Suburbs are the Result of Fear of Nuclear War

The Federal Civil Defense Administration determined that the country that would win a nuclear war was the one best prepared to survive the initial attack. Achieving this required a homeland mobilization on an unprecedented scale, and our children needed to know what to do when nuclear war came. They commissioned a nine-minute film called Duck and Cover that showed Bert the turtle pulling into his shell to survive a nuclear explosion that burns everything else. The film exhorted millions of schoolchildren to "duck and cover" like Bert by immediately covering the backs of their heads and necks and ducking under their desks if they saw a bright flash. The film didn't mention that the gamma-ray burst, which carries most of the lethal radiation, arrives with the flash. The children were reminded regularly that because a nuclear attack could happen at any time, they, like soldiers in a combat zone, needed to maintain a high level of alertness, forever ready to duck and cover. They did drills in school, and participated in citywide mock Soviet atomic bomb attacks.

This was terrorism on a new scale. Imagine that al-Qaeda is in charge of a country the size of the Soviet Union and has nuclear weapons trained on the United States, and you can get a sense of the tear that was driving the nation. We knew what these weapons could do, and we knew they could be used again. Our only option was to plan for an attack on American soil. This knowledge changed American culture and its relationship to science.

For example, it has long been the prevailing opinion that American suburbs developed as a result of the increased use of the car, GI Billfunded home construction, and white flight from desegregated schools after the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. But in reality the trend had started several years before Brown.

In 1945, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists began advocating for "dispersal," or "defense through decentralization" as the only realistic defense against nuclear weapons, and the federal government realized this was an important strategic move. Most city planners agreed, and A.merica adopted a completely new way of life, one that was different Tom anything that had come before, by directing all new construction "away from congested central areas to their outer fringes and suburbs in low-density continuous development," and "the prevention of the metropolitan core's further spread by directing new construction into small, widely spaced satellite towns."

Nuclear safety measures drove the beginning of the abandonment of our cities. After being told that "there is no doubt about it: if you live within a few miles of where one of these bombs strike, you'll die" and "We can always hope that man will never use such a weapon but we should also adopt the Boy Scout slogan: Be prepared," getting far enough out of the "target" city so that the blast might be survivable seemed wise. Those who could afford to left. Those who remained were generally less affluent, and minorities made up a disproportionate share of the poor.

A far worse development for minorities in America came in 1954, when the federal Atomic Energy Commission realized that with the advent of the vastly more powerful hydrogen bomb, "the present nationa dispersion policy is inadequate in view of existing thermonuclear weapons effects." ^^ But by then it was too late; the suburbs were growing, but offices were still by and large downtown. A new strategy was needed. President Dwight D. Eisenhower instead promoted a program of rapid evacuation to rural regions. As a civil defense official who served from 1953 to 1957 explained, the focus changed "from 'Duck and Cover' to 'Run Like Hell.'"^^

Cities across America ran nuclear attack drills, each involvinng tens of thousands of residents, practicing clearing hundreds of city blocks in the shortest possible time.^° It became clear that this would require massive new transportation arteries in and out of cities. The resulting National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956 was the largest pu public works project in history. It created a system that provided easier access from the suburbs into cities as well as a way to more rapidly evacuate cities in case of nuclear war. The new freeways had to be built in a hurry and were naturally routed through the cheapest real estate, whiciich .h usually meant plowing through richly tapestried and vibrant minority com- nmunities, displacing millions. Although poverty had been concentrai in these very neighborhoods, their destruction ripped apart the social fabric of America's uprooted minority communities for years, destroying social support networks and leading to a generation of urban refugee

These accommodations for defense brought about an immense change in the fabric of America, altering everything from transportation to land development to race relations to modern energy use and the extraordinary public sums that are spent on building and maintaining roads— creating challenges and burdens that are with us today, all because of science and the bomb.


The government encouraged migration from cities to the suburbs to move people away from kill zones.

Folksonomies: government nuclear war public policy

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/law, govt and politics/government (0.304631)
/law, govt and politics/espionage and intelligence/terrorism (0.296758)

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Nuclear weapon (0.989279): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Nuclear warfare (0.581588): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago
Civil defense (0.553721): website | dbpedia | freebase
Nuclear proliferation (0.489649): dbpedia | freebase | yago
World War II (0.467866): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (0.422301): dbpedia | freebase
Nuclear weapons (0.409330): dbpedia
Cold War (0.403206): dbpedia | freebase

 Fool Me Twice
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Otto , Shawn Lawrence (2011-10-11), Fool Me Twice, Rodale Press, Retrieved on 2013-01-08
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  • Folksonomies: politics science