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Homeland Security

SLUG: 3-548 Kenneth Rose/Homeland Security


TITLE=KENNETH ROSE/Homeland Security





/// Editors: This interview is available in Dalet under SOD/English News Now Interviews in the folder for today or yesterday ///

HOST: U-S Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge has unveiled a national information program aimed at helping the public prepare for potential terrorist attacks. In Washington Wednesday, Mr. Ridge told reporters that a special internet website and a national telephone hotline have been set up to provide terrorist alerts and emergency planning tips to the public.

Earlier this month, a government alert of a terrorist threat sparked panic buying, after the officials recommended the public buy supplies of water, duct tape, plastic sheeting and first aid items as part of a survival kit. (CN-126 ND-4 Homeland Security)

For historian Kenneth Rose much of what Americans are being urged to do to prepare for a possible terrorist incident is reminiscent of preparations Americans were urged to make during height of the Cold War in the 1950's and 60's when many people believed a nuclear attack was possible. He is the author of "One Nation Underground: The Fallout Shelter in American Culture."

MR. ROSE: I think the similarities are very striking. I have spent some time looking over the Cold War years, and I have a sort of personal history with this as well. My father was a bomber pilot for the Strategic Air Command during the Cold War years, and I have very vivid memories of those years because of that. So, I think, more than for a lot of people, the realities of the Cold War were much more present in my life because of my father's position.

MR. CROSBY: When we think back to the Cold War years, what many of us remember, and are perhaps remembering again as we watch people being urged to put together emergency packages in the event of a chemical or biological terrorist attack, what we remember were people being urged to build bomb shelters. But those never really caught on, did they?

MR. ROSE: Well, no, they really didn't. Public opinion polls consistently showed that Americans first believed that there would be a nuclear confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States within the next five years -- some 80 percent said that -- in the early sixties. And also, during the Berlin crisis of 1961, when Kennedy said that they would oppose attempts by the Soviet Union to block off Berlin to Western access, public opinion backed Kennedy by over 80 percent and said that they were willing to go to nuclear war rather than to submit to the Soviets. So, builders believed that there was a golden opportunity here to make a lot of money building fallout shelters. But the shelters never were built in the numbers predicted.

MR. CROSBY: In fact, those shelters were probably, in terms of cost, beyond the reach of most Americans, weren't they?

MR. ROSE: That's a good point. Most experts recommended that people spend at least about $2,500 for a bare-bones shelter, and the median family income was only about $5,300 in the early sixties. So, that represented a considerable outlay for an average American family.

MR. CROSBY: You alluded to the Kennedy administration. Of course, what many of us remember from that period was the Cuban missile crisis. And that, if anything, I suppose brought home to a great many Americans the vulnerability of the American mainland.

MR. ROSE: Absolutely. With missiles installed in Cuba, that put them within range of a great number of American cities. And I think the estimate I saw was some 92 million Americans were vulnerable to attack from these missiles in Cuba. So, it certainly brought home that reality to Americans.

MR. CROSBY: As we look at today's situation, do you think that reality is coming home again, but perhaps in a different form, the fear of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil?

MR. ROSE: I think the terrorist fear and the Cold War fears have this in common -- which is it is very difficult for individuals to do much in the way of preserving their own safety. Because both terrorist attacks and of course nuclear attacks would be, I think, pretty unexpected and pretty swift. And to my way of thinking, there is very little that an individual can do to preserve themselves or prepare for such attacks.

I know civil defense during the fifties and sixties, and now homeland security, is sort of in the business of reassuring Americans that they can take steps to preserve their own safety. But I am very dubious that very much can be done.

MR. CROSBY: Do you think, given the experience of the fifties and the sixties and the various tests that took place at that time, that people have grown kind of blasť about threats?

MR. ROSE: I think the pattern that we saw in the fifties and sixties was that people would become more concerned with civil defense and thinking about taking steps to preserve their safety, say, in the event of a nuclear attack, during a time of crisis, such as the Berlin crisis of 1961 or the Cuban missile crisis. But once these crises had passed, I think the public did lapse back into apathy and sort of put the whole thing out of their minds. So, in the presence of a crisis, certainly people give this more thought, but once these crises have passed, there is a tendency to sort of put them out of their minds.

HOST: California State University historian and author Kenneth Rose speaking with VOA News Now's Tom Crosby from his home in Chico, California.


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