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Watch Jean-Luc Godard’s lovelorn post-nuke short film, ‘The New World’
06.18.2014
06:45 am

Topics:
Movies

Tags:
nuclear war
Jean-Luc Godard


 
Godard fans usually swoon over Alphaville, his 1965 dystopic sci-fi romance noir, but not everyone knows about The New World, its 20-minute predecessor released two years earlier. The New World was one of four films from Ro.Go.Pa.G., an all-star collection of shorts featuring, Godard (the only Frenchman) and Italian directors Ugo Gregoretti, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Roberto Rossellini (the title is a combination of their names). Honestly, all of the shorts are great—Pasolini’s La Ricotta has Orson Welles playing a director reminiscent of Pasolini himself—but Godard’s is arguably the strangest and most lovely, with its non sequitur post-nuclear romance.

The plot is a little more cerebral than your average fallout dystopia: An atomic bomb explodes above Paris, but the city is left unharmed—or so it seems. Our protagonist begins to notice changes in his beloved Alessandra. She is flip, confused, and forgetful, as are other Parisians. What he first assumes are spurned affections turns out to be rapid changes in personality brought on by the bomb. Noticing the changes in himself as well, he attempts to chronicle this strange new world beset by a quiet disaster. 

Part 2 is here.
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
The U.S. government tries to convince citizens to stay put after nuclear attack, 1951
05.08.2014
07:12 am

Topics:
History
Hysteria
U.S.A.!!!

Tags:
propaganda
nuclear war

 
“You know Fred, actually, staying in a city to help after an atomic attack is not nearly as dangerous as a lot of people think. The danger of, well, lingering radiation is not really very serious. After an atomic air burst, the danger of radiation and falling debris is over within… a minute and a half.”

You don’t say?

The Federal Civil Defense Administration produced a glut of Cold War misinformation and propaganda, but 1951’s Our Cities Must Fight is among the most baffling. An attempt to discourage urbanites from abandoning their fair cities after nuclear attack, the film fictionalizes a conversation between two patriotic newspapermen bemoaning the “take to the hills fraternity.” The men go on to imply that leaving a nuked city would be “pretty close to treason,” and then pile on the insane justifications—you couldn’t get through the traffic anyway! We’ll need you to fight fires and keep going to work! Oh, and my favorite—radiation isn’t really that big a deal!

I’m not sure if there really was a totally unrealistic perception that a post-nuclear city could still function, but I can’t imagine most Americans would stick around to polish the brass on the Titanic after an atomic bomb hit it—assuming of course that there were any survivors. With the memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still fresh, it’s difficult to believe the FCDA ever thought anyone would stick around because of a silly government film!
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Before he skewered McCarthy, Edward R. Murrow told US civilians to watch out for Soviet planes
05.05.2014
07:36 am

Topics:
History

Tags:
nuclear war
Cold War
Edward R Murrow


 
Ah, Edward R. Murrow, the staid, chain-smoking voice of reason with a haircut you could set your watch by! Most famous for his 1954 See It Now exposés on Joseph McCarthy, Murrow produced the first major media critique of the Senator’s Red Scare witch hunt. Not a man to pull punches, he concluded the first of his three episodes on McCarthy with this condemnation: 

“His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between the internal and the external threats of Communism. We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men.”

The next episode focused on Annie Lee Moss, a black army clerk brought to trial by McCarthy under accusations of communist activity. The absurdity of his charges catching up to him, McCarthy made an appearance on See it Now a few weeks later, only to accuse Murrow of communist collusion, accelerating the wane of his creditability. That December, his reputation shot, he was effectively censured by the Senate, thanks in no small part to Murrow’s critical work.

However, like most Americans at the time, Murrow was not immune to the pervasive fears of the Cold War, and was a frequent participant in US civil defense propaganda. His 1953 film, One Plane, One Bomb was made just a year before his indictment of McCarthy, and although the film uses the name and format of his trusted newsmagazine program See It Now, it was commissioned by the The US Air Force and only aired in theaters. For anyone familiar with the genre, the film is a fairly predictable simulation of a terrifying doomsday scenario—New York is bombed for lack of adequate citizen vigilance.

One Plane, One Bomb “encouraged” every day Americans join the Ground Observer Corps, a civilian volunteer program put together in World War Two. Though the Ground Observer Corps reached 750,000 in ranks by 1952’s Operation Skywatch, it’s a little baffling that the US invested so much in training private citizen volunteers to sit at posts and basically “look up,” in hopes of alleviating (or perhaps even preventing) nuclear attack. The film is one of a slew of civil defense videos produced at the time, and while it’s not the only one Murrow had a hand in, it was the only one that conflated a piece of paid military propaganda with actual broadcast journalism. Aside from the obvious conflict of interest in associating a military film with the journalism of See It Now, it’s fascinating to watch Murrow, a man most revered for his cool-headed critique of Cold War panic, producing the very material that exacerbated nuclear anxieties.
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
‘The House in the Middle’: How to survive a nuclear war through good housekeeping!
06.04.2013
08:38 am

Topics:
Amusing
History
Hysteria

Tags:
nuclear war


 
I hadn’t realized, until seeing this 1954 PSA The House In the Middle, that the possibility of nuclear apocalypse was apparently welcomed as an opportunity to bolster American housekeeping. “A house that’s neglected,” it explains, “is the house that may be doomed, in the atomic age.” No surprise then, is there, that the film was sponsored by the National Paint, Varnish and Lacquer Association?

“In the house on the right are all the hallmarks of untidy housekeeping—newspapers and magazines lying about. And cluttered tables. Now the house on the left is identical to the other but spic and span. Trash has been thrown away. Tabletops are tidy. Two homes, one a firetrap, even under ordinary conditions, the other cleaned up and fresh with better, safer housekeeping, both ready for the test bomb.”

Guess how they fare in the blast..?

It really does appear, watching this, that there was a Fifties effort to slyly substitute God with the atom bomb—and use the latter’s constant shadow to enforce almost Victorian values, as if a nuclear blast could be counted on to perform a kind of reverse rapture, ripping the sinful from the face of the earth (presuming that those who like to play it fast and loose with old newspapers and magazines could be described as “sinful”), and leaving behind, if not the good, then the irreproachably anally retentive, who would surely know the very zenith of schadenfreude when their neighbors were incinerated upon the sword of their own slovenliness!
 

 
Hearty thanks to “Dr” Ian Klinke

Posted by Thomas McGrath | Leave a comment
CONTAINS NO NARCOTICS: The Legend of the Civil Defense Boxes
05.06.2013
08:48 am

Topics:
History

Tags:
Cold War
nuclear war


 
Here’s a little quiz for you: What’s the less obvious message this fallout shelter sign communicated to early-to-mid-60s Jazz musicians and Beatniks? Psst, it has very little to do with the Cold War…

That’s right, to more bohemian types, these once familiar signs were a loud and clear dog whistle that there were very likely government-issued narcotics, free for the taking, inside that building. I come from a family that includes professional musicians, and so I had heard of this “legend.” Is it true?

Back in the 60s and even into the 70s, we all wondered not if we’d die in a nuclear holocaust, but when. With both Soviet as well as American nuclear arsenals pointed at each other, a loud sneeze by Dr Strangelove could set everything off and then, before you know it,  those of us unlucky enough to survive would all be plunged into the middle of nuclear winter a la Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

As a kid in Washington Heights I remember hearing them testing the air raid sirens along Riverside Drive towards the end of summer, and man was that creepy. Our building had one of these signs and our basement was indeed equipped with radiation-proof walls. Under President Kennedy, an idea was hatched to provide radioactive fallout-proof shelter for all Americans, along with at least two solid weeks of food, water and medical supplies. Before this enormously expensive plan got scrapped, perhaps as many as 100,000 “fallout shelters” were built, and in New York city there are still thousands of them left, in the basements and sub-basements of apartment buildings and elsewhere.

In the event of the air-raid sirens going off for real, citizens were supposed to ensconce themselves deep within the fallout shelters. After the bombs had been dropped due to a Soviet counter-assault (which seemed inevitable given the amount of hardware we had deployed in Europe), there’d theoretically be at least a few survivors that would be kinda bummed out and in need of some serious chemically-assisted chillin’ (if not actual pain relief), so certain special types of those civil defense boxes came equipped, legend had it, with powerful narcotics that were of a very high quality. Not a lot of people knew this at the time, particularly as the narcotics-containing boxes were cleverly disguised by Federal masterminds (keep reading).

Operationally, when visiting the home of another druggy friend, if the fallout shelter sign was seen on the outside of the building, an expedition would often be mounted straight to the basement. After the likely door was identified, the arc of a claw hammer might briefly be seen knocking off a lock, or some other means utilized to open that door, accompanied by muffled laughter and a quiet susurrus. If the location of the civil defense barrels and boxes was verified, those boxes labeled NO NARCOTICS INSIDE (no, I’m not shitting you) would be shortly thereafter opened and the government-issued narcotics inside removed and consumed.
 

 
Could it really be true that the basements of apartment buildings throughout New York and other cities once housed civil defense boxes stuffed with high-grade government-issued drugs? Well lo and behold, today I discovered that the legends were true.

Trolling the Internet thingy I ran across the website of the Civil Defense Museum and spent several hours pouring over the photos and data pertaining to the good ole’ nuclear civil defense days. As it turns out, “Medical Kit A” (serving 50 to 65 persons) contained a bottle of 500 phenobarbital pills, while Medical Kit C (serving 300 to 325 persons) contained three bottles of 1000 phenobarbitals EACH. 3000 phenobarbitals could keep a musician and his “fallout boys” cool for, like, a solid week or two. At least.

Amusingly, the boxes also contained alcohol, and this would certainly have been considered a nice bonus for someone trying to score. And yes, the boxes did contain actual medical supplies in addition to the drugs, though what happened to those the legends never described.

What I still find amazing is the naivety expressed by those who ran this program, that they believed their diabolically clever NO NARCOTICS INSIDE box-labeling would actually PREVENT hardened druggies from cracking open the boxes, instead of the far more likely result, basically ADVERTISING the presence of powerful narcotics. No doubt there must be all sorts of conspiracy theories to explain this, but it seems easier to me to believe that the folks running the civil defense program just weren’t that bright.

Posted by Em | Leave a comment
Dr Strangelove for Real: Inside the Apocalyptic Soviet Doomsday Machine

image

 

Almost the flip-side of this post, How the Soviet Menace Was Hyped, Wired’s Nicholas Thompson takes us inside the Soviet Doomsday Machine so we can see how our Neo-Conservative fueled paranoia about them started a feedback loop that could have killed us all:

The point of the system, he explains, was to guarantee an automatic Soviet response to an American nuclear strike. Even if the US crippled the USSR with a surprise attack, the Soviets could still hit back. It wouldn’t matter if the US blew up the Kremlin, took out the defense ministry, severed the communications network, and killed everyone with stars on their shoulders. Ground-based sensors would detect that a devastating blow had been struck and a counterattack would be launched.

The technical name was Perimeter, but some called it Mertvaya Ruka, or Dead Hand. It was built 25 years ago and remained a closely guarded secret. With the demise of the USSR, word of the system did leak out, but few people seemed to notice. In fact, though Yarynich and a former Minuteman launch officer named Bruce Blair have been writing about Perimeter since 1993 in numerous books and newspaper articles, its existence has not penetrated the public mind or the corridors of power. The Russians still won’t discuss it, and Americans at the highest levels?

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment