Guided Notes: What was the FCDA and what did it do?,In what ways was Cold War paranoia fed by business interests?, What events undermined Cold War paranoia?, How did Cold War politics undermine America’s traditional values?
Q. How did the Cold War serve the interests of America’s economic and political elite? (1) Fallout Can Be Fun How the Cold War civil-defense programs became farce. By David Greenberg February 20, 2003; Slate.com
Ducking to safety
Within days, if not moments, the Homeland Security Department's duct-tape-and-sheeting advisory went from frightening to farcical [DHS told Americans in the event of biological or chemical attack to cover their windows and doors with plastic sheeting attached with duct tape; for a week there were shortages of each]. The government summons was met almost instantly with comparisons to those Cold War civil-defense programs that now strike us as relics of an hysterical age. "Duct and Cover," the headlines gibed….
It takes a leap of historical imagination to conceive how the Cold War's nuclear attack drills, dog tags for school kids, and backyard bomb shelters could ever have been taken seriously. But the story of their transformation from grave national concern to joke helps explain why the Bushies face an uphill battle in getting us to heed their orange terror alerts today.
The dropping of the atom bomb in 1945—and the Soviet Union's attainment of nuclear capability in 1949—transformed the meaning of civil defense. During World War II, the government drafted citizens to make tangible contributions to the war effort: scrimping on scarce supplies such as meat and nylons; growing Victory Gardens; joining scrap metal drives. Although officials urged these gestures mainly to foster a feeling of patriotic engagement, their secondary purpose—materially aiding America's military goals—was also legitimate.
During the Cold War, however, there was little for citizens to do. Preparedness became the watchword. (The forging of national spirit was again an unstated but undeniable aim.) In January 1951 President Truman created the Federal Civil Defense Administration, the Homeland Security Department of its day. A pedagogical [teaching] propaganda agency, FCDA developed curricula for public schools and distributed brochures, films, and radio segments. Home-economics classes taught girls how to furnish bomb shelters. Advertising firms lent their experts to the mission, newspapers offered free placement of FCDA ads, and celebrities from Orson Welles to Ozzie and Harriet signed up to help pitch the cause.
Most famously, the FCDA popularized the cartoon figure Bert the Turtle, star of comic-book pamphlets and short classroom films such as Duck and Cover. The amiable Bert demonstrated to kids how, in the event of an attack, "you DUCK to avoid the things flying through the air ..." (here the panel shows a frightened Bert, with a Richie Rich-like human sidekick, diving to the ground) "... and COVER to keep from getting cut or even badly burned." (In the next panel, Bert withdraws his head into his shell while his friend throws on the hood of his jacket.) In the movie version, sing-songy music accompanied the instruction.
Even before the advent of the FCDA, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other major cities were undertaking biweekly or monthly atomic air raid drills. Teachers, at a random moment, would order their students to "Drop!" and the children would crouch and bury their faces. New York City also spent $159,000 on 2.5 million identification bracelets, or dog tags, for students to wear at all times—with the unspoken purpose being that they would help distinguish children who were lost or killed in a nuclear explosion. Other cities followed.
Then there was the bomb shelter craze—or crazes, since the epidemic of "bombshelteritis" that the New York Times reported in 1951 subsided after roughly eight months but returned during moments of heightened peril. Off and on until the early '60s, Americans built underground rooms that promised to protect them from a nuclear attack. Playing on traditional imagery of women as domestic caretakers, the FCDA pitched housewives advertisements for "Grandma's Pantry," a home shelter that women should stock with canned goods, first-aid kits, and flashlights. Commercial firms marketed a range of safehouses, that ranged from a "$13.50 foxhole shelter" to a $5,000 "deluxe" model that included a phone, beds, toilets, and even a Geiger counter. Life magazine even ran a story on a young newlywed couple who spent their honeymoon in a steel-and-concrete room 12 feet underground. "Fallout can be fun," the article said.
It's hard today to do anything but laugh at these Cold War inanities, but at the time Americans mostly reacted with enthusiasm or, rarely, with cautionary efforts to ratchet down the hysteria. A handful of educators, for example, questioned the schools' approach to nuclear preparedness, suggesting that fear-struck grade-schoolers gazing out classroom windows for Soviet jets hardly constituted an ideal learning environment. Some proposed channeling efforts into the academic study of the USSR and other Communist countries, to little avail.
Into the early '60s, U.S. News & World Report and Life were still running cover stories with headlines such as "If Bombs Do Fall—What Happens to Your Investments," and "How You Can Survive Fallout." But after the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, the Cold War's nadir, and the historic 1963 nuclear test-ban treaty between the United States and Russia, superpower relations finally began to thaw. The warming progressed, albeit fitfully, until the Soviet Union's breakup.
Kennedy's mastery of brinksmanship and his subsequent embrace of detente [working things out with the Communists] contributed to a thaw at home as well. The dire measures and everyday anxieties of the Truman and Eisenhower years quickly subsided in 1963. In 1959, 64 percent of Americans surveyed by Gallup listed nuclear war as the most dire problem facing the country; by 1965 the number dropped to 16 percent.
It wasn't just Kennedy's shift to a less hawkish foreign policy that finally retired the civil-defense nuttiness. Anti-nuclear groups, notably the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (known as SANE), raised public awareness of the dangers of nuclear testing, fallout, and the arms race. Less salubriously, the Vietnam War diverted attention from the distant theoretical possibility of a nuclear face-off between the superpowers to the all-too-concrete reality of old-fashioned on-the-ground warfare in a proxy battlefield.
Perhaps most important, subversive cultural currents helped undermine the Cold War consensus and exposed the absurdities of its civil-defense rituals. From Joseph Heller's Catch-22 to the so-called "sick humor" of Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce, critiques of Cold War orthodoxy found their most effective expression in satire.
Above all, Stanley Kubrick's 1964 classic Dr. Strangelove laid bare the absurdity of the whole culture of nuclear gamesmanship—the coterie of influential intellectuals based at RAND and university labs; the use of game theory; the chillingly rational designs for nuclear "eventualities"—that had come to dominate government policy planning. With Kubrick, America learned to stop worrying and love the bomb. The film not only pointed up the absurdities of the nation's nuclear policy but also showed that laughter constituted a saner reaction than panic. If being able to laugh at oneself is a sign of mental health, then Americans gained a healthy ironic distance from the excesses of the '50s. More effective than the earnest admonitions of disarmament celebrities Bertrand Russell and Benjamin Spock, Strangelove and its cultural kin showed Americans a response to nuclear danger that went beyond credulous fear.
Do like the turtle
In less than a generation, Duck and Cover and other civil-defense relics fell into the category of harmless, amusing nostalgia, like today's retro '50s diners. The historian JoAnne Brown has recounted how during the height of Cold War hysteria, one Newton, Mass., kindergarten teacher put her pupils to work adorning the school's bomb shelter with their artwork and turning it into a "reading den" so they wouldn't be afraid to go there if and when the bombs came. By the time I was a Newton schoolchild in the '70s, we looked quizzically on the school's yellow-and-black shelter signs, so unconnected to anything we learned in class that no teacher or parent ever bothered to explain what they meant.
Whether it betokens healthy perspective or dangerous "psychic numbing" (as Robert Jay Lifton has called it), our adjustment to the half-century old specter of nuclear Armageddon has to be considered when preparing Americans for a potential terrorist attack. In our post-Strangelove era, strident insistences that Americans must trust the government's invocations of national security cut no ice.
It's possible, even likely, that al-Qaida will attempt another assault. Properly bracing the public for such an attack means tending to unsexy, difficult policy details such as shoring up port security and devising a long-term nuclear nonproliferation strategy. Stoking hysteria with pulsing orange lights and talk of panic rooms will, in today's jaded, ironical age, invite only mockery.
The Pledge of Allegiance
Why we're not one nation "under God."
By David Greenberg
28 June 2002, Slate Poor Alfred Goodwin! So torrential was the flood of condemnation that followed his opinion—which held that it's unconstitutional for public schools to require students to recite "under God" as part of the Pledge of Allegiance—that the beleaguered appellate-court judge suspended his own ruling until the whole 9th Circuit Court has a chance to review the case.
Not one major political figure summoned the courage to rebut the spurious claims that America's founders wished to make God a part of public life. It's an old shibboleth of those who want to inject religion into public life that they're honoring the spirit of the nation's founders. In fact, the founders opposed the institutionalization of religion. They kept the Constitution free of references to God. The document mentions religion only to guarantee that godly belief would never be used as a qualification for holding office—a departure from many existing state constitutions. That the founders made erecting a church-state wall their first priority when they added the Bill of Rights to the Constitution reveals the importance they placed on maintaining what Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore have called a "godless Constitution." When Benjamin Franklin proposed during the Constitutional Convention that the founders begin each day of their labors with a prayer to God for guidance, his suggestion was defeated.
Given this tradition, it's not surprising that the original Pledge of Allegiance—meant as an expression of patriotism, not religious faith—also made no mention of God. The pledge was written in 1892 by the socialist Francis Bellamy, a cousin of the famous radical writer Edward Bellamy. He devised it for the popular magazine Youth's Companion on the occasion of the nation's first celebration of Columbus Day. Its wording omitted reference not only to God but also, interestingly, to the United States:
"I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
[In 1923, a group of self-declared flag enthusiasts, led by members of the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution, formed a body called the National Flag Conference and, afraid that the millions of new immigrants to the United States might construe the pledge as allowing them to remain loyal to their native lands, took it upon themselves to change the pledge's wording. "My flag" became "the flag of the United States." ("Of America" was added the next year.)]
The key words for Bellamy were "indivisible," which recalled the Civil War and the triumph of federal union over states' rights, and "liberty and justice for all," which was supposed to strike a balance between equality and individual freedom. By the 1920s, reciting the pledge had become a ritual in many public schools.
Since the founding, critics of America's secularism have repeatedly sought to break down the church-state wall. After the Civil War, for example, some clergymen argued that the war's carnage was divine retribution for the founders' refusal to declare the United States a Christian nation, and tried to amend the Constitution to do so.
The efforts to bring God into the state reached their peak during the so-called "religious revival" of the 1950s. It was a time when Norman Vincent Peale grafted religion onto the era's feel-good consumerism in his best-selling The Power of Positive Thinking; when Billy Graham rose to fame as a Red-baiter who warned that Americans would perish in a nuclear holocaust unless they embraced Jesus Christ; when Secretary of State John Foster Dulles believed that the United States should oppose communism not because the Soviet Union was a totalitarian regime but because its leaders were atheists.
Hand in hand with the Red Scare, to which it was inextricably linked, the new religiosity overran Washington. Politicians outbid one another to prove their piety. President Eisenhower inaugurated that Washington staple: the prayer breakfast. Congress created a prayer room in the Capitol. In 1955, with Ike's support, Congress added the words "In God We Trust" on all paper money. In 1956 it made the same four words the nation's official motto, replacing "E Pluribus Unum." Legislators introduced Constitutional amendments to state that Americans obeyed "the authority and law of Jesus Christ."
The campaign to add "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance was part of this movement. It's unclear precisely where the idea originated, but one driving force was the Catholic fraternal society the Knights of Columbus. In the early '50s the Knights themselves adopted the God-infused pledge for use in their own meetings, and members bombarded Congress with calls for the United States to do the same. Other fraternal, religious, and veterans clubs backed the idea. In April 1953, Rep. Louis Rabaut, D-Mich., formally proposed the alteration of the pledge in a bill he introduced to Congress.
The "under God" movement didn't take off, however, until the next year, when it was endorsed by the Rev. George M. Docherty, the pastor of the Presbyterian church in Washington that Eisenhower attended. In February 1954, Docherty gave a sermon—with the president in the pew before him—arguing that apart from "the United States of America," the pledge "could be the pledge of any country." He added, "I could hear little Moscovites [sic] repeat a similar pledge to their hammer-and-sickle flag with equal solemnity." Perhaps forgetting that "liberty and justice for all" was not the norm in Moscow, Docherty urged the inclusion of "under God" in the pledge to denote what he felt was special about the United States.
The ensuing congressional speechifying—debate would be a misnomer, given the near-unanimity of opinion—offered more proof that the point of the bill was to promote religion. The legislative history of the 1954 act stated that the hope was to "acknowledge the dependence of our people and our Government upon … the Creator … [and] deny the atheistic and materialistic concept of communism." In signing the bill on June 14, 1954, Flag Day, Eisenhower delighted in the fact that from then on, "millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town … the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty." That the nation, constitutionally speaking, was in fact dedicated to the opposite proposition seemed to escape the president.
In recent times, controversies over the pledge have centered on the wisdom of enforcing patriotism more than on its corruption from a secular oath into a religious one. In the 1988 presidential race, as many readers will recall, George Bush bludgeoned Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis for vetoing a mandatory-pledge bill when he was governor of Massachusetts, even though the state Supreme Court had ruled the bill unconstitutional. Surely one reason for the current cravenness of Democratic leaders is a fear of undergoing Dukakis' fate in 2002 or 2004 at the hands of another Bush.
The history of the pledge supports Goodwin's decision. The record of the 1954 act shows that, far from a "de minimis" reference or a mere "backdrop" devoid of meaning, the words "under God" were inserted in the pledge for the express purpose of endorsing religion—which the U.S. Supreme Court itself ruled in 1971 was unconstitutional. Also according to the Supreme Court's own rulings, it doesn't matter that students are allowed to refrain from saying the pledge; a 2000 high court opinion held that voluntary, student-led prayers at school football games are unconstitutionally "coercive," because they force students into an unacceptable position of either proclaiming religious beliefs they don't share or publicly protesting.
The appeals court decision came almost 40 years to the day after the Supreme Court decision in Engel v. Vitale. In that case, the court ruled it unconstitutional for public schools to allow prayer, even though the prayer was non-denominational and students were allowed abstain from the exercise. When asked about the unpopular decision, President John F. Kennedy replied coolly that he knew many people were angry, but that the decisions of the court had to be respected. He added that there was "a very easy remedy"—not a constitutional amendment but a renewed commitment by Americans to pray at home, in their churches, and with their families.