International Disarmament Institute News

Civil Defense Research

A key aspect of civil defense was the idea of “emotion management.” An important study on the topic, Project East River, was undertaken in New York City by Associated Universities, Inc., a Cold War think tank and operator of the Brookhaven National Laboratory, which was sponsored by eight East Coast universities. The study was commissioned by the FCDA, the NSRB, and the Department of Defense. The “Report of the Project East River,” published in 1952, asserted that though the world was the most dangerous it had ever been, it would be possible to survive a nuclear attack by instituting a permanent civil defense system. But for that to work, Americans needed to be trained to avoid feelings of extreme panic or total complacency. The report advocated for self-help; if Americans were properly trained and prepared, then they could be responsible for saving themselves, leaving the federal government free to focus on military actions. Project East River also looked into adapting psychological warfare tactics to be used on American citizens. (Oakes, 1994, pp. 47-51; Project East River, 1952).

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By Catherine Falzone, 2012. Adapted from Nuclear New York archive with permission.

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