In This Review

Bracing for Armageddon: Why Civil Defense Never Worked
Bracing for Armageddon: Why Civil Defense Never Worked
By Dee Garrison
Oxford University Press, 2006, 256 pp

The question of why civil defense never worked is actually quite easy to answer: the power of nuclear weapons, even when they are relatively small and exploded singly rather than in large numbers, has mocked any attempt to protect human societies from their effects, whether with shelters, schemes for mass evacuation, or advice to individuals on how to cope. As Garrison gleefully records, these efforts became fertile ground for black humor -- advice to men to turn down the brims of their hats to provide additional shield against the initial flash or Bert the Turtle singing to children about "duck and cover." She suggests that civil defense was defeated by its inherent incredibility, and thus risibility, causing some to suspect that pretending defense was possible was preparation for actual war. Garrison celebrates the radical pacifists and antinuclear activists who began to challenge claims about civil defense in the 1950s, but their role is exaggerated: all governments found it difficult to explain why large amounts of money should be spent on a hopeless contingency.