1961 was a defining year for United States civil
defense policy. In January, the newly
elected Kennedy Administration introduced Frank Burton Ellis as head of the
Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization.
Ellis, a brash state senator from Louisiana, immediately declared the
nation's preparedness efforts "paltry" and "inadequate" and
made it his personal (and highly publicized) mission to raise awareness of the
need for a fallout shelter in every American home.(1) In addition to some more extreme suggestions,
such as making fallout shelter construction a requirement for a mortgage loan,
he also oversaw the production and release of ten motion pictures. By far the most widely distributed film from
this group was Radiological Defense, which offers a comprehensive look at the
threat of fallout radiation resulting from an enemy atomic attack and the
protective measures the government and private individuals can take against
Opening in a radiological defense operations center, the film begins by explaining the basic facts of fallout radiation. Although damage caused by the blast and fire of enemy nuclear weapons would likely be limited to major cities, industrial centers and military installations, radioactive fallout emanating from such strikes could disburse over a wide area and contaminate two million square miles. Farmland, pastures, water supplies, and over one hundred million people would be put at risk of radiation poisoning. This threat is depicted on screen when peaceful scenes of men and women going about their lives are suddenly tinted a very dark red, indicating the burning presence of radiation. Because Radiological Defense was released prior to the creation of a federally sponsored system of public fallout shelters, the film maintains the best protection strategy from this threat is for every American family to create a private shelter in their home and stock it with enough supplies to last two weeks. Furthermore, local governments are urged to develop plans for training radiological monitors. Firemen, law enforcement, city council members, and agricultural workers are all shown practicing with survey meters. For large cities, aerial monitoring may be advantageous, where specialized equipment can take fallout readings over large areas. Interestingly, the CD V-755 High School Kit, designed to instruct teenaged students on how to operate basic radiological equipment, is also featured.
Shortly after the
production of this film, the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization
ceased to exist. On July 20, 1961 it was renamed the Office of
Emergency Planning with Frank Burton Ellis as director. In the months
immediately preceding this change, Ellis had fallen out of favor with
his superiors by demanding of Congress three times the allotted budget
for his agency. After announcing his intention to seek an audience with
the Pope to convince the Pontiff to require a fallout shelter in every
Catholic church, Ellis was quietly shuffled out of his position and
appointed a federal judge in Louisiana.(2) Following Ellis' departure,
President Kennedy announced the creation of the Office of Civil Defense, a
sub-agency of the Department of Defense, which would take over the United States' emergency preparations and implement his ambitious
National Fallout Shelter Program. In spite of all this political and
bureaucratic turmoil, Radiological Defense proved both popular and
resilient. Annual reports from the O.C.D.M. explain that 230 television
stations, with a combined viewership of nine million people, requested copies of
the film for airing.(3) Unlike many of its contemporary civil defense
films, Radiological Defense was not declared obsolete in the coming
years and could still be rented or purchased from government film
catalogs well into the 1970's. (4)
Radiological Defense may be viewed, in its entirety, HERE.
1. Bernofsky, Carl. Frank Burton Ellis, The Bureaucrat. Tulane University. 2009. Par. 4.
3. Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization. 1961 Annual Report. U.S. Government Printing Office. 1962. 12.
4. Department of the Army. Index of Army Motion Pictures and Related Audio-Visual Aids. U.S. Government Printing Office. 1972. 347.