event — probably a county fair in the late fifties — where part of the exhibit hall was given over to family-sized bomb shelters that you could bury in your backyard. They had a weird submarine-like aspect to them: black and elongated with a tubular superstructure for the access hatch (which would be the only thing left above ground). We didn’t buy one, so I missed out on the opportunity to have a cool secret clubhouse when I reached my teens a few years later.

  15. unclefrogy says

    I went to the movies with my son to see 13 Days and he was kind of shocked at what it was like then.
    I remember looking at a Life mag article about H-bombs during the height of above ground testing and their ground zeros back then and seeing the 1 big one would kill everything in the LA basin where I lived sort of made shelters pointless and the many post apocalypses movies feel normal.
    uncle frogy

  16. frankensteinmonster says

    You’re gonna need those again. Europe is going to blow up. And is going to blow up soon. The European Union is near collapse, neonazi are on the rise in every country, in Greece reaching double digit popularity. The chance is, that the world war 3 will be against the nazi again

  17. says

    The chance is, that the world war 3 will be against the nazi again…

    Well, except for the pesky fact that *everyone* is scared of nuclear war, because no one wins in that scenario, eh?

  18. frankensteinmonster says

    except for the pesky fact that *everyone* is scared of nuclear war

    .
    [evidence?]
    .

    , because no one wins in that scenario

    .
    [evidence?]

  19. keresthanatos says

    I was in the navy during the early 1980′s. Twice while I was in we came within seconds of full first launch. Both time due to human error. It still bothers me.

  20. Rodney Nelson says

    Caine #16

    Sugar cube.

    When I was immunized against polio it was with the injected Salk killed poliovirus. And we were injected twice. None of your Sabin attenuated poliovirus drops with sugar. We were manly men and womanly women and kidly kids (I fell into this last category).

    Seriously, I know a man my age who has been using crutches for about 60 years because of polio. That’s what the anti-vacc people want to go back to.

  21. grumpyoldfart says

    No duck and cover drills in Australia during the fifties.

    Prime Minister Menzies did hold a referendum asking to ban the communist party – but the voters rejected it.

  22. says

    Rodney:

    When I was immunized against polio it was with the injected Salk killed poliovirus. And we were injected twice.

    Yes, I got to hear all about how lucky I was, getting the sugar cube and how vaccines didn’t cause scars anymore (complete with the “lookit the scar that vaccine gave me!). All of that was rather unnecessary, I never was the type to freak over shots and such. Still, sugar cube be better. :D

  23. Janine: Hallucinating Liar says

    Reminds me of when I watched the documentary, The Atomic Cafe, almost thirty years ago. There was one bit showing Army personnel who were stationed by atomic bomb tests in Nevada. One was showing a a plastic badge that they all had to wear. It changed color according to how much radiation they were exposed to. When it reached a certain point, they were supposed to leave the area and take a shower.

    It made me wonder how many military personnel died of cancer or radiation poisoning over the decades.

  24. Moggie says

    Rodney Nelson:

    I also remember polio immunizations

    I was born later, ’61, but I remember leg irons and iron lungs. Anti-vax nuts can make me almost incoherent with rage.

    It’s strange to think that there are people today who have never woken, shivering, from a nuclear war nightmare. Near where I grew up was a piece of land which had been used as a mass grave during the Black Death, and in my dreams it saw similar use again.

  25. unclefrogy says

    We are still staring at a collapse that does not have anything directly to do with global or European politics and that is global warming and climate change. If the European economic order collapses co-operation on solutions to global warming may well be even more difficult than they are now. Wars can stop over night climate change not so much, this ain’t 1930 things have changed since then. We could try further back in time. ;-)

    uncle frogy

  26. David Marjanović says

    In the 1950s? My mom was being born, and my dad was 10 years old.

    What happened to the layout, BTW? It’s good that the formerly right sidebar is now on the left, but it’s now so wide that the main text is partly beyond the right edge of my 15″ screen.

  27. georgemontgomery says

    Just turned 62 myself (gulp). I too remember the air raid drills. In one school, it was hide under the desk. In another school it was crouch down in the hallway.
    And you know, those soviets were horrible to their own people, as I remember being told. They spied on them, reading their mail and tapping their phone calls!! Can you imagine?! :-/

  28. David Marjanović says

    Oops.

    You’re gonna need those again. Europe is going to blow up. And is going to blow up soon. The European Union is near collapse,

    You dolt. I live in the EU; it’s not going to collapse anytime soon. What, if anything, makes you think otherwise???

    And how in the fuck would a collapse of the EU lead to nookular war??? Of all EU members, only the UK and France have nukes.

    neonazi are on the rise in every country,

    Wrong.

    in Greece reaching double digit popularity.

    Frankly no scarier than when Austria’s xenophobic party got close to 30 % and participated in the governing coalition for a few years.

    The chance is, that the world war 3 will be against the nazi again

    The chance is, you’ll continue to not bother informing yourself about the world beyond the rim of the dinnerplate you’re living on.

  29. morgan says

    Ahhhh yes, my nuclear yout’. I was born in October of 1949 in the San Francisco Bay Area which was peppered with gov’t self-defense horrors. My somewhat incompetent father was, among other things, a civil defense worker who rather ill advisedly took my 7 or so year old self and sisters on very unauthorized tours of several top secret Nike Bases. You recall, they were the ones housing huge missiles that would come roaring out of secret silos. To this day I do not know how he got away with that. He was about as far away from “top security clearance” as anyone could get. I knew the locations of most of the “Top Secret” air raid shelters and in fact had several upwardly mobile friends whose families had installed private state of the art shelters in their own back yards.

    I knew that if the survival of the country depended on my father we were all roadkill.

    Then there were the air raid drills. There were searingly loud air raid sirens that would erupt unexpectedly in our small town and all we Whos in Whoville were expected to scuttle for cover of some sort. This was a municipal activity. Hooray. And of course there were the garden variety “duck and cover” drills at school. (And yes, those were damn crowded schools.)

    The memories, the memories. Is it any wonder that my cohort grew up neurotic, paranoid and hyper vigilant?

  30. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Dramatic changes during elementary school. Early grades, long range bombers were the threat. That changed over to ICBMs later in the decade. Battle Creek was always a target with Civil Defense Headquarters for the most of the decade, followed by DLSC in the sixties which had a total inventory of DOD equipment using early computers–3 to 6 months ago. But the warning sirens, which served double duty, always meant tornados, not bombers/ICBMs.

  31. frankensteinmonster says

    You dolt. I live in the EU; it’s not going to collapse anytime soon. What, if anything, makes you think otherwise???

    .
    Did you spend last five years in a stasis chamber or what ? Everyone here sees the thing is going down crashing and burning.
    .

    Of all EU members, only the UK and France have nukes.

    .
    So what. How long did it Germany take to go from almost disarmed to armed to the teeth the last time ?
    .

    Frankly no scarier than when Austria’s xenophobic party got close to 30 % and participated in the governing coalition for a few years.

    .
    They weren’t the only governing party, there was no crisis, and they felt the concentrated force of pressure of all other EU countries. Once the EU collapses none of this will stop them.
    .

    The chance is, you’ll continue to not bother informing yourself about the world beyond the rim of the dinnerplate you’re living on.

    .
    The chance is, that you are a prime example of the Dunning-Kruger effect right now ;)

  32. says

    Orac:

    Even so, I still remember air raid drills, and my grade school still had a fallout shelter in the late 1960s; so this sort of thinking held over at least a decade after the end of the 1950s.

    The elementary svhool I attended in the late 80s had the yellow fallout shelter signs at the main entrance. Hell, I bet the signs are still up; I’ll have to take a drive over there to check.

  33. Ogvorbis: useless says

    I wasn’t born until 1966, so half of my genetic material was in one of Mom’s ovaries.

    When I lived in Arizona and California, we were so far in the middle of nowhere that there was little chance of us being within a hundred miles of a target (well, in California we were about 90 miles from the China Lakes Naval Air Station, but there were two mountain ranges between Death Valley and Ridgecrest/Trona).

    When I moved to Maryland, though, we all figured that the Russians would send enough ICBMs to make the rubble bounce — Mack Truck and Fairchild Industries (making A-10s at the time) in Hagerstown; Fort Richie (the communications nexus for the Pentagon and Washington at the time) up above Smithsburg, Camp David up in the same general area; and at least five dead end roads up on South Mountain with large gates, lots of barbed wire and video cameras, complete with men in black BDUs who would come out and ask questions if you hung around too long; plus the super secret underground Pentagon about 30 miles to the south. We would have had so many strikes around us that ducking and covering was pretty much pointless.

    Wife, however, remembers being in elementary school down near DC and practicing duck and cover.

  34. says

    I was born in the late 60s. We didn’t have air raid/nuke drills.

    Just the anxiety. Survivalists, here and there, hoarding food and ammo. Or talking about doing so, at any rate Honestly, I don’t recall seeing any of their shelters or provisions.

    And then there was Red Dawn (v1.0) at the theatre, The Day After on the television. And excitable peers going on about how they’d survive after it all went Mad Max… And a lot of us with our mouths shut tight more thinking, as if, kid–you’ll be all ions and plasma, same as the rest of us.

    I think the main reason we didn’t have the drills was pretty much everyone figured by then there wasn’t much point. Or that it was just pointlessly freaking people out. And seriously, people were pretty freaked out anyway.

    There was this bunker built near Ottawa, theoretically hardened against all but a direct hit, supposed to house key figures of the government in the event of. It’s now repurposed as a ‘cold war museum’…

    I’ve been in it, now, this summer and the one previously, due to kids taking camps there (yes, really). Mouldy smelling place. Go figure. It’s got some macabre touches, including facilities for holding bodies in the event someone makes it that far and expires…

    Friend of mine whose kids were also there was saying how it kinda got to her, going in there. Brought it all back. She’s maybe a few years older than me, and I think I know what she means. Tightness in the chest, thinking about it again.

    I wonder seriously what it did to people’s temperament, living through that stuff. Especially if you were young enough. I do remember quite well not really being able to picture growing up, a normal adult life, in a (more or less) normal world. It was like no one really believed that was especially likely to happen, and it just kinda seeped into you, that was the way it is, way it was going to be. There was this editorial cartoon I saw once with an adult asking a kid ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’, and there’s these big targets painted all over the place around them, and the kid answers ‘Alive, if it’s not too much trouble.’

    And it wasn’t at all hard to get that. Seriously, though I never answered a guidance counsellor quite that way, I think it was always in the back of my mind that it was kinda stupid asking anyone questions like hey man, what’s your plan for your career? As if, seriously, it fucking matters which way I go, what I do; wherever it is, the bomb is coming there, too.

    Dunno how normal that is. Or common to that era, or unique to it. But that’s really how it felt, once.

  35. janiceintoronto says

    Did anyone else notice that all of the graves in the burial area were marked with crosses?

    Where did they bury everyone else?

  36. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Did anyone else notice that all of the graves in the burial area were marked with crosses?

    Where did they bury everyone else?

    In the Xian graves. This was the ’50s. Only Xians existed, except for those pesky Jews…. (ugh, I feel dirty after saying that, even though it was the attitude of the times).

  37. machintelligence says

    On the sugar cube vs injection of polio vaccine (I had both): I agree with the comic singer Alan Sherman in his “Ballad of Aura Lea”.
    Allan Sherman topicalized the song with this polio-based version:
    Every time you take vaccine, take it Aura Lea (pun on “orally”)
    As you know the other way is more painfully!

  38. says

    It made me wonder how many military personnel died of cancer or radiation poisoning over the decades.

    Lots. They used conscientious objectors and brown people as test subjects, even. The original trinity test was a very dirty bomb and dropped a pretty substantial fallout plume. It wasn’t a big deal because nobody except Los Alamos staff had radiation meters. Ignorance is bliss!

    It’s hard to wrap your brain around what monsters still live among us, that made and tested these things – cooly, and deliberately. And I’ve met and talked to one, who was proud of his handiwork. I wonder if he enjoyed the copy of “Eichmann in Jerusalem” I sent him for xmas that year?

    There’s a video on youtube (search: british h-bomb test) of British troops standing around to experience a bomb blast (wtf? right?) and one part is a bit amusing. After the bomb goes off everyone oos and aahs watching the thing unfold, then you see the nearby trees twitch from the shockwave, and a couple people are knocked on their ass. I forget whether that was 12 or 20 miles from the burst. It’s interesting stuff.

  39. says

    Nerd:

    This was the ’50s. Only Xians existed, except for those pesky Jews….

    Well yeah. If you weren’t a good xian, you might be a…commie! I remember hearing about Saint Joe (McCarthy) all the godsdamn time when I was young.

  40. john3141592 says

    The very interesting thing, which you didn’t emphasize, was that your got the information from Charles Stross, who is a prominent science fiction writer.

    I wonder is he’s been doing research for a new book. One of his last novels ended with somebody exploding a nuclear device at the top of the Washington Monument.

  41. wbenson says

    If the attack siren sounded while in class, you were supposed to put your head between your knees and kiss your ass goodby.

  42. says

    how in the fuck would a collapse of the EU lead to nookular war??? Of all EU members, only the UK and France have nukes

    Well, you know how suicidal and crazy the French can get when you insult their table wines – there has been long-standing hatred between the British and the French since, uhhhhhhh, a long-standing time. You never know when they might decide to commit mutual suicide because those Church of England guys are insane theocrats who don’t fear death.

  43. markr1957 (Patent Pending) says

    I was born in 1957 so I have no memories of the ’50s. Growing up in England in the ’60s and ’70s we lived under the impression that we wouldn’t have time to kiss our arses goodbye if the Russians launched against us. I do remember the polio vaccine though, and the one boy at school who sometimes had to spend time in an iron lung in the school sanitorium – all the reason I’ve ever needed to keep up to date on my vaccinations.

  44. says

    Marcus:

    there has been long-standing hatred between the British and the French since, uhhhhhhh, a long-standing time.

    Yeah, well I’m not British or French and the way Brits insist on slaughtering the French language gets me all irritated. So of course one can see how nuclear strikes would solve all that sort of thing.

    For the hard of thinking: this was tongue in cheek. Ya know, not serious.

  45. georgemontgomery says

    I just remembered something from that era. The car radio had little triangles on the dial face that marked the CONELRAD stations, AM band of course.

  46. says

    Markr1957:

    I was born in 1957 so I have no memories of the ’50s.

    Um, ya know I was born in ’57 and so was PZ. That doesn’t mean that events and attitudes of the ’50s didn’t affect you – they most certainly did.

  47. says

    Everyone knew where the Nike batteries were and that they wouldn’t work – they required us to have planes inside the target area to aim them and the missile’s range was shorter than the fallout path – but that was also back when we still believed it was irresponsible to put soldiers on the street with automatic weapons – so they’d have rifles and handguns less powerful than used in the recent shootings.

    Great world we live in, huh? Given all those scary things… And the people in charge didn’t go as overboard as we did on 9/12/2001.

  48. says

    Re: 49 Caine, Fleur du mal

    I think it’s because vaccinations – new ones – have been fraught with halting steps, where one is found to be more effective than another or a distribution was better. I think the drops have been in short supply more than once or were given to those awaiting a second dose of the injection.

    I have no actual links, tho. That’s the sort of detail Wikipedia doesn’t always retain.

  49. says

    Crissa:

    I think the drops have been in short supply more than once or were given to those awaiting a second dose of the injection.

    Ah, you’re probably right. Thanks. I remember massive quonset huts had been set up for the polio vaccinations and they were absolutely stuffed with people.

  50. jnorris says

    A correction for Zeno @ # 18, you missed out on having a secret lair. All super villians have a secret lair.

    As for me, I remember ‘duck and cover’ in the Catholic elementary school. We did it in the hallway because the classroom windows were almost floor to ceiling. The most important rule was not to talk, one must never talk during the Nuclear Holocaust!

  51. morgan says

    Re the Polio vaccinations. I do not recall why but I received both the injection and the sugar cube. My mother made sure that all her daughters got the proper vaccinations. As a child she came down with polio but was one of the lucky ones. She had one leg shorter than the other but otherwise was okay. But the stories she told of how she was treated with heat and stretching…. I can’t recall the specifics and don’t want to. I just recall her telling stories of her long illness and recovery. The development of polio vaccines during the 50s was more hugely important that we now commonly recognize.

  52. markr1957 (Patent Pending) says

    My dad was serving in the British Army Medical Corps and I was born in a military hospital in Libya (not that I remember that bit). He was there organizing British casualty evacuation from the Suez. My first vague memory is of standing under a bus shelter in Scarborough in the rain – don’t ask why this stuck!

    I too went to a Catholic primary school run by nuns, so the strongest memory I have is of crying all the time from the regular beatings, but there was still no mention of nuclear war. When I went to a military school after turning 11 we were enrolled into the Army Cadet Force automatically, but as much as we played infantry there was still no great concern about nukes, but by then it was the late ’60s and early ’70s.

  53. fullyladenswallow says

    I went to a Catholic grade school where we had “duck and cover” every few months during the late 50′s. Couldn’t help but have drills since the siren was right across the street from our windows. I also remember the classroom where I was sitting when another teacher burst in one morning shouting that President Kennedy had just been shot. All very chilling.

    A word from Lewis Black: “http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Krv4YEMwCE”

  54. markr1957 (Patent Pending) says

    I do remember how the nuns brought us all together to see the news coverage when President Kennedy was shot – the first Catholic President, so that was a huge deal even in a tiny convent school in rural Dorset, England!

  55. robro says

    As with duck-and-cover, which I was taught in elementary school, there’s a lot of blarney in this illustration. The notion of a single ground zero is a particularly amusing lie.

    Many years ago I knew a fellow who attended the Air Force Academy, until he quite which is a story itself. He said that every weekend they studied nuclear war game scenarios, including for San Francisco. As we drove around town he pointed out the various places that would be targeted by the multiple war head arsenal available to both sides: the Financial District, North Beach, the Civic Center, outer Market Street, South of Market, Mount Sutro with its communications towers, piers along the bay, each of the bridges, the various major road junctions, Treasure Island and Yerba Buena Island, and so on. Bombs bursting in air all over the place.

    So, there would be lots ground zeros in one fairly small area, or perhaps you would rather think of it as one very large ground zero.

  56. cm's changeable moniker says

    Of all EU members, only the UK and France have nukes.

    Honestly, David M, you should read the first chapter of Jeremy Paxman’s The English.

    The French and English have been at war for at least a thousand years. This is just a nuclear truce. :-)

    In the 50s, I like several others, was an ovarine cyst and a not-yet-formed sperm. But 30 years ago in the Reagan era, I was even more terrified by this. (TW: redefines the meaning of the word “grim”.)

  57. says

    I was in a Christian high school in Seattle in the late 50s, college in Mexico by the end of the decade. In Seattle, I got branded a Communist, because, being Canadian, I tended to be a bit more rational, more likely to check the stats, less likely to view the Russians as complete, utterly evil, all-powerful aggressors. It would have been worse if our high school hadn’t also included a popular teacher from Australia, who pooh-poohed the whole idea.

    In Mexico, of course, the whole issue was a non-starter. Sure, we had Communists galore, and they made a lot of racket, but who paid attention to them? No-one that I heard of. In the University, they were so busy rabble-rousing that they neglected their studies. Wastrels!

  58. Lofty says

    I certainly don’t have memories of the 50′s as I wasn’t there, but in the late 60′s and early 70′s the Bloody French were blowing the shit out of Mururoa Atoll and many of us kids picked up the bad vibes from the newspapers. This was kind of in Australia’s back yard. Later there was the bombing and sinking of the Rainbow Warrior. Yes we hated the Frogs for perpetuating the nuclear glooms.

  59. spamamander, internet amphibian says

    I wasn’t around for the 50′s… but my childhood in the 80′s was constantly clouded by living near the Hanford nuclear site. My parents worked there, and so we got a nice running dialogue about how we would one of the first places hit in a nuclear strike. As if 1980′s nuclear paranoia wasn’t bad enough without that…

  60. blindrobin says

    As a kids in the late 50′s and early 60′s living in a large multiple primary target city, my friends and I just groaned every time we had a duck and cover drill (or every Friday noon when the Civil Defence sirens were tested) and, like a darkly humorous mantra, reaffirmed our intent to do our best to be at the nearest likely target if an attack warning ever actually came as none of us wanted to be around for the aftermath and a slower and nasty radiation poisoning death.

  61. says

    blindrobin:

    reaffirmed our intent to do our best to be at the nearest likely target if an attack warning ever actually came as none of us wanted to be around for the aftermath and a slower and nasty radiation poisoning death.

    This was always my reasoning growing up.

  62. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    I can’t say I was around for any of this, but I have had a rather morbid fascination with nuclear warfare since at least middle school (several years after the end of the cold war). On the subject of duck and cover, it is easy to mock the idea of hiding from a nuclear bomb under a piece of plywood, but for those with time to react it might not have been so useless:

    Within a considerable radius 0–3 km—largely depending on the explosion’s height and yield—ducking and covering would offer negligible protection against the intense heat, shock wave, and radiation following a nuclear explosion. Beyond that range however many lives would be saved by following the simple advice, especially since at that range the main danger is from sustaining burns to unprotected skin. Furthermore as the explosion’s blast wave would take 9 to 10 seconds to reach a person standing 3 km from an explosion, the exact time of arrival being dependent on the speed of sound in air in their area, there would be more than ample amounts of time to take the prompt countermeasure of ‘duck and cover’ against the blast’s direct effects and flying debris.
    The advice to “duck and cover” holds well in many situations where structural destabilization or debris may be expected, such as during an earthquake or tornado. At a sufficient distance from a nuclear explosion, the blast wave would produce similar results and ducking and covering would perhaps prove adequate. It would also offer some protection from flying glass and other small, but dangerous, debris. Ducking and covering would also reduce exposure to the gamma rays. Since they are mostly emitted in a straight line, people on the ground will have more chance to have obstacles such as building foundations, cars, etc. between them and the source of radiation. The technique offers a small protection against fallout—people standing up could receive a large, possibly lethal, dose of radiation, while people protected will receive less of it.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duck_and_cover#Assessment

  63. Lofty says

    Caine @70. It was what we were when we were young, you had to demonise what scared you. I am better now and wouldn’t ever insult a Frenchman for being French. Now I insult people for their awful actions regardless of where they come from.

  64. machintelligence says

    Caine, Fleur du Mal @ 49
    I was in the first cohort of immunizations, when they didn’t have good statistics on immunity uptake and persistence. IIRC we got the Salk (shots) one year apart and the Sabin (oral ) a few years later.
    I had a friend who had polio as a very young child, but luckily it was a very mild case, as he only had a limp to show for it.

  65. says

    machintelligence:

    I was in the first cohort of immunizations, when they didn’t have good statistics on immunity uptake and persistence.

    I see. It would seem I was lucky beyond the sugar cube.

  66. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I remember both the Salk and Sabin vaccines. I’ve had both. Most parents of the day, given what polio did to those it infected, opted for the maximum protection for their children. And I don’t blame them, seeing the effects it did have.

  67. says

    Here’s an appropirate tune for this thread, Planet P Project’s “A Letter From The Shelter.”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6Nfbk_hLsE

    Being born in ’67 my memories were of the leftovers of ’50s nuclear culture. Like the civil defense siren on Cumberlland Avenue here in Saskatoon. I have no idea if it was working by the time I was old enought to know what it was, and it was taken down years ago. Or fallout shelter signs someplace in the US when we went there in the late ’70s.

    They tried to revived civil defense in the US under Reagan, because the Soviets were supposedly spending a bunch of money on it, which was of course proof they intended to attack us. It all seemed rather ludicrous. If you want to know how paranoid the Soviets were about Reagan in his first term look up Operation RYAN.

  68. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    Reagan released people from asylums onto the streets and into the homeless population…not sure what we thought the Soviets could realistically do to top that

  69. Stardrake says

    Well, I was born in 1957 (about a month after Sputnik 1). I remember reading the guidebook for fallout shelter building that the government put out around the Cuban Missile Crisis. Also the way the Civil Defense drills gradually changed from nuclear attack drills to tornado drills (which can actually save lives!). I think the big impetus for the change here was the May 6, 1965 tornado outbreak in Minneapolis, but I may be mistaken (I was awfully young back then!). But here, at least, the siren system is still relied on–maybe too much, people complain when a big storm hits and they don’t hear the sirens, even when they’re indoors! (Sirens were always intended for outdoor warning–mass communication (TV, radio, CONELRAD back then, and NOAA Weather Radio now are the primary systems for indoor warning.)

    (N.B–I’m a SKYWARN spotter, so I’m a small part of the warning system myself, and have a better idea how it works.)

  70. evilDoug says

    I think I got both parenteral and oral polio vaccine, but there’s no one left alive in my family that would be able to confirm that. I do remember getting the oral vaccine, but I had had several vaccines by injection before that.

    vaccines didn’t cause scars anymore

    As far as I know, the only vaccine that caused a scar was the smallpox vaccine. I don’t think there has ever been one that didn’t scar (i.e. produce a pustule that left a scar).

    I never had duck-and-cover instruction at school – probably because where I lived “the bomb” would have been a very poor return on investment. Even if one killed every person in a 15 mile radius, the death toll wouldn’t have been much over 2000.
    By the time the Cuban missile crisis rolled around in ’62 I was old enough to have at least some idea of what was going on. It was a little scary.

  71. cm's changeable moniker says

    Yes we hated the Frogs for perpetuating the nuclear glooms.

    Which doesn’t excuse your use of a bigoted slur.

    We have been called les rosbifs for a while. As I noted upthread, Paxman’s book documents both side’s insults, in entertaining and illuminating style.

  72. Rip Steakface says

    I feel really small now – I was born in the 90s and my mother in the early 70s. I wasn’t even an egg like some other people here in the 50s. Nuclear war has always been an alien concept to people my age. If anything, we’re fascinated by its effects and don’t know any genuine fear of nuclear attack.

  73. Ragutis says

    By the time I made it to grade school those nuke-proof desks had been re-purposed into single occupant tornado shelters.

  74. Janine: Hallucinating Liar says

    Nuclear war has always been an alien concept to people my age. If anything, we’re fascinated by its effects and don’t know any genuine fear of nuclear attack.

    We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.

    Condoleezza Rice

    And, oh yeah, all of the talk about dirty bombs.

    The stock piles of the US.

    And of France, England,Russia and China. And perhaps India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.

    Abdul Qadeer Khan.

    And, oh yeah, missions in which authorities are trying to acquire and dismantle Soviet era nuclear weapons.

    You do not live in a post nuclear world.

  75. Tigger_the_Wing says

    I’m another of November 1957 vintage – the Russians celebrated the day of my birth by sending a dog, Laika, into space. (Well, that’s my version of the story! =^_^= )

    I remember the air-raid sirens being tested throughout my early childhood; I really, really hated the noise.

    I also went to Catholic primary schools. I don’t think that anyone bothered with the idea of ‘duck-and-cover-’ in London; because we’d obviously get a direct hit, so it was pointless to imagine survival.

    My earliest politically-based memory was the assassination of Kennedy. I remember my mother crying, and not understanding exactly why she was afraid for us but knowing that she was, and so being afraid too.

    Much later, of course, I learned that many Catholics were fearing a global action of some sort against ALL Catholics. The general mood of fear due to the ever-present threat of nuclear war was easily focussed on other things, I suppose.

    Otherwise, my parents did their best to protect us from the paranoia. We didn’t get a television set until 1966, and both it and the radio were strictly controlled. We had certain programmes we were allowed to watch/listen to, and under no circumstances were we allowed to turn either of them on ourselves!

    My father worked for a newspaper, and some days even THAT wouldn’t turn up at the house if there were any news in it that might, in his opinion, disturb us.

    Of course, even the strictest parents cannot protect their children from playground gossip, let alone information imparted by teachers, so even little, autistic, sheltered moi picked up a lot of the gloom-and-doom vibes of the cold war era. I’m sure it had a lasting effect on all of us.

  76. says

    Rip Steakface:

    Nuclear war has always been an alien concept to people my age. If anything, we’re fascinated by its effects and don’t know any genuine fear of nuclear attack.

    The only possible way this could be true is if you all live in a bubble of obliviousness. We are, unfortunately, nowhere close to living in a world where there is no threat of nuclear attack. It’s hanging over all of us, our modern day Sword of Damocles. The teenagers I know all have expressed fear and anger over the possibility. The one major difference between the generations is that people no longer pretend that there’s any sort of good possibility of surviving such a strike, so you don’t get the drills and the shelter stuff.

    I suppose it might comfort you to pretend there’s no threat, but that’s hardly facing the reality of the geopolitical landscape.

  77. Rip Steakface says

    You’d be surprised at how few care or think about it, then. In terms of threats to our security, we’re more concerned (so far as I can tell) with threats domestic, rather than foreign.

  78. chigau (違う) says

    Caine

    The teenagers I know all have expressed fear and anger over the possibility.

    Really?
    The threat of nuclear war is very low on the list for the teenagers I know.
    They worry about climate change, racial equality, provincial autonomy, …
    are USA and Canadian teenagers really so different?
    I think I scared or sad or both.

  79. Janine: Hallucinating Liar says

    Just because you are oblivious does not mean that the dangers go away.

    Hell, in some ways, it is more dangerous now then it was from the fifties through the eighties. And, as it has been pointed out, at least twice the world was seconds away from nuclear strikes.

    More countries have nuclear weapons now and not all Soviet era weapons are accounted for.

    And let us not talk about the nuclear waste.

    This is a problem that ranks with global climate change and increasingly more scarce resources that the threaten our existence and that is cuts through the foreign/domestic divide.

  80. chigau (違う) says

    Janine
    You are right about oblivious .
    In my formative years, there were two Nuclear Powers: the USA and the USSR.
    The threat of those going at one another was constant.
    Now, I constantly minimize the threat from All The Others.

  81. raven says

    There was never a time when I was a little kid that people didn’t talk about nuclear war, fallout shelters, or duck and cover drills. It just seemed part of life.

    I barely remember the drills where you crawled under your desk in school to escape nuclear bombings. Even then, it seemed sort of silly. We got a flyer about what to do after the bombs dropped. You had to go home and gather emergency food and supplies so when your parents got home from work, you all could escape into the mountains.

    By the time I got the polio vaccine, polio was mostly but not all gone. A lot of adults limped in various ways and I knew several. We all knew what it was. Polio. That and the iron lungs.

  82. mildlymagnificent says

    As for it not being an issue in Australia. I was growing up in South Australia, so there were regular reports of surface testing going on at Emu Creek and Maralinga during the 50s. We were constantly aware of the reality – beautiful sunsets though. With an Army officer grandfather who corresponded with some of the American officers he’d shared POW accommodations with, we got a fair dose of damned commies! as well. Apart from the book in 1957, there was also lots of talk about the glamour of Hollywood stars being in Australia for the filming of “On The Beach” released in 1959.

    I don’t remember ever doing a drill. Just the film. Though of course they also showed extracts of those films in the newsreels at the movies, so the message was reinforced occasionally. A lot of us had neighbours who still had WW2 bomb shelters in their backyards (usually an old water tank on its side). I remember thinking it would be more fun to hide in there.

  83. cicely (The Lesser of Two Weasels) says

    In the late ’50s, I got born, drooled a lot, and did the ‘First Steps’ and ‘Intro to Potty Training’ thing.
    -

    Dang, I remember being expected to hide under the desk on short notice, like the desk was magically impervious to the shock wave and radiation.

    I did that in the ’60s. It also seemed to be the plan for In Case of Earthquake.
    We lived in Oceanside, right next to Camp Pendleton.
    -

  84. Arkady says

    I was born too late to remember the cold war (I was 4 when the Berlin Wall fell), but the UK had a series of public information films called ‘Protect and Survive’ that manage to be truly terrifying:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FH1N72db51o

    As to the chances of the E.U. falling apart… we’d better keep an eye on Denmark and Sweden, they’ve officially been at war with one another even more times than England and France! ;-)

  85. unclefrogy says

    the politicals and the security hawks like to hype up the threat of nuclear attack and there still are way too many atomic weapons all over and proliferation is a real problem. There is no one who can start throwing them at us. The Chinese want to throw manufactured goods at us to buy not destroy their biggest market. The only thing they are good for is to deter invasion other than that they are useless. The only other thing you can do is commit suicide.
    no one has the ability to launch a massive attack that is remotely interested in doing so. North Korea or some Jihadists maybe one bomb once nasty, yes horrible absofuckenlutly but not waves of hundreds launched back and forth until oblivion saturation is reached . India and Pakistan another question. but thanks to their bombs no invasions
    This is not 1959 The Russians and the Chinese the only countries who could have the numbers of weapons needed to really start such a massive conflagration such devices would facilitate are much more interested in money and business and war and trade do not mix very well.
    the Tsar bomb would induce third-degree burns at a distance of 62 mi from the blast center that was what the cold war was like seeing the diagrams in Life magazine when I was a freshman in high school and it is just as likely as Pearl Harbor and very tense

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsar_Bomba

    uncle frogy

  86. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    frankensteinmonster,

    You’re gonna need those again. Europe is going to blow up. And is going to blow up soon. The European Union is near collapse, neonazi are on the rise in every country, in Greece reaching double digit popularity. The chance is, that the world war 3 will be against the nazi again…

    Nah. Europe is not going to blow up soon. It’s possible the Euro will collapse if the current stupid “austerity” policies continue, but Eurozone elites are fairly determined not to let it. If it does, it’s possible the EU will go with it, but by no means inevitable. If that happens, we would still be a long way from a serious war. There are certainly unpleasant far-right parties in most European countries, but few of them are accurately described as neonazi: most lack the militarist trappings, the explicitly anti-democratic rhetoric, the revanchist ambitions, the charismatic leaders. Their rhetoric is directed against immigrants, particularly Muslims, who would be the first victims if these parties come to power. Only in Greece, Hungary and possibly Austria are there significant parties accurately described as neonazi, and these are all small states with feeble militaries.

    Did you spend last five years in a stasis chamber or what ? Everyone here sees the thing [EU] is going down crashing and burning.

    Everyone where? Evidence? (I can’t find any relevant opinion polls, but there presumably are some.)

    How long did it Germany take to go from almost disarmed to armed to the teeth the last time ?

    What relevance does this have? Few EU states have the potential to build nukes, and of those that do, Germany is conspicuously without a viable far-right party, and only Italy is likely to fall to the far right. Who are the Italians going to attack?

    They [the Austrian FPO] weren’t the only governing party, there was no crisis, and they felt the concentrated force of pressure of all other EU countries. Once the EU collapses none of this will stop them.

    Stop them doing what, exactly? Invading Liechtenstein? It would be very nasty for minorities in Austria, but beyond that, meh. And if you think the crisis now can reasonably be compared with the state of Europe in the 1930s, you’re just ignorant.

    There’s plenty of real dangers to worry about. A “Fourth Reich” isn’t one of them.

  87. slowdjinn says

    As a British child of the ’70s I grew up still fighting WWII in the playground (the press treated the Falklands conflict as if it was a WWII movie), and the IRA was the main bogeyman. It wasn’t until Thatcher & Reagan started their sabre-rattling that the nuclear threat really meant anything to me & my peers.

  88. says

    We in the West aren’t the ones who have to worry much about a deliberate nuclear attack. It’s not 100 percent unlikely, but the countries with nukes are our allies, or know a nuclear attack traceable to them, or even assumed to involve them, would result in their demise. It’s the people of India, Pakistan, and perhaps the Middle East who have to seriously worry. South Korea ad Japan less so, since they’re effectively under the US nuclear umbrella, and North Korea knows that. Accidents are another matter. The more nukes around, the more chance something bad will happen through happenstance.

  89. dianne says

    I wasn’t even a concept in the 1950s. But in the 1980s I remember expecting Reagan to start a nuclear war. Not the various Soviet heads of state of the era, not the crazed terrorist, not a stupid accident a la “Fail Safe” but a deliberate act by the elected head of state of the US. If he hadn’t become demented, it might well have happened too. I’ve never been able to recover my belief in the essential goodness of the people of the US.

  90. Don Quijote says

    ¡Hostia! Before the apparently impending war in Europe starts, I should like to declare Spain neutral.

    I was born in London in 1949 (British father, Spanish mother) and I have lost count of the number of injections I had. The one I remember most was something called a BCG which hurt like hell for months.

    I can’t remember ever having air raid drills at school.

  91. dianne says

    There’s only one country in the world that we KNOW for a certain fact is willing to use nukes to destroy a city of civilians. And it’s not the Soviet Union, China, or even North Korea, but rather a certain overly powerful third world country that is so backwards that it hasn’t even signed the UN convention on the rights of the child.

  92. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    I haven’t checked first and I know it’s a mortuary services flow chart, but has anyone else noticed that no one leaves those hospitals alive? They could at least make mention on the chart or refer to another chart …but no, it’s all death and the dead. How morbid and how telling.

  93. says

    Oh yeah. Also at the theatres, Wargames. Also not much fun to think about too hard.

    It was hard for a while to work out what was more likely–some too clever and too paranoid system like that (seriously, see also the failsafe flights out of Gander: nukes actually on a delivery path, to be dropped unless you hear otherwise, 24 hours a day) failing and setting off disaster, or, of course, some idiot, mad with hubris, imagining somehow he could win this thing, doing it intentionally.

    And yeah, speaking of, Reagan scared the hell out of a lot of people. He seriously sometimes seemed quite adequately cocksure and stupid enough. The current ‘wisdom’ in some quarters is this was a poker bluff, meant to impress upon the Soviets disarmament was the better option than having a bumbling B movie actor with his finger on the trigger… All I can say about that is: if this was really the way of it, the man was a better actor than he usually gets credit for, after all. And even if you suspected as much the time, it’s not exactly something you like to be less than sure about.

  94. Beatrice says

    Regarding the discussion about younger generations’ view on the possibility of nuclear war:

    I was born in 1986.
    As dianne says, there is this one big country that is awfully trigger-happy and has a history of using nukes and killing overwhelming numbers of civilians. I can’t say that I’m expecting a nuclear war in my lifetime (ok, that’s probably mostly hope that humanity is not that fucked up, contrary to all the evidence), but I’m not dismissing the possibility. If it happens, we’re seriously fucked. And yeah, even without the nukes, war policy of US makes me seriously angry.

  95. cyberCMDR says

    I don’t have any clear memories of the 50′s (too young at that time), but I do remember getting the polio vaccine. Very hazy memories of duck and cover; I think it was more of a “we used to do this” sort of a thing, and perhaps a few of the short “educational” movies.

    I also remember the endemic prejudice. This was the era of the Jim Crow laws, and many of those grey haired politicians were brought up on that stuff too. But I’m sure they wouldn’t let that interfere with their political positions, right?

  96. sundiver says

    I recall the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was only six but we lived in Metairie, LA well within range of the misiles. Now, knowing LeMay was hankering for an air attack on Cuba and that some of those missiles had warheads on them and that had LeMay had his way the fucking things would have been launched we should have been scared shitless by the actions of both sides. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and we’re still here. By ’82 or so despite the saber-rattling, understanding that all that expensive hardware wasn’t really all that reliable and thus unlikely to be used by anyone but a madman (had no love for the Soviet leadership but knew that they were realists) had me pissed off at the money and resources being basically wasted on useless shit. The US spent about $4 trillion on nuclear weapons between 1943 and 1999. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), the US national debt was about $4 trillion. And despite what some right-wingers blather the US was NEVER “behind” the USSR in nuclear development. Imagine what could been done with that $4 triliion.

  97. cm's changeable moniker says

    don’t visit it unless you really want to get drawn into a state of grey paranoia and obedience to the military-industrial complex

    PZ’s way too harsh here, it’s actually rather fun:

    This week’s document concerns a vexing Cold War question: if the United States was nuked by the Soviet Union, would the bureaucracy survive, or would we have to start from scratch? Would nuclear apocalypse accomplish the ultimate deregulation, the ultimate experiment in small government? Would all debts be off, all credit clean, all records blanked? For God’s sake, what would happen to private business, private industry? If capitalism was destroyed in a nuclear inferno, would the survivors envy the dead?

    Faced with this crushing uncertainty, the U.S. government approached the problem methodically. In the spring of 1955, they nuked the heck out of some filing cabinets.

    The Bureaucracy will Survive the Apocalypse

    If you like that, you might also like Beer and the Apocalypse, and two of my other favourites in the same vein from other sites: Atomic Bomb v. Cod Fillets, and the epic Boozing with the Bomb.

  98. says

    They’re selling the same sort of shelters, but bigger and more luxurious, for people who expect the imminent demise of civilization, which of course is the real motivation for amassing arsenals of rifles suitable for mowing down crowds of the hungry and desperate, because “Fuck you, I’ve got mine!”

  99. dianne says

    I think WWIII has already happened and no one noticed. It was known as the “cold war” and certainly involved the entire world and the use of nukes. No nuclear weapons were exploded over populated areas since 1945, but they were certainly used for intimidation for many years.

  100. cm's changeable moniker says

    That’s actually a fair point. WW4 is basically this:

    The aim of the Global Zero commissioners is three-fold: to reduce the risk of an accidental nuclear exchange or theft by non-state actors; to slim down American and Russian nuclear forces to a level that would put pressure on other nuclear weapons states to engage in multilateral talks to cap and cut their own arsenals; and to avoid the huge costs to nuclear weapons states of producing and maintaining their forces—estimated at over $1 trillion over the next decade.

    The most eye-catching part of the report is the elimination of all tactical nukes and all fixed, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), such as America’s Minuteman system (pictured). Although very different weapons, similar logic for their removal applies to both. Deployed close to any potential battlefield, tactical nuclear weapons have always posed a risk because of the “use them or lose them” dilemma they confront commanders with. In the era of massively destructive precision-guided conventional ordnance their military utility has almost ceased to exist. They linger on as a relic of the cold war only because Russian generals (who still deploy around 4,000 of the things) cling to them as a way of offsetting the inferiority of their conventional forces and because some NATO members continue to believe that the 200 American gravity bombs deployed in five countries across Europe binds America’s far more powerful strategic forces to the alliance.

    The ICBMs are also a relic of history. In practice, they could only be used against Russia. That is because if they were to be sent anywhere else they would still have to overfly Russia, risking ambiguous attack indications and possible nuclear retaliation. Worse still, ICBMs in fixed silos depend on being launched on warning for their survival, which carries with it the danger of launch on false warning. Rapid reaction equals a risk of mistaken launch. A key objective of General Cartwright’s report is to remove that unnecessary risk by “de-alerting” all nuclear forces to give political leaders days and weeks to consider their options rather than minutes for land-based ICBMs and hours for tactical weapons.

    http://www.economist.com/blogs/clausewitz/2012/05/global-zero

    An important signatory to Global Zero’s campaign is one Barack Obama.

  101. birgerjohansson says

    Sweden had an impressive civil defence system with fallout shelters in the basement of just about every new-built school or other public building. The idea was since we were likely to be at the periphery of a war, the amount of fallout would besurvivable if we prepared.
    Also, the military hardware was a much as possible hidden in caverns blasted into granite bedrock (there is an entire harbour and marine wharf in such caverns outside Stockholm).
    The oil reserves were also stored in such caverns instead of ordinary cisterns.
    The coastal defence artillery had both deep shelters for the operation of artillery and for the remotely operated mines.
    — — — — — —
    The airfields were an Achilles heel, so the aircraft were designed for STOL, with lots of military road airfields twice the length of minimum take-off and landing length, 2x500m.
    They had small fallout shelters around them each with two tunnels going through a low mound, so the blast could travel straight through. the two tunnels were linked by a third, perpendicular tunnel going down and then up. At the lower level there were steel doors into the shelters. They had at least a meter of soil over them to absorb gamma radiation. If three of the four tunnel exits were buried under thick debris you could still get out once the worst radiation had faded.
    — — — — — — —
    Sweden had the occupied Baltic states just across the sea, and the Viggen interceptors routinely played tag with Soviet aircraft. In Umeå, the Winter war and the volunteers going to fight in Finland was still in the memory of most grown-ups. The trucks with supplies to Finland had actually traveled 100 km on the ice across the sea, setting off from Umeå.
    So the Soviet presence was very much felt. Now and then a Soviet refugee would manage to cross Finland to the safety of Sweden (the Finns extradited any refugees they caught).
    — — — — —
    The Swedish publication Ambio was the first to publish studies about global effects from ash after a nuclear war. Meanwhile, Sagan and other used dust distribution from Martian dust storms to figure out weather patterns, and soon this research came together and gave birth to the concept of “nuclear winter”.

  102. says

    Birger:

    Meanwhile, Sagan and other used dust distribution from Martian dust storms to figure out weather patterns, and soon this research came together and gave birth to the concept of “nuclear winter”.

    I remember watching Carl Sagan on television, numerous times, talking about nuclear winter.

  103. cm's changeable moniker says

    The oil reserves were also stored in such caverns instead of ordinary cisterns.

    It’s probably worth mentioning the US’s strategic oil reserve, which is held in caverns dissolved from salt domes so big that the Earth’s temperature gradient keeps them mixed to homogeneity.

  104. kaleberg says

    I remember the daily air raid sirens at noon, and the general belief that any attack would take place at noon as the public was inured to the warnings. I remember sitting in the hallways for nuclear attack drills. I remember my father joining the Civilian Defense and wearing his armband, and the apartment building basement room with its barrels of water and crackers. I remember the sugar cub polio vaccine and the original March of Dimes collection tins.

    The 1950s took nuclear war very seriously. There was a lightening in the 1960s, post Cuban missile crisis and the installation of the hot line. Dr. Strangelove was a comedy with total nuclear destruction as a punchline. The Russians Are Coming was a romantic comedy about a stranded Soviet nuclear submarine. What a contrast to the asshole paranoia of the 1980s and garbage like Red Dawn. Anyone with a brain could see the CCCP coming apart at the seams.

    On the other hand, when I see a diagram like the one above I think about the difference between the response to Sandy and the response to Katrina. Sure, not every element is covered perfectly, but someone has got a clue, a plan, an idea of what to do when thinks go awry. Maybe the plan won’t fit the actual circumstances, but the emergency responders know what they’ll have to do, and have some idea of how to go about doing it. When I read A Journal of the Plague Year, I was struck by how well things held together in London. There might have been a general evacuation and some petty theft, but civilization held together. Food was delivered from the countryside. The ill were nursed – ineffectively, but they were given what care was possible. The dead were buried. It was an impressive response especially when compared with the response to the 14th century plague.

    P.S. Don’t let the crosses marking graves bother you. It’s an artistic convention. Very few people who go through Chapter 13 actually wind up wearing barrels.

  105. StevoR, fallible human being says

    They were all brought up on this stuff.

    At least to a degree, so was I.

    Grew up in the tail end of the Cold War just before the Berlin Wall & USSR fell.

    Will never forget reading ‘The Children of the Dust’ a powerful SF novel on that and the aftermath or seeing the play my drama classmates had about a Nuclear Holocaust. Imagining what it would be like.

    The Bombs are still us today. And always.

  106. StevoR, fallible human being says

    Correction :

    The Bombs are still us today.

    That’s :

    The Bombs are still with us today.

    Natch.

    We forget that and grow complacent at our peril.

  107. khms says

    I was born in 1960.

    I remember little impact during my school years, though part of that may be simply forgetting – I do remember the siren tests, though those went on longer than that.

    The big impact, for me, was 1980, when I was drafted into the German Air Force, and (as in the Air Force, everyone has two jobs because small numbers) I got to learn “ABC” – reacting to nuclear (“atomic”), bacterial, or chemical attacks. As part of that, they showed us a number of old film spots (and talked about what was wrong in them), and I believe that is the first time I came cross “duck and cover”.

    At that time, I had several recurring nightmares,one of them of falling bombs (assumed to be nukes). But those were rather pale compared to the dreams about crashing planes.

    I remember some LT telling me that in case of war, the local forces were supposed to fly into CCCP territory and bomb runways – it was expected that very few of them would return. Also, it was fairly commonly accepted that in case of nuclear war, Germany would catch it where it hurts, and we’d be pretty much fucked.

    And yes, Reagan was scary. Over here, he looked very irrational. Much like recently a certain Mr. Bush.

    As for EU collapse, right now that seems like a lot of scare mongering. An US collapse seems vastly more likely. As to those austerity measures, I find it fascinating (if not exactly in a good way) that “mommy” Merkel (one of the few political leaders with an actual hard science career behind her, which may be responsible for some of her recent spectacular turnarounds, such as on nuclear policy) is preaching austerity, but part of what got Germany through the crisis in fairly good shape was that her coalition (at the time with the social democrats) combined those with a healthy stimulus package that seems to have actually worked as designed. Of course, these days she has a coalition with what we call liberals (or quite a number of bad names), and the US calls libertarians, so that might influence her proposed policies somewhat …

    Unfortunately, the current social democrat candidate for chancellor (Peer Steinbrück, minister of finance during the previous coalition) may understand finance just fine, but seems to have no talent for handling media (especially what not to say, such as that the chancellor doesn’t earn enough compared to a bank director, when campaigning for that job during a crisis blamed mostly on the banks), so right now he seems unlikely to replace Merkel with a red-green coalition, which in my biased opinion would be exactly what we need.

  108. David Marjanović says

    You dolt. I live in the EU; it’s not going to collapse anytime soon. What, if anything, makes you think otherwise???

    Did you spend last five years in a stasis chamber or what ? Everyone here sees the thing is going down crashing and burning.

    Where’s “here”, the US? If so… did you know the US is just as deep in the hole as Greece?* It just doesn’t have Merkel and the ECB hounding it for its deficit.

    * And for quite similar reasons, too. Greece has an embarrassingly bloated military it couldn’t even use – lots of tanks in a country that consists mostly of mountains and is surrounded by other such countries plus the sea.

    Of all EU members, only the UK and France have nukes.

    So what. How long did it Germany take to go from almost disarmed to armed to the teeth the last time ?

    Dude… you can’t just build nukes. You need lots and lots of uranium, then you need to enrich it or make plutonium from it… you can’t get there overnight, and you can’t get there within a few years unless half the world is behind you.

    Frankly no scarier than when Austria’s xenophobic party got close to 30 % and participated in the governing coalition for a few years.

    They weren’t the only governing party, there was no crisis, and they felt the concentrated force of pressure of all other EU countries. Once the EU collapses none of this will stop them.

    That’s almost cute.

    The chance is, that you are a prime example of the Dunning-Kruger effect right now ;)

    Details, or I have to conclude you haven’t even figured out how to use a winking smiley.

    For instance, do you have any idea how little the effects of the crisis have been felt in the richer EU countries? For me, the entire crisis is something that happens on TV and on the US and Swiss job markets.

  109. David Marjanović says

    Oops, clicked Submit too soon.

    You never know when they might decide to commit mutual suicide because those Church of England guys are insane theocrats who don’t fear death.

    Very good point.

    The French and English have been at war for at least a thousand years. This is just a nuclear truce. :-)

    The entente cordiale started well before World War I. It hasn’t shaken since – even de Gaulle didn’t endanger it.

    And perhaps India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.

    You mean: “And India, Pakistan, Israel and perhaps North Korea.”

    I’m another of November 1957 vintage – the Russians celebrated the day of my birth by sending a dog, Laika, into space. (Well, that’s my version of the story! =^_^= )

    Awesome. :-)

    The teenagers I know all have expressed fear and anger over the possibility.

    Surprises me, too. Over here, they’re aware the risk still isn’t zero, but…

    More countries have nuclear weapons now and not all Soviet era weapons are accounted for.

    Once the Soviet Union had collapsed, 48 of the 84 suitcase bombs (see comment 119) were found. Most or all of the rest is still missing as far as I know.

    And let us not talk about the nuclear waste.

    It’s possible the Euro will collapse if the current stupid “austerity” policies continue, but Eurozone elites are fairly determined not to let it.

    One reason is that they wouldn’t be reelected if they let it happen. Even in the sillier countries like Austria, less than half of the people want to return to the pre-€ currency.

    Only in Greece, Hungary and possibly Austria are there significant parties accurately described as neonazi, and these are all small states with feeble militaries.

    Hungary, yes; Greece, yes, as far as I know; Austria, not really. Austria’s xenophobes are populists, and becoming too similar to Nazis would lose them votes. In Vienna, they bash the Turks – and try to get the Serbs as allies for that.

    [...] Italy is likely to fall to the far right.

    No farther than Berlusconi. (And even he ain’t coming back.)

    Who are the Italians going to attack?

    Not Libya again :-)

    Stop them doing what, exactly? Invading Liechtenstein?

    LOL, that’d put the Swiss against us. Mighty big mistake. :-)

    (Hint: the Swiss are armed to their fucking teeth, and to every tooth of their landscape.)

    Accidents are another matter. The more nukes around, the more chance something bad will happen through happenstance.

    Oh yes. Almost did happen plenty of times.

    I think WWIII has already happened and no one noticed. It was known as the “cold war” and certainly involved the entire world and the use of nukes. No nuclear weapons were exploded over populated areas since 1945, but they were certainly used for intimidation for many years.

    Bingo.

    Sweden had an impressive civil defence system with fallout shelters in the basement of just about every new-built school or other public building.

    Austria had a law for decades that every new house had to have a fallout shelter.

    Also, it was fairly commonly accepted that in case of nuclear war, Germany would catch it where it hurts, and we’d be pretty much fucked.

    Austria ditto. It had, and still has, plenty of tanks for open-field battles that are never going to happen again – but there was a joke: “How long do the Russians need to overcome the Alps? A quarter of an hour: ten minutes for laughing and five for climbing.”

    And yes, Reagan was scary. Over here, he looked very irrational. Much like recently a certain Mr. Bush.

    A few years ago I found a book titled “What Reagan is doing to us”. What I found while leafing through it all looked very, very familiar…

    (BTW, I remember seeing Reagan on TV near the end of this 2nd term, negotiating with Gorbachov. One of my first TV memories, perhaps the first.)

    Merkel (one of the few political leaders with an actual hard science career behind her, which may be responsible for some of her recent spectacular turnarounds, such as on nuclear policy)

    Yes, that was very encouraging. :-)

    Of course, these days she has a coalition with what we call liberals (or quite a number of bad names), and the US calls libertarians, so that might influence her proposed policies somewhat …

    Said party of libertarians-very-light was in free fall last time I noticed it. It’s probably toast come election time, and so is Merkel.