As Cold War tensions escalated throughout the 1950’s, the United States’ testing of the first hydrogen bomb in 1951 was followed by the development, production, and stockpiling of increasingly powerful nuclear weapons by the US and Soviet Union. Both countries 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 executive and legislative branches of the United States government, with scientists and academics weighing in. Was civilian protection technically and logistically feasible for this new level of weaponry, and at what cost? Was the United States government obligated to provide this protection for its citizens, whose elected officials formulated nuclear policy and whose taxes funded nuclear production? What role did civil defense have in overall nuclear strategy?
Last updated: August 1, 2019