Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Shelter pt. 3


The salesman above had his name changed to "Victor Rand" after the editors complained that his original name, "Manny Kahn," sounded antisemetic. Obviously, that thought stung, and I changed the name quickly. My intention had been to reference Herman Kahn, the father of America's Civil Defense Policy.

Herman Kahn was an interesting and deeply creepy guy. It is claimed that he had the highest IQ on record, although he may have been the only source for that claim. He was at least one of the inspirations for Dr. Strangelove. His job, at the RAND Corporation, was to "think the unthinkable," specifically, to figure out how America could win, survive, and prosper during a nuclear war. He was the first to ask "Will the living envy the dead?" regarding life after such a war. This question, and some of his brutal descriptions of post-nuclear conditions won him fans among anti-war protesters, who assumed that anyone who had stared so long into the abyss would not be pro-abyss. Personally, I side with those who considered him a montser with a big ol' Thanatos-woody.

Kahn developed the idea of Civil Defense - that is, that a population could prepare to survive an atomic attack with enough underground shelters, tinned food, and a couple strong fans to clear away the fallout. It took him a long time to sell this theory (two Presidential administrations, if I recall) for one very simple reason: the military knew it wouldn't work. Never, at any point, did the American government that backyard fallout shelters would do a lick of good. But the plan wasn't to save American civilian lives. It was to bluff the Soviets into thinking that we, frankly, were crazy enough to believe that we could live through an attack, and, therefore, just might be crazy enough to launch the first strike ourselves.

That's the cynicism I mentioned earlier.

2 comments:

Gus and Fer said...

"Wishing Well" - that's the stuff.

There should be a straight biographical comic book take on Rand's life; I'll nominate you and Alan Moore to get it done.

At this late date, it's hard to believe such a paranoia could have gripped all walks of American life (as we all stockpile potable water, duct tape, and automatic weapons to fend off "bird flu"-ish Muslim zombies, that is).

Joel Priddy said...

The funny thing is, back in the 50s and 60s, when there was a lot of attention on bomb shelters, they wouldn't do any good. They're just not going to stand up to an ICBM. Today, when they are considered a historical curiosity, they might actually be a good idea. A shelter would protect you from a dirty bomb.

Of course, everyone is going to have nuclear missles soon enough (thanks Pakistan! Best ally ever!), so we'll be back the point of them being useless again. I guess the only thing to do is embrace impermanence, and zen on, baby.