Most Cold War civil defense films dealt exclusively with the subject of atomic warfare, however, government officials felt compelled to inform the public about additional ways enemy agents could harm the United States. A long list of threats, including contagious disease, industrial sabotage, agricultural toxins, and other unconventional means of attack were compiled in the pamphlet What You Should Know About Biological Warfare. The pamphlet was released by the Federal Civil Defense Administration in March of 1951 and seven months later, a film of the same name was produced by Reid H. Ray Film Industries, Inc. as part of the F.C.D.A.’s first motion picture campaign.(1) The campaign consisted of nine films, each officially sanctioned by the F.C.D.A and each based off instructional pamphlets already in circulation. Other films released as part of this original series include Duck and Cover, Our Cities Must Fight, Survival Under Atomic Attack, Firefighting for Householders, and Emergency Action to Save Lives.(2) At a brisk eight minutes in length, the film version of What You Should Know About Biological Warfare explores the vulnerability of the United States to toxins and the deliberate spread of disease, while also stressing the terrific damage that rumors and gossip can do.
Careless talk, whispered discretely in barber shops, factories, and weekend bridge games, is by far the most dangerous aspect of biological warfare. As an authoritative narrator explains, rumors ("There's a new poison, one ounce can kill all the people in the United States!") greatly exaggerate the lethal potential of biological weapons. There are, however, concrete threats posed by such attacks and the film presents three of them, examining the damage they may cause. The first, toxins, if dissipated in an enclosed area, can immediately sicken people confined inside. This is shown on screen when an enemy agent, complete with trench coat and half-cocked fedora, releases an aerosol into a factory vent labeled "Fresh Air Intake", leading to fevers for workers exposed to the spray. The second threat, plant growth regulators, may be used to wilt crops, harming agricultural production. While the effects of toxins and plant growth regulators may be swift, they are limited in nature. It is the third threat, infectious germs, which may have the farthest reaching impact.
What You Should Know About Biological Warfare may be viewed in its entirety HERE.
1. Federal Civil Defense Administration. Annual Report for 1951. United States Government Printing Office, 1952. p. 15.
2. New York Times. "Films for Defense Set." Feb. 12, 1951. p. 18.
3. "Ray in Full-Scale Telefilm Invasion." The Billboard. Nov. 1, 1952. p. 9.
4. Federal Civil Defense Administration. Annual Statistical Report. June 30, 1956. p. 124.