Thursday, December 23, 2010


OpAlert Times Square 1955 An empty Times Square, shortly after 2 p.m. on June 15, 1955
Judge Louis Kaplan: Have you ever been committed to a mental institution?
Judith Malina, Operation Alert Protester: No, have you?
One of the curious rituals of the early Cold War was the annual nationwide civil defense drill known as Operation Alert. Beginning in 1954 and continuing through 1961, these evacuation extravaganzas played out in newspaper headlines and newsreels like scenes from a bad science fiction movie. The official purpose of Operation Alert was to test the country’s civil defense readiness, but its execution—with mock “attack” headlines, vacated city centers and presidential proclamations from undisclosed locations—was more theatrical than educational.
The first Operation Alert took place on June 14, 1954 without incident. The New York Times reported “no major instances of recalcitrance” and that “New Yorkers…went loyally to the shelters at 10 A.M. [when the air raid sirens warning of the fictional atomic bombers went off] but didn’t really understand what was happening.”
Dorothy Day-CU Dorothy Day, 1897-1980
On June 15th of the following year, however, there was “recalcitrance.” Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement and a couple of dozen other kindred spirits, protested Operation Alert in City Hall Park in lower Manhattan. Before the sirens sounded at 2:00 P.M., the pacifists made their case to the news media that the civil defense exercise was a dangerous charade. Some of the protesters, including Ms. Day, handed out leaflets that read:
We will not obey this order to pretend, to evacuate, to hide. In view of the certain knowledge the administration of this country has that there is no defense in atomic warfare, we know this drill to be a military act in a cold war to instill fear, to prepare the collective mind for war. We refuse to cooperate.
Opal Leaflet-1955
Twenty-nine people were arrested that day under a state law that, as the New York Times explained, made “non-compliance with civil defense orders in such exercises a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison, $500 fine or both.” Most of those who were loaded into the police wagon were affiliated with the Catholic Worker, the War Resisters League (WRL) or the Quakers. One unfortunate arrestee, Rocco Parilli, a “bootblack,” was hauled in because he was unaware of the planned civil defense drill and had ignored the police when he was ordered to take shelter.

After processing at the Fifth Precinct, the protesters were taken to the Tombs and put in a communal cell where they awaited their turn before Judge Louis Kaplan in night court. Kaplan, by all accounts, was in a foul mood when the group was brought into his courtroom. As the bailiff was reading the names of the defendants, actress and co-founder of the Living Theater, Judith Malina, laughed when she heard the name of her fellow protester, Ammon Hennacy, mispronounced as “Ay-mun Hanackee.” JudithMalina The judge angrily admonished her for disrupting the decorum of his court and then, after a testy back-and-forth regarding where Malina lived, he asked if she had ever been “committed to a mental institution.” The actress shot back, “No, have you?” Kaplan thundered: “That’s enough! You are hereby committed to Bellevue for psychiatric evaluation.”
As the aghast spectators reacted to the ruling, Malina’s husband, Julian Beck (who was in the courtroom with a bail bondsman hoping to free his wife so that she could appear in a scheduled performance at their theater that evening), screamed out “She’s a wonderful woman!” When two police officers came to take the actress away, she jumped on a bench and then to a table in a futile effort to escape them. But they quickly captured the panicked Malina and carried her above their heads out of the crowded courtroom. At this point Judge Kaplan ordered everyone but the press and the defendants cleared from his court. He then set the protesters’ bail at a ridiculously high $1,500 and read an absurd prepared statement likening them to murderers: “These people, by their conduct and behavior, contributed to the utter destruction of the three million theoretically killed in our city.”
After a couple of days, with the help of her husband and an attorney, Malina was released from custody. She wrote extensively about her whirlwind experience in the criminal justice system in the June 20, 1955 entry of her personal diary (see Diaries of Judith Malina, 1947-1957). Meanwhile, members from several pacifist groups formed the Provisional Defense Committee to aid the protesters and quickly collected funds for attorneys’ fees, the trial and any appeals.
In November of 1955, the protesters went on trial before Judge Hyman Bushel, who displayed the same kind of animosity towards the defendants as Judge Kaplan did at the arraignment. At one point, Bushel even asked the defense counsel if he intended to call Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav M. Molotov as a witness. When the judge made his sarcastic remark, he may not have been aware of the fact that Molotov happened to be in New York on the day of Operation Alert (the infamous Russian was, in fact, in Glen Cove, Long Island at the time of the drill).
Protesters Guilty copy
On December 22, 1955, Judge Bushel found nineteen of the pacifists guilty and suspended their sentences because, he said, he did not wish to make “martyrs” of them. He also suspended the sentences of seven others—including Dorothy Day and Judith Malina—who had pleaded guilty. Finally, he dropped the charges against Joan Hamilton who was pregnant, Rocco Parilli who had been arrested by accident and Robert Berk, a student.
Defense attorney Kenneth W. Greenawalt vowed to appeal the verdict stating that the New York Emergency Defense Act violated freedom of religion, speech, assembly, press, petition and equal protection of the laws. The case (and one after it from 1956) was appealed to higher courts, but ultimately it was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1961. Justice William O. Douglas was the only member of that judicial body to vote to hear the case.
The protests against Operation Alert escalated in 1960 and 1961 until the government—at the behest of the New York City Police Department—decided to discontinue them in 1962. 1961 was the last year the drill was held. The later protests will be explored in later CONELRAD posts.
The names of the defendants from the Operation Alert 1955 protest:
Dorothy Day Rocco Parilli
Stanley Borowski
Michael Kowalak
Andrew Osgood
Dale Brotherington
Bayard Rustin
Jackson Mac Low
Robert Berk
Kent Larabee
Henry Maiden
Abraham J. Muste
Ammon Hennacy
Ralph Digia
Hugh Corbin
Robert Fisher
James Beck
Patricia Ruse
Edith Horowitz
Judith Malina (Beck)
Joan Hamilton
Orlie Pell
Sigrid Perry
Mary Ann McCoy
Helen Russell
Dorothy Day (pictured at left)
Irene Fantino
Mary Roberts
Richard Kern
Henry Babcock

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


LO-Bert At Last

There were a few things from our history of the 1951 civil defense film, Duck and Cover, that we did not post back in 2004. As we were doing some file cleaning the other day, we came across some documents that we felt our readers might find interesting. Enjoy.

Bert the Turtle Says Duck and Cover Comic Booklet (1951)

Duck and Cover Script

Duck and Cover Acceptance Letter

Millard Caldwell Congratulations Letter

Martin Caiden on Duck and Cover


And, finally, a nice CBS tribute to our late friend Raymond J. Mauer (1917-2006), the screenwriter of Duck and Cover.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010


LO-Sent-Is This Tomorrow

As David Hadju points out in his brilliant book The Ten-Cent Plague, the comic book was a huge mass-market medium to be reckoned with in the 1940s and early 1950s. In its heyday, the format reached more kids than television, radio or books.

Father Louis Gales was one of the people who recognized that the comic book format could be employed for storylines other than superheroes, crime and science fiction. Indeed, the no-nonsense priest understood that comic book art combined with a strong message could result in highly effective patriotic and religious propaganda. In 1942 he founded the Catechetical Guild Educational Society based in St. Paul, Minnesota and five years later his firm published a classic Cold War comic book.


Is This Tomorrow: America Under Communism, a 48-page Soviet America cautionary tale, presents a wonderfully over-the-top speculative narrative of just how easy it would be for the Communists to take over the United States. It starts, naturally, with a cabal of American Communists in New York City led by a man named “Jones.” Jones sports a Vandyke beard, so you know he’s pure evil (we later learn that he is also quite Cheney-esque).

The comic book opens with a textual hammer to the head (that most kids probably skipped to get to the arresting image of Americans fighting Soviet goons on the steps of the U.S. Capitol):


IS THIS TOMORROW is published for one purpose—TO MAKE YOU THINK!

To make you more alert to the menace of Communism.

Today, there are approximately 85,000 official members of the Communist Party in the United States. There are hundreds of additional members whose names are not carried on the Party roles because acting as disciplined fifth columnists of the Kremlin, they have wormed their way into key positions in government offices, and other positions of public trust.

Communists themselves claim that for every official Party member, there are ten others ready, willing and able to do the Party’s bidding.

These people are working day and night—laying the groundwork to overthrow YOUR GOVERNMENT!

The average American is prone to say, “It can’t happen here.” Millions of people in other countries used to say the same thing.

Today, they are dead—or living in Communist slavery. IT MUST NOT HAPPEN HERE!


Jones and his propaganda adviser “Brown” explain their manipulation of the American media as a precursor to their Moscow-approved take-over of the U.S.:

“We’ve been training writers and editors for years to follow the Party line. They will be ready to take complete control of radio and publishing once we get in.”

“Class conflict and the breakdown of bourgeois morals have been handled very well by our people in Hollywood.”

(Note: This panel depicts patrons filing into a theater showing a salacious film entitled “The Other Wife.” A post-take-over panel, later in the comic book, shows patrons outside a theater showing “Russia Today.”).

Theater collage

Jones and Party operatives have also manipulated strike leaders and have stoked racial and religious hatred to ease the skids for America’s conquering. And since this is a comic book published by Catholics and distributed to parochial schools, guess which religion gets the lion’s share of the Communist’s abuse? If you guessed Catholicism, you would be correct. The not-so-subtle subtext for the youthful Catholic reader here seems to be: pay attention to this story or the nun with the ruler will be the least of your worries…


Playing off of the paranoid Communist-infiltration-of-government canard, the writers of Is This Tomorrow have Jones hold sway over the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ted Cline. This relationship comes in handy when the President and Vice-President (riding in an uncovered limo) are assassinated by hand grenade by a killer who looks remarkably like R. Crumb.

Helpful expository panels explain what happens next in the newly elevated President’s post-9/11-like expansion of Executive Branch powers:

“The only solution is to declare an unlimited emergency, and give me extraordinary powers!”

“A confused Congress readily accepts Ted Cline’s offer to solve the nation’s problems.”

Behind the scenes, of course, it is the Cheney-like Jones who calls the shots and informs the dupe President: “I’m taking things over from here!” Jones is named “Chief Advisor” and becomes the de facto Chief Executive.


Jones proceeds to rule by fiat with Communist henchmen as his enforcers. He has the Joint Chiefs of Staff machine gunned to death (“Get rid of those bodies tonight Comrades.”). He informs a stirring Congress that “there will be no investigation. There is no time to waste on such foolishness.” To back up his casual dismissal of the congressional body’s power of oversight, he brings armed guards to the floor of the House of Representatives.

If that wasn’t enough illustration of Jones’s incredible power over Democracy, there are many more examples offered in the comic book:

Food supply is manipulated by the State in order to gain control over the citizenry. Suburban food riots with women clutching carrots ensue.


When a minister questions the actions of the government, his church is blown up and the minister is executed by Commie goons.

Critical newspapers are denied newsprint paper until they tow the Party line.


The telephone system and radio networks are nationalized.


Communist teachers take over at elementary schools and universities and teach the long betrayed truth of the Party!


Banks are liquidated.

Gun rights for the masses are revoked and capital punishment is meted out to violators.

Catholic monks are forced to work for the Party.

In one memorable panel, a Communist guard is asked by a monk what his order is supposed to do now that the government has revoked freedom of religion. The swift and unforgiving response is: “Take off those petticoats and work for the State!”


American citizens are shipped off to camps in North Dakota and Alaska as punishment.


Elections are held, but the Communists are the only Party on the ballot. Opposition is dealt with brutally.

Book burnings take place with the ubiquitous Jones tossing the Bible into the flames with particular enthusiasm.


Of course, no Soviet America story would be complete without what the comic book describes as “The Crowning Achievement” of the Communist take-over: A brainwashed blonde boy informing on his parents: “My dad’s got a short-wave radio…And besides that my mom still has some religious junk.” “We’ll fix that,” the Soviet officer responds.

lo-Sent-ITT-Crowning Achievement

Is This Tomorrow concludes with the dictator Jones dying at a victory celebration as one of his henchmen vows to assume power. If this Communism-in-perpetuity lesson isn’t explicit enough, there is a textual postscript that, like the preamble to the comic book, most kids probably ignored:


Did our story seem incredible? It is unbelievable—that such a small group could ever dream of enforcing its will upon the majority. But remember that a group for smaller than the number of Communists living and working in America today seized control of Russia in 1917.

No one can refuse to believe what he knows to be true. And we do know that every method shown in this presentation has been used by the Communists in their rise to power in other countries. Starvation, murder, slavery, force—those are the tools the Communists use to carry out the doctrine of Communism.

The Communists are preparing to seize control of America in any crisis. This crisis, real or contrived—will be there signal to move in… and make their bid for power.

This crisis might begin with a flood in Pennsylvania—a drought in the Middle West. Or it might begin with a general strike in some of our large industrial cities—New York—Detroit—Chicago—San Francisco.

It happened in Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and country after country, the world over.


You are the one with whom the Communist is struggling right now. His aim is to make you hate your fellow man and keep you blind to the important things in life. He wants to make you forget the importance of your right to vote as you please—to say what you please—to go where you please—to worship as you please. The Communist really wants you to forget all your rights to individual freedom and liberty.

But you cannot assume your individual rights without assuming individual responsibility.

If you want to keep on living, you must know who the Communists are—and their methods of working. You must recognize the Communist Party line in action and separate Communist propaganda from the factual news of the day.

You are on the defensive in this battle. You owe it to yourself to know all about the invader. He knows more about you than you suspect.


By an uncredited writer and artist
Copyright 1947
Distributed as a public service by the Catechetical Guild Educational Society
Printed in U.S.A.
48 pages


lo-Sent-ITT-Public Service

Monday, December 20, 2010


On June 15, 1955, the annual civil defense drill known as Operation Alert was held throughout the United States. In New York City, bus drivers handed out passes (see image below) to their riders so that they could re-board without extra charge after the mandatory fifteen minute “take cover” period was over.

Opposition by peace activists (and by people who didn’t like to interrupt their commute for mock A-bomb exercises) to Operation Alert increased every year until the nationwide drill was permanently canceled in 1962. There were eight Operation Alerts in all (1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960 and 1961). 

Opal Alert 1955 Bus Pass

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Film Title Collage

The script for Protection in the Nuclear Age is both tragic and comic. Above all, the picture portrayed of nuclear war is catastrophically misleading to the American public, because it offers a best case scenario as the only case. The film is a prime example of overly optimistic estimates of survivability in a nuclear war.

-- Gary L. Guertner, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, June 1980

Survival Under an Atomic Attack, produced by Castle Films for the United States government in 1951, is one of the first official, post-war civil defense educational films issued. It, along with Duck and Cover and seven other movies ordered by the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) that same year, sought to sell the public on the notion of safety-through-preparedness. The common feature shared by all nine of these early Cold War films is a na├»ve and unwarranted optimism. There were, of course, many other civil defense movies that followed over the course of America’s long struggle with the Soviet Union.

Survival under Atomic 3

One might assume that the last major movie produced for the U.S. government on the topic of surviving a nuclear war would be more realistic than one made in 1951 – an era before intercontinental ballistic missiles. Surprisingly, this is not the case. CONELRAD recently acquired a copy of Protection in the Nuclear Age, a 16mm motion picture produced in 1978 by Trio Productions, Inc. for the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency (the DCPA was one of the many successor organizations to the FCDA). It is, if anything, even more misleading than the first generation of official survival movies.

Note: Both of the films discussed in this article are embedded, in their entirety, at the bottom of this post.

Booklet collage

Like Survival Under an Atomic Attack before it, Protection in the Nuclear Age began life as a government pamphlet. The 68-page booklet, published by the Government Printing Office in 1977, takes the reader on a heavily illustrated journey to a place called hope. Some of the helpful information imparted includes the following:

A twenty-five megaton nuclear blast is substantially worse than a one megaton explosion…

25MT Map

A cabin cruiser is a perfectly acceptable fallout shelter…


Don’t bring guns, booze or drugs to your civil defense relocation area…


Know where your public shelter is…

Public Shelters

Don’t use the telephone during an attack!


The pamphlet does not concern itself with what life might be like after the nuclear war. Like a fine novel, it leaves the reader with something to ponder. Actually, the booklet ends rather abruptly—not with a closing dose of optimism, but with a page declaring that radiation sickness is not contagious.

The 23-minute movie adaptation of Protection in the Nuclear Age is an understated affair. Its narrator dispenses the “facts” of attack and survival in a subdued monotone that is complimented by a very minimalist music score. By contrast, Survival Under an Atomic Attack begins with the booming voice of Edward R. Murrow and music from what sounds like a World War II movie.

Certain segments of the animated Protection in the Nuclear Age are acted out by stick figures. In the early 1980s, an employee of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA is the agency that replaced DCPA in 1979) explained to author Edward Zuckerman that the decision to forgo live action was made, in part, to prolong the shelf-life of the film. Zuckerman quotes the spokesperson in his essential 1984 book, The Day After World War III, as saying simply: “Stick figures don’t get obsolete as fashion changes.”

No Phone

Protection in the Nuclear Age begins with a view of the planet earth from space. The narrator intones:

“We live in a world of tension and conflict. And peace, even where it does exist, does so without guarantees for tomorrow. We must therefore face the hard reality that someday a nuclear attack against the United States might occur. And—equally important—we must also realize that horrifying as that prospect may seem, destructive as such an attack might be, we can survive. It would not mean the end of the world, the end of our nation. And you can greatly improve your chances of survival if you’ll remember these facts—about Protection in the Nuclear Age.”

Planet Earth-Brightened

Oddly enough, this introduction echoes the words scripted for Mr. Murrow more than a quarter century earlier for Survival Under an Atomic Attack:

“Let us face without panic, the reality of our time: The fact that atom bombs may someday be dropped on our cities.  And let us prepare for survival by understanding the weapon that threatens us.”   


Protection addresses many of the same points as its source material does, but for some reason, does not include a scene with stick figures seeking refuge from the A-bomb on a boat. It does, however, show plenty of them rushing into a public shelter marked with the familiar black and yellow sign. Left unsaid is that, while many of these shelters remain marked, they were last stocked in the 1960s.

Public Shelter Sign

The biggest howler in the film comes during a recitation of a government assessment of the worst case scenario of a nuclear war:

“Defense Department studies show that even under the heaviest possible attack, less than five percent of our entire land mass would be affected by blast and heat from nuclear weapons. Of course, that five percent contains a large percentage of our population. But, even in these high risk areas, if there’s sufficient time to permit evacuation, many millions of lives could be saved. The other ninety-five percent of our land would escape untouched. Except possibly by radioactive fallout.”

Five Percent

The movie ends as it began with words of encouragement delivered as the earth is seen from space:

“The greatest danger is hopelessness, the fear that nuclear attack would mean the end of our world. So why not just give up, lie down and die? That idea could bring senseless and useless death to many, for protection is possible. And your own chances of survival will be much greater if you remember these facts about Protection in the Nuclear Age.”

Fallout Barage

In a strange subtextual reminder that the government is looking after the viewer like some sort of guardian angel, the animated globe morphs into the DCPA seal as the narration comes to an end.

The thing that makes Protection in the Nuclear Age somewhat unsettling is that, according to Zuckerman, it was the “last movie” many Americans might have seen if the Cold War had not ended peacefully. During the course of his research for The Day After World War III, the author learned that copies of the film had been distributed to civil defense field offices and that some of these prints had, in turn, been given to local television stations. FEMA had also distributed fifteen informational articles to local civil defense officials to provide to local newspapers in the event of an escalating international crisis. In his book, Zuckerman captures the government’s intended strategy:

“The newspaper articles would be supplemented by the twenty-five-minute television film [Protection in the Nuclear Age]…” FEMA has explained. “The cost of such materials is very low, and we estimate that the emergency newspaper articles and television films could add survivors amounting to perhaps eight to twelve percent of the U.S. population.”

Broadcast collage

Thankfully, there never came a time when Protection in the Nuclear Age needed to be broadcast. It gathered dust on the shelves of television tape libraries. The only evidence that CONELRAD could find of the movie ever being publicly screened is from an item in the October 4, 1979 edition of the Iowa Democrat newspaper. The article mentions that it was to be shown at an open meeting of the Emmelsburg Junior Civil Defense group, The Pacers.

Protection-Nuclear Age-Screening-1979 copy

Now, while we wait to see what the A/V specialists at the Department of Homeland Security come up with, we can sit back and watch Protection in the Nuclear Age and Survival Under Atomic Attack on YouTube in a double feature. 

Mushroom Cloud on Map 


Survival Under Atomic Attack End Graphic

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Philadelphia Evacuation Plan – Early 1950s

Did our post on the Philadelphia fallout shelter business boom of 1961-1962 leave you wanting more on the City of Brotherly Love’s Cold War past? Well, we’ve dug up another item from our archives. It is a fold-out “pocket folder” (to be carried at “all times”) that instructs the nervous, early-1950s Philadelphian how to split town in a hurry in the event of an atomic attack.

This post is best read with a Geno’s cheesesteak…to go!

Philly Evac-Cvr   
Philly Evac map

Philly-Evac Instructions 


Philly-Warning Signs