In the 1950s, America Almost Built Huge Nuclear Bunkers for Ever City
Would the fall out shelters have worked?
Key point: The costs, half of GDP and a regimented live for those who would live, were deemed too high to proceed with the project.
The special terror in nuclear deterrence reveals itself during natural rather than human-made disasters. Despite early warnings, extensive transport networks, government preparations and lots of money, thousands still suffer in the aftermath of great storms and fires. Nuclear-tipped ICBMs arrive with the surprise and speed of earthquakes, leaving whole populations sitting like ducks before the fury.
The devastation wrought by the great bombing raids of World War II, culminating in the atomic strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, reinforced a cave-dwelling mindset that arose from the trenches of World War I and the rise of air power in the interwar years of the twentieth century. Early in the Atomic Age it seemed that the bunker building undertaken during the war could be extended in magnitude. As the bombs got bigger, however, the plans for shelter got wilder.
Two factors complicated civil defense from nuclear attack: hazard and numbers. Nuclear weapon effects are so enormous that extreme protective measures are necessary, yet the costs of thus protecting large populations quickly become astronomical. Those costs are not just in the vast constructions required, but also the major social rearrangements demanded of long-term communal shelter life.
Still, answers were found to President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1956 question to the Gaither Committee on civil defense: “If you make the assumption that there is going to be a nuclear war, what should I do?”
One answer came from the wizards of the coast—the RAND Corporation think tank in Santa Monica, California. A man working with Herman Kahn, a large, big-idea thinker about nuclear war, suggested that if escape horizontally from the cities weren’t possible, then the cities should escape vertically—deep underground.
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