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The 1950s Science Fiction Podcast S2E2

Atomic War, Civil Defence, and Fallout Shelters.

By Edward GermanPublished 3 years ago 11 min read


Well, how did you like that simulated Atomic blast? Neat Huh? Did you know that for as little as three dollars, you could see and hear an Atomic Test conducted at a Nevada test site during the 50s? Well, it was common until the test ban treaty put a stop to it. But testing is not what I will be discussing in this episode of the show. Anyway, welcome back to my podcast. This time I will be looking at the fear of Atomic war and its implications. The belief that civilians could survive an attack via fallout shelters and a good civil defense plan.

1950s fallout shelter.

I had come across two videos from a Twitter follower YouTube channel. I watched both of them after he posted on his blog. The first program was called Atomic Attack and was broadcasted live on TV in 1954 on ABC. The show dealt with a suburban housewife and her two children living during the aftermath. The second was a CBS documentary on how the City of Portland would evacuate the population in case of an Atomic strike. These two programs assume Atomic attack is survivable and tries to convince the audience.

After the US and the Soviet Union tested and stockpiled Atomic weapons during the cold war, fears loomed that an Atomic war would come to pass. Therefore, to keep the public morale up, the government created a program of civil defense. The program instituted a warning system and public fallout shelters to protect citizens against Atomic attacks. In the school system, children practiced "Duck and Cover" drills just like other drills required by the school system. Civil defense was very prevalent in the 50s. However, in the following decades, the program would fall out of favor. The policy of MAD mutual assured destruction overrides anything civil defense could do. It stated that an Atomic war was unwinnable, and there would not be enough time to evacuate the population in case of attack.

Duck and Cover Drill in a school house.

As I had mentioned earlier, I watched the two programs on YouTube. The channel belongs to a podcaster going by the name of MegaDude. His YouTube channel is full of various post-apocalyptic videos that date back to the Cold War era, also included are his podcast videos as well. His channel is worth checking out. MegaDue can be followed on Twitter @PostApocalyptic On the web at defcon1.net

Now on to my review:

Motorola Television Hour - Atomic Attack

Atomic Attack was a one-hour live TV broadcast sponsored by Motorola. At the time, Motorola was manufacturing television sets for the emerging TV industry and thus advertising its product. It was not uncommon for some programs sponsored by one product at the time. The Motorola Television Hour was an anthology series that ran from November 1953 to June 1954. The show aired every two weeks on the ABC network while alternating with other series. The gene of the episodes varied; writers such as Rod Serling and Neil Simon wrote for the series.

The show starts in a quiet suburban neighborhood in a home where a family of four sits down together for breakfast. It is 8 AM, and the father is about to leave for work in New York City. His home is 50 miles from ground zero, and no one knows what is about to happen and how it will change their lives in the next few days. Atomic Attack stars Phyllis Thaxter, Robert Keith, and Walter Matthau. The teleplay is based on the novel "Shadow on the Hearth" by Judith Merril, published by Doubleday in 1950. The book was her first novel which started as a short story but, she expanded the writing further than intended.

The war starts.

The father leaves for work, and the children go to school. While the mother is working at home, she is a housewife with no career; she hears an explosion in the distance accompanied by glass shattering. She turns on the radio and the Conrad warning system broadcasting. Conrad is informing the population to seek shelter from an Atomic attack. The mother then tries the telephone and calls her husband, but there is no answer. She is scared and frantic at this point; she is not certain if he is alive or dead. Conrad radio announces that New York City; was hit by an H-Bomb. The announcer warns everyone to stay inside and not go out. Within the next few hours, the two children return home from school.

Fallout, Civil Defence, and the Science Teacher.

Not long after the children come home, there is a knock on the back door, and a man introduces himself as the science teacher from her daughter's school. He is concerned about the radiation exposer that the younger daughter may have received. However, the conversation is interrupted by a knock on the front door. At the front door is the local block warden for the Civil Defence agency. He gives the mother written instructions on what the Civil Defence requires them to do. Interesting situation, the block warden was a gas station attendant who pumped gasoline for the family car. He says before he leaves that just last week, he was asking, "Regular or Hi-Test?' Back in the 50s, gas station attendants pumped gas and check the oil in cars for customers.

The science teacher is concerned about the youngest child's white blood cell count. He fears she is exposed to a lethal dose of fallout and may need medical attention soon. The mom asks the block captain to help, and he sends a doctor over to have everyone checked out except for the science teacher, who hides in the basement. The teacher says he doesn't want to be seen due to personal reasons and, he is not feeling the effects of radiation sickness. After the doctor examines everyone, he finds that all persons are healthy. The science teacher stays on as a guest in the family's home, not reviling why he is not willing to come forward yet

Unexpected guests and a sick girl

It is day two, and the mother has fought off an attack from looters with help from the science teacher. She still has no information on the fate of her husband. There are radio reports on how the unaffected areas are in good order due to the efforts of Civil Defense. The announcer also informs how the war against is the enemy is progressing. If things weren't bad enough, it gets even worse for the mother. By an order from the Civil Defence, the mother must accommodate four strangers in her home for an unknown period. The strangers consist of two women, one man, and a girl. Each person has their share of problems. The two that stand out the most are one woman who knows she lost her husband and another the believes she was contaminated. However, the one man in the group tries to be helpful to the mother. He finds some lamps in the attic while he rummaged thru their belongings. The two female members, one has a child, constantly lays in bed and neglects her daughter, while the other stays intoxicated most of the time. He finds some lamps in the attic while he rummaged thru their belongings. The two female members, one has a child, constantly lays in bed and neglects her daughter, while the other stays intoxicated most of the time.

It is a lot for the mom to take in, especially when she doesn't know the fate of her husband. To make matters even worse, her youngest daughter is showing signs of sickness. She gets tired frequently and, her hair is falling out; the science teacher checks her WBC and determines that it is low. She then calls for the block captain to help and, her daughter is admitted to a hospital and is diagnosed with radiation sickness.

The war continues.

As the war progresses, it is reported on the radio that US Forces are in the enemy's homeland. The US has responded in kind with a counter-offense. It seems like the war is growing in the US favor, so says the constant radio reports. In the program, the announcer states the enemy, but I am sure the audience knows who the enemy realy is. The enemy is the former Soviet Union, the only country capable of using Atomic weapons against the US. It was mentioned early in the show that a foreign nation launched a missile from a submarine. The Soviet Union had already test-fired such a weapon.

While they are listening to the reports in the living room, the mother gets a phone call. On the other line is the civil defense authority; the news she gets is not good. The call was confirmation of her husband's death. The two female houseguests who had been bickering with the mom during their stay; offer comfort to her. The mom manages to recover quickly and stays on task.

The end is near, and things do get better.

Even though the mother has the confirmation of her husband's death, things are starting to improve. First, the science teacher decides to come out of hiding and aids the civil defense council. He had previously stated that he was an atomic scientist who had work on weapons projects. He had changed his name and changed jobs to avoid detection from the government. He had grown unhappy while working on weapon projects. As it turns out, he was the very person the council had needed. His expertise proves valuable for medical treatments the civil defense agency needs.

Then all of the guests leave one by one after the civil defense agency finds homes for the survivors. They all express gratitude to the mom despite the hardships she faced. Next, the youngest daughter is allowed to return home after successful medical treatment. She is much better now and no longer showing signs of radiation sickness. Finally, the war is declared to be over with the US defeating its enemy. Over the radio, the US forces achieved total victory over the foreign aggressors, as announced by the news anchor. Upon hearing the announcement, the science teacher decides to say on with the mom and her two daughters.

My Thoughts.

I did enjoy watching this program, a well-acted melodrama of the period. Since it was a live program, it had a limited number of sets and had to be well-timed. The live studio consisted of the family household and a hallway at the hospital. The events in the family household were between the living room and kitchen to the bedroom. There were a few scenes on the back porch and in the basement where the science teacher hid.

I was unfamiliar with most of the cast members, with one exception. The civil defense doctor, played by Walter Matthau, was the best-known actor in the show. However, all of the players did excellent performances in their roles. The program conveys a tense atmosphere and a sense of uncertainly: however, adversity gets negated by assurances of the civil defense agencies. In this era, the American people followed and trusted their government. It was before the Watergate scandal, the Vietnam War, and government conspiracy theories. It was a time when people trusted the government, and the government would take care of the population no matter what happened. The government was true to its word since the country had just survived the Second World war and the Great Depression.

Overall the show expresses a spirit of hope and triumphs against the backdrop of atomic warfare. Despite the widespread destruction in other parts of the country, survival is still possible. It becomes possible by well planed civil defense protocol, preparations, and individual cooperation.

A Day Called X.

Now on to the next TV program on civil defense. A Day Called X is a news documentary that uses reenactments with real people. The scenario is fictional; however, the setting is quinine. CBS News created the program in 1957 and aired in December of that year. There are no actors cast in the program except for the narrator Glen Ford. The run time of the show is 30 minutes.

The program begins with an audible air raid siren in the background while two men get out of a car and head straight for a white-colored building. They both enter through a guarded doorway and walk into the operations center. The lead person, Portland Mayor Terry Shuck, is informed that enemy bombers are on the way. He announces that an attack is imminent within the next three hours.

Then the narrator, actor Glen Ford, continues with the dialogue. He introduces the city of Portland and describes the day-to-day lives of actual Portland residents. A paperboy, a longshoreman, and a housewife, yes another housewife, whose lives may be affected. The program then cuts to a city council meeting where the mayor becomes informed of the incoming bombers. He orders an evacuation of the city. The civil defense agency becomes mobilized and, an evacuation plan comes to life. The evacuation includes schools, hospitals, and most of the population of the city. However, public workers must stay behind; they are needed for the function of the community and will take shelter when the time comes.

The program shows how an orderly evacuation by the civil defense protocols directed by the operation center keeps order within the city. Traffic gets diverted to routes using green lights only, and pedestrians get rides from evacuating motorists. Mr. Ford explains how a civil defense exercise conducted two years before; managed to evacuate most of the city center in 34 mins. Conard radio is constantly on the air giving updates and instructing the population on where to go during the crisis. The fire department readies themselves by covering their equipment to protect against the blast. The operations room is constantly active with reports from other departments. The narrator points out that the residents voted for a tax for civil defense measures. Also, the city council made provisions for the continuity of government should an atomic strike happen.

The documentary ends with nothing happening. At 1:30 local time, the enemy bombers are supposed to be over the city, but no atomic explosion occurs. Instead, the producers invite the viewer to imagine what would happen next. A Day Called X was a well-written and realistic story speculating what could happen. Again, I think the producers wanted to drive home the belief that civil defense was paramount for survival in case of an Atomic attack. Throughout the program, it showed how Portland prepared for the event, down to every possible detail. To me, the evaluation resembled an egress from a Hurricane or storm.

One of the things I saw in the presentation; I found to be interesting, Portland and Hiroshima compared to be equal in size. Also, during a school evacuation, the camera focused on a young girl of East Asian ethnicity, possibly Japanese.

Well, that is all for this podcast episode. This one has been one of my longest so far. I hope it has kept you interested in the topic that I have just discussed. If you are interested in watching both programs, I will have the YouTube video embed in my vocal media page that accompanies the podcast.

I would realy love listener feedback. Please feel free to post comments, messages on social media or leave me a voice message via the Anchor app on your smartphone or tablet. Also, check out my vocal media page that accompanies the podcast. It will have extras such as photos, YouTube videos, and links to other sites.

Thanks for listening. I hope to be back as soon as possible with another episode of my series.

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About the Creator

Edward German

A long-time sci-fi fan who loves the internet. I am also writing on subjects other than sci-fi.

you can follow me on "X" @EdwardGerman3 Listen to my podcast The 1950s Science Fiction Podcast on Spotify for Podcasters.

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