Monday, September 20, 2004

the Shadow that has just gathered you in its sweep

U-2 photo of Cuban missiles, USAF Museum

From a review of Alice L. George's Awaiting Armageddon: How Americans Faced the Cuban Missile Crisis:
She then examines the United States's civil defense preparations for nuclear war. In such an event, the President, his Cabinet, and the Supreme Court justices could find shelter in Mount Weather, a massive underground complex, 48 miles from Washington, lavishly equipped with offices, a hospital, dining and recreation areas, and sleeping quarters. Congressmen had the benefit of their own bunker, located in West Virginia. Inevitably, the general public was not so well served, because in the 1950s neither the Eisenhower administration nor Congress had shown much zeal for a major outlay for civil defense. Planning was also haphazard at the state and local levels.

As a result of the Berlin crisis of 1961, the Kennedy administration increased spending on public shelters, but support for civil defense measures declined soon after. By the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, existing shelters could only house about 60 million people--about a third of the population. Later, federal authorities decided to lower the standard for what constituted adequate "shelter" from the effects of radiation. Although this "doubled" the amount of protection for the general population, the measure was, in George's words, a mere "sleight of hand maneuver" that obviously did little for people's safety (p. 67).

George argues that the government's limited ability to provide the population's most basic survival needs led some citizens to respond to the threat of nuclear war with sheer panic, clearing retailers' shelves of bottled water, food, guns, and transistor radios. In the absence of adequate shelter provision, some city-dwellers responded by traveling to relatively safe, rural areas. Others refused to allow events to intrude on their daily lives, either out of conviction that nuclear war would not come or because they thought that any means of preparation was simply an act of futility.

....The gist of Awaiting Armageddon is that the domestic experience of the Cuban Missile Crisis represented "an often overlooked national passage that almost certainly contributed to changes in the American mind," and helped foster the growing social and political instability that would reach a crescendo in the late 1960s (p. 169). The emphasis on the longer-term as well as the more immediate results of the crisis deserves commendation. The focus on the domestic effects of the crisis, rather than the more customary diplomatic and strategic dimensions of the episode, is refreshing and original. Certainly, it resonates with our current preoccupations with homeland security....

Gravity's Rainbow, p. 760:
The true moment of shadow is the moment in which you see the point of light in the sky. The single point, and the Shadow that has just gathered you in its sweep ...