This is the draft of my paper I will be presenting Saturday, 27 June 2009 at the 2009 Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) Conference. There are powerpoint slides that accompany this. I'll see if I an post them as well. Enjoy!
When Marvin Owens visited his fallout shelter in
on the evening of Greensboro, North Carolina 23 October 1962, he startled an opossum who “must have been apprised of the Cuban situation. Leastwise it was taking no chances,” according to the Greensboro Daily News. Mr. Owens and this opossum, unlike the majority of North Carolinians, had a private fallout shelter. Tar Heels throughout the 1950s and up to October 1962, had played possum to the repeated suggestion that they construct fallout shelters. When the presence of nuclear missile sites in was revealed to the public on Cuba 22 October 1962, however, civil defense and fallout shelters instantly became important to millions of Americans. The North Carolina Civil Defense Agency worked diligently during and after the crisis to find shelter space for the over 4,550,000 people living in . What did not occur in North Carolina , or elsewhere in the nation after the missile crisis, however, was an increase in shelter construction. North Carolina
By mid-November interest in private fallout shelters had ebbed, returning to pre-crisis levels. Prior to the missile crisis, interest in civil defense was minimal at best, and fallout shelters were seen as expensive follies. Rather than attributing the drop in civil defense interest in
The missile crisis validated the
civil defense program, which was much broader than simply fallout shelters: the state civil defense agency had quietly funneled its resources into emergency preparedness rather than fallout shelters since early 1961. A careful study of the North Carolina press shows that during and after the crisis, the agency received praise rather than criticism. North Carolina
Several historians have studied civil defense in the
, but few have researched the history of civil defense efforts at the state and local level. Scholars examining the federal civil defense efforts of the 1950s and 1960s have tended to focus on the failure of the effort, citing in particular the dearth of fallout shelters. Civil defense, however, by design was implemented at the local level. Although the federal government was responsible for the planning and overall organization of the civil defense program, the states were faced with the onus of implementing the federal policies. Local level civil defense programs have not received much study, despite being at the front lines of the fallout shelter effort. Using the unorganized remaining records of the state agency, untouched for over twenty years since they were filed away, a new story of a state-level civil defense effort during the Kennedy administration can be told. United States
on the morning of 23 October, Tar Heels stood shoulder-to-shoulder with President John F. Kennedy and his naval quarantine of North Carolina . Unfortunately, the state civil defense agency found itself back in the spotlight, confronting an old enemy: a lack of fallout shelters. Prior to the missile crisis, Cuba ’s closest brush with nuclear attack was in January 1961 when a B-52 bomber carrying two Mark 39 thermonuclear weapons crashed in North Carolina . Wayne County North Carolinians, like the majority of Americans, for a myriad of reasons, had not built private shelters. During the Berlin Crisis of July 1961, Kennedy announced the National Fallout Shelter Survey. The goal of the project was to survey, mark, and stock public fallout shelters in buildings nationwide for fifty million people by December 1962. Funded by Congress with $207.6 million – or $1.5 billion in 2008 dollars – the survey began in December 1961 in . North Carolina
Public shelters would provide protection in areas where private shelters were lacking. Even before the National Fallout Shelter Survey began, state civil defense officials in early 1961 quickly realized two things – that counties and private citizens lacked funds for shelter construction, and that building shelters was perhaps not the most effective way to spend limited civil defense funds. Natural disasters, particularly hurricanes, posed far more immediate threats to the state. David W. Spivey, Area A director in charge of civil defense for
’s coastal counties, acknowledged “we got our funding because of shelters,” but the funds were invested instead in establishing and improving communication and warning systems. North Carolina
By October 1962, the national survey had located and licensed public fallout shelter spaces for only 2.8 percent of the state’s resident population, and it had determined that adequate space was available for an additional 4.9 percent of the state’s resident population.
, in October 1962, was the city in Raleigh with the most stocked shelters, but it had only enough for 4,942 people, approximately four percent of the city population, and the shelters lacked water.
As the impact of Kennedy’s missile crisis address took effect nationwide, the state civil defense agency office in
received several calls about fallout shelters on 23 October, but the office acknowledged no specific action or change in state operations would follow Kennedy’s television address. The state agency reassured concerned citizens that everything was “going along as normal” and recommended that citizens visit local civil defense offices or U.S. Post Offices where civil defense publications were available. Raleigh
Governor Sanford knew what the state had available, according to Spivey. “I believe he realized in his subsequent times with me that perhaps we, the area directors, probably knew more governing bodies and more people who were the ones who were going to cope with this thing then anybody else we had.” The overall objective of the meeting, in Spivey’s opinion, was “that we [area directors] were the ones to go out and do our best to calm the populace.” The meeting included “a reevaluation of our plans,” noted
. He told reporters that no special plans for enlarging or altering the state program for preparedness in the event of an attack were made. Griffin
A surprising calm in the state existed during the crisis. In
, city phone books listed six companies in the fallout shelter business (three of which had gone out of business by the time of the crisis), and none of the remaining three reported a shelter sale in the four days after Kennedy’s announcement. While citizens in Charlotte , Los Angeles , and Austin witnessed substantial sales increases of food supplies, Miami supermarkets reported normal sales and no signs of people stockpiling food for shelters. Raleigh , with 232 potential fallout shelters (but none marked or supplied), asked residents not to panic, for no one else in the country had received supplies either. Furthermore, residents would have twenty to thirty minutes to find shelter, and, in any case, the county civil defense director, Ronald Heafner, doubted Gaston County would be attacked. “A house will protect you as well as anything from radiation,” declared Heafner, “and if your house is destroyed, nothing can save you.” Gaston County
The missile crisis depended on Saturday, 27 October, in three ways. In the morning over
, a U-2 was shot down and the pilot, Major Rudolf Anderson, was killed. Meanwhile in the White House, President Kennedy and his close advisers were drafting a response to a proposal received from Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who pledged to remove the missiles from Cuba in exchange for a pledge by the Cuba not to invade the island. Meanwhile, that afternoon in the Pentagon, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Civil Defense Steuart L. Pittman was briefing the Committee on Civil Defense and Post Attack Recovery of the National Governors’ Conference. Pittman proposed to the governors a new, accelerated version of the shelter survey. The national civil defense effort would “move the program as far as existing resources will permit in a three month period.” Pittman promised that approximately 46 million shelter spaces would be stocked nationwide by April 1963. United States
The accelerated program proposed by Pittman consisted of six parts: shelter marking, shelter stocking, promoting rural shelters, civil defense training, providing matching funds and surplus property for states, and allocating stand-by military reservists for civil defense service. The Office of Civil Defense would intensify rural civil defense and coordinate its efforts to encourage fallout shelter construction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA would help provide technical civil defense information in rural areas through the states’ cooperative extension services, focusing particularly on “inexpensive shelters for people, and on methods for protecting livestock and crops against fallout.” Short training courses would be conducted nationwide in radiation monitoring, fallout shelter construction, and community shelter management. The Governors’ Civil Defense Committee, after Pittman’s briefing, unanimously adopted fifteen resolutions for all governors to follow regarding the accelerated shelter program. The next day, Radio Moscow announced the missiles in
were to be removed, ending the immediate crisis. The accelerated program, however, would continue as envisioned. Cuba
Pittman met with General Griffin and Hugh Cannon, director of the state Department of Administration, on 30 October and he briefed them on the six areas of focus for the accelerated program. Griffin and Cannon were instructed to “emphasize in all discussions ‘that the only connection between the Cuban situation and this three month undertaking is that the public has been reminded of the dangers of our times and a new receptivity to civil defense has been created which makes possible civil defense activities which are long overdue.”
Governor Sanford addressed
North Carolinians via radio and television on the evening of 31 October, urging preparedness while alleviating tensions. “If our civil defense is good enough to save the lives of most of you, then the chances of any enemy attack are reduced,” opened . He assured citizens that “there has been and will be no reason for panic and no need for hysteria in Sanford . We are prepared, and we are strong, and we know what to do.” The governor added that thousands of North Carolina National Guardsmen stood by in case of any emergency, and ninety-eight of the state’s one hundred counties had civil defense directors, advising and serving on the staffs of elected officials. The state had tested the readiness of the North Carolina Emergency Operational Plans (during Operation Alert, in April 1961), and many counties, cities, and every state agency had similar plans in place. North Carolina
The governor explained what fallout and radiation were, and he assured citizens the state could detect and report where and when fallout would appear. “The weakest point in our plans for civil defense [is] survival in fallout,” stated
. He was aware that many citizens could not afford to build a federally designed fallout shelter, which ranged in price from $75 to $650 (approximately $540 to $4700 in 2008 figures). Citizens were told by the governor how “two feet of solid concrete or three feet of earth will give you almost absolute protection,” and “your imagination, a shovel, some boards or logs, can give you some pretty good protection, without spending any money.” Sanford
The state civil defense agency, buoyed by Governor Sanford’s vocal support, and in obligation to the federal civil defense authorities to implement the accelerated plan of action, began a flurry of activity on 1 November. Local and area civil defense officials in the state were informed of fallout shelter construction workshops to be held in five out of six civil defense areas of the state from 19 November to 24 November. A press release from the state agency described the workshops as covering “the entire fallout shelter problem,” for both community and family fallout shelters.
Fallout shelters, surveyed weeks or months before the missile crisis, received signs almost immediately after its conclusion. On 6 November, Fayetteville, home of the 82nd Airborne Division and the fledging U.S. Army Special Forces, marked and designated the Cumberland County courthouse as a fallout shelter, the county’s first public shelter.
and New Hanover County Civil Defense personnel marked 21 out of 34 shelters for over 9,000 people by 17 November. Wilmington even began discussing whether or not to turn the museum battleship USS North Carolina into a floating fallout shelter. Wilmington
Following the workshops and the rapid posting of shelter signs in November, there was a substantial decrease in civil defense activity in
throughout December. What did increase was positive press as newspapers throughout the state wrote of support for emergency preparedness and civil defense at local levels. The Raleigh Times described in glowing terms North Carolina ’s Civil Defense Agency’s twelve-hour rescue training program. Both the Johnston County and Gaston County Civil Defense programs were showered with praise in The Charlotte Observer in late December. Cleveland County Civil Defense Director Don Shields noted, “We’ve had tremendous support from both the commissioners and councilmen and from industry here” for the acquisition of a $100,000 civil defense control center. In Cleveland County , outspoken director Ronald Heafner shared similar sentiments, noting “everyone – especially industry – has gotten behind us since the Cuban crisis,” and acknowledged how two thousand Gaston County residents would take a medical self-help course in January 1963. Gaston County
Thinking back to Marvin Owens and the surprise of finding an opossum in his fallout shelter, the suddenness of the missile crisis brought civil defense back into the public eye. A political cartoon from 25 October in The Charlotte Observer conveyed the resurgence of public interest in civil defense after months of disinterest. The same day in
, an editorial in The Wilmington News, urged citizens to work with civil defense to provide adequate shelter spaces, and referenced the Berlin Crisis of 1961, “The danger slackened, and interest began to wane. This time, we should see the programs through.” In the December 1962 North Carolina Civil Defense Agency newsletter, General Griffin wrote similarly, with mention of how the missile crisis removed the apathy which had plagued civil defense. Wilmington
The most striking aspect of the missile crisis in North Carolina is that it appeared to generate so little panic, despite the fact that the state was, apparently, so ill-prepared to cope with it. After all, less than eight percent of the state’s resident population had shelter space available. The extraordinary calm could be attributed to the apathy
mentioned. The apathy may be a question of where responsibility for civil defense lay, either with government or with individual. Sanford and the state civil defense officials stressed repeatedly that citizens had a responsibility to protect themselves, to seek out information about civil defense and to invest their own resources in their own protection. Citizen action would thus strengthen the state’s civil defense posture as a whole. Nonetheless, both private citizens and local governments balked at the cost of fallout shelters. The state therefore was left relying on federal shelter programs to provide public shelter where possible. Apathy also could have reflected the fact that Griffin North Carolinians had been informed about shelters, had assessed the risk, and had rejected the cost and bother of building them. Across the state, this calm may have represented confidence in the state civil defense agency, or in the least an acknowledgement that civil defense personnel were capable of managing the situation.
The federal shelter initiatives had a silver lining, providing funding for the state to invest in communication and warning systems.
’s civil defense leaders were realistic about their capabilities and limitations during the Cuban Missile Crisis, best exemplified by Governor Sanford’s meeting with civil defense leadership on 25 October. Following the discussion, the state’s leaders decided drastic measures were not needed. The focus for civil defense was on using communication networks to coordinate civil defense actions and emergency preparedness with the local civil defense agencies, which in turn provided information to the general public to assure them that the state was prepared to act if needed. Preparations, planning, and emergency resources were checked to ensure readiness and Governor Sanford placed the state national guard on standby. North Carolina
Following the missile crisis,
North Carolinians, at least publicly, did not demonstrate any displeasure with the performance of the state and local civil defense agencies. No public backlash was leveled against civil defense in the media and what editorials were published urged support for civil defense efforts. Newspapers from , Wilmington , Charlotte , and Raleigh , representing different regions in the state, were consulted from 1 October to Greensboro 31 December 1962. Elements of civil defense received positive recognition in local newspapers. Local governments and businesses expressed or provided renewed support for local civil defense offices. This enthusiasm allowed the Accelerated Action Program to move quickly across the state, marking existing shelters and licensing new ones. Citizens seem to have valued the fact that the state could react to the crisis in an efficient and collected, orderly fashion, far more than they bemoaned the dearth of shelters.
Confident the state was in control of the situation, Tar Heels supported the civil defense agency. Despite the federal Accelerated Action Program, North Carolinian interest in fallout shelters dimmed in favor of emergency preparedness, leaving the shelters free for many an itinerant opossum.