Cinema History from the Cold War!

Retrospect
(A film excursion into past events, events which form the pattern by which we live today!)

Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization

1961

In 1959, planners within the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization (O.C.D.M.) were facing a daunting task.  They needed to explain the dangers of radioactive fallout to an American public who, for much of the previous decade, had been told it was a harmless and short-lasting effect of an enemy atomic attack.  Further, the agency needed to convince homeowners to construct private fallout shelters, ideally in a basement level room, with no offer of financial assistance from the government.  To help persuade a skeptical and apathetic populace, the O.C.D.M. released a number of  promotional materials including radio commercials, motion pictures, printed pamphlets, and a lengthy booklet entitled The Family Fallout Shelter which proved to be particularly popular.  However effective these methods were, the O.D.C.M. continually sought a larger audience and so turned to a little used medium, the television.  Federal and state agencies had long been airing short television spots to advertise specific facets of civil defense programs such warning signals and emergency first aid training.  Additionally, in 1959 the O.C.D.M. and NBC created Ten For Survival, a series of discussion films hosted by Chet Huntely designed to air on educational television networks.  A new project was developed, however, which would result in a prime-time television series sponsored by the O.C.D.M.

According to their annual report for 1959, that year the O.C.D.M. began cooperating with "a national television station" to produce a ten episode television series offering civil defense advice.  It would take two years, but in 1961, the O.C.D.M, had Retrospect, a fifteen minute program designed to air once a week for thirteen weeks.  Douglas Edwards, the first ever television news anchor and predecessor to Walter Cronkite for the CBS Evening News, was selected to host Retrospect.  In order to hold an audience's attention on a subject they often ignored or actively avoided, Retrospect was formatted in a unique manner.  For the first several minutes, Edwards would discuss an interesting historical event or figure.  The next segment of the show would feature civil defense experts or simple lectures on preparedness from Edwards, all taking place on a set modeled upon one of the do-it-yourself shelter designs contained within The Family Fallout Shelter booklet.  Retrospect concluded each episode by highlighting an appealing current event, often sports related, such as speed boat racing or football.  In this way, viewers tuning in for the more appealing content at the beginning and end, were still exposed to the civil defense message. 

It is not known exactly how many Americans viewed the episodes of Retrospect, though officials within the O.C.D.M. explained that in 1961 alone over 170 television stations across the United States requested copies of the series.  From this figure, government planners projected an estimated audience of 110 million.  Despite this estimated success, Retrospect would quickly fade from the spotlight as the Kennedy administration unveiled ambitious plans for a national system of public fallout shelters which would diminish the attention focused on home shelter construction.  Douglas Edwards would again collaborate with the O.C.D.M. to produce Briefing from Room 103, a 1961 episode of the Armstrong Circle Theatre focusing on shelter habitability.  He would eventually return to CBS news, providing radio broadcasts until shortly before his death in 1990.  The Office of Civil Defense, which took over emergency preparedness responsibilities from the O.C.D.M. would also turn to the television to explain the dangers of radioactive fallout. A Primer For Survival, a four episode series sponsored by the government, would air in 1965.  Featuring soft spoken host Dave Garroway, A Primer For Survival would lack the entertainment elements of Retrospect, instead devoting an entire fifteen minutes to fallout protection strategies.  The full series of Retrospect may be viewed by clicking the links above the episode descriptions provided below.


Episode One

Douglas Edwards introduces himself and begins by discussing the historical significance of the Russian Revolution and how it gave rise to the then current Cold War situation.  As the show progresses, Edwards interviews Lewis E. Berry, assistant director for plans and operations in the O.C.D.M., to answer the question who is responsible for civil defense preparations?  The answer?  Everyone, including businesses, governments, and individuals.  The government has met its burden with the development of national plan of action which includes the creation of warning systems, the dispersal of medical supplies and disaster hospitals, and thorough public information programs for volunteers.  The film ends with a brief look at recent attempts to break land/water speed records. 

Edwards begins by outlining the leadership of Winston Churchill in England during the Second World War, in particular the intense air raids of the Blitzkrieg.  Churchill’s emphasis on preparation fits nicely into Cold War civil defense planning.  During the show’s second segment, Edwards speaks with Dean Pollenz, assistant director for plans and operations in the O.C.D.M., to learn the dangers of radioactive fallout and the need for home shelters.  Pollenz discusses the various types of shelter which can be constructed and how it can be done cheaply and without the help of outside contractors.  This episode ends with a “nostalgic” look at past sports footage. 

Edwards takes a harsh glance back to the 1930’s, reiterating the rise of Fascism in Europe and the Great Depression in America which drove many to desperation.  Showing Neville Chamberlain’s infamous “Peace in Our Time” speech allows Edwards to segue into a civil defense lecture, as peace in the Cold War depends on preparation.  He sits down with William Downer, O.C.D.M. official, to discuss whether evacuation or shelter is the ideal policy for towns to take.  Downer explains it depends entirely upon local conditions.  The episode wraps up by featuring a number of authors and entertainers who have immigrated to America in search of democratic ideals.

Episode Four
Explaining the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, Edwards discusses the Indian movement for independence from British Rule and their fight for civil rights.  Switching to present concerns, Edwards remarks that an enemy atomic attack on the United States would present just as much danger to rural Americans as it would to their urban counterparts.  He introduces Delbert Benish, a farmer from Akron, Colorado.  Benish is interviewed on his farm by local radio station director Larry Kirk about his new fallout shelter, as well as a shelter under construction for his livestock.  Episode four concludes by highlighting the propaganda contributions Hollywood stars provide during wartime.

Episode Five
Beginning with a look at the Battle of Britain, Douglas Edwards explains how populations can sustain prolonged enemy bombing campaigns.  Edwards next moves to introduce the Brown family of Topeka, Kansas.  The Browns, who have recently built a fallout shelter into their basement, tell about having spent a week in their new addition with their eight children.  In spite of the close quarters and some  sibling bickering, the Browns survived their stay and speak positively abut it with Edwards.  Head of the family Douglas Brown, who was a professional contractor specializing in fallout shelter construction, had his family's story told in The Family Fallout Shelter, a 1960 film from the O.C.D.M.

The Great Depression was a hard time for many in the United States, but none more so than the farmer.  Douglas Edwards explains the plight of those who spent their lives working the land, only to face famine and eviction when the Dust Bowl years drove many families westward in search of better opportunities.  Famine and despair could possibly follow an atomic attack as well.  Edwards introduces Mrs. Norton Pearle, Director of Women's Activities for the O.C.D.M., who explains the need for keeping a family fallout shelter stocked with fresh supplies.  This will be most vital to survival, she reasons, in the immediate aftermath of an attack, when city services are likely to be cut off.  The episode ends by examining a rise in militant Japanese culture in the years preceding WWII.
 Douglas Edwards begins episode seven of Retrospect by featuring early aviation pioneers, including the Wright Brothers and Frenchman Adolphe Pegoud.  To start the second segment of the show, he addresses "defeatist talk" which holds that no country could survive a nuclear war due to fallout contamination.  To disprove this notion, Edwards interviews Charles Shafer, Director of Radiological Defense Plans with the O.C.D.M.  Shafer (previously the O.C.D.M.'s chief meteorologist) takes several minutes to demonstrate the proper way to decontaminate fruit and canned food items which have been exposed to fallout radiation, continually stressing that once the fallout is removed, the food is no longer dangerous.  Episode seven concludes with a look at the revolutionary aims of Pancho Villa and his conflicts with the United States.

The carefree prosperity of the Roaring Twenties is explored, along with many of the political and social reforms of the era such as women's voting rights and Prohibition.  Douglas Edwards takes a break from history to ask a vital question, why does America need civil defense?  To provide an answer, he introduces Dr. Paul McGrath, Deputy Director of Intelligence and International Affairs for the O.C.D.M.  Dr. McGrath reiterates his belief that, despite the tremendous destructive potential of atomic weapons and the lingering effects of radiation, survival is possible with proper preparedness.  This belief, he explains, is bolstered by scientific research conducted by the O.C.D.M.  Soviet civil defense techniques are also briefly discussed.  To conclude the episode, Edwards presents the history of Cuba and the rise and fall of Fulgencio Batista.

Italy's history under Benito Mussolini serves as the introduction for the ninth episode of Retrospect.  Douglas Edwards explains how Mussolini's early economic transformations were quickly overshadowed by his expansionist ambitions and political tyranny.   Edwards moves from the boot of Italy to the frigid Arctic tundra and introduces Harry Roderick, Director of  Warning for the O.C.D.M., to explain how the United States' civil defense radar warning system is entirely adequate.  Roderick provides a basic explanation of siren signals and the National Emergency Alarm Repeater (NEAR) System.  It was hoped that these small alarm boxes, when installed homes and rural buildings, would provide universal warning of an enemy attack.  Edwards end this episode by looking at great plays in the history of football.

History would show the Japanese attack on the United States gunboat U.S.S. Panay was a precursor to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.  So great was the destruction levied against the United States Navy with that single attack, military leaders vowed to always be vigilant and prepared against future threats.  Similarly, civilians must be prepared in the event of an enemy atomic attack.  Leading the way in personal preparedness is the Brown Family of Topeka, Kansas (previously featured in Episode Five).  The Browns discuss their week long stay in their basement fallout shelter, which they attempted with their eight children in order to prove the feasibility of living in such an environment.  Douglas Edwards ends the segment by explaining the rise of Hollywood and America's film industry.

When the German Army surrendered to Allied Forces in May of 1945, it was reminiscent of the end of World War I twenty-two years earlier.  When the Empire of Japan would surrender a few months later, it would officially end hostilities in World War II.  Each war, Douglas Edwards explains, is followed by surrender terms and conditions.  He introduces George Glenn to discuss the United States' civil defense plan.  The "National Plan" covers continuity of government, authority, law, and medical services.  It also outlines the jobs which each locality will need to fill in event of emergency.  Each of the plans if being put into action with the creation of warning systems, promotional materials, and packaged disaster hospitals.  Knowledge of warning signals is also very important.   Edwards briefly discusses the British Monarchy before offering five steps to survival for the American public to follow.

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in the Balkans, which would eventually trigger World War I, is the focus of Retrospect's twelfth episode.  Douglas Edwards explains how the global conflict would see the introduction of many new and devastating weapons of war, including poisoned gas and aircraft.  While Americans answered a call to arms for both World Wars, the country was unprepared for the uneasy peace which followed, where another new weapon, the atomic bomb, provides a constant threat.  Edwards introduces Paul Fell, O.C.D.M. fallout expert, to discuss the effects of the deadly effects of atomic bombs and the best way to protect against them.  Because over 75% of the United States may be exposed to radiation, a family fallout shelter in the home is the best option.  A summary of the Berlin Airlift, which provided food to American allies cutoff by Soviet blockades in 1948, concludes the segment.