News & Politics

1960 Civil Defense: Duck and Cover!


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April 27, 1960, Vol. V, No. 27

There is Still Time, Brother

By David McReynolds

At 2:15 on the afternoon of Tuesday, May 3, the annual nation-wide Civil Defense alert will take place. Sirens will begin to wail. Radio stations will go off the air. Cars and buses will pull to the side of the street. Afternoon shoppers will scurry into basements. Office workers will move to pre-assigned shelter areas. Children will crouch under desks or sit in the hallways of their schools, huddled against the walls. All of Manhattan will be stilled and silent as we observe the annual alert.

And yet we know both in our minds and in our guts that if war came we would not survive. We know that the blast from a hydrogen bomb dropped on Manhattan would crush our city like matchsticks, that the radiation and fire from such a bomb would reach with deadly fingers into every basement and sub-basement in New York. As the old Negro hymn says: “There is no hiding place down here.” As Governor Meyner said recently in a significant and courageous speech: “Civil defense is a cruel deception on the American people…there is no defense except peace.”

You know as well as I do that CD is a farce – and a deadly farce, because it gives our citizens a false sense of security, because it shields us, psychologically, from the reality of nuclear war and the absolute imperative of achieving peace. It is for this reason that every year a group from the Catholic Worker has gone down to City Hall Park and refused to take shelter during the alert…This year there will be at least a hundred and probably several hundred, sitting quietly and firmly while the sirens whine around us….

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]


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