Civil Defense

views updated Jun 08 2018

Civil Defense

As airplanes first began to appear in warfare in the early years of the twentieth century, war's destruction suddenly extended beyond the battlefields to towns and cities. Increasingly, government leaders and the general public worried that enemy nations might bomb civilian populations. No organizations existed to protect civilian populations during wars, but in 1916, just before the United States entered World War I (191418), the U.S. government began to plan for home front defense. Congress created the Council of National Defense (CND), and the CND encouraged states to create state defense councils, which in turn encouraged creation of local defense councils.

World War II (193945) spurred much more extensive home front defense efforts; most of the defense strategies that were developed were built on the concept of civil defense. Civil defense refers to a system of defensive measures designed to protect civilians and their property from enemy attack. The U.S. civil defense system included bomb shelters, air raid warning systems, patrols along the nation's borders, and distribution of information on emergency survival. Citizens who had

not joined the nation's armed forces were eager to support the war effort in any way they could. They joined civil defense organizations in their local communities, volunteering to help construct bomb shelters and distribute survival tips. Fortunately, the bomb shelters and emergency plans were never called into service. Few actual enemy attacks occurred on the U.S. mainland. The ones that did occur happened primarily on the West Coast. Unlike most other nations involved in World War II, the United States was spared the destructive forces of war on its home soil.

Office of Civil Defense

When World War II broke out in Europe in September 1939, the United States did not immediately join the fighting. Instead, the U.S. government agreed to provide support to the Allied forces who were battling Germany's aggressive troops. Initially President Franklin D. Roosevelt (18821945; served 193345) simply warned the civilian population to keep an eye out for possible espionage and sabotage activities on the home front. Meanwhile the war continued to expand in Europe and in Asia. By the summer of 1940, Germany had captured France and soon began a prolonged bombing campaign on Great Britain. In Asia, Japanese military expansion threatened the U.S. territories of Guam and the Philippines.

In the spring of 1941, witnessing the expanding war, President Roosevelt prepared to issue an "unlimited" national emergency declaration, giving the president extensive wartime powers to mobilize the nation and take actions, economic and military, against foreign nations, while still not being officially entered into the war. Roosevelt also decided to step up home front defense. In preparation for possible war, Roosevelt advised communities to reestablish or organize their own local civil defense councils, which had waned substantially in the years since World War I due, in large part, to the economic crisis of the Great Depression (192941). To coordinate and assist the new civil defense system, Roosevelt replaced the CND with the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) on May 20, 1941. He hoped that the OCD's activities would boost public support for the upcoming war effort. Roosevelt named New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia (18821947) as the first director of OCD. La Guardia also served as director of the New York City Office of Civilian Defense. He established nine OCD regional offices to coordinate state and local efforts.

For the first several months of 1941, little public enthusiasm existed for civil defense. In addition, state governors opposed any centralized federal control over civil defense. Therefore, each state was told to set up its own civil defense system. The states created various organizations that could be called upon for emergency help; specialists such as public health personnel and auxiliary firemen were recruited and placed on standby. By November 1941 all the states had civil defense organizations, and almost six thousand towns and cities had defense councils. However, Congress was slow in providing money to the states for civil defense. The various local organizations, and the OCD as well, had minimal equipment and supplies. Few air raid shelters existed.

The surprise Japanese air attack on the military bases at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, dramatically changed the American public's attitude toward civil defense. The attack had killed more than twenty-three hundred U.S. servicemen, and American citizens were angered and ready to join the war effort in any way they could. The Pearl Harbor attack also triggered public fear of attacks on the U.S. mainland, by air or by sea, particularly on the West Coast. Many more local civil defense units quickly formed. OCD was suddenly overwhelmed with requests for information and assistance. In Chicago, Illinois, for example, twenty-three thousand civil defense volunteers were sworn in at one time. Civil defense would soon grow into a significant network of home front organizations.

Air raid protection was one of the top concerns for civil defense organizations. To assist them, the OCD published a booklet called "What to Do in an Air Raid." OCD printed some fifty-seven million copies. Newspapers published the information as well. The booklet advised Americans to identify a central refuge room in their homes and to have stout tables on hand that they could crawl under if air raids occurred. Preparations for air raids varied greatly from one city to another. Construction of new shelters was limited, because most building materials were designated for military use. In Seattle, Washington, numerous barrage balloons (small balloons supporting nets and tethered by cables to the ground over cities protecting against enemy air attacks) were put up over the city, sandboxes were placed on each

corner to put out possible fires, and certain buildings were chosen and prominently marked as air raid shelters.

President Roosevelt and Mayor La Guardia, the director of the OCD, disagreed about the priorities of the civil defense program. In September 1941 the president appointed his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt (18841962), as La Guardia's deputy, hoping she could increase opportunities for women to volunteer. Mrs. Roosevelt directed the Volunteer Participation Program, which focused on physical fitness, childcare, health, welfare, and morale for all, including children. However, in February 1942 the program came under fire by critics in Congress, who claimed it was a waste of federal funds. The First Lady soon resigned, followed by La Guardia. Roosevelt replaced La Guardia with James Landis, dean of the Harvard Law School. Soon thereafter, issues surrounding the civil defense program were resolved and Congress resumed funding in March for civil defense equipment. Despite La Guardia's quick departure, much had been accomplished under his brief leadership: By the end of January 1942 after only eight months since the establishment of the OCD, 8,478 local civil defense councils were established. There were also 334,666 auxiliary police, 670,673 air raid wardens, and 265,580 medical staff. In all, more than five million volunteers worked in civil defense.


To help organize the civilian volunteer efforts and provide adequate

training for volunteers, the U.S. Citizens Defense Corps was established within the OCD in April 1942. Locally designated wardens and various auxiliary emergency workers were the core of the civil defense system. Specialists included air raid wardens, auxiliary firemen, auxiliary police, emergency food and housing personnel, chaplains, air patrol workers, decontamination specialists, demolition experts, fire watchers, instructors, medical corps,

drivers, messengers, nurses' aides, rescue squads, road repair crews, and utility road squads. Members of civil defense organizations wore insignias on their helmets and armbands to identify their specialty. The OCD symbol was a white triangle inside a blue circle. Specialists' armbands displayed a unique insignia within the OCD symbol.

The Civilian Voluntary Service organized a variety of volunteer efforts, including scrap drives (a public program of gathering discarded or unused items made of materials needed by the defense industry, such as rubber tires, metal pots and pans, and nylon hose), victory speakers (people who gave speeches on government policies), victory gardens (small private gardens planted in backyards or public places such as parks to supplement the production of food by commercial farms), and neighborhood block leaders (individuals who took responsibility for overseeing the war effort on a single city block). The responsibilities of a neighborhood block leader included explaining government programs that required the residents' cooperation (such as rationing), finding salespeople for war bonds and war stamps, checking on housing needs, and recruiting women for openings in local war factories. Armed with a kit supplied by the federal government, block leaders called on each household in their block to provide helpful information. Many housewives volunteered as block captains. Not to be left out, a Junior Service Corps was formed for youths under fifteen years of age. They helped with scrap drives and local community civil defense projects including promoting the sales of war bonds.

Many people gained a sense of contribution to the war effort by participating as volunteers in civil defense. Others got involved by taking classes on emergency preparedness. First aid classes were made available to hundreds of thousands of civilians, and classes on how to survive air raids were highly popular. By the summer of 1942 there were 11,000 local defense councils and more than seven million volunteers. By July 1943 there were twelve million registered volunteers.

Guides for Citizens

One key responsibility of the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) was getting survival information out to the public. The OCD's publications in 1941 included "Handbook for Air Raid Wardens" and "Handbook for First Aid," the latter in cooperation with the American Red Cross. In 1942 OCD published "What Can I Do? The Citizens' Handbook for War." The OCD also supported publications by other agencies, such as "Share the Meat for Victory" (1942), a guide published by the U.S. Office of Defense, Health, and Welfare Services. "How to Keep Warm and Save Fuel in Wartime" (1942), published by the Office of Price Administration, was another guide that supplemented OCD publications. Private businesses also offered helpful information. The Frigidaire Division of General Motors published "Wartime Suggestions," which provided handy advice on how to use and maintain refrigerators. (New refrigerators were not available during the war; government restrictions had forced refrigerator manufacturers to stop production so that the war industry could use their materials.)

OCD also encouraged local civil defense chapters to publish their own materials. Two months before the air attack on Pearl Harbor, a handbook titled "The Air Raid Protection (A.R.P.) Organization" was published in Forest Hills, New York. The Queens Civilian Defense Volunteer Office in New York City published a one-page leaflet titled "What to Do in an Air Raid." The Civilian Defense Volunteer Office in Forest Hills, New York, published "Block Organizations," which described how to set up civil defense volunteer organizations. It included instructions on how to salvage materials important for the war industries and listed locations where the materials could be dropped off.

Aircraft Warning Service

One of the first organizations formed by the OCD in 1941 was the Aircraft Warning Service (AWS). It was the first large-scale organization within the civil defense system that accepted citizen volunteers. The goal of the AWS was to protect the coastal regions of the United States from foreign attack. Many were convinced such a strike would eventually hit the U.S. mainland. However, the technology of radar was still in the development stage in 1941 and the coverage provided by existing radar installations did not extend to many coastal areas. Consequently the government had to rely on individuals to watch the skies for enemy aircraft. Overall more than one and a half million volunteers would serve AWS. They were determined to do whatever was necessary to protect the coastline from attack.

Men and women who kept watch for enemy aircraft were called spotters; they were part of the Ground Observer Corps within AWS. Spotters also watched for wildfires during the summer months. Though most spotters were unpaid volunteers, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Coast Guard provided some compensation for those stationed in remote areas of the coast, such as the forested mountains of Southwest Oregon. In these areas spotters worked round-the-clock in two twelve-hour shifts seven days a week. In the first year turnover was high, but over time, spotters stayed at the job for lengthy periods.

The accommodations for spotters were primitive. Carpenters built two-room cabins in the woods at the lookout locations. In some areas spotters had to pack in their supplies; during the winter months they had to hike on snowshoes pulling loaded toboggans. Firewood had to be cut and split. Spotters who were injured by accidents or who had a sudden illness had problems getting to physicians quickly because of the spotters' remote locations.

Spotters reported all aircraft to a nearby headquarters. At each headquarters the AWS had three telephone operators and a supervisor to compile reports from spotters. Headquarters relayed the information to the U.S. Army's Filter Centers, located in major coastal cities. About six hundred thousand spotters served the country under AWS. Though no enemy airplanes were ever spotted, the AWS and its spotters ended rumors of enemy attacks by keeping a vigilant watch on the skies and defusing the public's fears of air attacks just with their presence.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary and Reserve

When World War II began in September 1939, the United States initially declared itself a neutral country. President Roosevelt immediately assigned the U.S. Coast Guard to carry out "neutrality patrols" along the U.S. coastline. He wanted to make sure the war stayed away from America's shores. When France fell to Germany in June 1940, Roosevelt feared Germany would become bolder in its military and operation. Therefore he increased coastal security by ordering port security measures. The Coast Guard was to monitor all movement of ships in U.S. waters and protect harbors. Roosevelt knew that German submarines were near the American coast, lying in wait to attack Allied ships that were carrying American-made supplies back to Europe. (Even though the United States was still officially neutral, the government had agreed to supply Allied countries with war materials; however, the Allies had to transport the materials themselves.) In November 1941 Roosevelt made the Coast Guard part of the U.S. Navy so Coast Guard crews could actively protect ships by intercepting German submarines on the open seas. The navy was very limited in capabilities prior to industrial mobilization in 1942 and enemy attacks on shipping were escalating. Help was needed. After the United States officially entered the war in December 1941, the navy continued to be spread very thin and was primarily assigned to more direct combat roles overseas. On the home front the Coast Guard still retained its responsibility to patrol the coasts and beaches and prevent foreign landings of submarines.

The duties of the Coast Guard expanded again when the United States officially entered the war in late 1941. Filling in for the U.S. Navy in its traditional naval roles, the Coast Guard needed a backup as well to perform its traditional roles of coastal patrols and sea rescues. To supplement the existing Coast Guard Reserves, civilian volunteers organized the Coast Guard Auxiliary to assist in Coast Guard duties on the home front. The threat of approaching war also led to the reorganization of the Coast Guard Reserves. (Congress originally established the Reserves in June 1939. The growth of pleasure boating in the 1930s created a greater demand on the Coast Guard to respond to boating emergencies. The Reserves, a group made up of private boaters, aided in rescues and promoted boating safety.) Duties were often shared between the Auxiliary and the Reserves with the Reserves concentrating on Coast Guard tasks that were too demanding for the Auxiliary volunteers, such as escorting large ships in U.S. waters. Many of the Auxiliary volunteers were men who did not qualify for military service in the Coast Guard Reserves because of age or physical capabilities.

From 1941 to 1945 the Auxiliary was a key home front arm of the Coast Guard, patrolling the coastline for enemy ships and guarding port facilities in addition to the traditional duties of sea rescue. Its first action came on the evening of December 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. As a rumor spread that the Japanese might attack the U.S. mainland, the Auxiliary launched patrol cruises out of Seattle, Washington. Such patrols would continue throughout the war, though the navy was able to assume many of the coastal defense duties once its increased level of wartime forces had been reached through the next two years. All of the Auxiliary's boats were privately owned craft of various shapes and sizes, either owned by the Auxiliary volunteer or loaned in a patriotic gesture by others. To distinguish their craft from other private boats, they painted CGR (Coast Guard Reserves) on their bows.

Some of the Auxiliary's activities became more formalized as time went on. When President Roosevelt established the Volunteer Port Security Force in February 1942, the Auxiliary was assigned a key role in home front defense. Armed with machine guns, pistols, and rifles, Auxiliary volunteers were to assist the Reserves in protecting ports, warehouses, piers, and other waterfront facilities from sabotage. Together, the Auxiliary and the Reserves had some twenty thousand volunteers involved in port patrols. About two thousand women handled the port security paperwork. The Reserves and the Auxiliary became almost indistinguishable in many instances as the two groups worked side by side on various

assignments. Notable volunteers included Hollywood actor Humphrey Bogart (18991957), who operated his yacht on several patrols out of Los Angeles, California; and Boston Pops Orchestra conductor Arthur Fiedler (18941979), who helped patrol Boston Harbor in Massachusetts.

During the war, in addition to patrols, the Auxiliary aided in rescues, trained potential recruits for the Reserves, provided public education on boating safety, and continued shore patrols. Auxiliary members even patrolled beaches on horseback, keeping an eye out for any possible landings by enemy spies. By the end of the war in 1945, the Auxiliary had 67,533 members performing shore and port patrols and other duties. Many others temporarily served in the Reserves. In January 1946 the Coast Guard was returned to the U.S. Transportation Department. The Auxiliary continued its activities.

Civil Air Patrol

The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) was a major part of civil defense during World War II. When war first broke out in Europe and Asia, Gill Robb Wilson, an aviation advocate from New Jersey, began promoting the idea of private aviators supplementing U.S. military operations. With key assistance from OCD director Fiorello La Guardia, CAP was officially established on December 1, 1941, less than a week before Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack, all civilian planes were grounded so that any enemy planes over the home front could be spotted more easily. A few days later, on December 11, CAP was activated.

The first CAP base was established in Atlantic City, New Jersey. CAP pilots were given two hundred hours of special training, and by March 1942 they were on patrol duty looking for enemy submarines. Their first interception of a German submarine occurred off Cape May, New Jersey. An unarmed CAP plane dove in mock bombing attacks, forcing a German submarine to break away from its intended target and run back to deeper ocean. CAP pilots used their own airplanes for patrols, but they received government money for living expenses while on duty, as well as additional airplane insurance and a rental fee for the use of their planes.

CAP pilots became known as the Flying Minutemen of World War II, a reference to the volunteer private militia of the American Revolution (177583). CAP's insignia was a three-bladed red propeller within the OCD's white triangle in a blue circle. The insignia began appearing on small private planes throughout the United States.

Like the Coast Guard Auxiliary, CAP filled in on the home front when U.S. military resources and personnel started going overseas. At first, CAP pilots flew only as messengers or to conduct reconnaissance (informationgathering) of the nation's borders and coastlines. However, German submarines became increasingly bolder, attacking U.S. and Allied ships off the U.S. coast. By July 1942 the military authorized CAP planes to carry bombs and depth charges (an antisubmarine weapon consisting of drums filled with explosives dropped from a ship designed to explode underwater at a certain depth). CAP pilots had a very hazardous job, flying as far as one hundred miles out over frigid ocean waters in rough winter weather.

CAP eventually had eighty thousand volunteers. During World War II the CAP coastal patrol flew 24 million miles and logged half a million hours of flying time. CAP planes spotted 173 enemy submarines and attacked 57 of them. They hit 10 submarines and sank 2. Sixty-four CAP pilots lost their lives while on duty. Acknowledging CAP's success and critical role in home front defense, President Roosevelt made CAP a formal auxiliary of the Army Air Force within the War Department in 1943. (Congress formed the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1926 as airplanes began to take a more prominent role in military arsenals. In 1941 Congress made the Air Corps more independent and renamed it the Army Air Force, which it remained throughout the war. In 1947 the armed forces were restructured and the U.S. Air Force was made a fully distinct military service.)

Besides patrolling and attacking enemy submarines, CAP pilots flew search-and-rescue missions, saving hundreds of lives. They also ferried civilian and military personnel involved in the war effort, transported small cargo, such as critical materials for industrial production, and towed targets for military pilot training. CAP pilots participated in air raid drills by dropping flour-filled sacks (which acted as mock "bombs") into public areas. They also trained twenty thousand youths between fifteen and eighteen years of age as future pilots.

After the war, in mid-1946, Congress passed an act making CAP a permanent peacetime organization. In 1948 Congress made CAP an auxiliary to the newly formed U.S. Air Force. CAP expanded its duties to include disaster relief, and in 1985 CAP pilots renewed their reconnaissance of U.S. borders, working with the U.S. Customs Service to combat drug trafficking. In 1999 CAP flew sixty-five hundred missions to fight illegal drug trade. It also saved eighty-nine lives that year through its search-and-rescue efforts.

Enemy attacks on the home front

Immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack, nearly every American feared that enemy attacks would occur on the mainland. At the time, the United States was ill prepared to respond to air or sea attacks. California's coast had some defensive guns, but the Atlantic Coast was largely undefended. Additionally, because of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States had decided to enter the war. This meant that millions of military personnel were needed immediately, so President Roosevelt federalized (to bring under control of the federal government) the National Guard of each state to serve in the U.S. military. As a result, the states had no means of protecting their citizens in case of subversive activity, civil unrest, or emergency. Each state established a State Guard to temporarily replace the National Guard. State Guards recruited men with draft deferments (those excused from military service, often due to health or physical conditions), those too young for military service, and older men up to sixty-five years of age. To assist state efforts, Georgia used convicts to build bridges and improve roads so that men and supplies could be transported more readily to the coast in case of invasion.

Patrolling the Nation's Coasts

In addition to the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), large U.S. Navy blimps assisted with coastal air patrol. Housed in giant hangars, they operated out of several locations on both coasts. The blimps flew hundreds of feet above the ocean's surface, looking for mines, survivors of torpedoed boats, and any suspicious bubbles or periscope wakes left by enemy submarines. Under good conditions they could spot the shadow of an enemy submarine up to 90 feet below the surface. The blimps would often carry several homing pigeons, birds that could fly messages back to the home station in case of emergencies or radio communications blackouts.

In January and February 1942 German submarines were seen operating along the eastern coast. However, the federal government censored news of their presence so as not to alarm the public or unintentionally aid the enemy by announcing their ships' positions and activities. At night residents and tourists along the coast saw flashes and heard rumbles from explosions in the distance. They sometimes found debris (and occasionally a body) that had washed ashore. Rumors began spreading about German submarines landing at night and letting off spies.

Meanwhile, along the western coastline the Japanese carried out several very limited attacks. The attacks did not receive much publicity as the government did not want to alarm citizens or encourage further Japanese efforts. The first incident occurred in February 1942, two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. A Japanese submarine briefly shelled a coastal oil field in the vicinity of Santa Barbara, California. In June a similar incident occurred on the Oregon coast, when another Japanese submarine shelled a fort, damaging a baseball backstop.

With enemy submarines appearing along both coasts, the OCD enforced dimouts along the coasts. Extending up to 16 miles inland along the Atlantic coast, dimouts were in effect from Maryland southward to Florida in March 1942. The OCD prohibited lights from being shone directly toward the sea during dimouts. Even drivers had to turn off their car headlights if they were traveling toward the ocean. Dimout rules also banned leaving unused lights on after dark. People who violated the dimout rules could be sentenced to up to one year in prison and fined up to $5,000. In June 1942 New York City was dimmed out and outdoor, lighted advertising banned. With the absence of the usual glitter, attendance at Broadway shows declined, as did city nightlife in general. Blackout drillsperiods when all lights had to be turned outwere also required. San Francisco had seven blackout drills in the first month after the Pearl Harbor attack. By November 1942 dimout rules had become even stricter. People living along the coast had to hang heavy curtains in windows facing the shoreline, and coastal towns had to shield streetlights so that they could not be seen from the ocean. House and Garden, a popular magazine, published tips on how to stylishly decorate a home using blackout materials.

Daring raids

The most daring raid on the U.S. mainland during World War II came on September 9, 1942. A small Japanese floatplane dropped incendiary bombs (small bombs designed to start fires) in the remote forested mountains of southwest Oregon, 10 miles northeast of the coastal town of Brookings. The modified plane was transported in a small watertight hangar attached to the deck of a submarine. Five months earlier, on April 18, the U.S. military had carried out a bombing raid on Tokyo, Japan, led by Jimmy Doolittle (18961993). Partly in response to that raid, Nobuo Fujita (19121997), the pilot of the tiny Japanese seaplane, carried out the raid near Brookings. Fujita used the Cape Blanco lighthouse as a guide. Spotters were stationed there, but he went undetected.

U.S. military intelligence was caught completely off guard by this enemy attack on the home front. The ambitious goal of the Japanese mission was to start massive forest fires that would distract the United States from its war effort. Unfortunately for the Japanese, several rainy days preceding the bombing had left the ground and trees wet, so the bombs started only a few small forest fires. Fujita got back to the submarine just before it came under fire; a U.S. Navy patrol aircraft forced the submarine to hide on the ocean floor just off the Oregon coast. Three weeks later Fujita flew a second mission, with little success.

The target area of Fujita's initial raid was very remote, so most Americans were unaware of the attack for a day or two. Though it did minimal damage, the raid was a propaganda victory for Japan because it made U.S. newspaper headlines. Fujita's small-scale attacks caused some public concern about the vulnerability of the West Coast to enemy raids; however, the public did not panic. U.S. government censorship of the news media kept the reports fairly limited. No other similar attacks were attempted during the war.

Japanese balloon bombs

The most ingenious enemy assault on the U.S. home front began in November 1944 and lasted for months. The Japanese launched thousands of large, hydrogen-filled balloons that carried incendiary and antipersonnel bombs across the Pacific Ocean to North America. Japan hoped that the balloon bombs would demoralize the U.S. home front by randomly killing civilians, destroying buildings, and starting wildfires. Riding the swift winds of the jet stream, the balloons took three days to cross the ocean. The Japanese Ninth Army Technical Research Laboratory, led by Technical Major Teiji Takada, developed the balloon bombs, and some fifteen thousand balloon bombs were made. The balloons, about 33 feet in diameter, carried 1,000 pounds of gear, including the bombs. The balloons were first made of rubber, but for better retention of the hydrogen the Japanese switched to a tough paper skin made from mulberry bushes.

The Japanese launched nine thousand balloons between the fall of 1944 and the spring of 1945, taking advantage of winter's strong jet stream conditions. Released with great fanfare at Japanese weapons plants to boost the morale of Japanese workers, the balloons flew at an altitude of over 30,000 feet and traveled about 5,000 miles. An automatic control system kept the balloon afloat at the proper altitude and timed the release of the bombs on the third day.

Some three hundred balloon bombs were observed in various locations in North America, from California to Alaska along the western coast. At least fifty were observed in one day in Washington State. One balloon traveled as far as the Detroit, Michigan, area, but most fell in the West.

At first, U.S. citizens and military officials did not believe the balloons could fly so far. They assumed the Japanese had released the balloons from close by, either from their submarines or from West Coast beaches. However, a chemical analysis of the sand used to weight the balloons indicated that the balloons were of Japanese origin since the sand composition uniquely matched that from certain beaches in Japan. In response, the U.S. government created a secret operation called "Fire Fly," which directed U.S. fighter pilots to shoot down the balloons. A U.S. military fighter plane shot down one balloon near Santa Rosa, California. However, because the balloons floated very fast at a high altitude, few of them (less than twenty) were ever intercepted by U.S. warplanes. Under Operation Fire Fly, fire-fighters had orders to combat any fires caused by the balloons. The firefighters involved in the operation were part of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion; they were the first smoke jumpers used in the United States.

Home Front War Casualties

Though no major enemy attacks occurred on the U.S. mainland during World War II, several small isolated incidents did occur. One incident led to several civilian casualties. In May 1945 a Japanese balloon bomb killed six people in southern Oregon. The bomb landed about 200 miles inland. On a pleasant Sunday afternoon the Reverend Archie Mitchell and his wife took five children, ages eleven to thirteen, from their church to the nearby mountains for a picnic. As Mrs. Mitchell and the kids hiked over a hill to the picnic spot, the reverend drove the car ahead to meet them with the food. As he got out of his car, he heard the children shouting that they had found a balloon. Though the U.S. Office of Censorship withheld news of Japanese balloon bombs, the reverend had heard of them. Before he could yell out a warning, a loud explosion tore through the peaceful mountain setting. Mitchell rushed to the scene and found all six people dead. They had gathered around an unexploded Japanese bomb and accidentally set it off by handling it. Two Forest Service employees in the area arrived moments later to find the six bodies and the distraught reverend. The Office of Censorship kept the news media from publicizing the incident for a month; then it decided it would be best to forewarn others and allowed the information to be released. The one adult and five children were the only known fatalities caused by enemy attack on the U.S. mainland during World War II.

Because it was a wet time of year, the balloons did not start many fires, and very little property damage occurred. However, six American civilians were killed in one incident in southern Oregon (see sidebar). The U.S. military feared Japan would begin putting biological or chemical weapons in the balloons rather than using conventional bombs. However, it appears that the Japanese made no attempt to do so.

In its January 1, 1945, issue Newsweek magazine published an article titled "Balloon Mystery." Fearing widespread panic among the U.S. population, the U.S. Office of Censorship immediately banned any further publicity about the balloons. Thus the only news reports on the subject came from Japan, where the media reported great fires and ten thousand casualties. These reports caused a general panic on the U.S. home front, exactly what the Office of Censorship was trying to avoid. Shortly after the deaths in southern Oregon, the Office of Censorship lifted the news blackout (prohibition against giving certain information to the public) to protect other citizens who might accidentally discover unexploded bombs. Japan stopped launching the balloons in April 1945. One of the last balloons observed on the home front appeared on March 10. It descended on power lines at Hanford, Washington, shutting down a secret nuclear reactor. Ironically, the reactor was producing plutonium for the atomic bomb that would hit Nagasaki, Japan, several months later.

For More Information


Elliott, Lawrence. Little Flower: The Life and Times of Fiorello La Guardia. New York: Morrow, 1983.

Fujita: Flying Samurai. Medford, OR: Webb Research Group, 2000.

Web Sites

Civil Air Patrol. (accessed on July 7, 2004).

Coast Guard Auxiliary History. (accessed on July 7, 2004).

Civil Defense

views updated May 11 2018

Civil Defense. Even after the advent of nuclear weapons, the civil defense program did not begin in earnest in the United States until 1951, reaching an initial peak of federal interest in the early 1960s, and a second peak in the early 1980s. In both periods, a nuclear civil defense program, whenever it moved beyond mere rhetoric to be seriously supported by high federal officials, immediately elicited general hostility, set the scientific and political elite to arguing in public, and energized peace groups into successful action to discredit the program and return it to its usual marginal status in American life.

President Truman resisted significant funding for civil defense, preferring to save money for weapons, but the beginning of the Korean War and the Soviet Union's development of an atomic bomb led to the creation of the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) in 1951. Congress continually cut FCDA funding requests by at least half. The agency concentrated on producing propaganda, which it termed “educational material.” A flood of booklets, films, television shows, and media stories sought to convince the American public they could survive a nuclear attack with minor preparations. Meanwhile, many public schools initiated atomic air‐raid drills, teaching children to “Duck and Cover!” in case of nuclear war.

In the Eisenhower era, a series of nuclear bomb tests, in both the Pacific and the American West, dramatized the danger of blast and radioactive fallout. The creation of the H‐bomb convinced many Americans that civil defense was useless. The FCDA shifted from a shelter program to a policy of evacuation of the cities, which was met with public ridicule. From 1955 to 1962, national air‐raid drills called “Operation Alert” were held each year in dozens of major cities. These drills set off major protests nationwide, especially in New York City, where between 1955 and 1961 thousands of people participated in well‐organized civil disobedience efforts to discredit civil defense as a solution to the threat of nuclear annihilation. Several large cities refused to participate in Operation Alert drills, and millions of citizens simply ignored them. In 1958, President Eisenhower, who fully understood the horrific effect of nuclear exchange, ignored a call for a hugely expensive civil defense program issued by his FCDA director and supported by Cold War conservatives. He cut civil defense funds and shut down the FCDA. Despite lack of government financial support, a brief shelter craze occurred in the late fifties and early sixties, largely stimulated by the press and construction firms.

Presidential support for civil defense peaked in the Kennedy administration. Partly because of Kennedy's desire for a “macho” stand, but mostly because of his rivalry with Nelson Rockefeller—a strong supporter of civil defense and Kennedy's expected rival in the election of 1964—Kennedy transferred responsibility for civil defense to the Pentagon and called for an expanded shelter program. Congress appropriated the largest amount ever, $208 million in 1961, for marking and stocking existing shelter spaces such as basements and subways. Unnerved by the dissent and public excitement, Kennedy downplayed civil defense in 1962, especially after Governor Rockefeller's civil defense program was defeated in New York State. The growing peace movement argued effectively that civil defense offered no protection against nuclear missiles and fueled the arms race and the threat of nuclear war. Critics of civil defense also noted the chief function of civil defense propaganda—to legitimate both deterrence policy and the hugely expensive underground shelters reserved for the political, military, and economic elite.

After the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963, civil defense all but disappeared, not to be resurrected until 1979 when President Carter, apparently motivated by a false report that the USSR was building a large civil defense program, combined all civil defense actions, including protection against natural disasters, into a new organization called the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In the 1980s, during the Reagan years, high federal officials again called for a large civil defense program that would sponsor a mass evacuation of people into rural areas if war seemed imminent. As in the early 1960s, the plan quickly faded in the wake of massive public resistance.
[See also Nuclear Strategy; Peace and Antiwar Movements; Propaganda and Public Relations, Government.]


Robert Scheer , With Enough Shovels: Reagan, Bush and Nuclear War, 1982.
Thomas J. Kerr , Civil Defense in the U.S.: Bandaid for a Holocaust?, 1983.
Paul Boyer , By the Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age, 1985.
Elaine May , Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era, 1986.
Allan M. Winkler , Life Under a Cloud: American Anxiety About the Atom, 1993.
Dee Garrison , ‘Our Skirts Gave Them Courage’: The Civil Defense Protest Movement in New York City, 1955–1961, in Joanne Meyerowitz, ed., Not June Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America, 1945–1960, 1994.
Guy Oakes , The Imaginary War: Civil Defense and American Cold War Culture, 1994.

Dee Garrison

Civil Defense

views updated Jun 27 2018


CIVIL DEFENSE has been defined as those activities that are designed or undertaken to minimize the effects upon the civilian population that would result from an enemy attack on the United States; that deal with the immediate postattack emergency conditions; and that effectuate emergency repairs or restoration of vital utilities and facilities destroyed or damaged by such an attack. Modern civil defense dates from World War II, although precedents existed in World War I liberty gardens and scrap drives (termed "civilian" defense activities) under the Council of National Defense. German attacks on England in 1940 caused President Franklin D. Rooevelt to create the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) on 20 May 1941. Despite the energetic directors of the OCD, Fiorello La Guardia and James M. Landis, the elaborate protective aspects of civil defense—air-raid warning systems, wardens, shelters, rescue workers, and fire-fighting activities—were obfuscated by victory gardens, physical-fitness programs, and the rapid diminution of possible air threat to the United States. President Harry S. Truman abolished the OCD on 30 June 1945.

The progress of civil defense in the United States since World War II has been erratic: the military services have been cautious of involvement; the American public has been unprepared to accept the viability of civil defense in an era of nuclear overkill; and the government bureaucracy has been confused and unclear in direction and definition of problems and solutions. Civil defense administration shifted from the U.S. Army (1946–1948) to the National Security Resources Board (1949–1951), the Federal Civil Defense Agency (1951–1958), the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization (1958–1961), the Department of Defense (1961–1979), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA; 1979–present). During the Cold War, full-time staff organizations at all government levels—federal, state, and local—were formed and became active in planning fallout shelter utilization, in training civil defense personnel, in educating the general public, and in assisting in the development of a national system of warning and communication. With the demise of the Soviet Union and the thawing of the Cold War, popular interest in civil defense all but disappeared, and FEMA concentrated its efforts on disaster relief. Beginning in the mid-1990s, however, federal officials began to express concern over what they called "homeland security," a collection of efforts designed to prepare for terrorist attacks against the U.S., including those that involved chemical or biological weapons. Following the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001, responsibility for those aspects of civil defense related to terrorism passed to the newly created Office of Homeland Security, as popular interest in civil defense and homeland security surged.


Grossman, Andrew D. Neither Dead nor Red: Civilian Defense and American Political Development During the Early Cold War. New York: Routledge, 2001.

McEnaney, Laura. Civil Defense Begins at Home: Militarization Meets Everyday Life in the Fifties. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Oakes, Guy. The Imaginary War: Civil Defense and American Cold War Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Vale, Lawrence J. The Limits of Civil Defence in the USA, Switzerland, Britain, and the Soviet Union: The Evolution of Policies Since 1945. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987.

B. FranklinCooling/f. b.

See alsoDefense, National ; Mobilization ; 9/11 Attack ; Nuclear Weapons ; World Trade Center .

civil defense

views updated May 29 2018

civ·il de·fense • n. the organization and training of civilians for the protection of lives and property during and after attacks in wartime.

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