The monstrous gods of the ancient world have all reappeared, hugely magnified, demanding total human sacrifice. To appease their super-Moloch in the Nuclear temples, whole nations stand ready, supinely, to throw their children into his fiery furnace.
—Lewis Mumford, The City in History, 1961
Want a quick way to survive nuclear fallout? The FHA has the answer.
—“FHA Loans Available for Family Shelters,” Sarasota News, August 4, 1961
At 7 p.m. on July 25, 1961, more than 25 million Americans tuned in to watch the president of the United States inform the nation that the time had come to construct fallout shelters and prepare for the possibility of nuclear warfare in the missile age. “In the event of an attack, the lives of those families which are not hit in a nuclear blast and fire can still be saved,” President Kennedy proclaimed, “if they are warned to take shelter and that shelter is available. . . . [W]e owe that kind of insurance to our families and to our country.”1
Kennedy had cultivated his image as an intellectual Cold Warrior during his successful presidential campaign, and during this televised broadcast, known as the Berlin Address, he was continuing to call on that trope. He informed the American people that the battle for Berlin would be fought on both “the endangered frontier of freedom” that ran through the divided city and the frontier of the American home, where each family must “bear the burden” of the Cold War conflict “if freedom is to be defended.” At the center of Kennedy’s domestic frontier was the suburban family and its fallout shelter, a structure that, while “new to our shores,” reflected a “distinct vision” of the American character. “In the coming months,” the president reassured the nation, “I hope to let every citizen know what steps he can take without delay to protect his family in case of attack. I know you will want to do no less.”2
The Berlin Address ended, the camera lights cooled, and suddenly the switchboards of local civil defense offices lit up.3 Phone lines that had formerly received only an occasional call were now jammed as worried citizens tried to reach an authority who would tell them exactly how they were supposed to protect their homes.4 For Frank Fields, a forty-two-year-old resident of Jacksonville, Florida, the impact of the president’s address was immediate: “I had a sinking realization that building a shelter was going to cost.”5 On living-room couches and across dining-room tables, householders discussed their finances and made swift calculations.6 Families started to wonder if “every citizen” was truly equal on the home front. The family fallout shelter was about to become one of the “biggest political headaches” of Kennedy’s New Frontier.7
In 1961, the Kennedy administration made several institutional attempts to solve the problem of nuclear survival, but its introduction of fallout shelter loans was a particularly curious emblem of its bureaucracy and one that shaped everyday life on the nuclear home front. While historians have yet to document the form, function, and social impact of shelter financing, the process mirrored the smaller, subtler, and less visible practices in which men engaged as they set about preparing their homes and loved ones for a nuclear strike. The intent of the program was straightforward: fathers would not have to dig into their own pockets to purchase shelter walls and survival supplies but would have the opportunity to apply for a small personal loan from the Federal Housing Association (FHA). By providing tax breaks and financing options for home improvements, shelter loans offered middle-class homeowners a federally sanctioned economic way to participate in civil defense. Kennedy seized on the idea, believing that such economic incentives would stimulate and nurture a new pioneer class ready and willing to stand up to Soviet aggression. Yet within his administration, there was considerable internal cynicism about the wisdom of embracing a policy that favored middle-class homeowners over other kinds of citizens.
The idea of shelter loans may have been straightforward, but in reality the program was fraught with contradictions. First, shelter loans did little to address longstanding issues of discriminatory lending and prejudicial realty practices that structurally excluded non-white communities from equal access to the suburban housing market. Second, they became tangled in a web of practical and regional obstacles involving building permits, bureaucratic battles with local housing authorities, and construction complications. The shelter-loan program co-opted local financial institutions such as savings-and-loan firms, banks, and citizen trusts into State Department efforts to domesticate nuclear war, thus linking the masculinized rhetoric of do-it-yourself survival to institutional politics that privileged middle-class families who could access private capital. Building a shelter depended, in part, on personal interactions among fathers, local lenders, and housing authorities. Rather than creating a nation of suburban frontiersmen taking survival into their own hands, shelter loans highlighted the inaccessibility of civil defense and the impotency of the many fathers who were unable to provide meaningful protection for their families.8
A Nation of Shelter Builders
In August 1961, Rex Hydron, a schoolteacher from San Diego, received the first FHA home-shelter loan: “$4,550 for a reinforced concrete shelter, 24 feet wide and 14 feet long, to be built in the front yard and covered with three feet of soil.” The moment was the culmination of a protracted process of discussion and formulation over how best to prepare the nation for a potential domestic nuclear catastrophe.9 Initially, the Kennedy administration approached civil defense as an “insurance policy” should the nuclear balance of power tip in an “unfavorable direction.”10 However, as the president’s advisors became aware of the cost, scope, and difficulties involved in creating a comprehensive program of public shelters, their discussions shifted to the practicality of having the middle class convert parts of their homes into private shelters, despite growing institutional awareness of their futility.
Documents prepared early in the Kennedy presidency reveal why the administration chose to embrace a policy of privatized survival. Even before he was sworn into office, the president-elect was given a detailed brief cataloguing the issues besetting the nation’s civil defense effort. Compiled by Herbert Jolovitz, an administrative assistant to Senator Stephen M. Young of Ohio, the brief lambasted the OCDM as an expensive, bureaucratic, bloated agency that had “failed miserably” in its most basic and obvious functions. The report argued that during the previous decade civil defense intellectuals had “offered no realistic solution to the problem” of nuclear survival. Instead, citizens “had been fed psychological pabulum” and “lullabied into complacency with plans bordering on fantasy.” “Civil defense today is a myth,” the brief concluded, one characterized by concepts and programs that are “completely outdated and inadequate.” It was “failing to reach most Americans” and, among those it did reach, was met with “indifference and apathy.”11 Yet, as the brief noted, these problems seemed to have little to do with the nature of the policies themselves. Rather, the report blamed the issues plaguing the OCDM on ineffectual management and the impotent actions of Val Peterson and Leo Hoegh. Envisioning the suburban father as the subject and target of civil defense campaigns was still appropriate. All civil defense needed was a change in management style.
Thus, instead of allowing the home-shelter concept to recede into obscurity, Jolovitz advocated a new approach that would emphasize a “vigorous and continuing campaign of education on [nuclear] self-protection” using all “media of communication at our command—TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, and schools.” An awareness campaign should be “instituted immediately.”12 While the “scientific reality” of a domestic nuclear strike did lead to “unpleasant answers,” dread could be moderated by vigorous leadership, active fact finding, and “moral courage.”13 A nation of shelter builders might embody the burgeoning aspirations of a new active presidential style. If survival were to be a viable insurance choice, then it needed to remain firmly grounded in social mobility, homeownership, and disposable income, which at the time not everyone had access to. Civil defense might be an expensive, problematic, mismanaged mess, but it was still a necessity in the nuclear age.
Remarkably, Jolovitz’s report is rarely mentioned in historical accounts of Kennedy’s civil defense policy.14 Yet his brief, filled with pithy sentences, cynical interpretations, idealistic goals, and bullet-point summaries of vast and complex issues, offers insight into how the president’s New Frontier operated as the administration began to debate the theories and procedures of nuclear survival. It suggests that if civil defense were to be taken seriously, nuclear crisis planning needed to be brought directly into the Oval Office. Jolovitz proffered no new information about the logistical problems of sheltering the American people, nor was he deeply concerned about the social questions that the shelter-loan program would soon inspire. However, he did offer an initial solution to fostering public support for civil defense (and, by extension, a policy of nuclear deterrence): namely, collating as much information as possible about the current level of nuclear threat and OCDM’s policies before changing the way in which civil defense information was disseminated.
Between January and May 1961, the administration intensified its interest in a civil defense program that would offer some form of immediate financial encouragement to economically prosperous middle-class homeowners. As a federal policy, shelter loans reflected two strands of political culture: fiscal liberalism at home and masculine toughness abroad. Support for the program was filtered through a prescriptive set of gendered assumptions that tied the economic strength of the middle class to families’ individual agency when facing total devastation. Supporting families through financial incentives was seen as a “pragmatic solution” to the impossible question of how to survive a nuclear war. It married the belief of “vital center liberalism” in limited state intervention to a decade’s worth of civil defense literature that told families they had the means to protect themselves.15 Limited economic state invention had its supporters in the OCDM, especially from the agency’s newly elected director, Franklin B. Ellis, who thought that allowing local civil defense officials to “target protection towards the home owning public” (depicted in all shelter construction manuals as white, suburban, and middle class) might bind communities together under the common banner of hometown survival.16 How households would access this support remained vague and undefined.
Over the next few months the concept of shelter loans faced growing resistance from vocal critics both inside and outside the White House. To those who viewed civil defense communities as almost exclusively suburban, supporters made the case that, while more “inclusive solutions were sought,” it made sense that “those sections of society who had the social and economic mobility to access shelters should be encouraged to do so.”17 To shift the mood of these select few from apathy to engagement, the New Frontier manufactured a narrative of survival suggesting that the perceived toughness of families at home had strategic value abroad. Rather than emphasizing a democratic vision of collective survival, policymakers focused on the willingness and ability of suburban fathers to pay, with limited federal support, for their families’ safety.
In 1961, the idea of introducing small-scale loans or tax breaks for potential shelter builders was not entirely new. Throughout the 1950s, planners working for the FCDA and the OCDM (soon to be reformed into the Office of Civil Defense [OCD]) were acutely aware that embracing a system of private home survival risked stirring up public questions about the accessibility of civil defense, particularly in terms of race and class, that officials were ill-equipped to answer. Not only would they alert the public to “inconvenient truths about housing inequality,” they would also give local financial institutions a level of autonomy over a community’s nuclear preparedness.18 Clearly, if the politics of civil defense became too reliant on suburban action, then sharp divisions might be created around the tricky questions of who had the means to access shelters and whose loan applications were approved or rejected. “This is a balancing act,” wrote William Heimlich, the director of the OCD’s department of civic affairs. “[M]anaging expectations is key. Promoting equal access is key.” He continued: “Families need to construct shelters, but the messaging over these trusts must be carefully managed.”19
For more than a decade, civil defense planners had tried to minimize the glaring inequalities of a home-shelter system and the implicit whiteness that characterized much of their public literature. By 1960, however, an increasingly cynical view had taken hold, one arguing that those in charge of national survival were faced with a no-win scenario. According to Ralph Lapp, the paradox was the terrifying fact that “you can’t in this age afford security for everyone.”20 Yet the question of how to manage public anxieties, especially following an election campaign run on the rhetoric of missile gaps, required something more substantial than slogans and cynicism. A solution, however imperfect, was needed.
Since the publication of Irving Janis’s Air War and Emotional Stress in 1951, policymakers had been toying with the idea of introducing a small government subsidy, a federal income-tax credit of $25 per household, and financial incentives to private contractors to help “equalize the opportunities” in civil defense and encourage fathers to build shelters. While the system itself was still prefaced on structural access to private property, Janis argued that financial investment in civil defense would give families a sense of reassurance and agency: “the feeling that ‘I am really able to do something about it.’”21 His suggestions, while often cited internally, were never implemented, partly because FCDA and OCDM officials knew that they might tie the success or failure of national survival to the whims of local lenders and the politics of the housing market.
Private finance was a concern, but even more important was the fact that by the time Kennedy took office, 62 million Americans—mostly white, working-class families and non-white communities—still did not own their own houses. Among those Americans who did own property, only 54 percent had a basement unit that might be adapted to fit OCDM shelter specifications.22 But if the government was rejecting community shelters due to their astronomical costs and shelving urban evacuation plans due to reductions in advance-warning time, then policymakers had no choice but to deal with the political optics of individual survival and to make the social dynamics of the suburbs even more pronounced than they had been.
In the early months of 1961, as Jolovitz’s brief was circulating among the administration’s inner circle, Kennedy was not overly concerned about the inequalities of a private shelter-loan regime. Between January and June, he found himself inundated with memoranda from civil defense officials and pro-shelter governors, Nelson Rockefeller foremost among them, who were seeking executive action on the matter.23 Concerned about meeting the expectations of his own rhetoric and fearing the political and personal implications of a “Civil Defense Gap” in the 1964 election that might “showcase weakness inconsistent with his general stance,” he turned to his national security advisor, McGeorge Bundy, a political scientist and a former Harvard dean. Bundy had been a protégé of Henry L. Stimson, an elder statesman of U.S. foreign policy who had served as secretary of the War Department (1940–45). In theory, Bundy was well suited for the task of reconsidering how private and public shelters might serve the New Frontier diplomatically and domestically.24 He was a vocal critic of atmospheric testing and vehemently opposed nuclear brinkmanship, and he offered a skeptical and at times indifferent voice on matters of civil defense. As the historian Andrew Preston has argued, he viewed the entire question of mutually assured destruction with something close to revulsion. For Bundy, “nuclear weapons were simply too terrible to use or even contemplate used except as a theoretical abstraction for the most extreme.”25 Nevertheless, despite his disdain for hawkish approaches to nuclear diplomacy, he was troubled by the question of what to do if the bomb dropped: who would get to live and die?
Since 1958, the notion of “every home a fortress” had been framed as an opportunity for men to become better fathers while defending the “moral aspects,” “spiritual freedom,” and “toughness” of the domestic front through the performance of patriarchal leadership at home.26 Eisenhower’s policymakers had believed that home shelters, if marketed to the public correctly, could avoid the negative implications of turning the nation into a garrison state while alleviating public anxieties about nuclear protection. Yet questions remained regarding the government’s role in turning citizens into shelter builders. In the waning years of his presidency, Eisenhower was reluctant to endorse a loan program for private shelter construction. Bundy saw wisdom in that stance. He, too, was uneasy about the ideological implications of civil defense and the logistics of a system that left so much responsibility to the whims of the housing market. When asked if home shelters truly fitted into a heroic narrative of civic service and sacrifice in pursuit of national survival, he argued that civil defense was limited as both a “tool of crisis management” and a way to “demonstrate [national] will or superiority.” Still, Bundy saw it as a prudent, if imperfect, insurance policy for a few citizens, a “way of mitigating a possible disaster, not a way of avoiding it or making it acceptable.” “If protection was to be offered,” he reasoned, “then it might as well be provided to private residences while we fix the other problems.”27 Arguing that a scaled-down solution was better than nothing, he managed to earmark $2 million to be used as federal assistance for private shelter loans.
With such internal cynicism, why did Kennedy decide to throw his personal support behind private shelters? Why did civil defense play such a central role in his Berlin Address? Why did the White House endorse Life’s fallout shelter issue? And why did the president advocate the introduction of private loans to shelter builders? It is easy to dismiss these decisions as the political mistakes of an inexperienced first-term president. But in fact, the policy vision of shelter fatherhood took central stage because policymakers decided to ignore the warnings of past planners and place the local power and political fortunes of civil defense into the hands of suburban homeowners and their faith in private capital.
During a 1964 interview, Kennedy’s speechwriter Theodore Sorensen was asked if, “given the history of lack of action in this area, . . . was civil defense one of the first things the President did pay some attention to?” Sorensen replied that “for the President shelters were a ‘matter of moral conscience and moral responsibility.’”28 As Robert Dean has argued, the political world inhabited by Kennedy and his imperial brotherhood was defined by the pursuit of masculine self-affirmation at home as the solution to geopolitical conflict. Indeed, when it came to the question of nuclear war, the “moral responsibility” of a president to protect his nation clearly affected Kennedy personally. Yet in practice the language of “moral consciousness and moral responsibility” was both limited and exclusionary. When the president set out to solve the problem of national survival, he did so by normalizing and strengthening the power imbalances and gender dynamics that had long defined private survival.
Within the confines of the New Frontier’s inner circle, composed of people who had emphatically stated they were not the cookie pushers of the Eisenhower years, private shelters offered a powerful, if not convincing, cultural narrative of political action and heroic frontiersman. Under Kennedy’s watch, shelters became cultural shorthand for a population ready to confront any threat. A nation of shelter builders might, in theory, demonstrate will and nerve and, critically, the agency of a bold new administration ready to face the Soviet Union. The fact that 62 million Americans did not own property did not play as important a factor as it should have for an administration that was looking for bold action. “Civil Defense can never be used as a tool to construct new residence[s]. Congress won’t buy it,” Bundy noted to Kennedy. “[W]e have to work with what we have.”29 Potentially, the FHA and the Housing and Home Finance Agency (HHFA) might induce local lenders and contractors to invest in their communities’ residential shelters without the need for political intervention into the construction of new houses with shelter spaces already built into them.30 The plan would create very little risk for the president or his reelection chances and would shift the burden of survival from the state onto fathers applying for home improvement loans. For a brief moment, a model of nuclear survival prefaced on the predictions of elite white men who were simplifying and generalizing the suburban experience had reached the center of national strategic thinking. Within this narrow intellectual frame, the narrative of a nation of shelter-building fathers, implicitly white and explicitly middle class, had gained an intellectual and institutional foothold that would prove hard to shift.
A Do-It-Yourself Project of International Significance
In the spring and summer of 1961, institutional support for shelter loans continued to gain ground, and the way in which the program was put into practice strengthened the masculine hegemony that came to define shelter fatherhood.31 In April, as the Kennedy administration was reeling from the Bay of Pigs fiasco, Bundy delegated the task of reviewing the latest OCDM proposal to two assistants: Marcus Raskin, an expert in disarmament negotiations and a member of the special staff of the National Security Council; and Carl Kaysen, a Harvard alumnus and an international security specialist.32 During the months leading up to the Berlin Address, both men were persistent and pragmatic dissenters in discussions of the president’s civil defense privatization ambitions, frequently advising him to avoid making any direct announcement about a program that they saw as a “waste of money” and “socially abhorrent” with the potential for “dire political consequences.”33
Initially, Kaysen, who had published a 1954 article on civil defense in World Politics, was receptive to the idea of shelters. However, after combing through more than a decade’s worth of civil defense literature, he grew progressively more skeptical. He was concerned about the numerous “troublesome social questions” attached to the OCDM’s current civil defense proposals limiting the accessibility of survival to the suburbs.34 Raskin, in contrast, had been opposed to civil defense from the start, criticizing Jolovitz’s suggestions for encouraging a major propaganda effort that would be “authoritarian” in style and “questionable in substance.”35 “At worst,” he wrote in a memo to Bundy, civil defense “will change our society and reinforce misperception and distort awareness of reality more than our senses are distorted already.”36 Raskin worried that notions of social reform, nondiscrimination, and inclusion were not being discussed in any depth. He questioned the claim that shelter loans would make survival available to “all” and pointed out the risks of leaving the program’s day-to-day operations to local authorities and the conservative lending practices of the HHFA.37 Together, Raskin and Kaysen composed a carefully written report for Bundy, which they ironically titled “A Modest Proposal for Civil Defense.”38 Unlike many government reports, it is a striking read. While it is intensely critical of civil defense, it also does its best to offer some form of workable solution as a federal duty to protect the population.39 Nonetheless, it firmly concluded that Kennedy “should not approve any civil defense plans” in the foreseeable future.40
Although the report was prophetic, its impact on policy was decidedly limited. In early May, with a congressional meeting on the horizon, Bundy, Raskin, and Kaysen met with Sorensen and his deputy, Elmer Staats, from the Budget Bureau to share their findings. During the session Bundy remained quiet as Raskin and Kaysen offered a flurry of “dissenting points” about the proposed executive plan for private and public civil defense. Nonetheless, Sorensen informed them that “the President has made up his mind about civil defense”: he would make a direct appeal to Congress to appropriate more funds for shelters in public spaces and federal buildings and for individual loans for shelter builders. Raskin’s response was blunt: “[I]t would be a political disaster.” Sorensen’s reply was equally direct: “[W]e have to do it. You have to prepare a program.” At this point Bundy, who had shown up at the meeting in shorts and with a racket, said, “I have to go play tennis,” and left.41
During this meeting, Raskin had said that private shelter construction ran the risk of lulling the middle class into a false sense of security.42 Why did Kennedy decide to turn his back on the logic of Raskin and Kaysen to embrace a policy that, in hindsight, seems to have inevitably reinforced the impossibility of survival? The historian Garry Wills offers one plausible suggestion—namely, that to understand the New Frontier and the decisions that were made during this era, we must recognize that the high rhetorical gestures of the early 1960s were fundamentally about style, not substance.43 By applying Wills’s observations to the issue of civil defense, we can see that the image of willing and active suburban fathers rushing out to build and buy shelters fit a specific stylistic mode of heroic leadership. For Kennedy and his elite advisors, social problems were “isolatable, to be removed from prior context and given a neat technical solution.”44 A key dynamic of the loan program’s political symbolism was the way in which it allowed policymakers to reform and contain the unstable, contradictory, and deeply problematic social dynamics of nuclear warfare into a unified national discourse that could be presented at multiple levels: at home, in the workplace, and in local communities. Middle-class affluence, domestic unity, and heteronormativity allowed policymakers to make nuclear war seem familiar and thus solvable. For an administration caught between crises in Cuba and Berlin, the solution suggested by Kaysen and Raskin—inaction—was deemed unviable. It seemed that constructing a politically palatable symbol that both engaged the public and projected American toughness abroad was a task better suited to speechwriters than to scientists.
Raskin’s critical study, Essays of a Citizen: From National Security State to Democracy (1991), offers considerable insight into how the masculinized discourse of civil defense gathered support. Central to the “civil defense madness” that swept through the New Frontier was the administration’s willingness to accept a concept advanced by the Stanford Institute of Research in 1953: that if a “will-stiffening” could be performed on the suburban class, American policymakers could be that much tougher at the bargaining table.45 Raskin expands on this concept of will-stiffening, framing civil defense as an ideologically motivated program designed to “create a new martial spirit in the country and the bureaucracy.” Once hardened, the suburban family would present an image of the United States that could be “advertised abroad.”46 A nation of active suburban shelter builders, in their fully equipped shelters, had the potential to be a powerful diplomatic tool, demonstrating national readiness. For Raskin, the dangers of this approach were all too apparent. In a memo to Bundy he warned that the concept of civil defense was being converted “to something much more broad, comprehensive and frantic.”47 By normalizing shelter construction as the job of private households, civil defense risked becoming one of the most dangerous social myths of the age.48
Nevertheless, on May 25, 1961, Kennedy took a major step in reinforcing the inequality of civil defense: he informed Congress that he was assigning responsibility for the program to the secretary of defense. He opened his statement by declaring that “one major element of the national security program which this nation has never squarely faced up to is civil defense. . . . [T]he problem arises not from present trends but [from] national inaction in which most of us have participated.”49 He overlooked the fact that for more than a decade civil defense planners had been routinely abandoning urban areas, discriminating against non-white communities, ignoring residential renters, and paying scant attention to those who did not fit into a heteronormative vision of family life. Instead, he conflated national with suburban citizen, clearly linking the inaction of a property-owning class with the failure of the nation as a whole.
The president then shifted his focus onto the failures of the middle-class public, calling out their “apathy, indifference and skepticism” while also noting that “many civil defense plans have been so-far reaching and unrealistic that they have not gained essential support.” He amplified the limitations of civil defense, something that Eisenhower had never been bold enough to state publicly: “[T]he administration has been looking hard at exactly what civil defense can and cannot do. It cannot be obtained cheaply. . . . [I]t cannot deter a nuclear attack.” However, “the history of the 20th century sufficiently reminds us of the possibilities of an irrational attack. . . . Once the validity of the concept is recognized there is no point delaying a nationwide long-range program.”50 In this way, he implicitly laid the new nationwide program at the feet of suburban householders, a segment of whom took up that responsibility with conviction.
One of the most significant aspects of Kennedy’s congressional message was its incentive plan: to offer FHA loans, matching grants, and income-tax breaks to suburban homeowners who were willing to construct shelters in their residences. In effect, the plan privatized survival. Framing shelter construction as a middle-class civic duty, the president declared that “no insurance is cost free; and every citizen must decide for themselves whether this form of survival insurance justifies the expenditure of effort, time and money. . . . For myself I am convinced it does.”51 Although the introduction of FHA loans would not be formalized for another few months, Kennedy’s instructions were clear: those who had the means should get ready to build shelters.
Financing Family Survival
The FHA proposed that fathers who wanted to apply for shelter financing might do so in one of three ways. First, for ambitious builders who were planning “comprehensive rehabilitation” of their existing homes, sections 203(k) and 200(h) offered a path toward family survival. Projects qualifying for these sections had to show evidence of being “substantial home improvement task[s]”—for instance, dilapidated homes that needed foundation work or extensive remodeling.52 Homeowners who received funding under these sections had to provide blueprints of the planned work before construction and agree to FHA inspection after completion. Second, property owners could “refinanc[e] their home through existing FHA mortgages” to pay for shelters. Third, fathers could apply for a property improvement loan under the provisions of Title 1, which could be applied to either new or existing private residences. Under these provisions, domestic fallout shelters fell into the category of “home improvement” and could be framed as “dual-purpose rooms” built along with a new laundry space or a family den.53
With this range of options at their disposal, homeowners gradually began applying for loans, and the number of FHA-approved shelters reached a high of 869 in November 1961.54 Yet the language framing these loan offers reveals much about the faltering and often exclusionary ways in which they affected communities across the United States. For example, in theory, Title 1 loans democratized civil defense: they offered applicants up to $3,500 with no down payment, and they could be repaid in monthly installments for three to five years at an interest rate of 6 percent. Title 1’s terms and conditions note that, in all but “‘special cases,’ . . . collateral, co-signers and prior FHA approval are not deemed necessary.” But what constituted a “special case”? That was left vague, thus giving local lenders incredible levels of discretion in deciding who was and was not an “unreliable borrower.”55 The situation was soon to have visible social consequences.
Insuring home-shelter loans under Title I provided a level of protection for local lenders who were working with civil defense officials. With the incentive of matching federal funding, banks could lower interest rates for moderate-income households, and civil defense officials could reach their target group with new levels of efficiency. Protection of capital was also enshrined in the FHA’s stipulation that all “shelter construction would have to meet Department of Defense specifications.”56 In practice, as we will see, quality control was tricky, to say the least. However, in the meantime, local lenders worked to reinforce the visual style, social values, gender divisions, and inequality that had been defining fallout shelter construction guides and manuals for the past decade. The difference was that worried residents could now open the pages of their local papers and see civil defense being advertised by their local bank. “Protection made easy with an M & S Fallout Shelter Loan,” advertised the Merchants and Saving Bank of Janesville, Wisconsin. “Now you can add a fallout shelter to your loan at minimal cost! There’s no time to lose!” announced Citizen Trust, a savings and loans bank in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “If you are planning to build a fallout shelter, we’ll loan you the money. You just need to have an account here,” declared the First Federal Savings Bank of Syracuse, New York. “Don’t be half safe. Build a shelter and invest in your family’s future!” counseled Savings Bank, a local savings firm in Miami, Florida.57
Many regional papers featured local-interest stories about fathers who had received shelter loans and were thus becoming pioneers of protection. In Michigan, the Herald Press revealed that “two local heroes” from Benton, John A. Kollath and Bob Phillips, had received loans and building permits for their shelters. The paper detailed the costs of the shelters ($400 and $200, respectively) and published the story alongside an advertisement for “Homes for Americans” and a half-page editorial about FHA shelter-loan applications.58 The coverage clearly linked Kennedy’s rhetoric with local finance and affordable survival, mapping out how local readers might join the ranks of these suburban frontiersmen. The Herald Press was not alone; similar stories appeared in the Baytown Sun in Texas, the Sarasota News in Florida, the Nashua Telegram in New Hampshire, the Beckley Post Herald in West Virginia, and in many other papers around the country.59 “Cheer up!” the Las Vegas Daily told readers in October 1961. “There’s no need to put off building that shelter until ‘tomorrow.’ We live in an age of buying. Just be sure to check the people you deal with are reliable. Not sure? Ask your local OCD officials for advice.”60
While most local papers framed shelter construction as a suburbanite task, some emphasized that these enterprising fathers were also being good neighbors. Applying for loans was seen as a sign of a householder’s community spirit. Take, for example, the story of Robert Faust, a resident of Churchview Avenue in Baldwin, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, who decided to buy a shelter not just for the five members of his family but for all of the twenty residents living on his street. “I pray,” he told reporters, “that we’ll never have to use it. But the way I see it . . . this is the best kind of life insurance a man can buy.”61
Reportedly, Ray Parks, an FHA builder inspector, asked Faust to explain why “this shelter is going to be big enough for 20 people.”
Faust replied, “I figured it could hold about 25, maybe a few more if we squeeze them in.”
“But why so many,” Parks persisted. “[T]his is supposed to be a family shelter.”
Faust shrugged and said, “[T]hat depends on the way you look at things. My wife, Alberta and I like our neighbors.” His community generosity in the face of privatization highlights the reality of civil defense. “It was a luxury out of our reach,” Faust’s neighbor Mrs. Yeo told reporters. Another neighbor, Mrs. Boyle, the mother of “two boys and a girl ranging in the ages from 2 to 6,” called it a “wonderful thing for him to do.” For Faust, sharing his fallout shelter was the same as “lending his lawnmower to the man next door.”62
Media stories depicted shelter builders almost exclusively as white men, yet this did not mean that non-white communities were invisible or uninvolved. A few accounts in the OCDM’s public letters and in the black press detail how people of color were also attempting to participate in the shelter-loan system. Again, these anecdotes were often framed as local human-interest stories. For instance, articles in the Chicago Defender featured African American fathers who were attempting to finance do-it-yourself shelters—among them James Ditto, who “did not regret his loan being turned away . . . after hearing about the struggle to build them.” The Pittsburgh Courier tells a similar story about a war veteran named William Bell, who had “a lucky escape from the shelter madness.”63
As civil defense intertwined with the social politics of local housing authorities, it became increasingly clear that survival strategies were primarily aimed at white suburbanites who could easily access financing. While FHA records hide many of these complex exclusionary practices, the black press recognized what was happening. Responding to the growing civil defense hysteria, Jet and Ebony ran articles about home shelters, describing them as a “white craze” that demonstrated the irrationality and neuroses of white citizens.64 The voices of African Americans were prominent in debates regarding the integration of community shelters, and many also mentioned private shelters as white middle-class spaces. OCDM records do contain a few letters from African American families (often filtered through local religious outlets that were working with the OCDM), and, like the newspaper articles, the writers often commented on their good fortune in escaping a poor investment in shelters.65 More often than discussing private shelters, however, these letters raised questions about the integration of public shelter spaces.66 David Lock, a New York father of two and a Korean War veteran, did mention private shelters in his letter, noting that “getting a contractor to build one is the first issue, getting credit towards it is the second.” Another correspondent, Percy Hamner, wrote that “after the trouble it took getting this house a fallout shelter is the last thing on my mind.”67 Lawrence Hank was even more direct; he complained that Kennedy’s Berlin Address had “worried the kids . . . [but] the battle and expense doesn’t seem worth the effort. One bomb drops and we are all goners anyway.”68 Such comments do not mean that African American communities were disengaged from the politics of the nuclear state; as Vincent Intondi argues, this was far from true. Nevertheless, when it comes to the specific act of domestic shelter construction, the inherent whiteness of the cultural narrative is striking.69
The political vernacular of civil defense may have normalized the idea that middle-class fathers should be applying for shelter loans, but this did not mean that receiving financing was straightforward. The loans had to be approved by both the FHA and the OCDM before they could be officially processed. As I have mentioned, blueprints for large projects had to be drawn up, often by a professional contractor, and then approved by local civil defense officials to make sure they met specific guidelines. Homeowners then took these blueprints to a local lender, who had to approve the loan option and set the interest rate. After the shelter was constructed, a local civil defense official, acting on behalf of the Department of Defense and the FHA, visited the site to check that all regulations had been followed before authorizing a “certificate of eligibility.”70 Typically, homeowners repaid their shelter loans over the course of the next three years, remitting money directly to their local lender, who was covered by FHA insurance if the payments faltered.
In short, fathers who wanted to become pioneers of protection faced a slow, complex process composed of numerous steps, any one of which could affect the status of the application or require additional work. Moreover, regional variants added many more hurdles. For instance, if a homeowner applied for a home improvement loan, he still needed to obtain a local building permit, frequently at extra cost, before starting construction. In Florida, as soon as “[you] dig 4–5 feet you gunna hit water,” so local housing authorities often needed to approve expansive above-ground construction sites that required additional wall cladding, typically steel, to meet OCD specifications.71 By October 1961, no local shelter loan had been approved in Portland, Oregon, because county building codes dictated that all structures needed to have windows.72 Fathers’ letters to the OCDM are filled with frustration about the bureaucratic complexities in what they saw as an emergency project. “Hopefully war will wait until your reply,” wrote one Chicago resident.73 “[As] I look at these forms,” wrote James Scott of Las Vegas, “coldness goes through my military mind.”74 In practice, the regulation of the marketplace was far from formalized, and both fathers and businesses frequently acted outside the federal guidelines. Yet the fact remains that building a shelter was extremely difficult. Rather than inspiring a nation of domestic pioneers, loans created a barrier between the political ideal of civil defense and the social practice of do-it-yourself survival. Art Carlson claimed that he and his son spent just a few weekends turning their home into a fortress, but for most citizens the process required a surprisingly in-depth knowledge of architectural planning and considerable patience with local authorities and bureaucracy.
A successful loan application, especially during the height of the shelter craze, often took months to process. And even when an application was eventually approved, fathers sometimes lost their motivation. The various hiccups in the loan process might lead to them to the notion that building a shelter would be a mistake, and this connection between citizenry and regret became another major signifier of the shelter father. As retired brigadier general Robert L. Scott, Jr., wrote in an open letter,
[I]t is folly for something so foolish to be apparently encouraged by our government—by FHA approval. . . . Last Sunday . . . I was able to read what was said by a writer who calls himself a “family financial counselor.” He states that residents of Valley Sun are now eligible for financing under FHA. Yes sir. A family can obtain protection with nothing down and have many years to pay it off. Where—down under, living like a mole.75
Home shelters may have offered insurance for the anxious, but the prospect of applying for a civil defense loan sparked questions as to what sort of society families were investing in. Local papers debated whether financing a shelter was a sound or an irrational decision. An editorial in the Tucson Daily Citizen “argue[d] that shelter owners are not moles! The moles are those who deny the need for shelters, crawling blindly in their own ignorance.”76 But not everyone agreed.
Controversy arose, too, as family shelters became status symbols for the affluent men who built them. In Pennsylvania, the Morning Call reported that “landowners are holding subterranean soirees, showing their digs to friends and business associates as proudly as if their survival headquarters were a new baby, or more currently impressive, a new swimming pool.”77 In New York papers, there were stories about shelter parties in which owners showed off their new spaces to their wealthy friends. One upstate journalist overheard a conversation between a host and his guests: “How do you like it?” the host asked. The reply was a thoughtful pause followed by “[I]t is the end.”78 On the West Coast, Lucius Beebe, a columnist and food critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, was stocking his bomb shelter with champagne and caviar.79 In southern California, local manufacturers were offering a shelter that they falsely claimed was “OCD and FHA approved!” One half was a swimming pool, the other half a bunker with a glass window through which to take pictures of the swimmers. Any gullible suburban family “looking to impress” now had a suitable space “if the weather, or the war, gets hot.”80
While local lenders and businesses embraced the idea of the family shelter, many people were repulsed by the social inequality of the private system of survival. In a letter to the editor in the Morning Call, Phyllis Battle wrote, “I don’t know what phases of the family shelter business [are] more disturbing—the emotion[al] controversy over whether men will turn into beasts to protect the entrance or this . . . evident fact that such a desperately basic life and death commodity should be treated by some members of modern society as a symbol of ego or affluence.” She asked readers, “Which type of animal do you prefer, the primitive kind which claws, or the over-civilized kind that cloys?”81
Amid these grassroots tensions, the international stage was being set for a confrontation in Vienna with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.82 The Vienna summit, which took place in June 1961, was a pivotal moment in the evolution of Kennedy’s civil defense stance because it shook the New Frontiersmen’s notions of their masculine character.83 At the summit, Kennedy was hoping to “ease” Soviet-U.S. relations by way of a series of “responsible and reasonable” policy solutions designed to “respect Soviet interests.” Yet over the course of the three days the leaders spent in Vienna, Khrushchev physically dominated and rhetorically outmaneuvered the president on almost every occasion, even openly laughing at this “young man who had a great deal to learn and little to offer.” When Kennedy tried to press his agenda about western access to Berlin, Khrushchev chastised him and then erupted into a series of long and often rambling diatribes about the theoretical underpinning of the Communist system.84 In one of those polemics, the premier, who was well aware of the impact he was having, described Berlin as the “testicles of the West,” and said, “[E]very time I want the West to scream, I squeeze.”85
Kennedy left Vienna, in his own words, “upset,” describing his performance as weak and saying that he had been “unprepared for the brutality of Khrushchev’s presentation.”86 Trying to present himself as flexible had made him look and feel vulnerable. Even during lunchtime exchanges, Khrushchev was dogging Kennedy about nuclear weapons, boasting that “the Soviet Union had nuclear-armed submarines, short-range, medium-range and intercontinental missiles in production.”87 The New Frontiersmen shared their leader’s sense of vulnerability. One of his advisors, Eugene Rostow, described Vienna as a “testing of our nerve.”88 Another, Dean Acheson, believed that the “result” of the summit was “an appearance of weakness,” and he called it a “failure.”89
The New Frontier saw Vienna as a loss, and that attitude is crucial to understanding the climate in which the Berlin Address was written.90 Now the administration’s internal discussions of civil defense took on a frantic new urgency. According to the historian Fred Kaplan, “as Kennedy grew more concerned with Berlin, he became increasingly enthusiastic about civil defense.”91 More New Frontiersmen joined Bundy, Raskin, Kaysen, and Sorensen in debates about the need to offer the public robust options. Among them was the president’s brother and attorney general, Robert Kennedy, who was “an extreme enthusiast for civil defense.” Robert Kennedy urged Kaysen and Raskin to outline a new policy that would mobilize suburbanites into “join[ing] a citizens’ corps that would practice evacuation-and-shelter drills once a week.”92 Robert Kennedy’s call to militarize the suburbs was echoed by the hardliners Paul H. Nitze, Foy Koler, and Walt Rostow, who advocated a “rapid increase in civil defense capabilities.”93 Trapped in a dilemma over Berlin, Kennedy wrote to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who had by now taken direct personal control of the nation’s civil defense program: “I am concerned that we move as quickly as possible on Civil Defense.”94
During discussions, Acheson aggressively argued that the United States respond to Soviet actions in Berlin with both fever and force. The historian Lawrence Freedman writes that the advisor pressed Kennedy to “boost American credibility,” advocating a tough military stance to show that American’s suburban residents were “ready and willing to risk nuclear war.” But Acheson’s suggestions worried the president.95 In search of a moderate stance that would avoid direct threats to Soviet national security while demonstrating that the United States took its commitments to West Berlin seriously, he sought the advice of less bellicose advisors such as Dean Rusk and McNamara. In a memo, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., advised Kennedy to carefully consider his response to the Berlin crisis—to detach nuclear diplomacy from the question of “are you chicken or not?” while avoiding an appearance of being “soft, idealistic, mushy etc.” on matters of national safety.96 Kennedy took Schlesinger’s advice and set out to broadcast a message to the nation that would tread a fine line between diplomatic efforts and domestic militarization.
The Berlin Address offered a composite picture of the internal policy discussions that had shaped civil defense for more than a decade even as it emphasized that preparing suburban families for nuclear war was normal and desirable. It was written by Sorensen, whose rhetorical skills and influence were significant.97 In the address, he dovetailed the shelter construction narrative with the president’s personal beliefs while evoking the sense of historic purpose that had characterized the 1960 campaign election campaign.98 Sorensen wanted to construct a speech that “underlined our commitment to the people in Berlin” and demonstrated that the domestic front had the “required endurance.”99 To do this without causing mass panic required care, and Bundy advised, “[T]his speech should be full of information, and should leave Americans with the feeling they know what to do and why they need to do it.”100 In Bundy’s view, Kennedy should maintain a “cool tone” that indicated “a willingness to explain lots of things. . . . [T]he President will in a quite literal sense speak softly.”101 The role of civil defense and white paternalistic duty would be presented as an “insurance policy” for not just America but the world. The domestication of the message would have the added advantage of combating what Newsweek had called the “biggest obstacle to civil defense”: the “apathy, complacence, and contempt” of the middle class.102
The Berlin Address presented a specific vision of the nation’s masculine character by way of the fallout shelter father. During the thirty-minute speech, 25 million Americans heard that Kennedy had requested and received $207 million in additional civil defense funds to identify and stock potential shelter sites, a figure that amounted to 60 percent of the total funding that civil defense had received in the previous decade.103 This combined amount of federal funding, legislative support, and executive commitment was more than any other president would ever enjoy. Although Democratic senators Stephen Young, Wayne Morse, and Ernest Gruening blasted the civil defense agency as a “bunch of hacks” who talked “vaguely about survival, planned alerts to annoy their neighbors, and distributed countless reams of literature,” Kennedy had successfully brought the discussion of civil defense into the heart of Washington politics.104 As the Washington Post noted, “the lean years are over: Now civil defense is the success story of D.C.”105 But these halcyon days were short lived. Almost as soon as the speech ended, agency phones began to ring, with families on the other end of the line, begging to know what they could do to protect themselves.
The Restyling of Civil Defense
After the Berlin Address, politicians and families found themselves grappling with the limitations of shelter fatherhood. It had been simple enough to create a political rhetoric of do-it-yourself survival, but translating a model of paternal action and self-determination into concrete solutions for everyday families was another task entirely. While FHA loans gave fathers an economic pathway, financing options alone could never solve the question of nuclear survival. So shortly after the speech, the Kennedy administration pledged that, within the next few months, it would distribute a free booklet to every household: a new definitive civil defense pamphlet provisionally titled Fallout Protection and You: What You Can Do About a Nuclear Attack (1961). Conceived as a companion piece to the rollout of FHA loans, the booklet would have a print run of more than 60 million copies; as Raskin waspishly noted in a memo to Bundy, it would be “the most circulated piece of literature in Man’s history since the Bible.”106
Fallout Protection and You was in production between July and December 1961. In this same period families were applying for their first FHA shelter loans, and the administration’s internal shelter debate was evolving into something more than a protracted theoretical discussion about the merits of patriarchal civic duty, liberalized economics, tax breaks, and financial incentives. Raskin, Bundy, Schlesinger, and the office of the president were engaged in an exhausting public relations task that required an active partnership with pro–civil defense sections of the American press. The goal was to facilitate a new domestic education program for civil defense. In July, Bundy, aware that Kennedy was keen to delegate oversight of civil defense to the Department of Defense, asked Raskin and Kaysen to find a “point of contact” in the Pentagon.107 Raskin went looking for someone who “shared his opinion” about the problematic nature of shelter loans and settled on Adam Yarmolinsky, a special assistant to McNamara, as a potential ally. To Raskin’s surprise, however, Yarmolinsky embraced the FHA plans and treated civil defense as a serious proposition that deserved his full attention. As summer advanced and the nation’s bomb-shelter craze took hold, he emerged as the spokesman of national readiness. He made public appearances and answered press questions. To show his commitment to the cause, he even constructed his own do-it-yourself shelter.108 Yarmolinsky had once served as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Stanley F. Reed, and he was now known as one of the Department of Defense’s whiz kids, recruited during the New Frontier’s early talent drives. He was acutely aware that the administration needed a party line to support FHA loans for civil defense.109
By late July, McNamara had appointed Yarmolinsky to assistant for civil defense and charged Steuart L. Pittman with coordinating state and local civil defense efforts.110 Yarmolinsky spent the next six months trying to find a middle ground on civil defense—somewhere, he cynically noted, between “nuclear holocaust and surrender.”111 Between October and December he recruited a team to produce the first draft of Fallout Protection and You. In his seminal study of the Kennedy years, A Thousand Days, Schlesinger mentions an unnamed Pentagon official—undoubtedly Yarmolinsky—who “reached out to Madison Avenue experts” for help in writing the new public manual.112 In fact, Yarmolinsky wisely decided to commission the six-member editorial team behind Life’s September fallout shelter special edition.
The team was headed by the magazine’s managing editor, Edward K. Thompson, who was also Bundy’s close personal friend. Thompson was well versed in the message of civil defense, and his memoir, A Love Affair with “Life” & “Smithsonian” (1995), details the writing team’s internal dynamics and recalls the intellectual climate in which the booklet was produced. He recalled that one of the first ideas pitched by the Pentagon was to open the booklet with an illustration of “a frontier family besieged by Indians in a log cabin. Of the ten family members, five would get scalped because they had no blast shelters, and five would not because they did have a shelter.” Thompson felt that this depiction of frontier violence was overkill and worked to take creative control away from the Pentagon and tone down the opening. He also recalled that a section in an early chapter, one detailing how to treat nuclear burns, drew McNamara’s ire; the assistant secretary commented in a terse memo, “[K]ill it.”113 The booklet was shaping up to be a disaster, and Raskin, who was in frequent contact with Yarmolinsky, attempted to stop the first draft from being circulated. Writing to Bundy, he asked him to end the project: “I have read the document and feel very strongly that . . . [it] should not be sent around. . . . [T]he effects per se of sending the documents [to the public] are incalculable.”114 Despite Raskin’s best efforts, however, in mid-October the first draft was finished and circulated throughout the Pentagon and the White House for comment. In the words of Frank Kaplan, “nearly everyone who saw it, especially outside the Pentagon, was aghast.”115
In discussions and policy memos, the New Frontiersmen had created a thoughtful metaphor for civic engagement that evoked a heroic narrative of presidential leadership and a politically viable call for domestic masculine commitment to a wider Cold War conflict. But it was not easy to translate the rhetorical ideal of male shelter construction into a printed booklet that outlined citizens’ specific duties during and after a nuclear attack. It did not help that the dense, heavily illustrated draft (more than 140 pages long) also incorporated every problematic historical trope that had defined civil defense literature during the past decade.116 For instance, the log-cabin shelter, frequently ridiculed in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, appeared in the form of a father guiding his family into a cabin structure that doubled as a makeshift boat for escape from key coastal zones.117 The draft also failed to make any reference to shelters in urban spaces: every illustration depicted either office spaces with large shelter structures in the basement or shelters for suburban homes and families. Factories, apartments, and tenant buildings were invisible.
In an attempt to be practical, the Life writing team had simplified the narrative of nuclear survival to the point of absurdity—claiming, for instance, that “communities that are well organized and hav[e] planned their decontamination actions will be able to return to normal life conditions” within two weeks. This optimistic two-week schedule appeared in a section titled “Shelter Living Will Be as Healthy as You Make It.” Suggesting that shelter living might “strengthen the bonds of the American family,” it made no reference to safe levels of radiation dosage, blast radius, or the potential contamination of foodstuffs and glided over what was becoming a growing public concern: the notion of survival as a business. In fact, in a later section, readers would learn that civil defense was good for maintaining the American pioneer spirit of male entrepreneurship: “the anticipation of a new market for home shelter is helpful and in keeping with the free enterprise way of meeting the changing conditions in our lives.”118
White House staffers began to refer to the booklet as the “Fallout Is Good for You” guide. Fred Dutton, an assistant to the president, wrote in a memo to Bundy that “the feel of the pamphlet, especially the drawings, is not reassuring. I suspect a poor public reaction to this.”119 His response was mild compared to the reactions of other New Frontiersmen. John Kenneth Galbraith, the ambassador to India, criticized the Department of Defense for allowing so many factual errors to appear in the booklet. In a memo to the Pentagon prefaced with “I regard this as a matter of high importance,” he declared that it was seemingly designed to “sav[e] Republicans and sacrific[e] Democrats” and called it “absolutely incredible and particularly injudicious.” He continued: “There are survival plans for people who have individual houses with basements in which lean-to fallout shelters can be built” but “no design for civilians who live in congested areas, tenements, low cost apartments.” Like the shelter-loan program, the pamphlet in its current form “seeks to save the better elements of the population, but in the main writes off those who voted for you.”120
Schlesinger agreed, stating, “[T]here is particularly nothing in the pamphlet with which workingmen can identity.”121 Raskin took specific aim at the fallout shelter father, noting that the booklet “assumes that the paterfamilias has some objective tool to ascertain what protection he’ll need to survive. This is nonsense. This part also gives the impression that the booklet is something to ‘study’ since it’s the key to survival. This is also nonsense.”122 Raskin offered one piece of editing advice: “[O]n page 12 there is a woman who looks like Mrs. Kennedy. We might want to change her so that she looks like Mrs. Rockefeller.”123
During a 1985 interview, Pittman recalled the “extraordinary number of man hours” that senior officials spent on the pamphlet: “the President, Bundy, Wisner, Kaysen, McNamara—all these kinds of people were crawling all over this piece of paper which was to be a booklet, arguing about whether you should show a boat as a fallout shelter because it might offend poor people that don’t have boats.”124 This remarkable anecdote captures the way in which the executive branch found itself grappling with the class dynamics inherent in the privileging of middle-class fathers. In recollections of the debacle, Kaysen noted what he called a “real Kennedyism”: “I was going over the pamphlet with him, which he insisted we do word by word. He wanted to be sure of what was said, and this again reflected the Berlin incident . . . the feeling that all of this was terribly sensitive.”125 Sorensen, too, worried about public reaction to the booklet as it “forc[ed] the issue even further out of perspective” and provided “ammunition to SANE and hard-line militarists.” He wrote, “Sending it out to every home is justified only as a means of clarifying the confusion and saving lives in case of attack, but this means considerable revision and stripped down text with different pictures.”126
Finally, the administration decided to redraft the pamphlet and gave the task to Schlesinger, who in November 1961 received a copy of the original draft with the words “Art let your light shine over these pages” written across the top.127 On November 22 Kaysen told Bundy that, “after consideration, Arthur and I think there is no point in trying to put the [original] papers together. His will be along.”128 Schlesinger’s report, “Reflections on Civil Defense,” written in December, worked to negotiate the contradiction between the need for civil defense and shelter hysteria. In the document, Schlesinger depersonalized the political discourse of survival, recognizing that the spirit of individual shelter construction had turned ugly, “at war with morality and at war with the sense of community cooperation which will be indispensable in the case of attack. It is an invitation to barbarism.”129 Kaysen supported this point of view, telling Bundy that “the central question in making this decision is whether it is possible to continue to rely mainly on individual action. In the light of the present high level of concern about civil defense domestically I do not think it is possible to do so.” His solution? Fallout Protection and You would be “made available on request through local civil defense offices. . . . [O]nly those specifically interested in the civil defense problem get the pamphlet.”130 The New Frontiersmen liked this concept of a targeted release. The booklet’s print run was reduced to 25 million copies, and copies were placed in regional civil defense offices without any accompanying executive statement or publicity effort. Discussion of shelters disappeared from the front pages of the nation’s newspapers. Kennedy’s input into civil defense messages was also reduced: the pamphlet now opened with a letter from McNamara.
The content of the booklet had also changed by the time its final version was published in January 1962. It was slim, down to forty-eight pages, with fewer illustrations and no historical images of America’s frontier past. The title was shorter: Fallout Protection: What to Know and Do about Nuclear Attack. The text made direct reference to shelters in tenant buildings and urban spaces, with an emphasis on community projects and medical training rather than individual financing options. The family shelter did make an appearance, with illustrations of men building bunkers and fortifying homes and women in supporting roles. However, these images did not reinforce the pioneer spirit of male entrepreneurship and self-sufficiency that had dominated the original draft. The revised version advised citizens that “before writing in [to the OCDM] try to answer your own questions with the help of your neighbor.” It also advised people who planned to build a shelter to “put a large letter S on the front” of their letters if they required a design catalogue or the letter B for more copies of the booklet.131
The Kennedy administration underwent a noticeable learning curve in its understanding of civil defense. Yet that is only half the story. Individuals at both the top and the bottom of the power structure struggled with how to perform the masculine political ideals inherent in shelter construction. The introduction of private shelter loans triggered many of these confusions on the Cold War home front. Certainly, their history confirms the conclusions of the historian Andrew Grossman: that civil defense was a social blueprint for survival that favored the suburbs over the city. But it also reveals the way in which local financial institutions cooperated in the structural exclusion of non-property owners from civil defense. Shelter loans were part of the inequality that lay at the core of the Cold War home front, an era when 62 million Americans were told to rely on finding survival in their community. Civil defense officials told fathers to be willing actors in the nuclear state. Yet the growing backlash against private shelters demonstrates that resistance to a state-directed model of masculinity manifested itself in many different forms.
1. John F. Kennedy, report to the American people on the Berlin crisis [Berlin Address], July 25, 1961, John F. Kennedy Speech Files, 1961–63, Theodore C. Sorensen Personal Papers, JFKL, 4.
3. For regional OCD staff, the morning of July 26 was exceptionally busy and stressful. Reports reveal a sharp and quickly overwhelming number of requests for information, and especially for copies of Family Fallout Shelter, a 1960 construction manual. See Office of Civil Defense, office record, NAII.
4. Alice L. George, Awaiting Armageddon: How Americans Faced the Cuban Missile Crisis (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 59.
5. Frank Fields, letter to the Office of Civil Defense, November 10, 1961, Public Affairs Office Record, box 1, file “Correspondence Cards,” NAII.
6. Subsequent chapters will detail the financial implications of shelter construction; suffice it to say here that letters and correspondent cards frequently mentioned them. For example, Fred Hunt wrote to his local paper about the argument he had had with his wife over whether buying or financing a shelter might preclude getting a new television. Such commodity balancing between survival and luxury informed many actions of shelter salesmen. See Fred Hunt, letter to the editor, Sarasota News, October 5, 1961, 56.
7. Theodore C. Sorensen, memo to John F. Kennedy, November 23, 1961, Theodore C. Sorensen Personal Papers, box 30, file “Civil Defense,” JFKL, 1.
8. See Laura McEnaney, Civil Defense Begins at Home: Militarization Meets Everyday Life in the Fifties (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), chap. 5.
9. Richard Crawford, “‘Cold War Fallout’: Big Boom in Building of Home Shelters,” San Diego Union, August 13, 1961, 12.
10. On Kennedy’s decision to treat civil defense as an insurance policy, see Robert Dallek, John F. Kennedy: An Unfinished Life 1917–1936 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 405; and Ernst R. May and Phillip D. Zelikow, eds., The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 265.
11. Herbert Jolovitz, “Considerations on Civil Defense for the Office of the President,” January 7, 1961, Presidential Campaign Files, Position and Briefing Papers, 1960, series 14, box 1, JFKL, 2, 1.
12. Ibid., 2.
13. Unknown author, memo to McGeorge Bundy, February 6, 1961, John F. Kennedy Papers, National Security Files, Civil Defense: General, January–March 1961, series 5, box 295, JFKL, 1.
14. Kennedy historians do not often consider early discussions of civil defense, including JFK’s and his father Joseph’s support of the FDCA throughout the 1950s. For studies of Kennedy’s civil defense policy beginning with the May 1961 congressional address, see Kenneth D. Rose, One Nation Underground (New York: New York University Press, 2001); Tracy C. Davis, Stages of Emergency: Cold War Nuclear Defense (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007); Dee Garrison, Bracing for Armageddon: Why Civil Defense Never Worked (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).
15. See K. A. Cuordileone, Manhood and American Political Culture in the Cold War, (New York: Routledge, 2005), 167–220.
16. Franklin B. Ellis, “Briefing for the Director on National Organizations and Civic Affairs,” March 15, 1959, Records of the Office of Emergency Preparedness, Public Affairs Office Subject, 1960–61, RG396, box 1, NAII, 4.
18. See McEnaney, Civil Defense Begins at Home, chap. 5.
19. William Heimlich, memo to Frank Ellis, April 29, 1961, Records of the Office of Emergency Preparedness, Public Affairs Office Subject, 1960–61, RG396, box 1, NAII, 3.
20. U.S. House of Representatives, “Civil Defense Program: Hearing Before a Subcommittee of the Committee for Armed Services,” 84th Congress, 1st sess. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, May 20, 1955), 707.
21. Irving Lester Janis, Air War and Emotional Stress: Psychological Studies of Bombing and Civilian Defense (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1991), 202–3.
22. See U.S. Bureau of the Census, U.S. Census of Housing, 1960, vol. 1, States and Small Areas (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1963), part 1.
23. Charles A. Haskins, memo to McGeorge Bundy, February 21, 1961, National Security Files, series 5, box 295, JFKL.
24. Bundy viewed Stimson, whom he called “the Colonel,” as “an exemplary man” and a “stoic servant of the state,” whose foreign policy service and “liberal internationalism” made him a “heroic model” to be both admired and imitated. Stimson’s portrait hung in Bundy’s office during his tenure in the White House; and among those who joined what became known as the foreign policy establishment, his “rugged integrity, force, and courage” became the benchmark for how they should act in times of crisis. See Robert Dean, Imperial Brotherhood: Gender and the Making of Cold War Foreign Policy (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001), 10–16.
25. Andrew Preston, The War Council: McGeorge Bundy, the NSC, and Vietnam (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), 59.
26. See chap. 1; also see FCDA, Civil Defense for National Security (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1948), 186.
27. McGeorge Bundy, Danger and Survival (New York: Random House, 1988), 355, 356.
28. Carl Kaysen, “Second Oral History Interview with Theodore C. Sorensen,” April 6, 1964, John F. Kennedy Oral History Collection, JFKL, 7. Sorensen’s answers were lengthy: he mentioned the threat from Rockefeller in the 1964 election and feared an “inconsistentcy with his general stance.”
29. McGeorge Bundy, memo to Marcus Raskin, May 6, 1961, National Security Files, box 295, folder 2, JFKL.
30. For a complete discussion of civil defense and FHA loans, see John F. Kennedy Papers, National Security Files, Civil Defense: General, January–March 1961, JFKL.
31. Bundy reviewed the findings of numerous reports, studies, proposals before providing Kennedy with a condensed summary of his options. The Gaither report (circulated as National Security Council, “Report to the President by the Security Resources Panel Science Advisory Committee on Deterrence and Survival in the Nuclear Age,” November 7, 1957, reprinted in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955–1957, vol. 19, National Security Policy [Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1990]) stated that a national shelter program costing $25 billion to construct and a future $10 billion in equipment and supplies might save “fifty million American lives” while allowing “our own air defense to use nuclear warheads with greater freedom” (35–45). Two subsequent studies, the Rockefeller report (1957) (Science Advisory Committee, Security Resources Panel, “Deterrence and Survival in the Nuclear Age,” November 7, 1957, National Security Council Staff Papers, 1948–61, Disaster File, box 36, folder “Mobilization ,” DDEL, 2), (which was declassified and published), and the RAND Corporation’s commissioned Report on a Study of Non-Military Defense (1958), Report R-322-RC, The Rand Corporation (July 1958) both written in the wake of Sputnik, verified the initial appraisal of the nationwide shelter program, noting that the costs might range between $20 billion and $150 billion, depending on the scale. Eisenhower understandably balked at these costs, seeing grave social and geopolitical implications in what he called the “fortress America” concept (see Guy Oakes, Imaginary War: Civil Defense and Cold War Culture [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994], 31).
32. On Kaysen and Raskin, see Frank Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon (New York: Touchstone, 1983).
33. Marcus Raskin, “Civil Defense and Berlin,” July 7, 1961, National Security Files, box 295, folder 3, JFKL.
34. Carl Kaysen, “The Vulnerability of the United States to Enemy Attack,” World Politics 6, no. 2 (January 1954): 190–208.
35. Marcus Raskin, memo to McGeorge Bundy, May 19, 1961, National Security Files, box 295, folder 2, JFKL.
36. See Cuordileone, Manhood and American Political Culture, 167–220.
37. See Kenneth T. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 222.
38. Carl Kaysen, “First Oral History Interview,” November 7, 1966, John F. Kennedy Oral History Collection, JFKL.
39. Policymakers discussed potential resolutions related to large-scale home construction projects, the identification of public spaces as makeshift shelter sites, the diplomatic utility of civil defense, and the need to carefully consider if civil defense should be under civilian or military control.
40. Theodore C. Sorensen, Kennedy (New York: Harper and Row, 1965), 613–14.
41. Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon, 309.
42. Raskin was building on the work of Willard Libby; see Thomas Keer, Civil Defense in the United States: Band-Aid for the Holocaust (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1983), 90–91.
43. Gary Wills, The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981), 179.
44. On the quest to solve the problems of civil defense, see David Monteyne, Architecture, Landscape, and American Culture: Fallout Shelter: Designing for Civil Defense in the Cold War (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), 35–77. See also Gerald E. Klonglan, George M. Beal, and Joe M. Bohlen, Adoption of Public Fallout Shelters: A 1964 National Study (Ames: Iowa State University, 1964), 186–91.
45. Marcus Raskin, Essays of a Citizen: From National Security to State to Democracy (New York: Routledge, 1991), 60. On the Stanford report, see Tracy C. Davis, Stages of Emergency: Cold War Nuclear Defense (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), 421.
46. Raskin, Essays of a Citizen, 60, 61.
47. Raskin, memo to Bundy, May 19, 1961.
48. Sorensen, memo to Kennedy, November 23, 1961, 1.
49. John F. Kennedy, “Special Message to Congress on Urgent National Needs,” May 25, 1961, John F. Kennedy Papers, Speech Files, series 3, JFKL, 6.
52. FHA loans were mortgages used for purchasing or refinancing one- to four-unit, owner-occupied, residential properties, condominiums, and manufactured homes. Home loans were not funded directly by the agency, but the FHA guaranteed that they will be repaid if the borrower defaults. For full details, including the changing regulations in 1961–62, see U.S. House of Representatives, Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Government Operations, part 2, Appendixes, 87th Cong., 2nd sess. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1962), 366.
53. Newspapers often published details of the FHA regulations; see U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Aids for Fallout Shelters (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1967).
54. Details of approved shelter loans were recorded in U.S. House of Representatives, Annual Report of the Activities of the Joint Committee on Defense Production (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1961), 370.
55. Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Government Operations, 366.
56. Office of Civil Defense, information bulletin, October 1961, 2:1.
57. Janesville Daily Gazette, October 11, 1961, 11; Albuquerque Journal, November, 1961, 35; Post Standard, October 22, 1961, 17; Miami News Florida, September 24, 1961, 25.
58. “Shelter Loans Now Available,” Herald Press, October 12, 1961, 29.
59. Baytown Sun, October 15, 1961, 12; Sarasota News, November 3, 1961, 13; Nashua Telegram, October 4, 1961, 42; “Home Shelter Loan,” Beckley Post Herald, November 14, 1961, 16.
60. Las Vegas Daily, October 13, 1961, 12.
61. “Baldwin Couple Likes Neighbors,” Pittsburgh Press, October 1, 1961, 56.
63. Chicago Defender, November 3, 1961, 12; “Shelters on Sale,” Pittsburgh Courier, October 4, 1961, 45.
64. Norman Cousins, “On Shelter,” August 15, 1961, Records of SANE, Norman Cousins Subject Files, box 15, SCPC.
65. See, for instance, Office of Civil Defense, Records of the Defense Preparedness Agency, Subject File: Correspondence Cards, boxes 1 and 2, NAII.
66. During the 1950s, the FCDA and the OCDM used an extensive network of religious movements to transmit the message of civil defense to local communities. See Office of Civil Defense, Public Affairs Office, boxes 765–74, NAII.
67. Percy Hamner, letter to the Office of Civil Defense, November 21, 1961, Records of the Defense Preparedness Agency, Shelters and Vulnerability Reduction, Central Files, 1961–68, RG396, NAII, 1.
68. Lawrence Hank, letter to the Office of Civil Defense, October 3, 1961, Records of the Defense Preparedness Agency, Shelters and Vulnerability Reduction, Central Files, 1961–68, RG396, NAII, 2.
69. Vincent Intondi, African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015).
70. Initially, the FHA did not require all shelters to be inspected before it processed loans. But after internal discussion and with a growing awareness of unethical practices, FHA and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) officials decided in December 1961 to work together to regulate all products sold and loans processed. This ruling required that each shelter be inspected. See Federal Trade Commission, ruling, December 1961, in Annual Report, Federal Trade Commission Papers, box 1, series 1, JFKL; and Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Government Operations, House, 366.
71. “FHA Home Shelter Offer,” Sarasota News, November 13, 1961, 34.
72. “FHA Offers Shelter,” Eugene Guard, October 12, 1961, 8.
73. Unknown author, letter to the Office of Civil Defense, December 4, 1961, Records of the Defense Preparedness Agency, Shelters and Vulnerability Reduction, Central Files, 1961–68, NAII, 2.
74. James Scott, letter to the Office of Civil Defense, December 12, 1961, Records of the Defense Preparedness Agency, Shelters and Vulnerability Reduction, Central Files, 1961–68, NAII, 2.
75. Robert Scott, Jr., letter to the editor, Arizona Republic, September 10, 1961, 26.
76. “Shelters for All?,” Tucson Daily Citizen, June 18, 1962, 15.
77. “Shelters the New Fab,” Morning Call, November 10, 1961, 13.
78. Ibid., 13.
79. “The New Craze,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 12, 1961, 29.
80. “Let Us Talk about Shelter,” Beckley Post Herald, July 15, 1962, 40.
81. “Civil Defense Spotlight,” Morning Call, November 14, 1961, 16.
82. For more on Khrushchev’s bullish behavior, see Dallek, An Unfinished Life, 403–14.
83. Jennifer Lynn Walton writes that attempts to “make a powerful first impression had fallen short” and that Vienna had a formative effect upon the policy decision and the renewed rhetorical “emphasis on responsibility patriarchy” in the following months (“Moral Masculinity,” in The Vienna Summit and Its Import in International History, ed. Gunter Bischof, Stefan Karner, and Barbara Stelzl-Marx [Cambridge, MA: Lexington Books, 2003], 320–29).
84. Dallek, An Unfinished Life, 403, 405.
85. See Kenneth D. Rose, One Nation Underground (New York: New York University Press, 2001), 32.
86. Dallek, An Unfinished Life, 412.
87. Marcus Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace: The Making of the European Settlement, 1945–1963 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press), 322.
88. Eugene Rostow, memo to Chester Bowles, June 16, 1961, National Security Files, Countries Series: Germany, box 81, JFKL.
89. Dean Acheson, memo to John F. Kennedy, April 3, 1961, National Security Files, Countries Series: Germany, box 81, JFKL.
90. National Security Council, memo for the record, National Security Council meeting 486, June 29, 1961, National Security Files, box 313, JFKL.
91. Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon, 309.
92. Richard Reeves, President Kennedy: Profile of Power (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994), 232.
93. Robert McNamara, memo to John F. Kennedy, September 18, 1961, National Security Files, Countries Series: Germany, box 81, JFKL.
94. John F. Kennedy, memo to Robert McNamara, September 18, 1961, National Security Files, Countries Series: Germany, box 61, Germany, JFKL.
95. Lawrence Freedman, Kennedy’s Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 66.
96. Arthur Schlesinger, memo to John F. Kennedy, July 7, 1961, National Security Files, Country Series: Germany, box 81, JFKL.
97. In “Theodore Sorensen,” Michael Brenes considers the partnership between Sorensen and Kennedy and argues that Sorensen’s liberal ideology failed to translate into policy action (A Companion to John F. Kennedy, ed. Marcus J. Selverstone [Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2014], 115–32).
98. Theodore C. Sorensen, memo to John F. Kennedy, July 17, 1961, Theodore C. Sorensen Personal Papers, Classified Subject Files: Berlin, box 42, folder 1, JFKL.
99. McGeorge Bundy, memo to Theodore C. Sorensen, July 5, 1961, Theodore C. Sorensen Personal Papers, Classified Subject Files: Berlin, box 42, folder 1, JFKL.
100. Theodore C. Sorensen, “Drafts: Berlin Speech,” July 24–25, 1961, Theodore C. Sorensen Personal Papers, box 60, JFKL.
101. Kennedy, Berlin Address, 4.
102. “CD—The Weak Spot,” Newsweek, July 31, 1961, 14.
103. Rose, One Nation Underground, 37.
104. Stephen M. Young, “Civil Defense: Billion Dollar Boondoggle,” Progressive 24 (December 1960): 18–20.
105. “CD Successes,” Washington Post, August 2, 1961, 12.
106. Marcus Raskin, memo to McGeorge Bundy, October 10, 1961, National Security Files, Civil Defense Records, box 295, folder 3, JFKL.
107. Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon, 309.
108. Adam Yarmolinsky, interview no. 1, March 26, 1964, John F. Kennedy Oral History Collection, JFKL, 38–39.
109. Adam Yarmolinsky, clipping, Adam Yarmolinsky Personal Papers, Subject File: Civil Defense, box WH0.9a, JFKL.
110. Rose, One Nation Underground, 32.
111. Adam Yarmolinsky, “First Oral History with Adam Yarmolinsky,” March 1, 1964, John F. Kennedy Oral History Collection, JFKL, 38–39.
112. Arthur Schlesinger, A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1965), 391.
113. Edward K. Thompson, A Love Affair with “Life” & “Smithsonian” (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1995), 253.
114. Marcus Raskin, memo to McGeorge Bundy, October 17, 1961, National Security Files, box 295, folder 3 “Civil Defense,” JFKL.
115. Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon, 309.
116. The original draft of Fallout Protection and You is in Adam Yarmolinsky Personal Papers, Subject File “Civil Defense,” box WH0.9a, JFKL.
117. John Kenneth Galbraith, memo to John F. Kennedy, November 9, 1961, National Security Files, Civil Defense, October 28–November 17, 1961, box 295, folder 7, JFKL.
118. Fallout Protection and You, 65.
119. Frederick G. Dutton, memo to McGeorge Bundy, October 28, 1961, National Security Files, Civil Defense, October 28–November 17, 1961, box 295, folder 7, JFKL.
120. Galbraith, memo to Kennedy, November 9, 1961, 2.
121. Arthur Schlesinger, memo to John F. Kennedy, November 22, 1961, National Security Files, Civil Defense, October 28–November 17, 1961, box 295, folder 7, JFKL, 3.
122. Marcus Raskin, memo to McGeorge Bundy, November 7, 1961, National Security Files, Civil Defense, October 28–November 17, 1961, box 295, folder 7, JFKL.
123. See Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon, 309.
124. Pittman recalled how, “after several tortured months, we did what we could’ve done almost immediately, which was to take the material that had already been written by OCDM, revise it somewhat, and put it out in the name of the Defense Department. . . . [I]t was really a ridiculous episode.” (“First Oral History Interview with Steuart L. Pittman,” September 18, 1970, John F. Kennedy Oral History Collection, JFKL, 6.)
125. “First Interview with Carl Kaysen,” June 11, 1966, John F. Kennedy Oral History Collection, JFKL, 12.
126. Sorensen, memo to John F. Kennedy, November 11, 1961, Theodore C. Sorensen Personal Papers, Subject Files: Civil Defense, 1961–64, box 30, JFKL.
127. This annotated copy of Fallout Protection and You is in Arthur Schlesinger Personal Papers, Classified Subject Files: Civil Defense, box WH29, folder 2, JKFL.
128. Carl Kaysen, memo to John F. Kennedy, undated, National Security Files, Civil Defense, October 28–November 17, 1961, box 295, folder 7, JFKL.
129. Draft statements for Fallout Protection, Arthur Schlesinger Personal Papers, Classified Subject Files: Civil Defense, box W04, folder 3, JFKL, 2.
130. Carl Kaysen, memo to Marcus Raskin, November 15, 1961, National Security Files, Civil Defense, October 28–November 17, 1961, box 295, folder 8, JFKL.
131. Department of Defense, Fallout Protection: What to Know and Do about Nuclear Attack (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1961), 46.