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Discussions with Deb: Cold War Films

May 11, 2020

May 11, 2020

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During the Cold War there were many films released by the government to help people navigate the new nuclear era. Some were very informative and helped the population come to terms with the new atomic technology. Some were fairly ridiculous. The tenor of these films varied widely.

In 1953 General Electric, a contractor for several nuclear weapons plants, released A is for Atom, which teaches atomic chemistry in an accessible, optimistic animated short.

In 1957 Walt Disney televised Our Friend the Atom on their popular Sunday night Disneyland TV show. Disney hired a scientist to advise them. He also wrote and released a book of the same name. An exhibit at Tomorrow Land on atomic energy opened about the same time. This show combined storytelling with information to help children learn about the uses of the atom, again with a reassuring and optimistic viewpoint.

Many of the early Civil Defense films were done in combination with industry. Some of these were factual and others promoted ideas that were clearly suspect. Did you know that painting and cleaning your house can protect you from a nuclear blast? I didn’t until I watched The House in the Middle. This 1954 film was made by the National Clean Up, Paint Up, Fix Up Bureau with the cooperation of the Federal Civil Defense Administration. Not surprisingly the National Clean-Up, Paint-Up, Fix-Up Bureau was created by the National Paint, Varnish and Lacquer Association to sell paint.

Similarly, in 1954 the Ready Mixed Concrete Company teamed up with Colorado Civil Defense to produce A Concrete Plan for Civil Defense which details how concrete trucks can deliver water to the populace after a nuclear attack.

Our Cities Must Fight was a film produced with the Federal Civil Defense Administration in 1951. This film promotes staying in the city during and after an atomic attack.

The National Committee on Atomic Information with the Federation of American Scientists put out a film, One World or None, in 1946 to promote the idea of civilian control of atomic energy and how nations need to unite to keep the world safe.

In 1961 the Atomic Energy Commission released the film, Plowshare, which details how excavation can be done by a nuclear explosion.

The Big Picture was a television show produced by the US Army which included films on atomic warfare:

I’ve always found understanding history was most interesting when viewed through the lens used at the time. I hope you find them interesting as well.