Vintage Scan #25: A Citizen's Handbook on Nuclear Attack (1968)

The Cold War scare of nuclear annihilation probably was at its zenith during the fifties and early sixties; however, the threat of mass extinction lingered well into the eighties (anyone remember "The Day After"?). One could make an argument that we are no less safe today.  For instance, if Pakistan and India start dropping bombs on each other, the repercussions will be on a global scale. You could also argue that atomic weapons are in the hands of far less stable countries.  Where the Cold War threat sat at a stalemate of mutually assured destruction between two superpowers, the climate today is much more spread out, with fingers on the button that probably shouldn't be trusted with a toaster let a lone an Earth destroying warhead.

But, there are other factors at work (such as the capabilities to send them long range without intercept, etc.), but the bottom line is this: the threat may still exist, but the fear of attack was far more widespread five decades ago.

"A nuclear attack against the United States would take a high toll
of lives. But our losses would be much less if people were prepared to
meet the emergency, knew what actions to take, and, took them."
So, I came across a copy of an interesting little booklet published by The Department of Defense, Office of Civil Defense in 1968 called "In Time of Emergency: A Citizen's Handbook on Nuclear Attack, National Disasters".  The "natural disasters" portion gets lip service; nine tenths of this handbook is about The Big One - nuclear attack.
"If an enemy should threaten to attack the United States, you would
not be alone. The entire Nation would be mobilizing to repulse the attack,
destroy the enemy, and hold down our own loss of life."

"There is little danger that adults could inhale or swallow
enough fallout particles to hurt them. Small children, however,
could be injured by drinking contaminated water or milk."
I've scanned a handful of pages from this 92 page booklet.  I was tempted to scan the whole thing, but that's a lot of work, and I'm all about keeping the work to a minimum.

"If the U.S. should be att acked, the people who happened to be close
to a nuclear. explosion-in the area of heavy destruction-probably
would be killed or seriously injured by the blast, or by the heat of the
nuclear fireball."
If I were to write a handbook on nuclear attack it would only be one page long and have only two instructions:

Step 1. Bend over
Step 2. Kiss your ass goodbye.

Perhaps the realization that a nuclear attack and the ensuing nuclear winter would be so destructive as to make home precautions futile has led to the nonchalant public attitude.  In other words, if there's not a damn thing we can do about it, why worry?

"Some communities might get a heavy accumulation of fallout, while
others-even in the same general area-might get little or none. No
area in the U.S. could be sure of 110t getting fallout, and it is probable
that some fallout particles would be deposited on most of the country."
Please note that Glenn Beck is currently selling a backpack that will help you survive the Apocalypse. Of course, it comes complete with a couple of his bestselling books...... to read, I guess, while the Earth is reduced to ashes.

"I£ a person receives a large dose o£ radiation, he will die.
But i£ he receives only a small or medium dose,
his body will repair itself and he will get well."
You have to wonder how much of this is true, how much is BS, and how much is pure ignorance.  Funny there's no mention of high doses of gamma radiation causing you to turn into a green monster with super strength.

"If an attack actually occurs, it is almost certain that incoming enemy
planes and missiles would be detected by our networks of warning
stations in time for citizens to get into shelters or at least take cover."

"Whichever signal is sounding, don't use the telephone to obtain
further information and advice about the emergency. Depend on
the radio or television, since the government will be broadcasting all
the information it has available. The telephone lines will be needed
for official calls. Help keep them open."

"Also, to avoid injuring your eyes, never look at the flash of an
explosion or the nuclear fireball."
Imagine being told by your 4th grade teacher to be sure to not look at the nuclear fireball.  There's no way you can convince me that this didn't affect the minds of a generation.  Not to mention that one impending doom was to be followed by another - Vietnam.  It seems the shadow of death on a massive scale was forever on the horizon for the Boomers.  Take a look at the depiction of man in the page below.... this is the very essence of fear.  But it's not in a painting by Goya or Bosch..... but by The Department of Defense.


  1. I was of the generation that was in grade school in the 1960s. I remember the "Kiss your ass goodbye" (nice Robert Klein reference btw) drills. To this day, almost 50 years later, I am apt to have the occasional nightmare featuring exploding nukes.

  2. I worked with "special" weapons in the 80s. Depending on how close a person is to ground zero some of these things would have saved their lives. But I think it is a case of the "living envying the dead."

  3. I would really like a scan of the full booklet - any hopes of that GN-J?

    1. Joe, sometime ago I came across it (I once had a copy, being the weird kid that I was). Long story short, I found someone had uploaded it, I forwarded to someone, and now here's the link. Enjoy.


  4. Love your blog. Here's a much superior guidebook to surviving catastrophe, albeit nothing on repopulating an Earth reduced to a burnt out hellscape: Free online book - Nuclear War Survival Skills

    1. What a diverse and amazing blog. Great commentary. My dad was a USAF lifer and my first intense awareness of nuclear attack drills came during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Dad went to the air base and it was unknown if he would return. Our elementary classes diligently practiced "duck & cover" drills by hiding under our desks. It was all a lark until our teacher would get under hers too. Since the 80s I've told my kids to walk toward the mushroom cloud -- if they survive an initial attack.

  5. I still have my copy of this handbook! When I was 8 I thought it would be fun to have a fallout shelter.