When nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, civilians had their first glimpse of the new reality: a world where one massive bomb could decimate an entire city. But it was not until the power balance shifted and another country—the Soviet Union—tested its first nuclear bomb on August 29, 1949 that the new world order became truly frightening to many Americans. The US government needed to find ways to keep civilians safe in the event of a nuclear attack and make citizens feel comfortable with the idea of the bomb and nuclear energy. Civil defense as practiced in the US after World War II was a domestic security policy that combined propaganda with theories about survival following a nuclear attack. The US never successfully implemented a civil defense plan, but New York City figures prominently in the history of civil defense. (McEnaney, 2000, pp. 3-5). Many New Yorkers also objected to civil defense, calling attention to the futility of taking shelter. If there were a direct nuclear attack on New York City, going indoors would not be enough to save you. As a result, they organized protests of civil defense drills.
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By Catherine Falzone, 2012. Adapted from Nuclear New York archive with permission.