Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Stupidity Alert Level Is RED

The Department of Homeland Security has so many color-coded alerts that nobody understands when they say: "Today's security alert level is ORANGE". WTF does that mean?? While it's true that the world has become a much more dangerous place since 9/11, having the government scare poor citizens is nothing new. While the Cold War with Russia was at its height back in the 1950s, the Wizards of Washington were finding novel ways to alarm the public. I'm not saying they shouldn't warn us of imminent threats, but some of the ideas they were peddling back then were just plain dumb.

In 1949 President Harry Truman made it publicly known that the Soviet Union had detonated their first atomic bomb, ushering in an era when the United States was no longer the only 800 pound gorilla on the planet. Public response to the report was an upsurge in interest in fallout shelters. The Eisenhower administration distributed information to educate Americans about how they could protect themselves. Survival literature was written primarily for a suburban audience, since it was assumed that cities would be targets and most urban dwellers would not survive. First, who could afford to build and stock such a structure? Wouldn't any air from outside be contaminated? What about waste disposal? ("Bobby, it's your turn to empty the bucket".) This idea never got far off the ground.

In the summer of 1961, Kennedy asked Congress for more than $100 million for public fallout shelters. I guess the Wizards realized people could not afford to build private shelters so they began looking at ideas for shelters where large numbers of people could assemble. They selected basements of large office buildings and subway tunnels as places to shelter from the blast. We began to see signs in public places pointing to the nearest Civil Defense shelters, but I think we were whistling past the graveyard. A nuclear (or nucular as W. pronounced it) blast would atomize anything within miles. I love that scene from Dr. Strangelove when Slim Pickens was riding that atomic bomb as it fell from the sky, while in the background a choir was singing: " We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when, but we'll meet again some sunny day".

And then there was my favorite, the "duck and cover" drills they had us little kiddies doing in school. For some reason it was believed that a school desk would be sufficient protection against a nuclear holocaust, so we dutifully slipped into the cramped space under the desk and waited for the explosion. My wife says the nuns in her school instructed the children to swallow their Miraculous Medals in the event the godless Russians ever invaded New York. (Actually, this was a groundless fear....if they ever got as far as Brooklyn their tanks would be stripped and sitting on four cinder blocks before they could say, "Das Vadanya")

American's uncertainties about "the bomb" quieted during the mid-1960s. As arms-control talks and a limited nuclear test ban proceeded, tensions eased. Plans for building additional public shelters were postponed. We dodged a big matzoh ball there.


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1 comment:

The Whiner said...

Well now I know where to go in case of a nuc-u-ler attack; I'll head right to Valley View and duck under one of the desks. That is a riot.