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Rural Community Defense

Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization
United States Department of Agriculture

"[T]his film is designed to remind people living in rural areas that they would be no less vulnerable to the effects of atomic warfare than their urban neighbors.  The picture outlines some of the problems farmers, and others living in rural communities, would face in the event of an attack upon our nation."(1)  In the late 1950's, there was a push by civil defense planners to educate the rural sectors of America on the threat of atomic weapons.  The above-quoted excerpt, taken from a government film catalog, reveals both the message and target audience for Rural Community Defense, a joint production released by the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization and the United States Department of Agriculture in 1959.(1)  While the American farm family is no stranger to disaster, shown in the opening scenes as floods, tornadoes and blizzards devastate countryside landscapes, they always prove resilient.  When the World Wars demanded tremendous increases in food production while also drawing away laborers for military service, farmers met the challenge.  When the rise of mechanized agriculture increased reliance on electrical grids and factory produced machines and parts, farmers met the challenge.  An enemy attack, warns an authoritative narrator, would bring all the problematic demands of previous conflicts in addition to many new ones, such as radioactive fallout and urban refugees.  The fragile systems now necessary to support modern agriculture would also be threatened.

On a quiet farm, an unnamed housewife's daily routine is interrupted by a CONELRAD radio alert which warns of an approaching enemy attack.  She quickly gathers her children and calls her husband in from the field.  He fiddles with the radio as the reception fades in and out.  The narrator explains that anyone living 15-20 miles beyond a CONELRAD broadcasting signal will likely have trouble tuning in.  Until a better system is developed, rural families must rely on county agricultural extension services to learn of civil defense survival plans.  Such plans, if implemented in the viewer's locality, will include seeking protection from radioactive fallout.  The housewife and her family are shown in a well-stocked basement shelter, again huddled around a battery operated radio set.  Footage of a Chrysler Victory siren activating begins a montage of scenes which depict the evacuation of a large city.  While streams of people and vehicles are seen flowing into the countryside, the narrator discusses how any community outside of a target area will be called upon to take in urban refugees.  Schools, churches, hospitals and other public buildings will serve as shelters for displaced persons.  If the need is great enough, private homeowners will likely be asked to accept the homeless from destroyed cities as well.


The final moments of the film depict the housewife and her husband attending a lecture hosted by a county extension agent who stresses two points.  First, civil defense in rural areas must be organized on the local level.  Small towns and farms must be prepared to survive without outside help for long periods of time in the wake of an atomic attack.  As his second point, the lecturer explains how civil defense preparations can help during regular peacetime farm activities.  Firefighting and first-aid can save lives in everyday emergencies and accidents and also in the event of atomic fires or when dealing with streams of refugees.  Knowledge of biological warfare will not only help identify germs and diseases spread by enemy agents to target people, livestock, and crops, but also outbreaks of common illness and blight.  Finally, a well stocked shelter will ensure protection from radioactive fallout.  Going into the 1960's, it was this point, protection from radioactive fallout, which became the focal point of American civil defense policy.  Most films which did not focus specifically on this facet of nuclear protection were declared obsolete by Office of Civil Defense planners.  This was the case with Rural Community Defense and by 1965, all government copies of the film were ordered to be returned and owners of private prints were encouraged to cease screenings of them.(2)

Rural Community Defense may be viewed, in its entirety, HERE.

1. Motion Pictures on Civil Defense.  Office of Civil Defense.  United States Government Printing Office, 1959.  11.
2. Office of Civil Defense.  Civil Defense Motion Picture Catalog.  U.S. Government Printing Office.  May 1966.  23.