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Introduction 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 BusinessWeek 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 .1 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, Catholic 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.)”2 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.”3 1 The debate touched the lives of people in the smallest and in the largest of communities. In Glendo,Wyoming, residents voted to buy a potato cellar that would house the entire population of 294 in case of nuclear attack —making Glendo the first community to offer shelter for every resident .4 In America’s great cities, where debate was raging over whether any kind of shelter could effectively protect urban dwellers, there was a small boom in demand for the canned drinking water that went into fallout shelters. This water, according to city sophisticates, lacked the chemical taste of ordinary tap water, and made an excellent highball mixer.5 In the suburbs, families agonized over whether or not to make the considerable investment in a fallout shelter, and how they would feel about shooting less-prepared neighbors who might intrude into their shelter during a nuclear emergency. The flashpoint for this remarkable phenomenon,and the beginning of our story, was a speech given by John F. Kennedy on July 25, 1961. Kennedy’s speech concerned Berlin, where Khrushchev was threatening to negotiate a separate peace with East Germany,and to declare Berlin a“neutral”city from which the Western Allies would have to withdraw by the end of the year.6 Berlin had been a lightning rod for East-West tensions in both the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, and the underlying text in previous Berlin crises had always been whether or not the United States would risk a general war over the defense of Berlin. For the Kennedy administration, the scene had been set at theVienna summit in June, where Khrushchev had attempted a rhetorical bludgeoning of Kennedy.“We are going to negotiate a new agreement with East Germany, and the access routes to Berlin will be under their control,” proclaimed Khrushchev.“If there is any effort by the West to interfere, there will be war.” Kennedy responded to this crude assertion by replying,“Then there will be war, Mr. Chairman. It’s going to be a very cold winter.”7 Emphasizing his determination to oppose Soviet designs on Berlin even to the brink of nuclear war, Kennedy said in his July speech that “we do not want to fight—but we have fought before.”The seriousness of the situation was underlined by Kennedy’s request for a $3.24 billion increase for the military, and for an additional $207 million to fund a civil defense initiative that would “identify and mark space in existing structures—public and private—that could be used for fall-out shelters in case of attack” (fig. 1).Acknowledging that the necessity for fallout shelters was a concept “new to our shores,” Kennedy nevertheless insisted that “the lives of those families which are not hit in a nuclear blast and fire can still be saved—if Introduction 2 Introduction 3 Fig. 1. Washington Post, 26 July 1961. Collection of the Library of Congress. © 1961 by the Washington Post. Reprinted by permission. they can be warned to take shelter and if that shelter is available. . . . in the coming months I hope to let every citizen know what steps he can take without delay...


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