Series: Cold War Civil Defense: From "Duck and Cover" to “Gun Thy Neighbor”

The very notion of citizen-constructed civil defense—responsibility for fallout protection undertaken by individual American suburban families—has been depicted by some historians as a cynical, low-cost ploy to calm the fears of and elicit compliance from the American pubic in the terrifying face of nuclear brinksmanship over which they had no control.

  • Chapter 1: Civil Defense Through Eisenhower

    Cartoon of Bert The Turtle practicing Duck and Cover

    As Cold War tensions escalated throughout the 1950’s, both United States and the Soviet Union were forced to confront the unprecedented prospect of sudden, massive losses to their populations. The question of civil defense—the protection of civilian lives during a nuclear exchange—was passionately debated in the United States. Read more

  • Marsh - Billings - Rockefeller National Historical Park

    Chapter 2: Nelson Rockefeller and Civil Defense

    President Kennedy meets with Governors on Civil Defense, 9 May 1961

    Nelson Rockefeller was a businessman, foundation head, cabinet-level US government official, and four-term governor of New York. He was engaged throughout his life with shaping public policy in direct and indirect ways. One of Nelson Rockefeller’s most passionately-pursued ideas during the 1950’s and 1960’s was the necessity of fallout shelters for civil defense. Read more

  • Chapter 3: Kennedy, Rockefeller, and Civil Defense

    Artist's rendition of a Temporary Basement Fallout Shelter

    In May 1961, as Chair of the Civil Defense Committee of the Conference of Governors, Nelson Rockefeller met with President Kennedy to advocate for a national fallout shelter program. Two weeks later, Kennedy addressed a joint session of Congress, noting the “apathy, indifference, and skepticism” surrounding civil defense policy and asking for appropriations for “a much strengthened Federal-State civil defense program.” Read more