“Be sure to include tranquilizers to ease the strain and monotony of life in a fallout shelter. A bottle of 100 should be sufficient for a family of four. Tranquilizers are not a narcotic, and are not habit-forming.”
- Atomic Cafe (1982)
K.M. and I watched a documentary the other night called “Atomic Cafe.” It began with the pilot of the Enola Gay, Colonel Paul Tibbets, talking about his mission in 1945. Tibbet’s said that his mother’s name was Enola Gay, and that there was nothing particularly unusual about the mission, that it was pretty much routine, except the part where the 70,000 Japanese citizens in Hiroshima died from the initial blast. There were more over the next months, with the final count, I read, between 90,000 and 160,000.
A second bombing came three days later, in Nagasaki, which, come to find out, wasn’t even the original target. The first choice on that fateful day, was Kokura, but when the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, nicknamed Bockscar, after its first captain, arrived in the skies over Kokura, it was far from clear, and the pilot, Major Charles Sweeney, veered off toward Nagasaki, whose population on August 9, 1945, was 263,000.
Sweeney’s cargo was a plutonium bomb, nicknamed “Fat Man.” The weapon was the invention of Robert Oppenheimer, among others. It ended the greatest war, and was the last nuclear bomb ever detonated over a populated city. After the attack, the empire of Japan surrendered.
Next came the cold war and it was soon learned that Russia had broken the atomic bomb code as well, and the marathon chess game between the two superpowers began. That meant that U.S. citizens needed to be prepared for the day Russia dropped their bomb on us. But there was nothing to worry about because the government was ready for this scenario, and began teaching everyone the defense that became known as “duck and cover.” It was easy to learn. As soon as you saw the flash from the Russian bomb, you “ducked,” and then when you were on the ground you “covered” up as much of yourself with your arms as was possible. If we were lucky, we were told, the Rooskies would attack on a cold day, because then we could use our jacket to cover more of our body.
I asked KM if she remembered getting under her desk during the atomic bomb drills when we were in elementary school. She did, of course. How can you ever forget preparing for annihilation? Then, after the five minute drill was complete, it was off to lunch or recess.
The 1950’s were a good time for hardworking young family men to be in sales, particularly bomb shelters and bulk orders of canned goods. Gas masks and radioactive proof suits were also hot items. The documentary never said what those suits were made of exactly, but I think lead was involved, because the little kid who was wearing one in the film, was having more than a little difficulty balancing on his bike, as if his training wheels had been recently removed.
My mom told me once about a public service announcement she remembered seeing on TV in the late ’50s or early ’60s. It was put out by the U.S. Army and probably came on after she’d finished an episode of “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” or after Dad’s favorite show, “Have Gun, Will Travel.” The announcement was made to extol the virtues of atomic power, and how lucky we were to have that technology to defend our great country. She said it ended with a colonel or general saying to viewers, “If you aren’t close enough to be killed, the atomic bomb is one of the most beautiful sights in the world.”
So we have that going for us.