One Nation Underground: The Fallout Shelter in American Culture

One Nation Underground: The Fallout Shelter in American Culture

One Nation Underground: The Fallout Shelter in American Culture

One Nation Underground: The Fallout Shelter in American Culture

Synopsis

For the half-century duration of the Cold War, the fallout shelter was a curiously American preoccupation. Triggered in 1961 by a hawkish speech by John F. Kennedy, the fallout shelter controversy"to dig or not to dig," as Business Week put it at the time forced many Americans to grapple with deeply disturbing dilemmas that went to the very heart of their self-image about what it meant to be an American, an upstanding citizen, and a moral human being.

Given the much-touted nuclear threat throughout the 1960s and the fact that 4 out of 5 Americans expressed a preference for nuclear war over living under communism, what's perhaps most striking is how few American actually built backyard shelters. Tracing the ways in which the fallout shelter became an icon of popular culture, Kenneth D. Rose also investigates the troubling issues the shelters raised: Would a post-war world even be worth living in? Would shelter construction send the Soviets a message of national resolve, or rather encourage political and military leaders to think in terms of a "winnable" war?

Investigating the role of schools, television, government bureaucracies, civil defense, and literature, and rich in fascinating detail including a detailed tour of the vast fallout shelter in Greenbriar, Virginia, built to harbor the entire United States Congress in the event of nuclear armageddon One Nation, Underground goes to the very heart of America's Cold War experience.

Excerpt

Only once in our history has the question of nuclear war and survival been embraced by an entire nation as a subject of urgent debate. Discussions about the ramifications of nuclear war had, until that time, been almost exclusively the private preserve of policy makers, scientists, and intellectuals such as Herman Kahn, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Henry Kissinger. But the fallout shelter controversy that began in 1961 (which Business Week succinctly described as “to dig, or not to dig”) created a startling and unprecedented public involvement in this debate, claiming the passion and energies of citizens from all strata of society. the major media produced a flurry of essays devoted to this subject, but so did the media outside the mainstream. When publications as diverse as Yale Review, Business Week, Architectural Record, Good Housekeeping, Cath olic Nation, and Successful Farming all began producing articles on the fallout shelter issue, it was clear that something significant was happening in American culture. (In 1961 even Sunset magazine ran a story on fallout shelters tucked in among such articles as “Transforming Leftovers: the Sauce Is the Secret” and “How to Display and Store Magazines.)” As Time magazine put it, “At cocktail parties and P.T.A. meetings and family dinners, on buses and commuter trains and around office watercoolers, talk turns to shelters.”

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