The Attack on Pearl Harbor forced Americans to face a new reality. They were no longer safe from war. Rather than stand defenseless, many enlisted in the U.S. military. Others at home participated in Civil Defense.
Civil Defense measures had existed prior to Pearl Harbor, the bombings made it a priority. At that time the Civil Defense Corps were non-military personnel trained to fight fires, decontaminate areas after chemical weapon attacks, and to provide first aid. The advent of the Cold War, however, made these individuals much more important.
With the threat of nuclear weapons ever present for Americans, Civil Defense was now about much more than putting out fires and decontaminating sites. The Federal Civil Defense Administration began to produce educational materials to teach Americans what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. It produced films including perhaps the most famous one, “Duck and Cover.”
While students were being taught to duck beneath their desks Civil Defense authorities were also creating evacuation plans. Before the creation of intercontinental ballistic missiles, these plans were meant to minimize the risk of fallout. Another measure created to fight fallout was the construction of fallout shelters across the nation. In Frankenmuth, the basement warehouse under the current River Place shops (then Carling's), was the town's designated fallout shelter.
Ultimately, the threat of nuclear war created a need for measures that made Americans feel safe. While the idea of ducking under your desk being something that saves you from nuclear weapons is ridiculous to us today, this measure helped people feel safer with the overwhelming potential of nuclear war. Fallout shelters and air raid sirens became a staple of American reality during the Cold War. Although the Cold War never resulted in the necessary use of these measures, the presence of Civil Defense made this period of overwhelming anxiety livable for Americans.
Garrett is an intern at the FHA and an undergraduate History major attending Saginaw Valley State University.
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