Our Cities Must Fight

Federal Civil Defense Administration
Archer Productions

The film "details reasons for maintaining a well organized civil defense in every area of the United States.  Basic reasons are the saving of lives and maintenance of war production which will enable our armed forces to fight back."  This brief description, taken from an audio-visual catalog promoting a line of upcoming "Official Civilian Defense Films", nicely summarizes the plot of a then unreleased film anticipatorily titled The Cities Must Fight.(1)  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.(2)  Though the films would have the full backing of the United States government, they would be made by private companies which would bid on the rights to produce them.  The burgeoning ad agency Archer Productions won a contract to create films based on the existing pamphlets Civil Defense for Schools (which eventually became Duck and Cover) and The Cities Must Fight, which was ultimately released as Our Cities Must Fight in January of 1952.(3)  Aimed toward older, business-oriented audiences, Our Cities Must Fight argues a tough message, asking the American public to remain in a probable target area or large city after receiving warning of an incoming enemy atomic attack.  Keeping the majority of a population in place, as opposed to evacuating civilians to surrounding areas, would ensure that essential wartime industries could maintain the production output necessary for the nation to fight a war.    

Our Cities Must Fight unfolds as a dramatic narrative between two newspaper agents in a noir styled office overlooking the Gothic landscape of New York City.  Jack, a no-nonsense 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, a veteran, avid pipe smoker, and civil defense liaison.  The pair strike up  a conversation which outlines the problems with evacuating major American cities in the face of an atomic attack.  While Jack and Fred invoke several reasons not to evacuate, including personal bravery and a sense of patriotic duty, the underlying message of Our Cities Must Fight is that workers must remain in 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 oft repeated message of Our Cities Must Fight.  With a city's population gone, its workforce would evaporate, hampering rescue efforts and halting factory production, effectively crippling 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 with government planners.  However, this was primarily due to advances in weaponry which cut probable warning times for an impending enemy attack down to mere minutes.  The development of intercontinental ballistic missiles 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.(4)

Our Cities Must Fight may be viewed, in its entirety, HERE


1. Blackhawk's Bargain Bulletin.  "A Complete Series of Official Civilian Defense Films.  October, 1951.  P. 18.
2. New York Times.  "Film's for Defense Set."  Feb 12, 1951.  p. 18.
3. CONELRAD.  The Citizen Kane of Civil Defense.  Accessed Mar. 8, 2015.
4. Federal Civil Defense Administration.  1956 Annual Statistical Report.  United States Government Printing Office, 1956.  p. 98.