Unrealistic Cold-War mentality.

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  • #1
turbo
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When I was a kid, we were told to be ready for an attack by Russia. We were taught that in the event that the air-raid sirens went off, we were to duck and cover, and we were also told that we should be under our desks until the all-clear was sounded. What's wrong with that scenario? Our little elementary school was downstream from a very large hydro-dam holding back 15 miles of impoundment. If there was a single high-value target in Central Maine, that was it. One well-placed bomb could have taken out the state's largest power generating station, and the resulting flood would have destroyed towns and cities in the valley all the way to the sea, including two county seats, and the state capitol. That's a lot of destruction at the cost of one bomb. We could see the dam looming over our school-yard as we played at recess, etc. What good could "duck and cover" have done? If the Russkies nuked the dam, we all would have been vaporized instantly, and our ashes would have joined the huge wall of water and debris bearing down on the towns and cities lining the valley.

The school is the building with the wrap-around paved drive.

wymandam.jpg
 

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  • #2
Ivan Seeking
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Surely you didn't think the Russians would nuke Moscow!

You didn't need a dam to be doomed. Even by the second or third grade we all recognized the absurdity of hiding from a nuke under a half inch of laminated plywood. Being that we lived in Long Beach, Ca., [Navy shipyard and port, Nike missile base nearby] we knew we were a primary target.

In scouts, we once camped right next to the underground missile silos.
 
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  • #3
turbo
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Surely you didn't think the Russians would nuke Moscow!

You didn't need a dam to be doomed. Even by the second or third grade we all recognized the absurdity of hiding from a nuke under a half inch of laminated plywood. Being that we lived in Long Beach, Ca., we knew we were a primary target.
The dam was about the only reason that the Russians would have to bomb anything in this region. The big military targets were Dow AFB in Bangor and Brunswick Naval Air station. For infrastructure targets, that dam was as big as it got.
 
  • #4
ultimablah
The primary benefits of such routines was to be psychological, not physical.

You "feel" safer, less panicked, about it when you have something you were told to (and as a child, thus, must) do.
 
  • #5
Ivan Seeking
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The primary benefits of such routines was to be psychological, not physical.

You "feel" safer, less panicked, about it when you have something you were told to (and as a child, thus, must) do.

I saw it as a reminder that the missiles could be coming any minute.

If anything, it helped to perpetuate fear of them evil Russkies. Not to say that the threat wasn't real.
 
  • #6
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I think it could just be a part of propaganda war - teaching children that Russians are evil, want to kill them or what not. If it was that, I think is wasn't unrealistic tactic but bit dangerous about passing down the hates.

I wonder if children should bring into these kind of propaganda - like Hitler teaching little children anti-semitism.
 
  • #7
turbo
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It was an over-the-top us-against-them mentality that allowed hard-liners on both sides to consolidate power. The problem IMO was that the films that they showed to us kids emphasized the threats but left us with no reasonable way to respond to them. Living in the shadow of that huge dam was part of it. There are 5-6 more hydro dams downstream of that big one, and none of them would have survived its breech, nor would any of the major bridges have survived. Even as kids, we knew that dam was a fat target.
 
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  • #8
misgfool
It was an over-the-top us-against-them mentality that allowed hard-liners on both sides to consolidate power.

Can you see any similar events taking place today?
 
  • #9
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The following is not history, it is just my impression of what was going on at the time.

The idea of the nuclear standoff was that the citizens of both countries were hostage to the weapons of the other. By making even small differences in the number of killed and wounded, we were protecting our hostages. I think the Soviets convinced the Americans that to the extent that such programs blunted the effectiveness of their weapons, they needed to be part of weapons negotiations. With that, the Americans abandoned the program.
 
  • #10
BobG
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Surely you didn't think the Russians would nuke Moscow!

You didn't need a dam to be doomed. Even by the second or third grade we all recognized the absurdity of hiding from a nuke under a half inch of laminated plywood. Being that we lived in Long Beach, Ca., [Navy shipyard and port, Nike missile base nearby] we knew we were a primary target.

In scouts, we once camped right next to the underground missile silos.

Heck, my babysitter had homework in books explaining the effects of nuclear fallout. You didn't have to read much or understand much to realize surviving a nuclear war wouldn't be much fun. On the other hand, kids back in those days knew a lot more science than kids today (and first aid, too, which was the one of the other subjects her book covered).

We didn't hide under desks at our school. The boys knelt in the hallway next to the lockers. The girls stood behind the boys bravely shielding them from the nuclear blast. That way the boys would survive and could fight in the war. Either a long war or there was a contingency plan to use child warriors, I guess.
 
  • #11
chroot
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It was an over-the-top us-against-them mentality that allowed hard-liners on both sides to consolidate power.

This is unfortunately how all human societies naturally operate. Fear is the most potent weapon in any arsenal, and it's now used to great effect by everyone from Osama bin Laden to environmental alarmists. As soon as one "public threat" evaporates, another steps right up to take its place. Our youngest citizens are the most susceptible to the salesmanship of fear, despite their naivete. This has always been so, and will probably always be so.

- Warren
 
  • #12
mgb_phys
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I think it could just be a part of propaganda war - teaching children that Russians are evil, want to kill them or what not.
I'm still confused about that. When I was a kid we did a fundraiser to send athletes to the 1980 Moscow olympics. The government wouldn't pay because the Russians had invaded Afghanistan and were oppressing the Taleban.

Looks like I was ahead of my time !
 
  • #13
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Some other relevant stories:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3899015.stm

A teenager standing alone at a checkpoint, explosives strapped to his chest, confused, trying to follow Israeli orders to get him to dismantle his bomb.

http://emperors-clothes.com/interviews/abdo.htm says his school taught him that suicide bombers go to heavens.


http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6545085.stm

Here Chinese and Japanese schoolchildren discuss what they think about each other and how history books, the media and popular culture have shaped their perceptions.


I was looking for other news about one Arabic/Asian country that wanted to show its children a controversial movie depicting people from other country as evil/monsters.
 
  • #14
mgb_phys
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Japan has a long history of requiring school textbooks to be approved by the government to show WWII in a positive light (presumably claiming they came second) and not mention any little isolated incidents of Japanese troops being a bit naughty with prisoners.

Then of course there is any Mel Gibson movie featuring the English!
 
  • #15
Ivan Seeking
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I think it could just be a part of propaganda war - teaching children that Russians are evil, want to kill them or what not. If it was that, I think is wasn't unrealistic tactic but bit dangerous about passing down the hates.

I wonder if children should bring into these kind of propaganda - like Hitler teaching little children anti-semitism.

Funny to think about now, but in my eight years at a Catholic school, the only propoganda that I remember was political, not religious. I specifically remember discussing this list of communist objectives:

Communist Goals (1963)
Documention below
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Congressional Record--Appendix, pp. A34-A35
January 10, 1963

Current Communist Goals

EXTENSION OF REMARKS OF HON. A. S. HERLONG, JR. OF FLORIDA

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Thursday, January 10, 1963

Mr. HERLONG. Mr. Speaker, Mrs. Patricia Nordman of De Land, Fla., is an ardent and articulate opponent of communism, and until recently published the De Land Courier, which she dedicated to the purpose of alerting the public to the dangers of communism in America.

At Mrs. Nordman's request, I include in the RECORD, under unanimous consent, the following "Current Communist Goals," which she identifies as an excerpt from "The Naked Communist," by Cleon Skousen:

[continued with long list of pinko commie objectives]
http://www.uhuh.com/nwo/communism/comgoals.htm
 
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  • #16
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Can you see any similar events taking place today?


If/when a terrorist gets a nuke/dirty bomb/chemical/bio weapon...New York continues to be a target as well as D.C. and just about every port city...forget missiles, lots of shipping containers out there.
 
  • #17
Pengwuino
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Even by the second or third grade we all recognized the absurdity of hiding from a nuke under a half inch of laminated plywood.

Speak for yourself, my computer desk has endured many-a-headbangings as i did homework for years. is a thermonuclear warhead really a step up?
 
  • #18
Ivan Seeking
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Heck, my babysitter had homework in books explaining the effects of nuclear fallout. You didn't have to read much or understand much to realize surviving a nuclear war wouldn't be much fun. On the other hand, kids back in those days knew a lot more science than kids today (and first aid, too, which was the one of the other subjects her book covered).

That's the thing. We all watched file footage of test detonations. We all watched the buildings being blown to bits. One didn't have to be a genius to realize that a desk wouldn't do much.

We didn't hide under desks at our school. The boys knelt in the hallway next to the lockers. The girls stood behind the boys bravely shielding them from the nuclear blast.

Now you're talking! I like your school better.
 
  • #19
alxm
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You didn't need a dam to be doomed. Even by the second or third grade we all recognized the absurdity of hiding from a nuke under a half inch of laminated plywood.

This smart-*** attitude to those civil-defense flicks annoys me. Of course you'd be screwed if you were hit by a nuke directly, and it's not like people in the 50's and 60's were unaware of that.

The point was to teach fairly sensible advice to people not in the immediate vicinity of an unexpected strike (which would be the majority) what to do to mitigate their risks (from collapsing buildings, flying debris, looking into the flash) as far as possible. In the event, 'duck and cover' would in fact, save lives.

What course of action would you propose? Are you going to instill people with a fatalist attitude that "if a nuke hits, you're screwed anyway, so don't bother protecting yourself", or are you going to teach people to do what they can, however feeble it may seem, to save themselves?
 
  • #20
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Japan has a long history of requiring school textbooks to be approved by the government to show WWII in a positive light (presumably claiming they came second) and not mention any little isolated incidents of Japanese troops being a bit naughty with prisoners.

Then of course there is any Mel Gibson movie featuring the English!

The US has a short history of portraying the Samurai in a positive light. Something like English knights. You know, those guys with the long knives in both places, shaking-down peasants for extra goodies. The Scientologist played in that flick. 'The Last Samurai', I think.

Monte Python would have done a better job of it.
 
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  • #21
misgfool
If/when a terrorist gets a nuke/dirty bomb/chemical/bio weapon...New York continues to be a target as well as D.C. and just about every port city...forget missiles, lots of shipping containers out there.

You know I understand living in a post-industrial world. I would understand living in a post nuclear war world. But I almost fell off my chair, when I was told, that I was living in the post 9/11 world. I mean c'mon. Sure it was tragic and visually spectacular, but someone lost his/her sense of proportions.
 
  • #22
turbo
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That's the thing. We all watched file footage of test detonations. We all watched the buildings being blown to bits. One didn't have to be a genius to realize that a desk wouldn't do much.
When I got to the 5th grade, my teacher steered me to John Hershey's "Hiroshima" and required me to write a book report. I remember thinking how scary it was that the US and Russia were rattling sabers at each other and making threats, while building enough missiles and warheads that we could destroy each others' cities in such a gruesome way. "Hiroshima" was a turning-point of kinds for me, as was later reading of accounts of the fire-bombing of Dresden and Tokyo. Deliberate targeting of primarily civilian targets was abhorrent to a kid brought up to appreciate the army-to-army clashes of conventional warfare.

Living and attending school less than 10th of a mile downstream from a primary infrastructure target wasn't fun in that environment, and it didn't matter a bit that Russia wouldn't actually be attempting to destroy our small town, because it was guaranteed to happen if they took out the dam.
 
  • #23
Ivan Seeking
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This smart-*** attitude to those civil-defense flicks annoys me. Of course you'd be screwed if you were hit by a nuke directly, and it's not like people in the 50's and 60's were unaware of that.

The point was to teach fairly sensible advice to people not in the immediate vicinity of an unexpected strike (which would be the majority) what to do to mitigate their risks (from collapsing buildings, flying debris, looking into the flash) as far as possible. In the event, 'duck and cover' would in fact, save lives.

What course of action would you propose? Are you going to instill people with a fatalist attitude that "if a nuke hits, you're screwed anyway, so don't bother protecting yourself", or are you going to teach people to do what they can, however feeble it may seem, to save themselves?

If you want to instill some sense of confidence, provide legitimate shelters as other countries did. There was no threat of an attack that came without any warning.

Instead, we ducked, covered, kissed our butts goodbye, and taught generations that those who oppose the proliferation of nuclear weapons are pinkos [communists] or hippies - an attitude that we still see, even here.
 
  • #24
seycyrus
Is there a point to this thread beside the obvious attempt to belittle the US in regards to the cold war and create an analogy to our present/future?

Imagine you were in charge of directing a nationwide response.

Would you have the resources to create an appropriate response for every city/town/village in light of it's proximity to primary/secondary/tertiary targets and include the aftereffects of nearby geological features in your analysis and subsequent recomendations?

No, you wouldn't. You'd tell people as a nationwide policy, to get under something sturdy and cover their head.

It wouldn't help anyone in the direct blast, and it certainly was never promoted for this contingency, but it sure might help people who's building's structure was weakened.
 
  • #25
seycyrus
...
Instead, we ducked, covered, kissed our butts goodbye, and taught generations that those who oppose the proliferation of nuclear weapons are pinkos [communists] or hippies - an attitude that we still see, even here.

We never taught anyone that.

Rather we taught the lessons that history has handed out. That nations that fail to meet the challenges created by their adversaries quickly learn to speak their adversaries language.
 
  • #26
Ivan Seeking
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We never taught anyone that.

Did you read the "communist agenda" that I already posted? Yes, that is exactly what we did. Anyone who didn't support building many thousands of nukes was labeled as anything from weak on defense, to a communist, to a dope-smoking hippie. Note how much Republican tactics have changed in forty years.

Rather we taught the lessons that history has handed out. That nations that fail to meet the challenges created by their adversaries quickly learn to speak their adversaries language.

Ah, so you are a believer in the domino theory. That is the other bit of propoganda that I had almost forgotten to mention - the Red Menace!!! The logic of which led us to "defend" S. Vietnam [in a civil war] less people in the US would soon be speaking Russian. It all makes perfect sense!

We lost, but I still don't know how to speak Russian. I guess that theory didn't work out so well, did it.
 
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  • #27
Ivan Seeking
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Reagan called the Soviet "The Evil Empire". He joked about how we start bombing Moscow in five minutes. He then became fast friends with Gorbachev and frequently invited him to go horseback riding at his California ranch.

This is one reason why I liked Reagan. He was able to see past even his own rhetoric.
 
  • #28
BobG
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This smart-*** attitude to those civil-defense flicks annoys me. Of course you'd be screwed if you were hit by a nuke directly, and it's not like people in the 50's and 60's were unaware of that.

The point was to teach fairly sensible advice to people not in the immediate vicinity of an unexpected strike (which would be the majority) what to do to mitigate their risks (from collapsing buildings, flying debris, looking into the flash) as far as possible. In the event, 'duck and cover' would in fact, save lives.

What course of action would you propose? Are you going to instill people with a fatalist attitude that "if a nuke hits, you're screwed anyway, so don't bother protecting yourself", or are you going to teach people to do what they can, however feeble it may seem, to save themselves?

What they taught was sensible and fairly good quality material. But, it also made nuclear war more real, just as television made war, period, more real during the Viet Nam war.

By the time of the cold war, there weren't many people alive in the US that knew what it was like to have a war fought in their own city and I think making war more real had a profound affect on how American people thought about war - especially the idea of a post war world that wouldn't be all that habitable.

I read a book about Hiroshima, too (probably the same one Turbo read, but I don't really remember the title/author). That had a pretty big effect on me, too. I also worked at a missile warning site and had to be familiar with all of the post attack report templates (you just filled in the appropriate information). Those were enough to give me nightmares as an adult.

I think the net affect of growing up with civil defense drills was too realistic of a cold war mentality.

But, maybe not. Mutually assured destruction had its place when you were dealing with countries you could depend on not to do something that would bring on their own destruction. Maybe nuclear disarmament would have its place when you were only dealing with countries you could depend on not to take advantage of your lack of nukes. At a minimum, having less and less time to make a decision about what was going on should have been enough to make anyone really nervous.

Nowadays, there's a different mentality about nuclear weapons. Or maybe the same. Efforts to defend against nuclear missiles is seen as a waste of money - which means people must be pretty sure countries like Pakistan, North Korea, and Iran won't develop nuclear weapons if we get rid of ours or that people are pretty comfortable that none of those countries would launch their weapons offensively; that they'd only use them for defense.
 
  • #29
seycyrus
Did you read the "communist agenda" that I already posted?.

Reading and agreeing are two different things.

Yes, that is exactly what we did. Anyone who didn't support building many thousands of nukes was labeled as anything from weak on defense, to a communist, to a dope-smoking hippie.

Please accept my sincere apology I didn't see the "weak on defense" part in your initial post... Oh wait a minute, that's cause it wasn't there!

Given the information and tactics of the time, it *was* weak on defense. You can make speculations that things would have trned out just fine, if the U.S has unilaterally stopped building nukes. I don't agree. Or maybe I would disagree with your definition of "just fine".

Ah, so you are a believer in the domino theory....

Nice straw man.

History extends back further than 60 years, btw. Expand your scope.
 
  • #30
turbo
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Is there a point to this thread beside the obvious attempt to belittle the US in regards to the cold war and create an analogy to our present/future?
Read the OP. The stuff the authorities produced and mandated (films, print materials, classroom instruction) regarding surviving a nuclear attack were over-simplified and ignored science. Someone living very far from a target may have benefited from taking cover under modest physical structures like desks to reduce injuries from flying glass. Those of us living right next to primary targets generally knew better, in part because we would hear adults in unguarded conversations talking about how ridiculous the "preparations" were. Kind of like what intelligent adults said amongst one another when they were warned to stock up on polyethlene sheeting and duct tape in preparation for anthrax attacks. Fear-mongering motivates impressionable citizens who are unable to reason the problem through, while having a contrary (but thoroughly understandable) effect on people with some reasoning ability. My parents and other citizens of that little town knew that if the dam was targeted with a nuke, we would all die, as would countless tens of thousands of civilians downstream. Of course it was considered "Anti-American" to point out such logical flaws in the government's "plans" and most people kept their views to friends and family so they wouldn't get called Commies and be ostracized.
 

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