Baltimore's Civil Defense Foot Soldiers and Their Role in the Anti-Civil Defense Movement

Thursday, January 5, 2012: 3:00 PM
Chicago Ballroom C (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Eric S. Singer, American University
This paper argues that the greater fear in the early 1950s was not of imminent nuclear attack, but rather of the government’s inability to protect Americans from all potential calamities that could occur.  Many citizens believed in the imperative of civil defense, and were growing increasingly frustrated with the perceived ineptitude of federal, state and local planning.  Even though many may not have been familiar with civil defense’s funding scheme or its explicit self-help philosophy, they began to sense from 1950-1953 that the government could not protect them from what the fire it had created.  People may have been apathetic about civil defense drills, but not for the reason local newspapers repeatedly cited— that they were uneducated about civil defense and nuclear issues more generally.  That civil defense volunteers began to voice the loudest objections in the early 1950s indicates that it was precisely those educated the most about civil defense who threw up their hands in disgust.  Baltimore’s civil defense director shared the volunteers’ complaints about the lack of a coherent federal, state and local plans.  He recognized early on in his tenure as director that the Federal Civil Defense Administration could not possibly provide the funding, oversight or logistical support necessary to carry out an effective plan in the wake of a nuclear disaster.  His organization would have to make up for it with the almost exclusive use of volunteers.  In absence of clear federal and state directives, they became the backbone of Baltimore’s civil defense and shaped its policies.  When they realized that their power was about to be usurped by the police department in 1959, they became unsung heroes in the anti-civil defense movement.
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