BLOG: Are You Building a Shelter?

An interesting snapshot of the early 1960s, when nuclear war seemed inevitable. This excerpt of “Are you building a shelter,” is from Rev. Carl Storm (pictured with FUS youth here), delivered at First Unitarian Society on November 5, 1961:

After a decade of almost complete apathy about civil defense, and even a somewhat slap-happy dismissal of it, the subject has rather suddenly become of widespread concern. Triggered by the Berlin crisis and the resumption of nuclear testing, it has taken on tones of seriousness and of frantic desperation as the feeling grows that nuclear war is not only probable but inevitable.

Along with the concern, however, is no small amount of confusion and difference of opinion….

… Beyond the deception of leading people to believe that shelters will save up to 97% of the population and that life inside shelters can even be somewhat glamorous, there is another aspect of the matter that is even more shocking. And that is the repeated expression of a save-your-own skin morality.

All along the line the major emphasis of the civil defense program has been do-it-yourself — build your own shelter. And not just save your own skin, but be prepared to do it with gun and violence and murder.

The outcome has been one of the most nauseating displays in various quarters of callous individualism that we or anyone else has witnessed among a people presumably somewhat civilized and touched in some measure with ethical and religious principles.

Not only are communities, such as in California and Nevada, preparing to repel refugees by gun and armed militia, but individuals are building their shelters in secret so no one else will know where they are, and they are stocking their shelters with guns with which to repel any, even neighbors and friends, who might seek to get in.

There “is nothing in the Christian ethic,” says Civil Defense Coordinator Keith Dwyer, “which denies one’s right to protect oneself and one’s family.”

… I myself have not built a bomb shelter and I have no intention of doing so. First, because I am very susceptible to claustrophobia and not convinced that a bomb shelter will be anything much more than a mausoleum. I would prefer to be upstairs murdering Beethoven at the piano rather than my neighbor at the bomb shelter door. Second, because the shelter program puts fear into the saddle and diverts from steady sustained effort to put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind. The answer to nuclear war is not shelters, but disarmament and peace….

… Admittedly it is no easy task, and the times are indeed perilous. Yet it is along this path that hope and survival are really possible, and within the building and strengthening of this kind of world shelter that a world community of men, truly worthy of the terms “community” and “men,” must be established.

Question: Rugged individualism has been a hallmark of America since our beginnings. How does the ethic to protect one’s family and the ethic to protect one’s community/country transform into the ethic to protect one’s planetary community? Do we need alien invaders and superheroes to bring us together in movie theaters? Why do you think there is a disconnect between local and global? How do we, as Humanists, bridge that?

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Related Resources

See this Bob Dylan song about bomb shelters from 1962.


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