Pinky Pie

And then there were five, “the bomb” & Me

Posted on: March 9, 2010

“Mom! It’s your favorite,” Matt called to me from the television. “Black and white!”

“Mom,” Maggie once asked, “was the world in black and white when you were little?”

Yes, I have an affinity for black and white photography, movies and television shows. In my work as a personal historian, my client’s black and white photos most catch my eye. They leave more to the imagination than fading color of yesteryear.

So naturally I knew I would get a kick out of the movie, “The Atomic Café.” It’s a collage of old government training films and other newsreels of “the bomb” and after World War II.

Since I watched it on Friday evening the fifth day of the workweek, it works into my And Then There Were Five radiation countdown.  (Ok, it’s a weak connection, but I didn’t think I had to tell you that you had five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot.) And it was about radiation, after all.

I loved seeing the high school home economics students with their creations to stock the family fallout shelter with foods that would last 27 years or so until that radiation is gone. Now that’s consumer and family education.

Other great moments in the film was that special family time when mom, dad and the kids gathered around a radio listening to the report of an upcoming atomic test at precisely 5:30 p.m.

The father puts his finger to his lips to remind the children to be quiet as the announcer counts down, “Another five seconds … two … 5:30.” Kaboom. After the sound of the explosion at Bikini Atoll, cigarettes were handed out to family members who smoked as the announcer describes the smoke of the mushroom cloud rising nine miles up into the sky.

Vice Admiral W.H.P. Blandy, who was in charge of the nuclear tests, reassured America,  “I am not an atomic playboy as one of my critics labeled me, exploding these bombs for my personal whim.”

The case for the bomb included a map that showed communism spreading across the globe – even to a town near us. A “small town in Wisconsin” was filmed acting out life under communism. When the newspaper editor was hauled off to jail the announcer said, “Exit freedom of thought. This is life under the Soviet government.”

And if you missed the subtly, the film shows a nuclear bomb blowing up the Statue of Liberty (which my son, Matt, used to call the Statue of Little B).

A woman wearing a large black hat that I wish I could borrow to wear during my cancer treatment, said, “All the world knows that we Americans are constructive not destructive. No matter how distasteful this may be to us, we have no choice in the matter. Let us build the bomb.”

An Army officer briefed troops about to be witnesses to an A-bomb that, “Watched from a safe distance, this explosion is one of the most beautiful sights seen by man. You’re probably saying, if it is so beautiful what makes it so dangerous?”

He then wrote on the chalkboard three things:

  • Blast
  • Heat
  • Radiation.

Truthfully, he added, radiation is the least concerning. “You can’t see radiation. Feel it or smell it or taste it.”

One film refuted the idea that radiation would cause a race of bald-headed people, leading to loss of self-esteem when you are called “old skinhead” or “chrome dome.”  The advice was to don a toupee until it grew back.

Americans were urged not to use 85 percent of their “worrying capacity” for something that would only destroy 15 percent of the populace.

And there were a fix for that anxiety in the fallout shelter. A Civil Defense film suggested supplies for the fallout shelter:” “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.”

But my very favorite moment was the scientist-looking spokesman who explained to a worried public that there is no danger from radiation unless it gets through the skin.

Now you tell me.


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