“But America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand,” Harry S. Truman said in his Special Message to Congress, 1947. Although President Truman was addressing the Nation's economic standing after World War II, this idea of courage, imagination and unbeatable determination would resonate through not only his presidency, but also the future of America in the Cold War.
This is especially true in the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA). Established on January 12th, 1951, the FCDA set out to educate ordinary Americans about the dangers of an Atomic bomb and the ways to mitigate the potential damages through Alert America. In this new educational program, Alert America sought to counsel the effectiveness of how civil defense can help you survive.
The Civil Defense "Alert America" campaign attempted to revolutionize public thinking about citizen's responsibilities and dangers of modern war. Built off the concept of the Freedom Train tour in 1947-1948, the Alert America Convoy paraded through Boston on February 21, 1953. At the head of the parade was a battery of troops from the 745th AAA Gun Battalion, Fort Banks. Here the parade is shown passing in front of the Boston Public Library, Copley Square. Three separate convoys, each with ten 30-foot trailers cover a route across urban and rural America.
Alert America Exhibit started in New York City on March 13th, 1952 at the 7th Regiment Armory, 66th Street and Park Avenue. According to the New York Times, "Mayor Impellitteri had proclaimed Alert America Week, preliminary to the public opening of the defense exhibition at 10 AM." (2). These men are moving the exhibits from the Alert America Convoy into the 7th Regiment Armory (now the Park Avenue Armory).
Alert America educated American citizens to be prepared against enemy attacks. These three panels shows Civil Defense workers in action to control the traffic, assist in fighting against incendiary and chemical warfare. Traffic control is helpful in allowing ambulance and fire trucks to arrive to their destination faster. While the American people has less impact in fighting against incendiary and chemical warfare, these panels illustrates the dangers that it poses, including the measures Civil Defense will take.
The film "Our City Must Fight", one of the original films produced by the FCDA in 1951, describes a message to the public discouraging evacuation. This film argues that evacuation would create greater chaos, and encourages citizens "to stay and fight" for their city. These panels show the capacities of the Civil Defense in preparing ordinary citizens in their home life and workplace. (4. Clip used. "Our City Must Fight")
Alert America includes these series of posters across the nation. This display on psychological warfare depicts how you should be wary of foreign propaganda. This includes sample newspapers from Communist governments, such as "Nowa Kulture" which means New Culture in Polish, and "Kultura i Zhizn" which means Culture and Life in Russian.
Sabotage, which is a result from either foreign espionage or propaganda, could lead to the disruption of a city's infrastructure. Visitors and American citizens were told of "City X", an average city that "could be your city". "City X" represented the crux of how the average city can change due to an enemy attack, via sabotage or a nuclear strike.
Based off the film and the pamphlet "What You Should Know about Biological Warfare", this poster attempts to portray what and how cities and people could be affected by chemical bombs. Major fears described in the pamphlet were germs, toxins, and chemicals like weed killer. (5. Clip used. "What You Should Know About Biological Warfare.")
With the growing fears of an atomic bomb attack on "City X", the Civil Defense is responsible for informing American citizens what they should do and where they should go. The District Report Center mapped and coordinated with civilians to guide them to the appropriate shelters in case of bombing raids.
Survivors emerged from bomb shelters to see their city destroyed by a single atomic bomb. This image portrays a mother with a child as they wander through their ravaged city. The father is nowhere to be seen in this image, but one can assume he is fighting behalf of the Civil Defense for his home and city.
Curator - Kevin Chen
Thanks to Professor Michael Kort, Professor of General Studies, at Boston University for Russian translations.
1. FCDA Annual Report for 1952. https://training.fema.gov/hiedu/docs/historicalinterest/fcda%20-%201952%
2. "DEFENSE EXHIBITS PREVIEWED HERE; Major Demonstration of Civil Problems and Progress to Open to Public Today". New York Times. May 13th, 1952.
3. FCDA Annual Report for 1952.
4. "Our City Must Fight (1951)". https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RNcTnvTJa0
5. "What You Should Know About Biological Warfare 1952". Civil Defense Administration.