• Steven Heller

April Nuclear Fools’ Day

Most nuclear war and fallout cautionary guides were designed to shock and scare. Yet there was also a kind of terrible beauty attached to the images that they provoked. The threat of total vaporization disturbed many a good night’s sleep. But not all of the scores of brochures designed to give the illusion that our lives are savable were tabloid style. Some, like Fallout Protection: What to Know and Do About Nuclear Attack, issued by the U.S. Department of Defense, had a soothing modernist design aura. It treated the theme in a comparatively sane way without the sensationalist melodrama, and was based on this preparedness manual.

Nonetheless, given what we know today, only a fool could believe any semblance of life would be worth living after major thermonuclear attacks. Phrasing like this has a wishful thinking ring:

Initial recovery begins when local shelter occupants are able to leave their shelters for short periods. There is no way to set a specific time when it will be safe for the entire population to leave shelter, since radiation levels will vary, depending upon the attack pattern and winds prevailing at the time of attack. Therefore, local government emergency operations centers will usually advise shelter managers about emerging from shelters. Even when occupants are able to leave their shelters during the day, they may have to return to the shelters to sleep and eat. Their homes may have been destroyed or seriously damaged. Dangerous radioactive “hot spots” may make it advisable to spend several hours behind shielding each day. These conditions could last for a considerable time. The shelter may, therefore, have to serve as a welfare center or as temporary housing for some occupants for several additional weeks or months.

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