Survival Under Atomic Attack (1950)


One day at the library, I stumbled across the booklet Survival Under Atomic Attack (“The Official U.S. Government Booklet,” National Security Resources Board, Civil Defense Office,1950). There’s a 1951 film of the same title issued by the Civil Defense Office at Internet Archive.

There are several fascinating things about the booklet. First, the section “Kill the Myths” (p.15) was clearly written to not only reassure citizenry, but to garner acceptance for the inevitability of nuclear war. Secondly, the booklet was designed to be used by the public to prepare for “atomic attack” and its aftermath. Notice the handy “survival” checklist on pages 16-17 designed to be removed from the main booklet and employed pre and post event.

However, it’s what is not stated in the booklet that is significant. There is an unsettling sense of atomic finality in Survival that bypasses the 1945 Smyth report’s “Questions to the People” and in fact, ignores profound issues of informed consent and societal debate regarding nuclear war.

From Smyth, still relevant today:

13.8. Because of the restrictions of military security there has been no chance for the Congress or the people to debate such questions. They have been seriously considered by all concerned and vigorously debated among the scientists, and the conclusions reached have been passed along to the highest authorities. These questions are not technical questions; they are political and social questions, and the answers given to them may affect all mankind for generations…In a free country like ours, such questions should be debated by the people and decisions must be made by the people through their representatives…

Survival Under Atomic Attack is available in many federal depository libraries, SuDoc call number PR 33.702:At 7/4.