Tuesday, May 26, 2015

surviving a nuclear war, revisited

Once again proving my belief that "some people die only in the New York Times," that venerable newspaper has an obituary on an official in the Reagan administration who minimized the consequences of nuclear war just as the American public was growing increasingly concerned about such a conflict. While making the case for civil defense measures in a newspaper interview, T.K. Jones went overboard and earned his Times obituary by famously observing, “If there are enough shovels to go around, everybody’s going to make it.”
 He went on: “You can make very good sheltering by taking the doors off your house, digging a trench, stacking the doors about two deep over that, covering it with plastic so that rainwater or something doesn’t screw up the glue in the door, then pile dirt over it.”

Digging, he figured, would take about 10 hours, followed by installation of a ventilation pump and dealing with sanitation and supplies. Apartment dwellers were no problem, he said; they could be moved to rural areas.
Many officials had at least a brief enthusiasm for massive civil defense programs, President John F. Kennedy among them. But when the costs were weighed against the other impacts of a major nuclear exchange, civil defense seemed to have minimal benefits. Nor did the Reagan administration propose a major civil defense program. But its nuclear strategists faced a strong challenge from public opinion which wanted a "nuclear freeze" instead of its proposed massive buildup of offensive nuclear firepower.

So people like Jones and his mentor Richard Perle pointed to Russian civil defense efforts to prove that Moscow wanted to fight and win a nuclear war.  I had my own encounter with Perle on this topic when he made the point that some Russian cities even practiced evacuation of the population. "Richard," I responded, "so do we --every Friday afternoon in the summer."

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