1950s >> 1957 >> no-632-april-1957

Hints on Civil Defence

What are you doing about Civil Defence? Busy sealing your windows with sticky paper, learning how to bandage a cut finger, and how to dig grandma out of the rubble? If so, we’ve got news for you. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are ancient history—civil defence methods being taught today are likely to be as effective against future nuclear weapons as stone-age implements would be against tanks.

And what authority have we for taking this rather pessimistic view? None other than Mr. Val Peterson, who is the Federal Administrator of Civil Defence in the United States. His department was set up in 1951, and his conclusions are, therefore, by no means hasty speculation, but the outcome of six years’ study of a subject vital to American government policy. According to an article by Mr. Alistair Cooke in the Manchester Guardian (20/2/57) “He (Mr. Peterson) has refused to admit that any plan of civilian defence no matter how grandiose in conception or how faithfully executed, can cope with the destructive power of modern weapons, any more than a teacup can bale out a sinking liner.”

Tut! Tut! We trust that the appropriate authorities over here will give the lie to this defeatist philosophy, even though it comes from such an expert as Mr. Peterson.

Mr. Peterson is pretty gloomy about the protective value of air-raid shelters, even if there will be enough of them left for us poor workers after the needs of service chiefs, cabinet ministers, captains of industry, etc., have been met. To quote Mr. Cooke again: “Mr. Peterson said that if the whole 170 million Americans had air-raid shelters, at least 50 per cent of them would die in a surprise enemy attack.” In the final analysis, he said: “There is no such thing as a nation being prepared for a thermo-nuclear war.”

In an emergency Mr. Peterson’s office would be responsible for dispersing the American government, evacuating the cities, and commandeering transport, utilities, and hospitals. But would we have any warning that an emergency existed before the first hydrogen missiles began to fall like the gentle dew from heaven?

However given three hours’ notice Mr. Peterson thinks that about half the population of the inland cities in the United States could possibly be saved by totally evacuating them. But where could the population of the inland cities of Britain go? There just are not the wide open spaces here as in the U.S., and one or two strategically placed hydrogen bombs. . . but there, it does not do to be too morbid. Unfortunately, according to Mr. Peterson, the inhabitants of coastal cities in the U.S. would not fare so well as the inlanders because of unheralded atomic shellings by submarines suddenly popping up out of the sea: we will suppress any remarks about British seaside resorts in case the good mayors of Brighton and Margate blame us for any decreased attendance of holiday-makers this Summer.

The interest in Soviet air power is misplaced, according to the New York Herald-Tribune (also quoted in Mr. Cooke’s article), because long-range submarines could be used as launching platforms for nuclear missiles having ranges up to 5,000 miles; the great industrial centres deep in the heart of the U.S. “are within range of this potential terror streaking out of the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Gulf of Mexico.” Submarines streaking out of the North Sea (long or short range) could deal very effectively with the closely concentrated industrial centres in Britain.

So it looks as though we must abandon the sticky paper those nice shiny tin helmets, etc., and take to the hills. But wait a minute, that awkward Mr. Peterson has objections to that idea as well. To quote Mr. Cooke: “Mr. Peterson thought that, even to rescue half the population, the United States would have to start at once plans for housing most of its city populations underground in the mountain ranges of the East and West. He piled on the misery by warning the committee that even such drastic plans foresaw only an attack by hydrogen weapons. Within a year or two, by 1966 at the latest, he was convinced that the inter-continental ballistic missile, with an atomic or hydrogen warhead, would be the prime weapon. When that was perfected, he said, the Government’s recommended plans for evacuation would be ‘out the window.’”

But the worst is yet to come! Mr. Cooke’s stimulating (but rather gloomy article) ends by quoting the New York Journal-American, which has revealed that U.S. military scientists are working on an inter-continental missile with an “anti-matter” warhead that “would make the hydrogen bomb look like a fire cracker.” According to Mr. Cooke “one gramme of ‘anti-matter’ could trigger a weapon as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb; and the expert guess is that a portable warhead could ’conceivably blow the Soviet Union off the map.’”

Our rulers tell us that we must have the latest (and therefore most devastating) nuclear weapons because they are “deterrents” to potential aggressors; it is never Britain which is the potential aggressor, but always “the other side.” Of course, the governments of the United States, Russia, France, Germany, etc., are busy telling their own workers the self same story. No government wants war, and yet all are preparing for it.

Socialists know that war is the final arbiter in the bitter struggle between rival capitalist groups. So long as capitalism remains, the threat of war with or without thermo nuclear weapons is ever present, casting a dark and dreadful shadow over the happiness and peace of mind of millions of human beings.

The only effective civil defence measure would be the rapid growth of Socialist knowledge among the workers of the world, so that capitalism may be replaced by socialism, and international rivalry abolished.

One final hint: read our pamphlet The Socialist Party and War (price 1/-). which contains a detailed socialist analysis of the cause of wars: there is more practical advice and cause of optimism contained within its 100 pages than in all the mass of civil defence literature published by governments which at the same time are planning more efficient means of destruction.

M.L.

Leave a Reply