Comic Books #17: If an A-Bomb Falls

During the height of the Cold War, citizens went about their daily lives as normal, all the while conscious of the fact that a nuclear warhead could turn their bodies to dust at any moment. They had every reason to believe this was not an "if it happens", but rather a "when it happens" scenario.  Rather than crawl into a dark corner somewhere in the fetal position and spend your final days weeping and gnashing teeth, Americans lived life as normally as possible - as if the total annihilation of the human race was not just around the corner. They say that while a fourth of the European population was being wiped out by the Black Death, very little was written about it - Boccaccio's Decameron makes mention of it, but it very rarely made its way into paintings and poetry. Like the people of the plague, the people of the Cold War carried on as it had before the threat of complete planetary extinction.

However, they did take precautions. They built bomb shelters, had drills, stockpiled food, and so forth. Looking through this old comic book, If an A-Bomb Falls from 1951, is an interesting glimpse into the Cold War mindset. Much like another comic book on nuclear war preparation I posted on earlier, the advice seems to border on insanity. For instance, if an atomic bomb is about to drop on your city, make sure you pull the drapes, turn off the stove, and take the trash out (?)

Imagine being in elementary school and seeing this disturbing image. It had to occur to even the youngest readers that covering up with a handkerchief or newspaper might not provide adequate protection from a 1.2 megaton nuclear blast.

The Chernobyl disaster took place about 25 years ago, and chromosomal aberrations still occur - the impact is still being felt via cancer and various birth defects.  Something tells me that a hot shower and Ivory soap ain't gonna wash away the radiation.

Don't use the clothes again until advised by the authorities? How about NEVER wearing these clothes again! They estimate the Chernobyl area will not be safe for human habitation for the next 20,000 years - so, trust me, you need to go buy another pair of blue jeans!

I don't want to sound overly cynical - I mean, it's okay to practice disaster preparedness. However, it's also important to inject a little reality into the equation. For instance, your bunker may protect you from the initial blast - but what awaits you when you arise from your shelter? Probably immediate radiation poisoning, or an unsurvivable nuclear winter. You will probably wish you'd been vaporized.

So, by all means, take a shower after you've been exposed, but don't kid yourself that you're now safe from long term (generational even) health problems.

I'm sure many of you are familiar with Glenn Beck - he's the nut-job that keeps insisting that Armageddon is just a few days away, and he knows exactly how to be prepared. There's a lot of survivalist radio guys like him that seem to think that you can somehow avoid certain death by following a set of simple steps.  Unfortunately, reality isn't that simple.

Prepare for floods, hurricanes, and long term power outages all you want. But in the event of global thermonuclear war, there's simply nothing you can do. I'm not trying to be a pessimistic killjoy, but that's the harsh reality, Glenn.


  1. I graduated from grade school in 1965 and I well remember air raid drills when we hid under our desk in school (as Robert Klein says "And kiss your ass goodbye"). I remember the comic-book like materials they gave us in school. And movies like "On the Beach". It was released in 1959 and I saw it on TV probably in 1961. I had nightmares for weeks. I still have the occasional nightmare about watching a mushroom cloud outside my window. We may have been living our lives as though nothing was wrong but the images of nuclear war were all around. Every large building in my city had Civil Defense air raid shelters. I lived in Philadelphia at the time. I think we just knew that if the bombs started dropping we were goners and there wasn't much we could do about it. Moving somewhere safer wasn't an option. And, really, was there anywhere safer?

    And is that advice in the comic book any crazier than sealing up your windows with duct tape in the case of a terrorist attack?

  2. It is amazing what a great motivator "fear" is, and how that emotion has been used to move marketing mountains. It is said that "sex" sells, but the #2 seller after "sex" has to be "fear". I have found some cold war items from my treasure hunts around CT. If I may put a link - you can see them here: http://videomartyr.blogspot.com/2009/02/book-review-strategy-for.html

    Retrospace is on my top ten list. Keep up the good work!

  3. Interesting insight from someone who lived it, capewood. Thanks for the comment.

    greg, the "family radiation meaurement kit" is a classic. Great find!

  4. "The Day After" aired while I was in high school. I still get nightmares about nuclear war whenever I run a fever.

    How long were Hiroshima and Nagasaki unlivable? Don't people live there now?

  5. Ah, that Robert Kline CD - "they used to blow the air raid siren at noon...and I used to think 'what if the Russians bombed us at noon?'"

    I love the "sit by your radio and wait for the radiation to blow away. We'll tell you when it's safe." Don't mind that it's in the dirt, the fabric, the trees... and that everything outside is fried, imploded, glowing and radioactive.

    It was an innocent time. People thought we could move on after something like that. It boggles the mind.

  6. One more comment. If you want to read something truly frightening along these lines try "On Thermonuclear War" published in 1960 by Herman Kahn. Kahn was a military strategist working for the Rand Corporation and went on to found the Hudson Institute think tank. I sure wasn't reading stuff like this when I was 9 years old, but read it sometime in the later '60s. Kahn's position was that the US could win a nuclear war. Sure it would be horrible afterward but it would be better than being Communist. Check the entry for Kahn on Wikipedia.

  7. There's an increasing tone of hate and bitterness in your posts...

  8. Hiroshima is seldom mentioned in the present tense... Why is that? It's full of people, singing birds, a university, and bars, and parks and restaraunts, museums, etc, etc, etc.. just like every other city. Seems they didn't sit around wringing their hands, but rather stood up like men and built themselves a whole new city.

    Hiroshima Travel Guide - http://wikitravel.org/en/Hiroshima

    If it were in fact desolate and uninhabitable, don't you think current photos of it would be a bit more common?

  9. When I was akid, we still had Civil Defense Drills once a month at school in which we all trotted single file down into the long unused coal cellar to protect ourselves from radiation. Even then, we questioned why the radiation didn't get in through the partially open coal chute.

    Nice post. I'm plugging it in my ITCH column today.

  10. People stopped listening to Civil Defence in the mid sixty's because they were so unrealistic. Never do they mention mutated forest animals. Not a word on fighting off hoards of reanimated flesh eating corpses coming after your kids. Nothing on gangs of leather clad psychos stealing your gasoline for their muscle cars. They completely ignore giant insects. Try waving a bar of soap at a 50 ft. grasshopper and see what that gets you.

  11. "Try waving a bar of soap at a 50 ft. grasshopper and see what that gets you." I tried that and it wasn't pretty. I think that was in "Pink Floyd" phase actually.