See It Now was distinctive because it was relatively balanced, critical, and penetrating. In contrast were the panel discussion and newsmaker-interview programs of the Cold War. Ostensibly an opportunity to clarify current issues by quizzing those in government, these programs frequently were narrow adventures into the simplified emotionalism of the anti-Communist era. Whether in a press conference format, a roundtable discussion, or a debate between viewpoints, such programs seldom gave viewers a wide variety of opinions. Aside from foreign officials, guests were almost never outside the Democratic-Republican centrality of American politics. These forums usually gave politicians the chance to air well-rehearsed opinions without profound questioning.
Discussion programs treated Cold War issues such as the American military buildup, a possible World War III, domestic Communist subversion, and the numerical preponderance of Chinese and Russian troops over American forces. Such discussions often were more terrifying than educative. Unsubstantiated charges and half-truths were uncritically accepted when mouthed by important politicians. For example, on American Forum of the Air on January 21, 1951, Senator Robert A. Taft described "the great threat to liberty and to peace" that was "Soviet Russia which threatens the domination of the world through propaganda, infiltration, and military aggression." No one challenged Taft's charges. No one sifted fact from rhetoric in the words of the man who seemed certain to get the Republican presidential nomination the next year.
On The Big Issue on September 14, 1953, a former staff director of Senator Joseph McCarthy's investigating committee charged that "The largest single group supporting the Communist apparatus in the United States today is composed of Protestant clergymen." While others on the show felt this claim "wildly exaggerated," they eased their criticism by agreeing that domestic subversion was a pressing problem and Communism should be liquidated in the United States.
On Chronoscope on January 36, 1953, Representative Harold Velde, chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, announced his plans for 1953. "Our first duty is to weed out the Communists and fellow travelers and Pinkos, as they are popularly known, from the executive branch of government," the Illinois Congressman matter-of-factly declared. He continued, "After, of course, we are able to do that, I think the next important thing is to act as a watchdog committee to see that no Commies or other subversives of any kind infiltrate the new Eisenhower administration." Again, no one challenged this government spokesman regarding the validity of his presumptions.
One of the more strident examples of such politicized programming was American Forum of the Air, an NBC series that came to TV after 21 years on radio, and then appeared simultaneously on both media until was canceled in 1957. It usually presented two politicians, one Republican and one Democrat, debating an important issue. As such, it became a platform for the mainstream parties to engage in partisan politics. This seldom resulted in constructive dialogue that questioned basic Cold War values or in reevaluation of general foreign policy goals. Furthermore, no matter how contentious the senators and representatives became on the program, they consistently blurred the edges of controversy by expressing great respect and friendship for one another. What to some may have been accepted as feigned politeness, sounded to others like real cordiality and a sense of community. With phrases such as "my dear friend," "the able senator," and "my friend from…" it was difficult to believe the discussants had serious differences. Typically, when the liberal Senator Paul H. Douglas clashed with his fellow senator from Illinois, Everett M. Dirksen, on January 14, 1951, Douglas glossed over their ideological differences and stressed admiration for his colleague:
Well, first may I say that it is a happy indication of the fundamental decency of American politics that while Mr. Dirksen and I are representatives of opposing political parties, we are nevertheless close friends. And that while I did not exactly dance in the streets with joy when he was elected, now that he is a Senator I am very glad indeed to welcome him.
Although politicians on American Forum of the Air disputed matters such as domestic economic policies and administration attitudes toward organized labor, they were in agreement on the issue of world Communism. On the telecast of September 16, 1950, Senator John J. Sparkman asserted full agreement with his Republican colleague when Senator William F. Knowland denounced "aggressive Communism" and declared:
If we are going to have a system of international law and order, so that the peace of the world will be secure for ourselves and our children, think we must stop yielding to international blackmail. Now the Soviet Union and China have been carrying on that type of international blackmail for a long time.
On the discussion of domestic Communism telecast on August 19, 1950, the conservative Senator Karl Mundt spoke of sabotage, and blowing up factories and railroad yards, as he described Communists in the United States. His opponent, Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, was quick to add his own description of American Communists. "I think that it can be honestly stated that all patriotic and freedom-loving, decent Americans are anti-Communist," noted the senator from Minnesota. Later Humphrey added that "Communists are under the control of a foreign government. I believe that the Communist Party in this country is not an independent free party. I think it's a stooge of Joe Stalin."
One of the more interesting telecasts of American Forum of the Air occurred January 21, 1951, when Senators Dirksen and Blair Moody treated the question "Can We Prevent World War III?" In many respects it was similar to other programs. Moody claimed that Communists intended "to destroy our freedom and enslave the world if they can." Dirksen expressed agreement, and then added a partisan slap at the Truman administration, calling the Korean conflict "World War II ½" and chiding Democrats for having "a penchant for getting us into war." Although the Republican party had openly criticized Truman for entering the Korean War—and almost two years later Dwight Eisenhower was elected president partly because he pledged to go to Korea and negotiate an end to the hostilities—Dirksen was not ready at this early date to offer rational compromise as a way to stop the war. Dirksen wanted military victory. He called for a blockade of China, interdiction of supply shipments to the North Koreans and Chinese, "hot pursuit" bombardment of enemy sanctuaries in Manchuria, and the use of "atomic shells" in order to "prove that we mean business over there."
Moody differed with Dirksen only on the means of achieving the victory. Still, in the last moments of the program the senator from Michigan raised an issue seldom broached on American TV. Moody suggested that there were reasons of economic self-interest to fight world Communism. Assuming that Communists were by definition anti-American, Moody alleged that the United States could become isolated by Communist victories throughout the decolonizing world. In such isolation, he argued, the United States might be cut off from raw materials vital to its industries. American politicians were never frank about ulterior economic motives in the world crusade against Communism, but Moody was forthright when he concluded:
We would be cut off from our uranium. We might be cut off from our manganese, and so on.... We import no less than 167 critical raw materials that are necessary for the operation of our great industrial system, including manganese, which is needed for the manufacture of steel. This isolationist stuff won't go.
In contrast with the narrow perspective offered by NBC’s American Forum of the Air was the ABC public affairs program America's Town Meeting of the Air. Since its inception on radio in 1935, this series had consistently sought a wide spectrum of opinion. It also solicited uncensored questions from the studio audience. On the premier radio broadcast of America’s Town Meeting on May 30, 1935, four discussants from four different political movements considered "Which Way for America—Fascism, Communism, Socialism, or Democracy?" Even in its short tenure as a television-radio simulcast—October 1948 to June 1949, and January-July 1952—the ABC forum continued its tradition of presenting divergent opinions. In addition to a steady stream of senators, congressmen, administration spokesmen, and others from the conservative-to-liberal political mainstream, representatives from the non-Communist left appeared often during its television career.
Among these nontraditional voices were Louis Fischer, James P. Warburg, and Roger Baldwin. One of the more frequent guests was Norman Thomas, the six-time Socialist party candidate for President of the United States. During its first TV season, Thomas debated "How Is Peace with Russia Possible?" (October 5, 1948) and "Can Modern Capitalism Meet the Needs of Modern Man?" (January 18, 1949). In 1952 this spokesman for American socialism discussed "What Should Our Program Be Toward Asia?" (March 4) and "How Do We Fare in the Cold War?" (June 15).
America's Town Meeting of the Air was a singular public service program, the product of an earlier era in broadcasting when divergent thought was tolerated as necessary to public debate. In Cold War television, however, controversy sounded and looked discordant, even unpatriotic, because it shattered the consensus aired on other public discussion programs. Still, America’s Town Meeting did not compromise its decades-old policy of seeking all sides on an issue. Although the program continued on radio for several more years, it left TV quickly and definitely in 1952.
Compared to balance offered by America’s Town Meeting of the Air the opinionated programming produced and nationally syndicated by Dan Smoot was excessively partisan. Supported by local Texas conservative businessmen, Smoot developed the first right-wing political commentary series in TV history. He began modestly in 1953 with Facts Forum, a talk show in which he tried to summarize opposing positions on a topic of public debate. By 1955, Smoot had abandoned that format and was hosting a half-hour version in which his reactionary political views were strongly asserted. A list of the topic he considered and presented his ideological perspective summarizes the thrust of the series which would last in various formats into the early 1970s:
Are American Communists Being Employed at the United Nations?
Is Facts Forum a Force for Evil?
In his final TV incarnation, Dan Smoot Reports, the conservative spokesman by 1956 was offering his interpretations of contemporary politics in a quarter-hour syndicated diatribe that was later printed and distributed publically. Smoot saw Communists at work everywhere. Typically, the United Nations was part of the Red world conspiracy; the U.S. should oust Castro from Cuba and encourage the West German military to drive the Communist East Germans from their sector of Berlin; via the civil rights movement the Communists are trying to foment a bloody race war in the United States; and the U.S. in playing into the Communists’ hands by wasting foreign aid dollars on the “colored barbarism” of the newly-liberated African nations.
Television was strategic in popularizing social and political fear in the 1950s. This was particularly the case with public affairs programming that uncritically blended the myths and substance of the Cold War and delivered the resultant mixture to the isolated, under-informed privacy of millions of American homes. It occurred in something as subtle as a CBS documentary about the nation's natural resources, telecast on January 10, 1954, under the politicized title "Resources for Freedom." It was there, too, in the Crusade for Freedom telethons broadcast nationally on CBS and ABC during the first years of the 1950s. In them celebrities from the worlds of entertainment, business, politics, and the military employed air time donated by the networks to raise millions of dollars for the strongly anti-Communist broadcasts of Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Asia.
It also appeared in civil defense programs that focused on a potential nuclear Third World War. Importantly, most such productions were made in close cooperation with the federal government. The Facts We Face was a CBS series in early 1951 that utilized officials from the Atomic Energy Commission to explain atomic warfare and ways to survive it. The Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) assisted in making Prepare to Survive, a monthly program in 1951 seen on WDTV in Pittsburgh. Survival, an NBC series in the summer of 1951, was so successful the FCDA ordered kinescopes of the programs to be used in the training of civil defense volunteers.
Certainly, such informational programming was produced also for network and local radio. And such shows probably reached a larger audience, since in early 1951 only 58 percent of the nation's homes had television receivers. Nonetheless, the visual dimension of video increased the urgency of the message. Film footage of bombed-out cities, threatening aircraft, and atomic explosions enhanced the frightening nature of the aural message. Such was seen, for instance, on WHAS-TV in Louisville in Survival Under Atomic Attack. Broadcast in December 1950, this series dealt with steps to be taken if and when the Russians dropped atomic weapons on Kentucky. The visual imagery of this series intensified the frightening theme pronounced so effectively on the premier show: "This is just a program, but there could be a bomber carrying the equivalent of 20,000 tons of TNT on its way to Louisville right now."
Rather than criticize government policy which was already generating a spirited East-West arms race, television rationalized, even justified, such militarism. The enemy clearly was totalitarian Russia with its aggressive, immoral Communism. America's militaristic gestures were only reasonable reactions to the global challenge emanating from Moscow. And if nuclear war and domestic devastation were the result of the noble American crusade, that price was not too high because such destruction was survivable—or worse, in a phrase of the day, a person was “better dead than Red.”
Survivability was the message of You and the Atom Bomb, telecast September 21, 1951, on WOR-TV. This local production gave New York City viewers a half-hour lesson in fission and the types of atomic blast to anticipate—water, land, and air. Then those watching were asked to send a dime to receive an informational pamphlet, "so you'll know what to do in the event of an atomic attack." The announcer left viewers with the strong impression that by taking a few easy precautions, nuclear attack upon the United States could be survived:
I hope that we have been able to remove some of the fears and misconceptions that have surrounded the atomic bomb. I hope that you realize now that there's nothing mysterious about radiation, and that the atomic bomb will not create a race of monsters. And that terrible as the atomic bomb is, it does not mean the end of our large cities or country or of our population. You are not helpless if you know your atom.
This blending of government involvement in production and distribution of Cold War films, and overly simplified messages stressing nuclear survival was evident in a package of free motion pictures offered by the FCDA to every American TV station in late 1951. These were ten-minute films that treated the possibility of attack upon the United States from a variety of perspectives. Survival Under Atomic Attack was a straightforward documentary illustrating what citizens should do in case the United States was bombed. It showed makeshift bomb shelters in basements, and it urged Americans to stockpile food and water. The fact that it was narrated by Edward R. Murrow—the respected CBS journalist who had reported warfare waged on common people in Europe and Korea—enhanced the credibility of the film.
In another Federal Civil Defense Administration short, What You Should Know About Biological Warfare, viewers encountered another dastardly potential of the Communist enemy. This frightening movie noted that despite American defenses against hostile airplanes and missiles, protection against germ warfare attack was almost impossible. Yet, it proffered only a simple prescription for survival: keep clean in order not to spread germs, enroll in a Red Cross home nursing course, report all sicknesses promptly, and if the enemy did attack with biological weapons, remain calm because "scientists would already be working to control the outbreak."
While most of these films were aimed at an adult audience, Duck and Cover directed its message at grade school children. Complete with a cartoon turtle named Bert, this movie showed youngsters ducking and covering their heads in many different examples of atomic attack upon the United States. Youngsters dived for their lives in classrooms, on a school bus, and while riding a bicycle. They ducked and covered while walking to school. A picnicking family sought protection from a nuclear blast by diving under a blanket spread on the grass. Here was a terrifying message: anytime, anyplace, and without warning, innocent Americans might be bombed. Simplistically, Duck and Cover ended with the animated Bert reminding youthful viewers that they would survive if only they learned "what we all must learn to do, you, and you, and you, and you—duck and cover!"
In contrast with the protective measures urged by most civil defense productions, one offering in the film package distributed by the FCDA approached nuclear war in a defiant manner. Our Cities Must Fight was addressed to those who might flee the cities following an atomic attack. Derided as members of "the take-to-the-hills fraternity," such self-interested citizens were warned that deserting bombed-out American cities was "something pretty close to treason." The film reminded viewers of their responsibility to remain in their localities and to keep the factories operating—a responsibility they had to family, friends, and country. Where civil defense productions usually avoided the grim potentials of thermonuclear war, Our Cities Must Fight was starkly confrontational in noting that "a hell of an enemy attack could come smashing out of the sky at any time." It concluded with a brave statement about atomic warfare:
There'll be plenty of suffering, plenty of misery, broken homes, death—dangers that used to belong only to soldiers. But we've got to be able to take it and come back fighting. Everything we hoped for, everything we believe in—everything America has fought for will depend on us and what we do. You know, a lot of people behind the Iron Curtain are wondering whether we can take it if we're attacked. They're carefully measuring our courage, our capacity to fight, our capacity for sacrifice. They think that they have the answers. Well, you and l and every American has to examine their [sic] hearts and come up with a few answers of their own. The question is: Have Americans got the guts? [Turning directly toward the viewer] Have you got the guts?
In dealing with atomic energy, and particularly the possibility of nuclear war, television in the 1950s seldom failed to exploit the dramatic and propagandistic aspects of the issue. Nowhere was this better realized than in the NBC documentary Three, Two, One—Zero! Produced by the network's fledgling "Project XX" staff, this hour-long program was televised September 13, 1954. Artistically scripted and photographed, and lushly embellished with an original musical score, Three, Two, One—Zero! interpreted the atomic age in partisan political terms.
With quasiBiblical lyricism the audience learned of the genesis of man-controlled atomic power, the creation of American science. Atomic energy was hailed as the "maximum expression" of "a free society." Viewers were told that this energy "belongs to the citizens of the United States," and that this development was nothing less than the "industrial genius of America," which now had "come into full potential." As for military use of such power, narrator Alexander Scourby praised atomic weaponry because "it guards the freedom of the West today."
This was classic Cold War propaganda delivered into unsuspecting American homes via NBC—with consultative input from the Atomic Energy Commission. Russian industrial growth from nil in 1917 to its contemporary magnitude was rationalized as the product of "generations of slave labor ... sacrificed to this end. The means are of no consequence. The end is all important." Quoting American airmen, Scourby warned, "If the Russians go to war, they won't have a country to come back to."
As with most TV shows treating nuclear war and survival, Three, Two, One—Zero! offered frightful images and urged viewers to accept increasing militarism in the United States. "How many bombs do the Russians have?" asked Scourby sardonically. "The exact number is not known, does not matter," he answered, but "they have enough, if delivered on target, to inflict incredible damage on the United States, on the West." Proper response to the Russian challenge was "defense against aggression." This was demonstrated with footage of Air Force jets and bombers. Scourby continued:
On the airfields of North America the intercontinental bombers are constantly fueled, constantly tuned, constantly ready—twenty-four hours a day, day in and day out. The planes and their crews are always on the alert, their targets picked, their courses long since set. Somebody might blow the whistle tomorrow morning.
While documentaries about atomic energy and public service shows treating civil defense preparedness were an important part of Cold War TV, for dramatic intensity they could not match the mock nuclear attack upon the United States. In both entertainment and nonfiction programming, many times in the 1950s viewers saw what would happen if enemy atomic and/or hydrogen bombs were dropped on American cities. Civil defense experts collaborated with TV production personnel in the Motorola TV Hour drama Atomic Attack. Aired May 18, 1954, this intense ABC telecast followed the reactions of the suburban Mitchell family as it coped with a nuclear attack on the New York City area. More than a ghastly foretaste of what might lie ahead, Broadcasting lauded the production for communicating
... clearly and emphatically, the basic elements of the proper behavior following an atomic attack. If these instructions are remembered and if any watcher is stimulated to join some branch of his local Civil Defense setup, the program will be good proof of the commercial broadcasters' educational theory of teaching through entertainment
CBS was particularly fond of this genre. As early as June 29, 1952, Edward R. Murrow on See It Now covered a simulated attack upon New York City. The premiere of the documentary series Air Power in November 1956 was an hour-long simulation of the Russian bombardment of Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, and other American metropolitan centers. The network returned to the theme on December 8, 1957, when The Day Called X surveyed Portland, Oregon, under thermonuclear attack. On its radio network, moreover, CBS presented at least two such programs. Bomb Target, U.S.A. on March 20, 1953, featured anchorman Arthur Godfrey with three respected CBS correspondents aboard B-20 bombers making atomic attacks on American cities as part of a U.S. Air Force training exercise. Another radio documentary entitled The Day Called X—narrated by Edward R. Murrow and aired March 18, 1959—reported on an enemy bombing of the United States and the reactions of people living in Princeton, New Jersey.
Even when narrated by celebrated network newsmen, these programs were fictionalized documentaries, carefully presented as such. There was nothing artificial, however, about the exploding atomic weapons seen so often on Cold War TV. The Pentagon made available to local and network television free films of its atomic and hydrogen bomb tests, beginning with the first explosions in 1946 at Eniwetok-Bikini in the South Pacific. Television coverage of bomb testing from the atomic proving grounds at Yucca Flat, Nevada, began on February 6, 1951. Two local stations in Los Angeles, KTLA and KTTV, televised and kinescoped the bomb test. Live national coverage began the following year. On April 22, 1952, millions of Americans watched the bomb explode. With cameras as close as 11 miles to ground zero, live television brought the nation the flashing blast and familiar mushroom cloud drifting up from the Nevada desert.
The second nationally televised atomic blast occurred on March 17, 1953. Network newsmen Walter Cronkite of CBS, Morgan Beatty of NBC, and Chet Huntley of ABC offered Americans a before-and-after assessment of "Operation Doorstep," the thirty-third nuclear device exploded since testing began at Yucca Flat. In two half-hour telecasts, network TV showed the early-morning detonation of the bomb, then returned eight hours later for a live report on the aftermath of the test.
While the Atomic Energy Commission used the firing to assess the effect of the blast on two fake houses in the target area, and on a group of U.S. Army soldiers placed within 3,500 yards of the point of explosion, TV coverage drove home the event as a necessity for civil defense preparation. The "sponsor" of the telecasts was the Advertising Council, Inc. Broadcasting recognized the “commercial” message offered by the sponsor. “The 'sales message' was preparedness,” reported the business journal. “It is a vast understatement to say that a more effective means could not have been found to 'move' this particular product.”
Apparently video coverage of nuclear tests was valuable to the public relations efforts of the military. For the test in 1952, for example, Marine Corps helicopters were used to place commercial TV relay equipment on strategic mountaintops between Los Angeles and Yucca Flat. During "Operation Smokey" five years later, the U.S. Army ordered 1,140 soldiers into a blast area two hours after a nuclear detonation. The Army filmed the operation and produced a half-hour motion picture. It distributed the film to several hundred commercial TV stations as part of its regular propaganda series, The Big Picture. The Army admitted it exposed servicemen to such risks of radiation in part "to portray to the public the Army at its best employing [its new Pentomic] organization in operations under atomic warfare conditions....
There were financial risks associated with live coverage of nuclear tests. Since detonations were dependent upon weather conditions, poor visibility, winds blowing in the wrong direction, or similar disturbances could force postponement of the actual drop. In the spring of 1955, CBS and NBC sent a pool of 95 technicians, announcers, engineers, and photographers to Yucca Flat. Among those intending to make the nuclear blast a part of their programs were Dave Garroway of NBC's Today and Charles Collingwood of the CBS Morning Show, as well as Walter Cronkite, John Cameron Swayze, John Daly, Morgan Beatty, and Sarah Churchill. NBC’s daytime Home program justified covering the explosion in terms of the effects of the bomb on food and construction.
This was to have been a major TV event, TV Guide reported, complete with "not only the blast, but the split-second reaction of people hunched in a trench less than two miles from the 500-foot steel tower that held the bomb." Nevertheless, after seven postponements due to the weather, most of the TV plans were canceled. After more than a week of live reports on weather conditions and stand-up descriptions of the mounting excitement at Yucca Flat, the networks left Nevada because of mounting expenses.
In its role as showcase for American nuclear testing, network television played an important public relations role. There was reassurance in the atomic clouds televised live from the Nevada desert. As the nation that invented the atomic and hydrogen bombs, it had been a disturbing psychological blow for the United States in September 1949 when the Soviet Union detonated its own A-bomb. Four years later, national fears were compounded when Soviet Premier Georgi Malenkov announced that "the United States no longer possesses a monopoly of the hydrogen bomb."
Having lost its monopoly, the United States now sought nuclear superiority. Those live TV pictures from the Nevada desert—as well as filmed coverage of testing in the South Pacific—reassured the nation that it would not fall behind the Communists. Each test seemed like advancement, a further step beyond the Reds. The televised tests also showed that the Americans would not settle for parity with the enemy in something as vital to security as nuclear weaponry.
The military also realized the public relations potential of televising such testing. By the end of the decade, it was inviting video to cover test firings of other weapons. On August 17, 1958, TV audiences saw an ill-fated Air Force lunar probe from Cape Canaveral. Because the Defense Department would not allow live transmission until smoke appeared in the tail of the missile, the test of this moon rocket was taped and played back eight minutes after ignition. Before the end of the year, however, matters improved for viewers. On December 16, Los Angeles station KTLA covered the test firing of a Thor missile from Vandenburg Air Force Base. The Air Force this time required only a ten-second delay in airing the live TV picture. But the military forbade KTLA to make prior announcements about the test firing. As TV Guide explained, “The Air Force ... didn't cotton to the idea of the TV audience seeing a Thor topple ignominiously to the ground in the event the shot should fail.”
If the lack of public outrage over nuclear testing was an indication of the effectiveness of TV as the disseminator of anti‑Communist propaganda, then television performed well. Throughout the 1950s there were practically no popular demonstrations against such weapons experimentation. If local spokespersons occasionally voiced fears of being contaminated by test fallout, Atomic Energy Commission experts were quick to appear on TV to assure doubters that atomic detonations were safe. Those more demonstrative in their opposition were treated with incredulity and dismay. On August 6, 1957, for example, eleven activists from a group called Non-Violent Action Against Nuclear Weapons were the first people to be arrested for illegally entering the AEC's proving grounds in Nevada. Here, on the twelfth anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Gladwin Hill reported in the New York Times that this protest "marked the unusual employment in this country of the 'civil disobedience' tactics made famous by M. K. Gandhi." Hill felt it also newsworthy that everyone in this "pacifist" band of farmers, ministers, artists, Quakers, and conscientious objectors "denied that their movement has any connection with Communism."
Live coverage of weapons tests, documentaries, and discussions about nuclear explosions and the Cold War all helped spread a fear and loathing of Communism. In the American popular mind, moreover, such developments permanently linked Communism with Soviet imperialism, thermonuclear weaponry, and sneak attacks on the United States. This association was most poignantly demonstrated in a government exercise termed "Operation Alert 1955."
"Operation Alert 1955" was a two-day (June 15-16, 1955) national test of the effectiveness of civil defense in the United States. It was a federally produced, simulated war in which residents of 55 American cities—and six cities in American territories—were expected to react as if the Soviet Union had launched a nuclear attack against the U.S.A. While most localities were preparing for months to carry out this exercise, several target cities, including San Francisco, were given no warning until civil defense officials announced Russian bombers were on the way.
To underscore the seriousness of this mock invasion, President Dwight Eisenhower, together with key government leaders and 15,000 Washington bureaucrats, evacuated the nation's capital. They retreated to secret emergency sites located within 300 miles of Washington, as they presumably would in an authentic H-bomb attack. Eisenhower's "evacuation" of the capital—the first since President James Madison fled the city for three days as British troops burned the White House and Capitol building during the War of 1812—was further dramatized by a hastily arranged national address carried live on the NBC and DuMont networks. "We are here," the president told an afternoon TV audience, "to determine whether or not the government is prepared in time of emergency to continue the function of government so that there will be no interruption in the business that must be carried on."
While popular reaction ranged from cooperativeness in New York City and Houston to indifference in Los Angeles and San Francisco, statistics issued by the Federal Civil Defense Administration were ominous. Assuming the Russians had struck the 61 target cities with atomic weapons of 20,000 to 60,000 tons, and with hydrogen bombs from 1 million to 5 million tons, there would have been horrendous carnage. Philadelphia counted 760,340 "dead," 363,860 "injured," and 763,329 "homeless." Chicago had 513,225 "dead" and 422,270 "wounded" in the hypothetical attack. In populous New England, there were 3,909,000 "dead," 2,579,000 "injured," and 6,733,000 "homeless."
But Americans always respond more energetically to personality than to abstractions. In a culture that places a premium on the individual, the celebrity or colorful character espousing a heartfelt political position is more attractive than a voluntary national bomb drill or a balanced intellectual inquiry forcing viewers to draw their own conclusions. On television, stars make things happen. This, of course, was the motive for using sports and film celebrities to sell commercial products. It was also the case with Senator Joseph R. McCarthy and the cause of anti-Communism. Flamboyant, self-assured, fearless, charismatic—this politician took the abstract word "anti-Communism" and made it flesh. And through video, he brought the nation together in a communion of apprehension and distrust.