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the culture of fear
It was a hectic week for Scott Tennyson, the boy historian. Between the demands of school and the challenge issued by Dr. Pop, he had little time for family or friends. Research may be exciting, he concluded, but it's real work.
To their credit, Mr. and Mrs. Tennyson supported their son's newly-found passion. Although they didn't know about Clio or Scott's experience in Guernsey, they were impressed with his excitement for study. His father checked out history books from the library to help Scott investigations. And his mother didn't yell at him for not picking up after himself, even though he left dirty socks on the floor and several changes of school clothes strewn over the chair in his bedroom. Perhaps because she didn't see her brother much that week, Jennifer observed a ceasefire in the sister-brother war of taunts that had marked their relationship in recent years.
For his part, Scott recognized the new atmosphere of tolerance, but, frankly, he was too busy to appreciate the change. He was a young man on a mission. He had never been this excited by anything academic. His goal was to learn as much as possible about the world he had just visited and, thereby, impress the Professor. Scott hoped such a performance might earn him another chance to explore historical films via the Clio machine.
The internet, of course, was helpful—although explanations on the websites were usually superficial. He found more elaborate explanations in the school library and in the books his father had retrieved for him. Scott investigated every possible angle: from Guernsey's history to the outbreak of World War II, from the sinking of the two British ships in October 1939, to the fate of France, Great Britain, and Switzerland in the war. It was a tall order, but when Wednesday did arrive, he was ready.
As the familiar bell sounded his entry into The History Shoppe, Scott felt his week of research had prepared him to face Professor Papadopoulos. Still, he didn't know exactly what to expect: another discussion? an essay exam? a battery of multiple-choice questions?
This time the old man was arranging his display cases when Scott entered. “Ah, Scott, how nice to see you again,” he exclaimed. “I trust you had a profitable week. The fact that you returned today tells me you spent some time studying last week's film.”
“For sure, Dr. Pop,” Scott replied. “I went through all the websites, every encyclopedia I could find, and as many book as I had time for. And, I've learned a lot.”
“Good. I am very pleased. Let's sit down and discuss what you‘ve discovered,” said the Professor who removed books and papers from an old armchair and urged his student to be seated.
As the Scott arranged himself, Dr. Pop began what amounted to an oral debriefing. He had clearly intensified his examination technique. No longer using simple and friendly chit-chat, the Professor now posed serious questions. “I'm sure you utilized STAMPIERE this past week as a prism through which to analyze the film,” he remarked. “There are many observations one could make within each category, but in the interest of time, I would like you to tell me the single most important historical conclusion you've drawn in each perspective.”
Interestingly, Scott was not unnerved by the demanding tone of the Professor's request. That was because for the past week he had used the mnemonic device to channel his thinking. “Well, let's see,” he replied. “There are many significant observations in most of the categories,” he began. “For S, social matters, the most important thing I saw was the effect of war on the people of Paris and Guernsey. I saw men and women and children living normal lives until the chaos of war was imposed upon them. And I saw fear in their eyes and some panic in their actions once they realized that war had been declared.
“I can't forget Darryl Brady's comment when he filmed a typical French family posing in their wearing gas masks: ‘This is a family portrait in 1939 in a world we call civilized.” Those were painful words,” Scott concluded. “They showed the anxiety the French and British people faced.”
“You've made a good choice for S,” responded Professor Papadopoulos. “You saw many aspects of Western European society on the eve of war, but the impact of World War II, even in those first days, was overwhelming, both in terms of nations battling to the death, and in terms of the people personally confronting the horrors of warfare. How about T for technological?”
Scott thought a bit about this response. He was no expert on the history of science and technology, but he concluded that the submarine experience was the most striking point to be made in this category. “I think it was the level of efficiency of the German U-Boat as it sank two ships at sea,” Scott asserted. “Can you imagine the mechanical genius it took to develop and produce this magnificent machine? But, in the hands of warriors, look at the indifference to human life with which it was used to slaughter people in the middle of the ocean. It seemed as if the technology was highly advanced, but the human beings who operated it were acting barbarically. Science and engineering used in the cause of combat instead of peace.”
“Interesting point, my boy.” the Professor responded. “There were only defenseless people aboard the ships: men, women, children, and some wounded soldiers. Many of the crew members were neither British nor French, the two countries with which the Germans were at war.
“Moreover, you are correct to recognize how the film confirms that man's brain has far outstripped his morality. It wasn't a new observation in 1939, and it's not new today. From thermonuclear bombs to high-tech aircraft used as missiles against civilian office buildings, we still have not progressed much beyond the ethics of cavemen. And the brilliance of our technological accomplishments which has done so much to make life enjoyable has also made us ever more dangerous to ourselves.”
The Professor and his young pupil agreed that A, administrative, had little applicability in analyzing the film, but M, or military, was definitely appropriate. To Scott, the most significant military point was the way in which the people of Guernsey responded to the declaration of war emanating from London.
“Just imagine, Professor, some of those soldiers weren't much older than me. To be swimming happily in an island cove one day, then be told to ship off for war the next day: it's impossible to know fully the emotions of the Guernsey men,” he remarked. “And, yet, they went, not with anguish on their faces, but with pride and, I guess, some of that famous British pluck.”
“You are correct, partially” the Professor responded. “But there's more to it than just the loyalty and pluck that you saw in a group of soldiers from departing Guernsey. Can you think more broadly about the meaning of militarism in civilized life? What is the significance of a civilization ready to start a war, or ready to respond to provocation? How can one produce a lasting society when brute warfare is so easy to create, and is so often popular with the citizenry, at least in the short run?”
Scott thought for a few seconds. Such questioning called for deep analysis. “I see your point, Dr. Pop,” he remarked. “When you think about it, the most important military point has to be the opening of World War II which I witnessed. The fact that the Nazis invaded Poland because they wanted to expand, and the fact that other countries responded by declaring war on the Germans. It all suggests that civilization is never too far from militarism. As I recall, Germany was an advanced nation in 1939—a land of great technological accomplishment and great artistic achievement. And still, it was the Germans who precipitated the bloodiest war in world history.
“It's a terrible dilemma,” Scott continued, “civilizations must have soldiers as their guardians, but what does it mean when guardians become invaders. To me it seems to be a retreat from civilized standards.”
These were mature conclusions that Scott hadn't expected to hear coming from his own mouth. Yet, here he was, sounding so profound while trading historical insights with an accomplished scholar. “I never thought that the study of history could make a person this philosophical,” Scott interjected.
“Indeed, it can, and usually does,” added the Professor. “Because history is so inclusive, those who study it must investigate all facets of mankind. We must delve into everything about the past and draw conclusions. We accumulate the collective record and present it for consideration. We are preservationists of the community chronicle in all its greatness and in all its folly. We warn the living. This is what makes historians philosophical, and exceedingly valuable to their own times and to ages yet to come.”
“It sounds like such a noble calling,” Scott observed.
“Well,” Dr. Pop noted, “I recall a professor of mine who once referred to the job as ‘the priestly profession.” For many years, I thought he meant that historians must work in private, alone and often lonely, as might a righteous priest. As I grew older, however, I realized he meant that an historian had a philosophical, even moral mission to accomplish: to explain the consequences of past human activity.”
Professor Papadopoulos caught himself again. “Oh, I'm off on another favorite tangent. I guess it goes with the profession,” he observed with light self-reproach. “Let's see, where were we with STAMPIERE? Oh, yes, the letter P for political.”
Scott snapped back to attention. He was still pondering the insights offered by his wise teacher. “Yes, Dr. Pop, political. Let me see,” he said as he gathered his thoughts. “Last week I suggested that the rescue effort by the Independence Hall in 1939 might have been the first instance of the United States intervening to assist the British in their wartime predicament.
“Well, I checked and found later instances where Americans helped the British before officially entering the war in December 1941. These included volunteers who knitted clothing for the Bundles for Britain charity. American charities also shipped medical supplies to the British. But the Lend-Lease Act in 1940 was the most striking,” Scott continued. “By that law the U.S. loaned and leased food and weapons to those European countries fighting Nazi Germany and Italy. The United States was technically a neutral nation, and it was dangerous to assist a particular side. To do so would be to risk attack and involvement in the World War. So, Congress and President Roosevelt decided to lend or lease rather than give defense supplies to Great Britain, and even the Soviet Union, and whatever countries the President felt essential to American defense.
“But all these events occurred long after October 1939. Through my research, I discovered that the captain of the Independence Hall sent a wireless message to the headquarters of the American company that owned the freighter. He sought formal approval of his intention to assist the desperate survivors. The company officials agreed, and the rescue began.”
Scott continued, “So, despite the threat of a U-boat attack, the defenseless Americans saved hundreds of people, then took them for medical attention in France. That was a humanitarian act, but it was also a political statement that Americans would risk everything to help people in need.”
The Professor shook his head in agreement. “It was a noble and brave gesture, wasn't it? Of course, maritime rules required the nearest vessel to save the survivors of a stricken ship at sea. But in the face of a possible submarine attack, it was not required. The Nazis must have received the political message early and clearly: American sympathies were with the British and French and anyone who opposed the Nazis.”
“Another thing, Dr. Pop,” Scott added. “In March 1942 the Independence Hall ran aground on a sandbar off Halifax, Nova Scotia and split in half. It sank quickly. Unfortunately, ten lives were lost. Just a common freighter with an uncommon legacy.”
The Professor smiled at Scott. “I am so happy with your progress. You are still young, but you are showing signs of wisdom. I detect in your descriptions sensitivity to the human aspects of history. Too often historical scholarship speaks in terms of statistics and demographic percentages. The people are reduced to numbers of persons who wanted this or did that. But the truly valuable scholars are those who can search beyond the numbers to understand how humanity was affected. I sense in you this humanistic sympathy. Cherish it. It will serve you well.”
“Thank you very much,” said Scott. “Now, to my way of thinking, there is only one more category from STAMPIERE that slightly applies to Darryl Brady's Guernsey at War and that's I for intellectual/cultural. But it's not as important as the categories I just discussed.”
“OK. Does that mean you think the other categories—economic, religious, external/foreign policy—are irrelevant?” asked the Professor.
Scott explained his conclusion. “They're not totally absent from the film,” he remarked, “but they are not as prominent as the one's we've touched on already. We could talk about economics in terms of Golden Guernsey, Incorporated and its desire to advertise their cattle and dairy products. Religiously, the film shows nothing about church and faith, so I would dismiss this line of analysis. And while the outbreak of a world war is definitely an aspect of external relations between countries, we have already mentioned the war in terms of other categories.”
“Well, if that's how you see it, that's how it will be,” declared Professor Papadopoulos. “After all, you are the scholar who spent the past week digging into this film and its importance. I yield to your expertise. Anyway, I think it's time for you to work with Clio again.”
“That's great, Dr. Pop,” Scott exclaimed. “I was hoping I could be transported again. Where do I go this week?”
“This week I think you would profit by a trip into United States history in the early 1950s,” answered Professor Papadopoulos, as he described the political situation for Scott. “This was an era of great uncertainty. The European nations that had controlled global stability for centuries lay now in ruin. After thirty years of brutal warfare and national rivalries—from the outbreak of World War I in 1914 to the end of World War II in 1945— France and England were devastated. This was the case, too, for Germany, Italy, Austria, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands, in fact, almost all of Europe.”
Professor Papadopoulos continued with his sketch of postwar political reality. “There remained only two nations with the power to control the planet,” he explained, “the capitalist United States in the West and the communist Soviet Union in the East. World peace now depended upon these two superpowers, and they deeply distrusted each other. And, by the early 1950s both possessed nuclear weapons and the ability to destroy all civilization. The rivalry between these two power blocs we call the Cold War.
“You, my friend,” the Professor announced, “will be going into the American homefront to see how people understood this East-West balance of terror. But first, I want you to inspect a few paper artifacts from the time. These are popular items that document the feeling of the era, and they should provide a good background for you trip back in time.”
With this introduction, the Professor opened one of the display cases and pulled out a shoe box filled with small, brightly-colored objects. First, he handed Scott an old comic book. “Take a look at this. This is what many young people like you read in the early 1950s,” he explained. “It's an issue of Captain Marvel Adventures dated January 1953. It contains several stories featuring an American teenager, Billy Batson, who can say the word Shazam and be magically transformed into an invincible superhero named Captain Marvel. But, I want you to pay special attention to the main story entitled The Mongol Blood Drinkers .
Scott was surprised from the moment he grasped the comic book. The cover art depicted Captain Marvel wearing a skin-tight red outfit and a yellow-trimmed white cape flying directly into the face of a startled yellow-skinned monster. Below this graphic was a teasing reference to the story the Professor recommended:
IN THS ISSUE HORROR STALKS THE BATTLEFIELD
THE MONGOL BLOOD DRINKERS
Putting battlefield and Mongol together, Scott immediately knew that this was a reference to the North Korean and Chinese enemies against whom the United States and other nations had been fighting the Korean War since mid-1950.
“This is ridiculous,” Scott protested as he glanced through the pages. “For one thing, the cover art is really racist. Captain Marvel is this handsome white man while his enemy is a weird creature who appears to be part Asian and part fiend.
“Don't dismiss it too casually,” cautioned the Professor. “The children who read such literature did not receive the art and the stories as total distortions. No doubt they disregarded the fantasy of Asian vampires or white men in capes flying to the rescue, but many youngsters accepted the underlying social and political messages in such stories: racial superiority, the preeminence of Western values, and the evilness of those who oppose the West.
Taking the comic book back from Scott, the old man plucked a small box from the open case. “This box contains bubble gum cards from the same era,” he announced as he handed several stacks of the colorful cards to Scott. “In the early 1950s, boys and girls your age paid a penny to buy a pack containing a thin slab of pink chewing gum and a few of these cards. Collecting and trading them was an important social activity among children. Many a youngster's weekly allowance was spent on such cards. Go through them and tell me what you see.”
Scott was not unfamiliar with such items. But he was amazed at the topic they concerned: war. There were two sizes of cards. The smaller ones were part of a series called “Freedom's War.” On one side were images of American military personnel and combat equipment, often engaged in battle in the Korean War. The flip side offered a written description of the particular scene. Card number 115, for example, was called Fighting Man and it featured a stirring U.S. Army photo of an American soldier with two bands of machine-gun bullets crisscrossing his naked chest while he stood with a large artillery shell in his hands. “Here is a symbol of our fighting men,” the text proclaimed.
Others displayed current military equipment such as the P-16 “Black Widow” fighter airplane, a howitzer, a tank with a built-in flamethrower, plus a U.S. Navy submarine-chaser and a corvette, although the corvette card admitted “Since there was no submarine warfare in the Korean War, no use was made of these speedy ships.”
The most striking card for Scott was number 114, entitled “Molotov Cocktail .” Scott was amazed by the card because it actually provided the recipe for such a deadly weapon: “I had to put the tank out of commission and prepare a ‘Molotov Cocktail,'” it read. “Filling a jar with gasoline and wrapping a gasoline-soaked rag around it, I crept close to the tank, put a match to the rag... and threw it! The burning gasoline spread over the tank!”
“This is incredible,” Scott said. “If kids were the target market for these cards, then Freedom's War used bubble gum to introduce children to warfare. Was the Cold War so terrifying to adults that they spread their fears to their kids? Was militarism the only answer frightened Americans trusted in the Fifties?”
He turned next to the larger set of cards that were prominently inscribed with the title “Fight the Red Menace.” Unlike the first series which offered a mix of sketches and actual photos, this set was all drawings. More striking to Scott, however, was the outright propaganda written on the back where each card was labeled “CHILDREN'S CRUSADE AGAINST COMMUNISM.” Card number 39, entitled “Soviet Rocket Fighter,” showed a futuristic aircraft zooming away intact while an American bomber was plunging to earth in flames. The text called for an armaments race: “What kind of planes would the Soviet Union be able to throw against us if another world war should come? We know about their MIG-15s. The Chinese Reds have used them in Korea. Then there is the Me-163 rocket fighter, shown in the picture. The Russians captured it from the Nazis. The Reds are reported making improved Me-163s in large numbers. The free world, to remain free, is forced to match Red might, including air power.”
The Fight the Red Menace cards painted the world as a scary place filled with Communist threats. As well as in the Soviet Union, China, Eastern Europe, and Korea, they depicted destructive Red activities in Columbia, Indo-China, Norway, Greece, Berlin, and the Philippine Islands. The world seemed to be on fire.
But the propaganda value of the cards was most powerful when American military leaders were contrasted with the enemy. Officers such as General Dwight Eisenhower, General Douglas MacArthur, and Admiral Forrest P. Sherman were sketched as handsome, steadfast leaders. Their individual cards were enhanced with pictures of ships and soldiers in the background. By contrast, enemy leaders were ugly and mean. For example, the leader of the Peoples Republic of China, Mao Tse-tung, was portrayed with a green-face and a mysterious smile that appeared slightly sinister. Behind him was a drawing of a half-man, half-gorilla brute standing in a river of blood while holding a bloody saber over his head poised to continue killing.
“These are gross distortions, Dr. Pop,” said Scott excitedly. “They remind me of the comic book about the Mongol Blood Drinkers. They're also very political. They want children to hate the people their parents hate. And what about American kids who were of Asian descent? I wonder how they received this popular culture back then. ”
“Slow down, Scott,” the Professor responded. “I showed you these artifacts not to politicize you, but because I wanted you to sample the fear present in American society in the early 1950s. Both Freedom's War and Fight the Red Menace bubble gum cards were issued in 1951. That's roughly where you'll be transported very soon.
“Don't be swept up in the passions of that era. You are an historian. You have a duty to understand the times you are researching, not to condemn them outright,” he cautioned. “And remember, the Communists in Europe and Asia used similar propaganda to teach their citizens to fear the Americans. There was fear and ignorance on both sides.
“Now, before we visit Clio let me show you two artifacts aimed at adults,” he continued. The Professor then pulled two large magazines from his case. Here are two old issues of Collier's weekly magazine. This was a well-respected and popular publication for several decades. Here, take them and tell me what you learn from skimming through them?”
The cover of the Collier's issue of August 5, 1950 was stunning. There, rising over New York City, was an orange and gray mushroom cloud from an atomic bomb blast. Beneath this large, ghastly image were the words,
Can Anything Be Done About It?
The main article, written by an editor of the magazine, was illustrated with more scenes of New York City following a hypothetical atomic attack. One picture showed Washington Square completely devastated. Another depicted the Brooklyn Bridge in total ruin. A sketch of the Woolworth Building collapsing in fire and smoke eerily reminded Scott of TV coverage of the horrifying attack against the World Trade Center in September 2001.
PREVIEW OF THE WAR WE DO NOT WANT
Russia 's Defeat and Occupation 1952-1960
With an array of celebrated American writers—among them CBS newsmen Edward R. Murrow and Lowell Thomas; U.S. Senator Margaret Chase Smith; labor leader Walter Reuther; playwright Robert Sherwood; historian Allan Nevins; and even a sports writer, Red Smith—the magazine triumphantly described the American military invasion and defeat of the Soviet Union. Sherwood had the opening story, The Third World War . Murrow wrote about the A-Bomb Mission to Moscow . Among the remaining articles were titles such as I Saw Them Chute into the Urals ; Freedom—At Long Last ; We Worship God Again ; Out of the Rubble—A New Russia ; and Washington Under the Bomb .
Most ominously, the magazine predicted that this war would happen in less than a year. A timeline of the conflict envisioned World War III beginning in mid-1952, the result of an invasion of Yugoslavia by the Soviet Union. In the magazine's scenario, the Soviet move provoked a bloody struggle involving saturation air attacks on the USSR using American A-bombs; massive troop movements by the Red Army into Europe and the Middle East; and Soviet nuclear bombs dropped on Detroit, New York City, Chicago, and other major cities while enemy submarines launched atomic rockets into Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other coastal U.S. sites. According to the timeline, the United Nations would be occupying Moscow before the end of 1955.
As a final gesture, Red Smith's article, The Moscow Olympics, offered a report from the 1960 Summer Olympics being held in the Russian capital as a tribute to that nation's liberation from Communism. In fact, as Smith wrote, the Games opened on July 22, 1960, the seventh anniversary of the atomic bombing of the Kremlin.
Scott was dumbfounded. “Cat got your tongue?” asked the Professor. “I know it takes a while to grasp what this particular magazine was saying back in 1951. And remember, Collier's was a respected and influential American publication.
“This particular issue was so upsetting to the Soviet government,” he added, “that the USSR ordered its ambassador in Washington to determine if the magazine was speaking for the United States government. Fortunately, it was just the exaggerated product of Collier's editors and a group of celebrity writers.”
Scott began to collect his wits. “I wonder what the reaction here would have been had a similar magazine appeared in Russia describing the Communists waging atomic war against the United States and eventually conquering us?”
Scott continued to raise problematic questions. “And what about those bubble gum cards?” he asked. “What might have been the reaction here had those cards been called FIGHT THE CAPITALIST MENACE or THE CHILDREN'S CRUSADE AGAINST CAPITALISM. What if FREEDOM'S WAR had been portrayed the Korean War as a glorious achievement for Communists and a well-deserved loss for the evil Americans?”
“You raise good rhetorical questions, young man,” Professor Papadopoulos responded. “Yes, there were glaring examples of the political manipulation of youth in the Communist countries. And you can only use such questions as a framework to for investigation.
“Remember, however” the Professor continued, “your job is to discover the true history as fully as possible and to report it without prejudice. You do no good for the historian's craft or for the public understanding if you distort your research and force your findings to support preconceived notions. In historical scholarship, you cannot be an ideological partisan and be fair. Your ethic must be honesty in the questions asked and accuracy in the conclusions drawn.
“These days too many history writers—and I won't call them historians—twist the truth to prove their political beliefs. In this way they present political propaganda as historical truth. Bah!
“Bear this in mind when you visit the next film,” suggested the Dr. Papadopoulos. “I have chosen a nineteen-minute movie from 1950 called You Can Beat the A-Bomb . It's an excellent example of the informational movies early in the Cold War. But, you should view it not as a guide to surviving an atomic attack, but for what it tells you about the United States in the midst of a momentous and frightening struggle called the Cold War.”
Scott was anxious to begin. The 1950s was one of his favorite topics of study. He had already seated himself in the Clio machine and begun adjusting his headset. “Any time you want to start, Dr. Pop. I'm ready to visit the Fabulous Fifties—Rock and Roll Forever,” he proclaimed with great excitement in his voice. Before Scott could say much more, however, the film was rolling and he was transported.
The first thing Scott saw was the blast of an atomic bomb! He hadn't anticipated such a frightening introduction to the 1950s. He had no comprehension of the science of A-bombs, but he did know his history. He remembered that during World War II two such bombs were dropped by U.S. aircraft on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in an effort to force the enemy to surrender. He recalled, too, that President Harry Truman explained at the time that the bombs were terrible weapons, but they quickly forced Japan to surrender and allowed the U.S. to abandon plans for a bloody and costly land invasion of that country.
Scott was also familiar with the political movement since the mid-1940s to ban the bomb, or at least to have the nations of the world promise to curtail expansion of their nuclear arsenals. It was a movement still in the headlines more than 60 years after A-bombs first fell.
Yet, there it was at the opening of the movie: an atomic bomb explosion with its familiar radioactive cloud rising from the earth. Scott knew he could not be hurt in the film, but the imagery still frightened him. Just when he began to think about leaving this movie a friendly voice spoke to him.
“Hi, I'm Veronica Serrano,” said a young woman. I'm Walter Colmes' assistant. Mr. Colmes is the director of this film, and he's asked me to greet you and show you around. What's your name?”
Scott was reassured to meet someone not scared by the atomic bomb blast. It made him feel less threatened by what might lie ahead. “Hello,” he replied, “I'm Scott Tennyson, and I'm very interested in your movie although, I must admit it, the opening scene terrified me.”
“That's understandable, it's an overpowering opening to a frightening subject,” Veronica answered. “We're putting together an educational film that will instruct Americans on how to survive an atomic attack from an enemy nation,” she explained. “It's a tricky situation, however, because we have to show people affected by A-bombs without causing viewers to be panicked by our accounts of explosion, fire, and radiation.”
By this time the film's narrator was fully engaged explaining how radioactivity was just another force of physics similar to gravity or electromagnetism. He tried to be encouraging. According to him, something positive—atomic energy as a source of electrical power—would emerge from continued scientific research on the atom. As he made his point, two actors appeared to suggest that radiation wasn't as frightening as many people thought. “Well, what do you know,” said one man when he discovered that the dial of his wristwatch glowed in the dark because it was covered with a radioactive paint. “I've been carrying radioactivity around with me and didn't even know it,” he said in a rather amused manner.
Such oversimplification about radioactivity this early in the film was disturbing to Scott. He knew that it was an extremely dangerous form of energy that could cause a multitude of illnesses, even sudden death. Still, he was only a visitor, and he could not criticize the film makers here in 1950.
He watched as the movie continued, now presenting the argument that atomic radiation had practical applications from use in fighting disease (“atomic weapons to save lives”) to its effectiveness as an industrial tool for precision measurement. Just as Scott was beginning to wonder when the movie would turn to the main issue, the A-bomb, the narrator asked, “But what about the atom bomb?” The question was punctuated by footage of another atomic explosion.
Even on film, the forcefulness of the detonation caused Scott to jump back a little. Man, that was loud, he thought, but at least we're finally at the main subject.
“I know it can be frightening just seeing pictures of atomic tests,” said Veronica. “But our government has everything under control. They're training meter men to measure levels of contamination should there be an attack by our enemies. They're establishing community bomb shelters, upgrading lines of communications, improving procedures for fire safety, and preparing hospital and first aid staff to handle victims.”
“Do you really believe these measures will protect people from the effects of atomic war?” asked Scott.
Before Veronica could respond, an actor dressed as a military officer in the film declared that the effects of an atomic blast would not be as detrimental as some people claimed. Referring to “rumors and old-wives' tales,” he confidently claimed that “there's a limit to what the flash could do.” Then he embellished his defense, assuring viewers that the bomb would not make everyone blind, that exposure to radioactivity would not prevent people from having children, and that radiation would not render a place forever uninhabitable. Scott found the man's final conclusions puzzling. “No,” the military officer declared, “the atom bomb will not blow up the world.”
The young historian was not convinced. Even when the movie proposed home bomb shelters—constructed of six feet of earth, three feet of concrete, or a foot of steel—as protection against radiation, Scott remained skeptical. Of course, he knew that despite the international tensions of the Cold War in 1950 no atomic war would erupt in the future. But he remained unconvinced about the advice offered by the film. What about those people at ground zero, the point at which the A-bomb strikes its target? Would they survive? And how wide would the ring of death be as it spread from ground zero to the point at which people could be saved? The motion picture neither asked nor answered such questions.
“Do I believe these precautions will really protect people from A-bombs?” Veronica responded. “Honestly, I don't know. But, what else can the average person do but prepare for the worst? In fact, these next few scenes will show you how to react if an attack comes.”
At that point Scott watched as a group of actors demonstrated the preparations Americans should take at home. In the first situation the family was well-prepared for the explosion. Exploiting the cement foundation of the house, Dad had prepared a bomb shelter in a corner of the basement. When an atomic blast occurred, it did minimal damage to house, and the family escaped without injury.
At this point, Dad took control. He issued orders to his wife and children with military efficiency. The family, moreover, seemed impressed with his preparation and optimism. “Even if a bomb blew the house over,” the father reassured them, “we'd have a pretty good chance here in the basement.”
Following the air burst which covered the house in a cloud of radioactive dust, this typical American family was ready to clean up the mess indoors and get back to normal life. Wife and daughter appeared in classic female roles: mother carrying a stack of blankets, teenage daughter clutching a broom. In a manly fashion, the young son carried a hammer. Again, Dad told everyone what to do. After the cleanup the family appeared relieved when father looked around and decided that “All in all, I'd say we've been very lucky around here. Nothing to do but wait for orders from the authorities and relax.”
Relax, thought Scott. The town has just been blown up by an atomic bomb and these people have just been told that they were lucky, so now chill out. And wait for the authorities to do the rest. “How can they possibly relax? Wouldn't there be total confusion and panic?” he asked his guide.
Veronica shrugged and admitted “We're only following guidelines given to us by the federal government and the Council on Atomic Implications. The Council is a group of prominent scientists assisting our film team. They try to calm people's nerves and help Americans cope with the possibility of atomic war with the Communists.
“After all,” continued Veronica, “there's been a war in Korea for the past several months, and the Russians announced a year ago that they have the atomic bomb in their arsenal. A-bombs could be dropped on us anytime. That's why we have air raid sirens and bomb drills. That's why we're making this movie.”
From the tone of her voice, Scott began to sense controlled terror in Veronica's answers. The comic book, bubble gum cards, and magazine articles he had inspected at The History Shoppe should have been his clue to the tense atmosphere at this time in history. Scott understood now that the U.S. in 1950 was a nation gripped by widespread fear. What could anyone do against an enemy with atomic weapons except trust the authorities? If civil defense officials promoted these instructions as a guide to survival, he concluded, people had little choice but to heed their advice. Who would stand up and say they were wrong? And who would believe a nay-sayer?
The movie scenes that followed only affirmed Scott's observations. He saw people diving under tables, squeezing against street curbs, covering their eyes to protect against flying glass. He watched as a father and mother left their young son outside to fend for himself following an atomic explosion. And when the child finally did return home, bruised and dangerously exposed to radiation, the parents felt they knew exactly how to care for him.
Another detonation, this one exploding underwater, not only reminded viewers of the ferocity of the bomb, but it allowed the film makers to introduce a new and frightening aspect of atomic warfare: fallout, or as the actors called it, “radioactive mist.” However, by having an assertive father come into contact with a breeze from outdoors, the motion picture told viewers how water and a little soap powder could easily wash away the effects of radiation exposure.
Scott remained unconvinced of the effectiveness of such bathing. How could a little detergent and water cleanse radioactivity off or out of a person's body?” he wondered. And what about the polluted water from such bathing? Wouldn't it end up in a city's water supply and make all municipal water undrinkable? But, he decided, that didn't make much difference because the city's water supply would already be contaminated by atomic fallout.
“But what about the H-Bomb?” asked the narrator as still another bomb blast appeared. He went on to explain that a more terrifying weapon, the hydrogen bomb, could do a thousand times more damage and affect ten times as much territory as an atomic bomb. But the narrator declared that the procedures already outlined in this film would be equally as effective against the effects of that thermonuclear weapon.
“Is that true? Would the rules for surviving an atomic attack still work if a thermonuclear hydrogen bomb were dropped on civilians?” Scott asked Veronica.
“What are you talking about?” she asked. “What's a hydrogen bomb? I only know the A-bomb.”
Scott was amazed that Veronica had missed the warning about the H-bomb. “Didn't you just see that big blast and hear the narrator talking about the menace of a hydrogen bomb and how people should prepare for it?” he inquired.
“No, I didn't see or hear anything like that,” she responded. “Honestly, you must have seen too many A-bomb mushroom-shaped clouds,” she joked.
Before Scott could pursue the questioning, the narrator was concluding his remarks, proclaiming that “civilian defense is everybody's business.” And, again, not wanting to undermine the potential of the peaceful uses of atomic energy, he promised that in spite of the destructiveness of atomic warfare, “The harnessed power of the atom will work for the good of mankind.”
“The End” brought Scott back from the film. He rubbed his forehead in relief that it ended without anyone getting hurt. “That was a frightening movie,” he told the Professor. “I learned many things from this film, but it gave me lots more to think about.”
“I understand, Scott, I don't expect you to have formed your final thoughts so soon,” the old man replied. “One cannot fly low over a place and then write its history. You need time and more information to put it all into perspective. That's why shall meet here in one week.
“But before you leave, I want you to take one more artifact with you. It should add to your considerations,” he added.
With that Dr. Pop handed Scott a large envelope. In it Scott found a pamphlet entitled The Family Fallout Shelter . “Take this with you,” said the Professor. “Think of it as a supplement to what you saw today. Try to bring together everything you experienced today. Then, bring your best conclusions here next week.”
As he left The History Shoppe Scott thought about his silly comment made just before being transported. Rock and Roll Forever! It sounded rather naive now that he had visited the so-called Fabulous Fifties. He had found no dance music in bomb film. And the young people he met listened to the radio for survival instructions not popular music recordings.
Scott felt a little sheepish walking home. Hopefully, he muttered to himself, in a week's time Dr. Pop will have forgotten about my goofiness, and I will have learned not to be so immature.
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