The Doomsday Blueprints

How times change. Though the Soviet Union is gone, Washington was once convinced that World War III could break out without warning. Children practiced hiding under desks, parents built bomb shelters, and in case of nuclear attack the U.S. government hoped to save the President and keep the country running by relying on . . . THE DOOMSDAY BLUEPRINTS

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What they envisioned was an America darkened not only by nuclear war but also by the imposition of martial law, food rationing, censorship and the suspension of many civil liberties. "We would have to run this country as one big camp -- severely regimented," Eisenhower told advisers in a top-secret memo dated 1955. Nor is it a matter only of remote historical interest. Many of those doomsday regulations would still be put into effect after a nuclear attack, and while preparations for rescuing the nation's leaders and cultural treasures remain in place, efforts to shield the civilian population were virtually abandoned decades ago.


For those too young to remember the height of the cold war, consider this: by 1960, about 15,000 high schools were equipped with radiation-monitorin g kits. "Duck-and-cover" films depicting how to act during a nuclear assault were part of the elementary school curriculum. The U.S. had distributed 55 million wallet-size cards with instructions on what to do in the event of an attack. Backyard bomb shelters were common. Senior Washington officials received an emergency telephone number that bypassed the commercial system and linked them directly to crisis operators, who understood that if the caller uttered the single code word -- FLASH -- it meant the call was "essential to national survival." Never out of the President's reach were the Presidential Emergency Action Documents and "Plan D," his options for responding to a surprise nuclear attack.

The doomsday plans took shape during the Eisenhower Administration, spawning an entire bureaucracy and a web of government relocation sites situated around the capital in what became known as the Federal Arc. Each year the government conducted elaborate exercises in which thousands of officials relocated in ( mock nuclear attacks. Eisenhower and his Cabinet convened at Raven Rock, the 265,000-sq.-ft. "Underground Pentagon" near Gettysburg, Pa., code-named "Site R," or at Mount Weather, a bunker near Berryville, Va., code-named "High Point" (see "Doomsday Hideaway," TIME, Dec. 9, 1991). Airborne command posts and reinforced communications ships stood by to receive the Commander in Chief and his advisers. Congress had its own top-secret relocation center buried beneath the Greenbrier, a five-star resort in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. Outfitted with its own Senate and House chambers, as well as a vast hall for joint sessions, the facility was code-named "Casper," and only half a dozen members of Congress knew it existed.

Few men have a more intimate understanding of the doomsday scenario than Bernard T. Gallagher. Known to his friends as Bud, he was a Strategic Air Command pilot and served as director of Mount Weather for 25 years, until his retirement last March. A robust 70 years old, he wears a white cowboy hat, drives a hot-pink '65 Mustang convertible and is an unabashed patriot. As an "atomic-cloud sampler," he flew through the billowing mushrooms of 13 U.S. nuclear blasts in 1952 and 1953. To measure the radiation passing through him, he swallowed an X-ray plate coated with Vaseline and suspended by a string that hung out of his mouth during the flight.

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