Edmond P. DeRousse

A Different Kind of War

Current world tensions remind me of something many of us experienced decades ago. It was something called “The Cold War”; March 1947 – December 1991.

World War II, “the war to end all wars”, ended in 1945. The Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) were defeated. The Truman Doctrine, signed on 12 March 1947, established that the United States would provide political, military, and economic assistance to all democratic nations under threat from external or internal authoritarian forces.

Although the USSR had helped defeat the Axis powers, an ideological and political rivalry between the United States and the USSR became emphasized and as a result the world faced a heightened sense of international tensions. The spread of Communism was the biggest concern. The United States and the Non-Communist world saw this as a threat to world –peace. There was no large-scale fighting between them, but each supported regional conflicts representing differing ideological and geographical struggles for global influence.

In 1953 the “skirmish”, as some people referred to it, in Korea ended. It was fought to end the conflict between democracy and the spread of communism and resulted in a stalemate. By 1955 that very same conflict was developing in Southeast Asia. Although those conflicts were occurring on foreign soil, many Americans were beginning to worry about having to defend its own turf.

 Many felt USSR, which represented Communism, was about to attack the United States. That meant the US had to be prepared to defend itself. Atomic bombs were dropped on Japan to put an end to WWII resulting in massive amounts of lives being lost with just two bombs. Citizens of the world were led to believe that the US and Russia each had enough bombs to wipe out the world population several times over.

The Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) was created, 12 January 1951, to respond to this heightened sense of anxiety felt by most American citizens. Upon signing the Federal Civil Defense Act, President Truman said the act was “…designed to protect life and property in the United States in case of enemy assault. It affords the basic framework for preparations to minimize the effects of an attack on our civilian population, and to deal with the immediate emergency conditions which such an attack would create.” Most citizens believed its responsibility was to prepare the public for nuclear attacks.

Survival literature was written and distributed. It was assumed large cities would be the primary targets, so the literature was written with those areas in mind. Following the directions of the literature would better ensure survival.

During the early days of the Cold War “Duck & Cover” drills were encouraged. Preparedness films were shown as a companion educational tool to school children. The US government went so far as to commission a New York film studio in 1951 to produce a short movie suitable for kids. It featured a monkey setting off a firecracker near a turtle named “Bert”. After seeing the flash from the firecracker, Bert covered his head by ducking into his shell.

A key defense to the fallout produced by atomic weapons was the bomb shelter. Its purpose was to help each occupant avoid exposure to the harmful effect from nuclear blast and its aftermath, radiation caused by gamma-ray exposure. The government recommended these shelters be built in basements or buried in backyards. They were built to accommodate individual families or groups of people.

Regardless of size, occupants were advised to stay cooped up in the shelter for two weeks following a nuclear blast. They were stocked with enough non-perishable foods and other life sustainable material to last for several months. Emergency air and lighting systems were also installed.

Russia and the United States continually antagonized each other through political maneuvering, espionage, propaganda, and arms build-up. Most adults lived under a cloud of concern for world annihilation. No soldiers, though, actually fought each other. Thus, the term “Cold War” became widely used.

Fortunately, this war was only cold. It did provide plenty of stress for lots of people. Fortunately, no Gamma-Rays were let loose on the world.