Sometime between the First World War and the start of the Second World War the concept of civil defense or civil protection was born. The original purpose was to protect civilians from aerial bombing. After World War Two, the United States dismantled its civil defense corps. With the US the sole possessor of atomic weapons, there was no perceived need to spend money on civil defense. That perception did not last long due to the Soviet Union testing their first nuclear weapon in 1949. President Truman re-established civil defense with the goal of protecting the civilian population against a nuclear attack.
Over the next 29 years there would be several renditions of civil defense until the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was formed. President Carter empowered FEMA to prepare for disasters and to continue civil defense efforts. In 1994, with the repeal of the Civil Defense Act of 1950, FEMA suspended preparations for nuclear attack. Without the federal mandates and grant requirements many states started to follow suit. Following the terror attacks of 2001 and the advent of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), FEMA started to plan for a nuclear terrorist attack. The problem with the current DHS/FEMA nuclear terrorist attack planning is that DHS/FEMA assumes that only one city will be attacked. Other assumptions include a relatively low-yield weapon and that the unaffected surrounding areas can assist with the response. The current DHS/FEMA guidance is totally insufficient to address the needs from multiple nuclear weapons detonating across the nation.
With the current situation in Eastern Europe it is extremely important to understand both the past civil defense capabilities and the current non-existent civil defense capabilities of the United States but we also need to understand the civil defense capabilities of the former Soviet Union and those of Russia today.
It is important to understand past civil defense capabilities so that as the war in Eastern Europe widens, we can understand why our elected officials will do nothing to protect our nation. We also need to understand that the Russians will take steps to protect their population.
To start with, we a;; probably have heard of the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). The basic premise of MAD was that if two adversaries started to launch nuclear weapons at each other, both sides would suffer massive damage to both its population and its economy, thus fighting the war doesn’t gain either nation anything. The United States adopted this theory, however the Soviet Union did not. There were great debates about whether or not the United States should pursue an extensive civil defense program. This brings up the concept that a nation’s Civil Defense capabilities can play into the nation’s strategic capabilities just like nuclear weapons. To be clear, when a nation chooses to have, or not to have, a robust national civil defense program it isn’t necessarily about protecting people but rather “the system”. The United States believed that if it took prudent civil defense steps then that would somehow diminish our nation’s vulnerability, hence we would not be subscribing to MAD because we, in fact, have not assured our destruction. More on this later.
The Soviets on the other hand had a much more robust civil defense program. The Soviets spent about ten times as much money on their civil defense than the US. Why? Simply because the Soviets never subscribed or followed the concept of vulnerability, in other words, the Soviets never believed in the MAD theory. While the US decided to be weak, so as to say look if we exchange nuclear weapons we looe so we really don’t want to play that game, the Soviet Union actively planned not only to fight a nuclear war but took steps to “win” it. This is extremely important to understand. Those in the upper echelons of the current Russian government are products of the Cold War and Cold War strategies and tactics run through their sins and brains.
At this point in time, the US still holds dear its strategy of being vulnerable. We have heard Biden state that Putin isn’t bluffing about using nuclear weapons and that we are facing Armageddon, so why is thee no big push to dust off old civil defense plans and not just by the executive branch or the democrats but the GOP is silent on the issue of civil defense? So the US government is still subscribing to the “let’s be vulnerable” theory within MAD while the Russians are planning to win. Basically, the two nations are planning for and practicing two different “games”, and when they meet for “game day” it won’t be good for us.
Since people are creatures of habit we can assume that both Russian and US leaders will fall back to the concepts of the Cold War as tensions escalate to the nuclear level. Back in the Cold War era the anti-civil defense crowd actually argued that no American president would contemplate America’s civil defense capabilities when making a decision to launch nuclear weapons. This is not only wrong, nut we can actually prove that it is wrong! During the Cuban Missile Crisis President Kennedy specifically asked about our civil defense status and how those capabilities would have us fair if Soviet missiles hit the US. Going back to the concept of Civil Defense, as a strategic capability, we can see that when the closest thing we have had to a nuclear war played out, civil defense was in the equation. And just so you know, the answer President Kennedy received wasn’t a good one. While the Soviet Union prepared blast shelters for their nation the US focused on “fallout” shelters. The fallout shelter system was specifically designed to protect people from radiation not the other blast effects from a nuclear weapon such as the fireball and shockwave.
With the Soviets not following the vulnerability concept of MAD, the US government believed that about 90% of the Soviet Union’s population would survive an attack by the US with nuclear weapons, compared to about 20% for the US. At least that was the US number up until the US government started what is known as “Crisis Relocation” in the 1980s. With crisis relocation, that is, evacuating urban areas to rural areas, the US government believed it could increase the survival of the population to around 80%. The only problem with the concept of crisis relocation for nuclear attack is that the plans assumed we would have one-week advance warning before the missiles started to fly, from what I understand, at the time, Soviet nuclear missiles were liquid-fueled and the missiles were not kept fueled due to corrosions issues with the fuel and it would take about a week to fuel them for an attack.
So how does this all relate to the current situation?
Understand that Russia’s new 5th-generation warfare strategy has an “escalate to de-escalate” component. That is Russia plans to “escalate” tensions with the threat of nuclear attack in order to have the other side come running to the negotiating table. This escalation could be achieved by mere threat however the US/NATO are not buying into the threat which means that the risk for Russia to have to resort to some type of actual use of nuclear weapons increases. The thing about nuclear arsenals is sort of like in the movies when one person shoots, everyone lets loose.
Russia still believes it can win a nuclear war. The old communist lead anti-nuclear weapons crowd liked to say that nuclear war was “unthinkable”, but we should think about nuclear war critically, considering the destructive power and the number of nuclear weapons on the planet and we also better be prepared for when they are launched. Since the US has no real civil defense capability, it is conceivable that the US could be placed in a very bad geopolitical bargaining situation since our population is so vulnerable and the Russian population is not.
Both Russia and the US will revert back to the Cold War strategies when they face the next “Cuban Missile Crisis” arising out of the Ukraine war. Russia will perceive that it can win a nuclear war while the US will perceive that Russia will not launch since they too will loss a lot of people and economic capability. Keep this in mind, the Soviets were expected to lose 20 million people in a US retaliatory nuclear strike, that is 10 million fewer people than they lost in all of World War Two. Sounds like a win to me.
If the situation gets bad enough you will see an evacuation out of the cities. Polls conducted in the late 1970s indicated that there would be two distinct evacuation waves. First would be the spontaneous evacuees who leave the cities without there being an official evacuation order. The second wave will be those leaving when the official order is given. According to the polling data, many of the spontaneous evacuees in the first wave would be going to “friends and relatives” in the country. What isn’t identified in the polling data is whether or not those relatives and friends in the county know those people are coming their way. Crisis relocation when implemented will have profound effects on those living in rural areas. One other thing to keep in mind about crisis relocation is that there was a debate that as soon as one nation saw the other nation evacuating their cities an attack would be launched. There was no indication that either the Soviets (Russians) or the US targeted the evacuation “reception” area with nuclear weapons, however Russian nukes are somewhat larger in there megatons of TNT power. I suspect that this was done due to the Soviet missiles not being as accurate as the US missiles.
With today’s hypersonic missiles the concept of crisis relocation may or may not be moot. I suspect there may be a few people who still self-evacuate out of the cities before a warning. I would, however, suspect that if one side did order an official evacuation of cities that then that would trigger an immediate attack. If you even hear discussion of crisis relocation or evacuation you should take this as warning that the crisis is spiraling closer to missile launch.
Stop believing that survival isn’t possible, that is if you don’t live in a large city or military target. Location is one of the best factors helping to ensure your survival in a nuclear exchange.
There is a belief, or hope, that nuclear weapons will not be used. Just remember that “hope” is not a plan. Government will not do anything to protect you as that is counterproductive to their “strategy”. That means You’re on Your Own (YOYO) when it comes to civil defense.
Take steps to plan for and implement a fallout shelter in your home now. There are still a number of good sources of information on this on the internet today. Start looking for in now and reading it. Second, locate and acquire any needed equipment and supplies you may need. I have a gun range on the property with a large backstop that is filled with sand. We will use the loader on the tractor to scoop out the sand and bring it closer to the house where we will then fill feed sacks up with the sand and place them inside the house on the floor above where we will be sheltering. We have on hand, wood and jack post to beef up the support of the floor joist due to the added weight of the sand. We will also put dirt up against the foundation for added protection. In the basement we will construct an area where we can sit and lay that will have additional dense materials (things like ammo cans) on top for additional shielding. Planning and preparing for the protection against fallout now will give you and your family an immense leg up when the time comes to act.
We can anticipate that at some point Russia will give the West an ultimatum. Russia has already told the West to stop interfering or else. The ultimatum that we should be looking for is one with a specific date and time. Of course the West will not comply with the ultimatum and this will probably mean the end of Putin’s power or Putin will push the button.
Never underestimate the power of stupid people. There are people on both sides who train regularly to launch or drop nuclear weapons at a moment’s notice. They go through quick reaction drills so that the motions become second nature, so that when the order is given these people resort to just going through the motions like they have hundreds of times before, verses thinking about the ramification of what they are about to do.
The old Cold War analysis predicted that most Americans would need to shelter from radiation for a two-week period. That means literally staying in a very confined area for sleeping, food prep, going to the bathroom and everything else. I’m sure with our current generation’s addiction to electronic devices the mere withdrawal from these games due to the combination of the effects of EMP, no power and no Internet connectivity will be just as challenging as trying to live in cramped quarters for two weeks. Statistically speaking, I have lived over half my life. What this means is I can afford to absorb a little more radiation than my kids who are in their teens still. This won’t mean anything the first week since radiation level will be so high that it could cause radiation sickness even with only a few minutes of exposure. The second week, depending upon actual radiation reading, I could probably do a quick task like taking out garbage or human waste. Perhaps I would even go out to the barn and throw a few bales of hay out for any surviving animals. The most likely farm animal to survive will be chickens, since they can withstand an impressive amount of radiation.
Fortunately, we have metering for measuring radiation. I have sat my daughter down and taught her how to use them. I have taken background radiation readings in areas where we are going to shelter. It is good to know what your normal level of radiation is. The background levels of radiation were written down for several areas. One where we are going to actually shelter, then a reading at the door to the room that has the door to the outside and the third reading was at the door itself. The readings were annotated and then laminated and attached to the handles of various meters.
Nuclear war is survivable but you need to take action to be prepared. If you live in a location that isn’t a target but will probably be affected by radioactive fallout it would be a shame to die slowly from radiation poisoning that could have been avoided with some very simple preparedness.
Regardless of what does or doesn’t happen with the current war in Europe, the notion that we will not be confronted with another geopolitical crisis where the chances of a nuclear war increase is very naive. At some point we will be in the same situation with China. Perhaps that will be sooner than anyone realizes. Prepare now.