I believe that taking civil defense precautions against nuclear attack is never wrong. Giving people skills and tools to survive is not wrong. Investing in infrastructure to save lives is not wrong. Nor is it entirely pointless even in an early eighties style nuclear exchange. No one knows how many bombs there will be, or where they will fall. You may even be in a situation where the much maligned Duck and Cover could make a difference.
Interestingly enough, some people actually believed civil defense was wrong back in the 80’s. They thought that if a nation took civil defense seriously, it might be tempted to strike first and thus initiate nuclear war. Greenpeace was opposed to civil defense back then. I used to send them ten bucks a year back when I was a teen because of their opposition to French above ground weapons testing, but cut them off when I learned of their opposition to civil defense. I hated Reagan as much as the rest of us, but I never thought he’d launch first if we had better civil defense.
By the late sixties, both the US and UK had largely abandoned their moderately robust civil defense programs. I will discuss why this might have been in an epilog to this post. Civil defense. By the late seventies, both nations took a second look at civil defense. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, civil defense became an issue of public conversation. I will discuss the US plans in a later post. But for now, have a look at this excellent broadcast from the BBC’s Panorama in 1980.
Overall, I like the general conclusion of this program. The United Kingdom needs better civil defense, and a moderate level of expenditure compared to what the UK had just committed to spending money on for new weapons would greatly improve the situation.
I watched this video twice and took a few notes. Here are my thoughts:
Their hypothetical 1Mt at 7,000 feet detonation over London was a bit optimistic. Yes, that’s the right altitude, and their damage estimates were realistic, but London is a national capitol full of command, control, and communications targets. If the USSR struck first, London would be hit with smaller weapons detonating on the ground to destroy hardened communications. This would actually kill more people than a one megaton airburst. The only situation I can think of where a 1MT airburst is all London would get is if the USSR had its nuclear weapons largely taken out by a first strike and surviving forces simply struck back at population centers with what they had. BTW, the whole “roofs ripped off” in the outer ring of destruction shows building codes in London suck. Most places here on the Gulf Coast of the US can take sustained winds a little weaker than and gusts as strong as that outer blast wave. Hurricanes make us strong.
I thought the groundburst in Hull during the Humberside exercise was unrealistic. The groundburst at the nearby RAF base was warranted, the base is small, and may have important hardened communications. Hull is an unhardened target. Perhaps the groundburst was meant to represent Soviet confusion after a French or US first strike.
The Swiss plan is good for Switzerland as they have no strategic targets. The Swiss of the eighties were overprepared. The Swiss situation cannot really be applied to the US, UK, or any other nuclear armed power.
The Yorkshire fallout shelter with bags of dirt piled on top of interior doors leaned against a load bearing interior wall is an excellent blast shelter if your house is partially destroyed. And it’s an excellent shield against direct radiation effects. Dirt, especially wet dirt, is good radiation shielding. Problem is, big bombs have a thermal and blast damage radius way bigger than their direct radiation radius. Even so, it’s better to have this shielding than not, but it’s obviously inadequate for a 14 day stay. Good for two days though, and that might be enough. The most dangerous fallout decays in 1-3 days, and if their padded windows and mattress on the door kept out most of the worst fallout, the bags of dirt would protect them from the rest. Many people would be in this situation, but survive better if they took these precautions even if half who did this died.
What I wanna know is where do people poop. Managing poop is the most important part of maintaining civilization. Bad poop management when folks are recovering from radiation exposure with their suppressed immune systems could be pretty bad.
I also think the reported Soviet estimates of 5% casualties were extremely low. Perhaps their estimates were based on a study of a likely mid-50’s US attack and they stuck to those numbers and had a fairly robust civil defense program until the late 80’s. Perhaps they knew that even if 5% died in an attack, subsequent losses from loss of economic infrastructure would be much higher. Even though Soviet civil defense was superior in the 80’s , they were never that much attempted to attack.
But back to the title of this post: If you watched this video were you not totally creeped out by Keith Bridge, the assigned Humberside Controller in the Hull exercise? How do you even get that job? The power of life and death given to a simple man to stop anarchy in the UK.
Why was Civil Defense abandoned?
I think even though civil defense is morally good, it was abandoned because it was no longer strategically relevant. The Masters of War just did not care about us any more. Holding losses down was no longer relevant. If we can kill enough of them, how does it matter what happens to us?