Government, the military and industry have sunk billions into special protective measures for leadership, staff and critical systems in case of nuclear war. But for John Doe, the taxpayer who foots the bill – and his family? . . . Read on.
By Frank Williams (Journal of Civil Defense, Jan-Feb 1978)
Silent steel doors – like a scene from science fiction – lead into an outsize buried complex. They shut behind you. Deeper silence. The sleek subdivided space spread before you is encased in a heavy jacket of reinforced concrete. Utilities, clocks, furnishings are shock-mounted. Systems are redundant. Special valves protect ventilation shafts and pipes. Supplied with its own food, its own water, its own power, its own accommodations, its own fuel – completely independent of outside help – it can be a sealed-off “home” to a select group for two to four weeks. This in a brutal, close-in nuclear attack environment.
Is this protective shelter that government has built for people?
No. It is shelter that government has built for government. One of many.
Well, you might ask, where are the shelters government has built for people?
And the answer is simply that government does not build shelters like this for people. Not in the United States. Government builds them for government. For emergency operations. Some are highly sophisticated. Some are less so. Over 4,000 such shelters exist for officialdom, for the military.
But not for the people. Why? What’s to happen to the people?
Authorities in Washington have for years – with dignity, conviction and persuasion – pointed out compelling reasons for a “low-key” civil defense: It would be useless, because protection is not possible. It would be provocative, because the security afforded would cause the Soviets to take offense. “Overkill” proves that everyone would be killed many times over. It would cost billions to protect the public. We must maintain our people in a “hostage” status and exposed to annihilation to show good faith. Destruction is more effective than protection. It is pessimistic to think of nuclear attack. The whole thing is “unthinkable.” Therefore unamerican. And unimportant. It might interfere with weekends.
You might also ask – If protection is such a low priority for people then why is it such a high priority for government?
And this would be a good question. Perhaps an embarrassing one.
President Carter might well ponder it. He might ask why in a nuclear crisis carefully, laid plans exist to spirit him and his advisors quickly out of Washington and airborne where they will be out of reach of incoming nuclear weapons, why key military and government crews will fan out to buried bunkers that circle Washington? And why most of his neighbors – the children, the women, the people of Washington, D. C. – will be left to fry, sizzle and pop under the attack?
Is this the “American way”? A part of Potomac dogma?
Perhaps the most dramatic of the government’s shelters – one which illustrates best the attention given to protecting “the vital few” – is the military North American Air Defense Command in Colorado. Buried under millions of tons of granite, tunneled over 1,000 feet into Cheyenne Mountain,’ it consists of windowless multi-story stainless steel buildings mounted on mammoth coil springs. It boasts many other special features.
It is superb protection – built obviously by those, who believe that such protection is necessary and effective and well worth the cost.
But outside Cheyenne Mountain churches, schools, homes and commercial buildings – eggshell structures– stretch across Colorado, across the United States. Those in target areas would crumble under the direct effects of nuclear explosions. Those in locations remote from explosions would for the most part offer pitifully inadequate protection against fallout. No more than “nuclear traps.” This deplorable pattern of neglect is why serious scenarios have for years predicted 100,000,000 initial deaths for the United States in an all-out nuclear attack.
What is the rationale that permits government to take taxpayer money to protect itself and to ignore the taxpayer? What moral code allows leadership to condone this protection for itself and exposure to death for those whom it serves?
Industry also gives us examples of survival preparedness. AT&T, for instance, has during the past twelve years constructed vast underground communications lines with buried, reinforced two-story control centers to serve them. These lines crisscross America, carefully avoiding cities and military installations (except for spur lines), and are built to withstand the shock of nearby nuclear detonations. Well over $1 billion has so far been spent on these lines –a good deal more on this one project alone (for cables) than the United States Government has spent during this same period to provide a civil defense agency for its 217,000,000 human charges.
Do Americans really want protection?
A recent American Security Council nationwide poll report shows that 91 % of the people queried (of a total of 135,841) wanted ABM protection against nuclear attack. 1% said “No.” The rest were undecided. An accompanying poll report showed that 89% of the respondents thought an agreement between Russia and the United States not to protect their peoples (which reportedly took place in 1972) was objectionable. Such responses are not really new. They show that a great majority of Americans think that government has provided for their protection. In the light of proud American heritage this is a logical assumption.
The Russian, too, assumes such protection and has it. The Chinaman assumes it and has it. The Swiss. The Swede. The Finn. The American is fooled, deceived. He is a deliberate “hostage.”
In this way, in a land where leaders preach human rights without letup, the citizen himself is deprived of his most basic and most precious human right – the right to survive. While our leadership worries and frets about the rights of people in other nations around the world, and at home rights for Blacks, Indians, women, the poor, the handicapped, the aged, the young, the sick, gays, old soldiers, prisoners and whatever, has it forgotten the right of the working citizen to have his tax money applied to making his life safer?
A goodly number of Washington studies are now in progress to respond to the recent surge of interest in civil defense. One of them, the White House civil defense review by Greg Schneider’s “Reorganization Project,” is scheduled to wind up by the end of February. It is in all probability the pivotal study. As an “in-house” effort its conclusions may well be influenced by Administration policy, which appears not to favor any meaningful upgrading of civil defense. It should be recalled that other White House civil defense studies such as the Gaither and the Lincoln reports (both of which strongly recommended a greatly improved civil defense posture) were in effect ignored. Pentagon studies which showed the tremendous life-saving potential of a proper civil defense have also been ignored. Today’s Secretary of Defense, Harold Brown, feels that American opinion would not support an upgraded civil defense program and discounts the Russian effort. His answer to the pleas for planning protection for the people (similar to that which he enjoys as the Pentagon chief) is to say that we must not be led to “replicate” Russian civil defense.
So, can we count on current studies being taken seriously in Washington?
Congress has indicated that if by March no Administration action has been taken to correct the tragic civil defense imbalance then Congress will act on its own.
In reviewing the Schneider’s report when it goes to him on February 28th, President Carter would do well to keep a few salient points in mind, among them:
(1) That protection for government, the military and industry is taken very seriously and that a tremendous investment has been made in it.
(2) That protection for himself and his advisors is taken even more seriously and that his move to an airborne command post is ready to be implemented on a moment’s notice at any time.
(3) That the American taxpayer pays handsomely to buy this protection.
(4) That the American taxpayer has no such protection, is himself – with his family – left exposed, at the mercy of an attack.
(5) That the myths and excuses for maintaining his exposure are effete platitudes, credits only to aggressor propagandists.
(6) That Pentagon studies (as well as others) show that good civil defense measures would bring survival expectancy up from less than 50% to around 95% – near that of the Soviet Union.
(7) That human rights – in addition to faith, food and freedom – include the No. 1 right of the people to be considered for survival in nuclear warfare.
(8) That a tough home defense would make aggression against the United States unwise, unrewarding, a long-shot gamble, and much less likely. With such a development we would truly be opting for the highest possible peace odds.
President Carter has said to the country: “I’ll never lie to you.” He is certainly very serious about living up to his promise. He rules out the lie. But neglect to face an issue squarely, neglect to cover a question fully and failure to speak out frankly and accurately can be tantamount to the lie. Silence can be a lie. Mark Twain called the “silent lie” the worst kind. That it is. And it is a highly developed art in our national capital.
We hope Mr. Carter remembers his Georgia roots. On civil defense we need a lot of common sense, a lot of candor, a lot of courage. Mr. Carter needs to give the taxpayer back some of what the taxpayer has given him: protection. It’s that simple.
Let there be truth.