Department of Defense
Office of Civil Defense
Nearly every piece of civil defense literature published during the Cold War era explains that a rise in global tensions would likely precede any type of nuclear exchange. No matter how brief this escalation period, government planners theorized it would allow the majority of Americans a chance to make adequate preparations for survival.(1) In the Fall of 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis offered the only historical event to date where the general public believed a nuclear war was a probable outcome. Two years later, the Office of Civil Defense produced One Week in October to argue that, when facing a national emergency, most people will seek out some form of protection for themselves and their families. According to a promotional catalog, One Week in October features "the best of the news coverage filmed during those crucial weeks by camera crews of the U.S. military, newsreels, and television stations."(2) The film is presented as a documentary of the political and military events before and during the crisis, highlighting how the Kennedy Administration guided the situation to a peaceful conclusion. Over and over again, however, the viewer is reminded of the importance of the National Fallout Shelter System and other civil defense measures taken by the federal government.
Opening with jubilant footage of a Columbus Day parade, narrator Gary Merrill explains the innocent pastimes which were preoccupying Americans in early October 1962. The World Series, the social activities of the First Lady and an Ecumenical Council in Rome stole the headlines. Out of the media spotlight, the Office of Civil Defense was working diligently with state and local authorities to identify and stock public fallout shelter spaces for 42 million people. The film showcases their quiet efforts with clips from the previous O.C.D. productions Protection Factor 100 and Community Protection Through Civil Defense. Just as most citizens were not paying attention to civil defense during that time, neither were they paying attention to the nation of Cuba. This changes with the discovery of Soviet ballistic missiles on the island. Sudden military buildups along the Southern coast of the United States occurred before any official announcement was made. Crisp images shot by combat photographers show air reconnaissance flights, naval convoys off the Florida Keys and the evacuation of non-essential personnel from Guantanamo Bay just ahead of marine reinforcements. President Kennedy is seen interrupting his political schedule to address the nation on the threat facing it. All Americans are within range of the Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. In a severe tone, Merrill chastises "suddenly the idea of civil defense no longer seems either useless or foolish!"
With U.S. missile battalions on standby, open hostility and fiery rhetoric between United Nations' diplomats and long-range bombers perpetually in the air, the period immediately following President Kennedy's announcement sees the rise in global tensions predicted by the Office of Civil Defense. According to One Week in October, many Americans use this time to seek out the nearest public fallout shelter and research ways to make a shelter stay more habitable. In light of the heated international situation, the production of fallout shelter supplies is increased and local governments expedite the stocking of these supplies. However, the film makes it clear that many people, too many, take a different approach. Scenes depict supermarkets swamped with crowds who rush to purchase whatever they can. While the camera focuses on cash registers ringing with sales and bag boys pushing loaded shopping carts, Merrill explains that such activity, conducted in panic with no thought or plan, would be insufficient to ensure survival. Just as tensions reached a high point, peace prevailed and the Cuban missiles were dismantled. As the film wraps up, its closing scenes show vibrant and busy cityscapes, with a fallout shelter sign conspicuously visible in each shot. Gary Merrill reminds the viewer that, although there was no war, the importance of civil defense must never be forgotten. "There would be no question about the continued vigilance by America's armed forces. If any question remained, it would concern civilian Americans. Would they, too, remember this fateful week in October?" Likely due to its promotion of the National Fallout Shelter System, One Week in October would not be deemed obsolete by the Office of Civil Defense or its successor agencies and could still be rented or purchased into the 1970's. By that time, however, government catalogs were suggesting it be shown only as a historical documentary.(3)
One Week in October may be viewed, in its entirety, HERE.
1. For an excellent example see: Department of Defense, Office of Civil Defense. Fallout Protection. U.S. Government Printing Office. September, 1961. 23-25.
2. Office of Civil Defense. Civil Defense Motion Picture Catalog. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1966. 18.
3. Department of the Army. Index of Army Motion Pictures and Related Audio-Visual Aids. U.S. Government Printing Office. 1972. 343.