Cold War Curiosity: Civil Defense Manual, 1966


coverpersonalfamilysurvival.JPGSeeing Robert Brockway talk about planet-ending disasters in connection with his new book “Everything is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead” got me thinking about my own fine collection of apocalyptic literature, which includes the vintage publication you see before you.
Behold: SM 3-11, “Personal and Family Survival.” Published by the Department of Defense’s Office of Civil Defense, this fine little book was published in the height of the Cold War: 1966. Let’s take a look, shall we?

This Civil Defense manual has held up remarkably well for a book that’s almost 45 years old. Certainly, it has survived the years far better than the credibility of the information it contains. Its tone is relentlessly optimistic, absolutely filled to the brim with “YES MR. SMITH, YOU AND YOUR FAMILY WILL SURVIVE A NUCLEAR HELL-STORM AND HERE’S HOW!” can-do attitude.
Looking through this book I was immediately reminded of the “Fallout” game series, and developed a new appreciation for how well they satirized the prevailing attitude toward nuclear war as a survivable, winnable form of conflict. I halfway expected to see the Vault-Tec industries logo pop up somewhere in there.
When I was growing up, my parents would joke and laugh about the “duck and cover” films they used to watch in school, and now that I’ve seen the kinds of stuff people were told about nuclear war back then, I can see why: it’s both patently absurd and almost endearingly naive. The illustrations especially add to its almost surrealistic air: moms in aprons, dads in fedoras and three piece suits, all of them blithely going about their days while fiery Armageddon scorches the earth just a scant few feet above them.
The folks in this picture look like they’re going to a baseball game instead of a fallout shelter:
Meanwhile, mom manages to catch up with the family’s laundry in their convenient and stylish bomb shelter. Doubles as a rec room!
This is from a section of the book suggesting that you use the old junk in your attic or basement as a temporary bomb shelter. That’s a great idea. You can pass the time with all of your boxed-up Christmas decorations. Even better? You’ll be able to use them right after the bombs drop: nuclear winter!
I’m especially fond of this one: “Say, I know what would help pass the time. Let’s read a story!”
This chart illustrates the amount of radiation that your livestock can tolerate before succumbing. It gives new meaning to the term “expiration date.”
Here’s a rather attractive chart of all the supplies you’ll need to run a happy, productive fallout shelter. Kind of a Sears Roebuck Catalog of the damned, right?
Finally, here’s an emergency change-of-address form that you can use to let your friends and family know that your old life has been utterly immolated and that you’ve just moved into a new neighborhood deep within the earth. Of course, those friends and family – presuming they’re not in shelters themselves – are probably dead, but darn it, there’s a proper way to do things and who’s going to let a few megatons of nuclear explosives change that?