restricted access Neither Dead nor Red: Civil Defense and American Political Development During the Early Cold War (review)
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Technology and Culture 44.1 (2003) 204-205

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Neither Dead nor Red: Civil Defense and American Political Development during the Early Cold War. By Andrew D. Grossman. London and New York: Routledge, 2001. Pp. xx+175. $75/$19.95.

"Civil defense" conjures up pictures of children hiding under flimsy desks and fathers digging bomb shelters in the yards of suburban homes. The story of civil defense in America during the cold war is more than just an item of historical curiosity, however. In recent years, scholars have begun to examine American civil defense policies and their effects upon popular culture and political institutions. Following in the tradition of a cold war literature that examines how foreign and domestic policy became fused in the early atomic age, Andrew Grossman's Neither Dead nor Red is a provocative study that sheds new light on the legacies of civil defense policies. Grossman argues that mobilization of the American public served as a form of social control, helping to create and solidify the consensus necessary for American success in the battle against communism.

Although Grossman is primarily concerned with explaining how the development of civil defense policies centralized power at the federal level, his analysis has relevance for historians of technology in the broad sense. First, his book is an important addition to literature on the evolving role of the atomic bomb in American life and culture. While most analyses of this sort look at the problem of incorporating this frightening new technology into American life from a strictly cultural point of view, Grossman brings politics into the picture. He writes: "The case study I present offers a detailed appraisal of how a federal agency of the state, the FCDA, intervened to change the way the American people saw with their own eyes the destructive capability of nuclear weapons" (p. 3). Because public support for cold war foreign policy hinged upon the palpable fear of atomic warfare, the Federal Civil Defense Administration's civil defense policies were part of a campaign by the U.S. government to alleviate that fear and make the atomic bomb seem like just another weapon.

Second, Grossman's analysis of the methods by which the government mobilized the public in support of civil defense will be intriguing to historians of science and technology. The heart of his argument is found in chapter 3, where he examines two civil defense programs developed by the FCDA, Project East River and the Alert America campaign. The FCDA enlisted social scientists within the nation's research universities to provide both the theories to support programs of "fear management" and the scientific legitimacy to sell these programs to the public. Here Grossman depicts the relationship between the government and research universities as vaguely sinister: "Under the cloak of the academy and the legitimacy it lent [End Page 204] to postwar social science, the U.S. population was subjected to a massive campaign of state-sponsored dissimulation" (p. 66).

What is perhaps more interesting about Grossman's analysis, however, is his examination of how civil defense was literally "sold" to the public. Campaigns like Alert America in 1952 used newly developed techniques of advertising to get the government's message out to "consumers," the civilians who would be so crucial in the implementation of civil defense policies. Grossman asserts that "In a real sense, there was a historical moment, a nexus, if you will, during the late 1940s in which the central state was able to use a set of social science methods to establish both a communication science and a 'science' of sales for purposes of mass public education regarding national security" (p. 73). This part of his analysis will no doubt be of interest both to political historians and to historians of science, and offers the most intriguing possibilities for future research.

Neither Dead nor Red is a complex examination of the federal government's efforts, during the early years of the cold war, to mobilize the American public in support of its policies. Perhaps the...