Shortly after its formation in late 1950, the Federal Civil Defense Administration announced the release of nine films meant to address emerging threats of the Cold War.(1) Though the films would have the full backing of the United States government, they would be made by private companies. The burgeoning ad agency Archer Productions won a contract to create Civil Defense for Schools (which eventually became Duck and Cover) and The Cities Must Fight, which was released as Our Cities Must Fight in January of 1952.(2) Aimed toward older, business oriented audiences, Our Cities Must Fight argues a tough message, asking the American public to remain in the path of an incoming enemy bomb to ensure that wartime industries could maintain production during an atomic attack.
Our Cities Must Fight unfolds as a dramatic narrative between two newspaper men in a noir-styled office overlooking the Gothic landscape of New York City. Jack, an editor, tries to counter a letter from an angry reader. “Dear Editor, usually I agree with your editorials, but your call for civil defense volunteers was nonsense! If this city is attacked, my plans are made and they don’t involve waiting around to get killed! I’m going to take my family to a place in the country were they’ll be safe. I think I’m as patriotic as the next guy, but I’d be pretty dumb to remain in this city once those bombs start falling!” Jack is soon joined by Fred, veteran and civil defense liaison. The pair strike up a conversation which outlines the problem with evacuating major American cities in the face of an atomic attack. While the film invokes several reasons not to evacuate, including personal bravery and patriotic duty, the underlying message of Our Cities Must Fight is that workers must remain in the close proximity to factories and industry, keeping the economy and the war effort in production.
Fred offers three points against
evacuation of major cities. He cites his first point, traffic congestion, as the largest deterrent to
evacuation. If an entire population tries to leave a city at once, all roads clog with stalled vehicles and stumbling pedestrians.
Fred accentuates his second point, that those who do successfully
escape the heart of a target city will quickly become unwelcome refugees in
neighboring communities, by referring to stock footage of displaced populations
during WWII and discussing the problems they caused. His third and final point is the driving
message of Our Cities Must Fight. With a city's population gone, its workforce
would evaporate, hampering rescue efforts and halting factory production, which would cripple the United States' ability to wage, and win, a war. As the 1950's progressed, the idea of evacuation as an official policy would fall out of favor, though this was due to advances in weaponry which cut probable warning times for an impending enemy attack down to mere minutes. This development meant that patriotic calls to keep urban populations in place to support American industry would no longer be needed, because those populations would very likely have no time to go anywhere. Indeed, by 1956 the F.C.D.A. removed Our Cities Must Fight from its motion picture catalogs and, citing the changing nature of warfare and protection, declared the film obsolete.(3)
Our Cities Must Fight May be Viewed in its Entirety HERE.
1. New York Times. "Film's for Defense Set." Feb 12, 1951. p. 18.
2. CONELRAD. The Citizen Kane of Civil Defense. Accessed Mar. 8, 2015.
3. Federal Civil Defense Administration. 1956 Annual Statistical Report. United States Government Printing Office, 1956. p. 98.