Cinema History from the Cold War!

U.S. Civil Defense in Action

Federal Civil Defense Administration
1953



Beginning in 1952, the Truman Administration sponsored the first nationwide civil defense promotion, a traveling convoy heralded as Alert America.  Consisting primarily of elaborate displays packaged into semi-truck trailers, civil defense officials toured a number of states to lecture and provide emergency preparedness workshops while encouraging citizens to volunteer.  In addition to the convoy, Alert America was heavily promoted through civil defense drills, radio broadcasts, television programs, and a graphic poster series.  Released in the midst of this campaign, U.S. Civil Defense in Action highlights the government's steps towards managing the atomic threat.  The message of Alert America is framed nicely in the film's introductory scenes.  According to the opening narration, there is an apathy towards preparedness due to the overriding belief that no one will survive the next enemy attack.  Not only will there be survivors, but with the proper education now being provided, the population can rise and evolve "from those who need help, to those can help!"

                               

One of the more fascinating aspects of U.S. Civil Defense in Action is the way it promotes film as a vital instrument in public education.  The camera provides close ups of a number of 16mm prints including Fire Fighting for Householders, What You Should Know About Biological Warfare, Survival Under Atomic Attack, Our Cities Must Fight, and Duck and Cover.  These productions, all based off widely distributed pamphlets, represent the first public films sponsored by the federal government concerning civil defense.  Radio programs, too, are commended as a popular medium for spreading preparedness information.  During the Cold War, many radio dramas would be scripted to included civil defense messages, often blending humor and excitement with the terror of an atomic attack.  The burgeoning field of television was similarly utilized and promotional clips of the 1952 film School for Survival, which was specially edited for television broadcasts, are also shown.  By highlighting these resources, U.S. Civil Defense in Action appears to be reminding the public that they need not look far to find government sponsored advice on the topic of atomic survival.  As the 1950's progressed, Alert America promotions were replaced by annual Operation Alert exercises.  Similarly, U.S. Civil Defense in Action, along with most of the films featured in it, would be declared obsolete.  In 1957, citing changing methods of warfare and protection, the Federal Civil Defense Administration recalled all copies of the film.