Step back to the height of the nuclear cold war in the United States, when the possibility of a nuclear attack by the Russians meant that we could all die in an instant... vaporized by the heat of a million suns. That is, unless you had a... BOMB SHELTER! Susan Roy does an excellent job with her portrayal of that schizophrenic time in her book Bomboozled: How the U.S. Government Misled Itself and Its People into Believing They Could Survive a Nuclear Attack. It's amazing how easily we were led into both fearing a nuclear attack and believing that surviving one was a relatively simple matter. As Roy shows, the gap between image and reality was huge.
Contents: Atomic Anxiety; You Can Survive!; Better Homes and Bunkers; Nuclear Housekeeping; Drop-Dead Gorgeous; Shelter Skelter; Plastic Sheeting & Duct Tape; Bibliography, Credits, and Index; Acknowledgements
Roy uses the oversized dimensions of this book to capture the tone and flavor of the time by using an abundance of images from actual publications of that period. Government publications tout how to build basement shelters that will protect your family from dreaded fallout, and magazine articles cover the essentials of what you'll need to have in the way of supplies to survive the nuclear holocaust (provided it doesn't last much longer than about a week). Of course, there are numerous companies who will sell and/or build your shelter for you, creating a cozy little (emphasis on "little") hideaway to ride out those critical first days until everything gets back to "normal." All the pictures show "typical" American families happily riding out the emergency, with Father in his tweed jacket and Mother in her high heels, looking all proper and put together. In reality, most of the shelters would have been dark and hot, with stale air and no (and we mean "no") accounting for toilet facilities. Yes, you may survive the initial blast and fallout, but would the shelter end up killing you instead? Quite possibly...
While it's easy to look at Bomboozled and think we've gotten so much smarter since then, Roy doesn't let us off the hook that easily. All she has to do is bring up the mania over plastic sheeting and duct tape that was the government-recommended plan to fend off the effects of a biological, chemical, or nuclear attack after 9/11. The government is still pushing the twin goals of having a population that fears the danger of an attack, while making them think that it's a simple matter of preparation to ensure your survival. Roy shows that we really haven't learned much after all.
As I was reading this, I wondered how many of these family bomb shelters lie buried and forgotten in neighborhoods around America. Even more intriguing is that the New York World's Fair had a complete underground home as an exhibit, and there's a strong possibility that it was just covered over after the Fair was finished. Does it still exist underground, waiting to be "discovered" like so many of the forgotten subway stations in the city? It'd be fascinating to find a forgotten bomb shelter and see how it held up after decades of being buried.
If you have any interest in nuclear warfare and how it played out in the general population, Bomboozled is a highly recommended read. Not only will you find a treasure trove of material that shaped our thinking and actions, but you'll also see how we haven't gotten beyond certain mindsets in all these years.
Thomas Duff, aka "Duffbert", is a long-time member of the Lotus community. He's primarily focused on the development side of the Notes/Domino environment, currently working for a large insurance … more
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Roy argues that the fallout shelter campaign was designed less to protect the citizenry than to groom them into becoming "Citizen Cold Warriors," ready to accept and endure a more militarized society. (June) --Publisher's Weekly
“Susan Roy pairs illustrations with incisive commentary to reveal just how deluded we used to be about prepping for the all-too-thinkable nuclear attack.” — O, The Oprah Magazine
“An enticing visual history of the fallout shelter, which allowed cold war anxiety to be cheerfully reconfigured as a home story and gave the phrase ‘nuclear family’ new meaning…a piquant analysis of nuclear housekeeping.” — The New York Times
“Bomboozled” actually does bring back lots of memories and a certain anger that we were so bamboozled by so many who had something to gain from our primal fears. The book addresses…how industry collaborated with government to scare the bejeesus out of us, and then convince us everything would be just fine - if we protected ourselves with expensive products.” — The Atlantic