Video: “Worlds Destroyed before Your Eyes: American Children and the Threat of the Atom”
Larry Landis: Thank you all for coming this afternoon. We have a great lecture for you. My name is—for those of you who don't know me, I think everybody knows me here, but I'll introduce myself anyway, I'm Larry Landis, I'm currently the interim head of Special Collections and many of you also know me as a university archivist, so I wear a couple of hats. This is the fourth year for the Resident Scholar Program in Special Collections and we are delighted to have had Dr. Chris O'Brien from the University of Maine, Farmington with us for the—oh since the beginning of this month. And capping it off with his lecture today. I am going to let Chris Petersen, our faculty research assistant in Special Collections, who is currently coordinating the Resident Scholar Program, introduce Dr. O'Brien. Before I do that, I would like to acknowledge the support for this program from Peter and Judy Freeman who have been strong supporters of the University Libraries. Unfortunately they could not be here this afternoon, but I'd still like for us to give them a round of applause for their ongoing support. So, I'm going to turn the reigns over to Chris Petersen who will do a grand introduction for Dr. O'Brien. Okay, Chris.
Chris Petersen: Okay. Well before doing so I'll add that we have one more speaker this summer who will be here in—she'll be speaking in mid-September, and her name is Graciela de Souza Oliver, she's from Brazil, and she'll be working with the seed trade catalogs. She's interested in the idea of amateur versus professional scientists in terms of the—kind of the botanical world, I guess. And so she's coming up here to spend a month going through our seed catalogs collections, so we're excited about that.
But our speaker today is Dr. Chris O'Brien from University of Maine, Farmington. Dr. O'Brien has been working on the topic of the interaction of children and the atomic era. He has been working on that for a while; he's been speaking about it and writing about it for a while. He has a book that will be coming out on this topic at some point, and he's been here for a month, working in the history of the atomic energy collection and also the Pauling papers and he'll be speaking to us today about what he found out. Dr. O'Brien?
Chris O'Brien: Hello. Thank you for coming. I want to thank Larry and Chris, Christy, [unintelligible] Olga who all helped with this. Without them you wouldn't see any of this. So, just to brief you a little bit: the really good pictures that you'll see, Christy took. The ones that are really sloppy, those are mine. And that's probably true of everything else you'll hear: the really good stuff, somebody else. The mistakes: all mine. This is "Worlds Destroyed before Your Eyes," a decidedly informal talk, not a paper. This is much more of a talk, so you just interrupt me anytime you want to ask any questions you want. I'll leave some time at the end, too, a bit.
The title, or at least one of the titles here, "Worlds Destroyed before Your Eyes," this is an advertisement that appeared on the back of Boy's Life for several year. Boy's Life is the Boy Scout magazine, national Boy Scout magazine. You can see the world destroyed through the radio scope. This didn't actually come from this collection, so here's a little bit more. Some of the stuff you'll see, much of the stuff you'll see today actually came from right upstairs. Some of it's from other places that I've been; other archives that I've been to. Almost everything is from here, little bits and pieces of [unintelligible].
And here's why it's the macaroni art problem. I've studied children in the early years of the Cold War and macaroni art goes up on the refrigerator and then gets thrown away. So it's easy to find people talking about children, and we'll see some of that. It's harder to find actual children's voices. So I do a lot of reading through sources and occasionally, like happened here, I stumble into stuff. So we're headed there. So, one other little piece, technology from the forties and fifties, I'm cool. This? [laughs].
Chris Petersen: Give it a double click. There you go.
Chris O'Brien: Alright. It's impossible to talk about children in the Cold War in the time that I'm interested in, 1945 to 1963, without this. This is easily the most common image; this comes from the Office of Civil Defense Management. You can find dozens and dozens of these pictures in newspapers around the country. There's a good reason why the image is so familiar. Between 1955 and 1963 a hundred and ten million people passed through elementary school in America. So that's the baby boomers and a few more. It's an awful lot of folks, so most of them, certainly those of an age, remember this. That turns out to be a really handy thing for me, because much of my research is involved with [unintelligible] people. I work on children in the early years of the Cold War and then they tell me about their lives and it's really kind of nice. It's an easy way to do research and [unintelligible].
What followed next, I'm afraid is a bit of technological difficulty. If you were of an age, you would recognize the clip that is not going to play right here. We can't figure out how to get it to run with it. It's a clip from "Duck and Cover."
Audience Member: Yeah, okay. I've heard this song.
Chris O'Brien: So that's what I was going to ask; anybody want to sing along? I don't actually sing, but look around, you can see people who've got lyrics running through their head right here in this room. 1951, Archer Productions "Duck and Cover," you got Burt the turtle, little cartoon character. You know the picture, you know the image, you probably, no matter how old you are, even know the song "Duck and Cover." So I'm sorry that you can't see it. Google it, it's in a million different places, you'll be able to find it. I probably have a dozen copies on my computer; this one is not running today.
The story, the quick version of this: the Federal Civil Defense Administration went by several different names during its lifespan. In 1951 there is a renewed emphasis on shelters and what to do in case of an atomic attack, one of the several outbursts of concern about shelters that take place in this country. It was a way to encourage school children to be safe, and a way to make their parents think that we're doing something. In that sense, it's not surprising that it hangs around as long as it does. It came out sixty years ago and really, truly, every time I talk about this somebody sings to me. It's an amazing thing. So if I can get it to boot up later, I'll do it. But for the moment, alright [unintelligible].
So I want to talk about a handful of little things. [unintelligible] is the ephemera of the atomic age for kids. I'm going to do that in a couple of ways, three, probably. Some of which is from right here, little bits that are [rounded out?]. These both here: comic books for kids. Comic books have a difficult relationship with historians. Other historians in the room? Alright, if you're another historian here, you're all gonna—I'm also going to play with chronology a little bit, but leave me alone. I‘ll sort it out for you later. These are created by adults for children, right? So is this really about children? So one way to track that is readership, but we'd have a small little problem when talking about comic books, because they pass from kid to kid. So comic book publishers count each issue in millions, "oh, millions of children read this," and they sell these, maybe three or four thousand copies a piece. The bigger of the atomic [were?] probably sold almost ten thousand, but nobody knows. The numbers there on who actually reads them are much more problematic.
Do they look kid-friendly? Yeah, "Real Life Comics, the Atomic Bomb," these are...yeah, it seems much more like maybe a school publication, and something you'd go down to the drugstore to pick up. "Inside The Atom," I like this image, in part because you can find these in all sorts of different places. I'm going to come back to another one here in a moment. That idea, however, and the one I [named that here?] is this: that comic books do tell us something about kids and tell us what adults think of kids, all at the same time. It's harder to read through how children might respond to these things than you might imagine. They don't usually run letters to the editor in comic books. But there they are, so you see bits and pieces of these scattered around. There's some good collections of them around the country. There is a really excellent book by William Savage, Comic Books and America, 1945-1954 [he misquoted the title, I fixed it. Should I have?]. He does a really good job of linking those things, and occasionally an imaginative job of linking comic books and American culture, but as good as we've got, probably. It really kind of laid out what's going on there. For me—neither of these are actually here, but—yes?
Audience Member: I just had a question for the previous image on the "Inside the Atom," I noticed that it was sponsored by General Electric and I just wanted to know how common you found—
Chris O'Brien: You can't backwards [referring to presentation screen].
Audience Member: Oh yeah, there you go—oh, sorry. So I just noticed at the bottom left-hand corner it says "Adventures in Science Series, General Electric." I kind of wondered whether what you saw was like a corporate [inaudible]?
Chris O'Brien: Uh, yeah. There's the really short answer. General Electric is hip-deep in pushing safe nuclear power, to kids, to schools, to educators; they worked hand-in-glove with federal government to distribute comic books at state fairs and schools around the country. This is one of about the seven or eight of them that I know, that General Electric did over the course of about seven or eight different years. They are very much involved. They employed a staff of comic book artists for a number of years at General Electric, who worked in a variety of different things, as well.
But they're not really kid-friendly, to be honest with you. It's General Electric, and they were writing for voters, as much as anything.
Audience Member: So these were for the adults who would have been seeing them as with their children.
Chris Petersen: There you go, yeah.
Audience Member: Okay.
Chris O'Brien: Yeah. I don't want that to sound as devious as it sounds, but it is what it is, isn't it? Other questions over here? Alright. Kids: clearly for kids, clearly aimed at kids, the superheroes ran into a substantial problem in the atomic age. They really did. They had a hard time in World War II, trying to figure out what to do, because can Superman actually fight Nazis? It just seemed somehow out of balance. So atomic weapons really turn out to be incredibly problematic for superheroes. Superman, my favorite of all, and one of the first I wrote about, becomes vulnerable to a green, glowing metal that emits deadly rays, right around 1945, oddly enough. A real problem for superheroes. There is one of my favorite Superman, and I'm not a comic book fan, it sounds like I'm a comic book geek, I'm not, I just, you know, a strange little sideline in my life. He witnesses a test explosion and it begins floating away, so he captures the radioactive cloud in his cape and takes it to outer space, as you would anticipate. The atomic war—nuclear war eventually, for children, in comic books often comes this way and it's incredibly problematic.
So this, the one that I'll talk about a little bit more, Billy Batson, if you remember your Captain Marvel [unintelligible], the Greek gods, Roman gods, I don't remember which gods they are, then turning into Captain Marvel and turned this into a really long lawsuit by the publishers of Superman who say that that's just Superman in a different suit. Goes on for thirty years. In this, there is a nuclear war and he can't do anything. He's incapable of holding back the nuclear war and everybody dies. And then he wakes up and realizes that he's still Billy Batson, he's been listening to a radio program, and calls on young readers to save the world. Alright, so here's the other little piece: save the world. Save the world, that is the task, it is children's job to save the world. If that seems unreasonable, I'm with you.
Audience Member: And what year was that?
Chris O'Brien: So that Captain Marvel is '49.
Audience Member: So he was called on to save the world in '49?
Chris O'Brien: Children were called on to save the world in '45.
Audience Member: Oh, okay.
Chris O'Brien: Alright. There's actually pretty good stuff that's been done about atomic comic books. Less has been done about this great thing, which is right up in the collection upstairs, which is atomic toys. There's some pretty substantial collections of them around, but they really haven't been much analyzed. If you're a grad student looking for a project, drop me a line. This, if you can't quite tell what it is, is an atomic bomb. These are little plastic pills with BBs in them, and you can try to wiggle them into Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Uh-huh. This is by the A. C. Gilbert Company, who you know from erector sets. But it turns out that they do other things too. Chris sent this to me the other day. This is A. C. Gilbert's Atomic Energy Lab. It contains actual radio isotopes, so it is somewhat difficult to get a set of it in—occasionally they'll pop up on eBay, I don't know how anybody can ship them to you anymore, but...
Audience Member: Well [unintelligible] "safe."
Chris O'Brien: Yeah. Or you know, what every kitchen had: your own little Geiger counter.
Linda Richards: I wanted one.
Chris O'Brien: You rented one?
Linda Richards: I wanted one.
Chris O'Brien: You wanted a Geiger counter.
Linda Richards: Yeah.
Chris O'Brien: Why?
Linda Richards: I saw it on television and somebody had one and it looked cool to go—it would be fun to check around and see.
Chris O'Brien: Have you played with one since?
Linda Richards: Pardon?
Chris O'Brien: Have you played with one since?
Linda Richards: No.
Chris O'Brien: They were actually kind of cool.
Linda Richards: I thought they looked cool.
Chris O'Brien: Yeah, they are actually kind of cool. In a creepy end-of the-world sort of way, but yeah, I mean—alright, so like I said, there's not really been much done about atomic toys for children. There's less pictures of them, there's a few collections of them. There's not really been a good analysis done of them. And I'm not going to do it. So again if you'd like to—so that's A. C. Gilbert, those last three. I just wanted to show you that in fact there are competitors, so this is Chemcraft's Atomic Energy with real radio isotopes. But the important part for me—so this is also from Boy's Life, the Boy Scout magazine, these are facing pages and over here you can get a Winchester .22 and "How to Make Your Own Blowgun," with a copper pipe and sharpening bamboo shivs to shoot at people. So I'm worried about small children with atomic weapons, but this looks like it might be even more problematic, to be honest with you. They show you several different ways you can make the darts and then somewhere really far down here it says don't shoot them at anything living. It's small print even in the...
Alright, so since I'm on the "what can you do that I don't really want to do," here's the last little one of the atomic ephemera for children. It really hasn't been researched very well. There's great stuff that's been written about atomic literature for adults, but kid's literature in the atomic age is hit and miss. There's a couple of article [unintelligible] things that have been written, but there's really an awful lot of fiction for kids in the atomic age that deals with atomic issues, some of it Sci-fi, much of it not, that's mostly unanalyzed. I'm not an English major so I'm not taking that one on. I'll mention that these two are in there. These are Tom Swift novels, so aimed at thirteen, fourteen year old boys. They're—and neither one of them is much of a read in my opinion, but again, I'm not thirteen anymore, so maybe it would have been more for me then. There's lots of these but...there are a bit more.
In the collection here are a handful of science texts for kids. So a whole chapter in the book that I—that will eventually come out when I get around to sitting down and finishing the thing off—is about science texts for kids. And I'll save you an effort, you don't have to read the whole thing, I'll just give you the short version of it. This is The How and Why Book of Atomic Energy, that'd be about page 3. The How and Why Book actually is reasonably late for that image. That image is made early 1950. Mostly science texts have moved away from mushroom clouds by the early 1950s. There is an enormous literature aimed at children about the atomic age, about what to do. So here you go, I'll save you reading a whole chapter when I finally finish it off: in 1945 kids are told "it is your job to save the world, and the way that you're going to save the world is work for world peace and embrace the United Nations." By 1963: "it is your job to save the world and the way to save the world for children: stand firm against the Russians, work for world peace by supporting the U.S. and become a scientist." In that little run about how science texts evolved in that period of time, we see what's happening in the Cold War overall. We see that change in American mindset as well.
There are outliers; there are folks who remain out there, who keep saying "No. United Nations, United Nations," So Linus Pauling was one of the early members of the scientist group that puts out some of the first literature for children in the atomic age. He doesn't write any of it that I can tell. If he has, I missed it, but that's possible. There's a lot of stuff out there. It's very much a "we must end war and embrace the United Nations." Pauling himself has a more difficult relationship with that topic over time. Some due to his own life, I suspect; the difficulties he faced. But the world also changed.
Marta L. Hyde writes innumerable books for children to explain science to them and even in her books you can see the evolution. You can see how she changes her take on what children should know about the Cold War, changes over time. This, the year 1957, Nuclear Science in the Classroom. I liked it. It's from upstairs as well. Because that is almost completely [wrong?], the mushroom cloud on the cover. So this is a teacher handbook. But the mushroom cloud on the cover by 1957 is actually pretty rare. What nuclear science is by 1957 for most teachers is peaceful uses of the atom. So this is kind of an outlier. The text itself really does the throwaway line that says "we can make hydrogen bombs out of these things." But mostly it is much more of a "how do you teach science about this." It's designed for 7th graders, by the way. So a little old for my group, it's the last little bit of writing stuff talking about that. I take children to be children—that's usually folks under thirteen years of age. I do school age, so six to thirteen.
And here we run into a small little problem. It's an easy enough problem. The first real book about this is Paul Boyer's By the Bomb's Early Light, came out 1985. 1985 Boyer says there's a connection between children's culture and the atomic culture and he cites about half a dozen different examples. Almost everybody who's written anything about it since, including me, uses exactly those same examples. We've been stealing from Boyer for the last what is that, twenty-six years? Overnight, just pick up a book about atomic culture written—came out last year, and the examples are Boyer's all over again. When you're talking about children, that problem is it's easier to get high school kids than it is to get children. More of that [unintelligible]. There's more effort, there's more concerted effort. That's problematic. 110 million stories and what we've got is a half dozen of them written by a guy 26 years ago. It's growing, there's little bits and pieces, it's growing. Many of the books that have come out about children in the cold war are actually about families in the cold war, and they tend to be about parents in the Cold War, and often they are about mothers in the Cold War and everybody else in the family is just kind of an added on [piece?].
There's good stuff in there, don't get me wrong, but it's not exactly what I'm aiming at. Alright.
Linda Richards: Excuse me?
Chris O'Brien: Yeah?
Linda Richards: It's interesting that you said in 1945 the pronouncement was "children need to save the world," and then you look at like twenty years down the road, then we have the Civil Rights movement and we have "Summer of Love" after that and it's—could be a really strong argument made that those are related.
Chris O'Brien: So, it's actually, if you caught this, that the idea is that those children grew up to be radical. Is that?—that pushing back against this, the atomic era, we end up with hippies, we end up with people who say "Summer of Love." That argument's been out there since 1965. People tie it in to Dr. Spock, your baby childcare book, permissive parenting, people tie it to the backlash against the atomic age. It's a voice that early on is heard from conservative psychologists who say "the problem with kids today," and by the way, you tell me when you graduated, I can tell you what the problem with you was, turns out you were a problem too, it's the—in some ways that kind of became the common sense of it, that it's this backlash. I haven't been able to show that. I haven't been able to find that. The other things that I had been told that I should be able to find are gender differences between boys and girls in their response. I haven't found that either. Some of the—so I'll go back to your first question.
Chris O'Brien: I'll go back to your first one. It turns out that that Summer of Love generation, many of whom are now in power, some are very conservative and some are very liberal. They all want—they all dove under their desks, right? What people took from that experience is not directly correlated to [unintelligible]. There's connections there; they're tough. But I understand what you're saying.
Alright, here we go. General Electric, which is where I'm going to get—
Chris O'Brien: Yeah this is 1945. General Electric hands these out all over: schools, state fairs, everywhere. It's pushing for peaceful nuclear power. This is "Dagwood and Blondie Split the Atom," it is handed out primarily to children, it is aimed primarily at adults. Dagwood is not really a kid's comic. Mandrake the Magician is really not a kid's comic. And this tiny little text that explains how nuclear energy works, (atomic energy in '49), not really friendly for kids, but they're good people to hand it to. General Electric, by their count, did a little better than two million of these to hand out all around the country. Dagwood does split the atom with it. He blows a neutron into it and it splits. Yeah, it's a nice thing.
This is an interesting one because it kind of makes that connection. Teachers are brought in on this with comic book artists, with General Electric scientists, with U.S. government scientists, with Civil Defense Administration, they're all brought in together to dream up how to do this. And that connection between those various aspects of American [unintelligible] education industry, art and children, continues to be true. The message is "rah rah, we're going to have more power than we know what to do with, and it will all be safe, because Dagwood's there," and yeah, it's problematic.
Alright, but...to connect this back in. Ava Helen Pauling, whose name I want to say wrong each time, and probably will, was a member of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, is that right? A woman wrote to her, said "I'm a member of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Rockaway Branch. Although I object to my son [Grant?], 10 years old, reading comic books, he brought this one to me from his collection. He seems very glad I'm active in the League and in this community." If it's hard to see, it's a General receiving a shipment of atomic bombs, being assured by another General that "as long as we have them then we've got nothing to worry about." At the end he's in bed with his wife saying "I can't sleep."
Linda Richards: Wow.
Chris O'Brien: The Pauling collection turned out to be filled with little bits and pieces of interesting things and in an odd way the Paulings themselves are problematic. They're problematic because they're too far left for children in America. They're too far left to regularly appear in Weekly Reader, for instance. They're too far left, and you get investigated by Congress, it's probably not you're name that's going to appear in front of children. But they seem to be very much concerned, although their kids are older than the ones I'm interested in, they seem to be very much concerned about the fate of the world and the fate of children. Linus Pauling himself makes the connection over and over and over again. So this is from a talk that he gave, and I'm going to show you a little clip that corresponds with it. [Unintelligible] kind of wants. It's about three minutes long, if it works.
Linus Pauling: Fallout, radioactive fallout, causes damage to the pool of human germ plasm that will result -- that does result -- in the birth of an additional number of defective children. I have estimated that the amount of increase in the mutation rate as a result of radioactive fallout carried on at the present rate is one-percent. Testing at the present rate leads to a one-percent increase in mutation rate, a one-percent increase in the number of defective children who will be born in the future.
Now, Professor Beadle, Professor of Biology, Chairman of the Division of Biology at the California Institute of Technology, one of the world's leading geneticists, a distinguished authority in this field, and conservative in all of this statements, has told me that in his public statements, he has also made the estimate of one-percent.
Now there are, every year, 75 million children born in the world. Two percent of these children are seriously deficient because of heredity of bad genes -- the bad genes that are in the pool of human germ plasm -- partially due to the natural radioactivity and cosmic rays, and now being increased by fallout. The two-percent of 75 million is 1.5 million seriously defective children born each year, with various grave diseases that cause them to die shortly after birth or in early childhood, to have mental deficiency or serious physical defects that makes them suffer all of their lives or live their lives in a mental institution.
One percent increase in this is fifteen-thousand seriously defective children a year. This is the number according to my estimate, Dr. Beadle's estimate, the estimates of Professor Crow -- another distinguished geneticist -- this is the number that will be born each year when equilibrium is reached.
Moreover, the amount of testing at the present time corresponds to one large bomb, one super bomb with ten megatons of fission released. We can say, accordingly, that the man who gives the order to test a single large superbomb with high-fission yield, is dooming 15,000 seriously defective children to be born in later generations.
Chris O'Brien: What Pauling does, and he does it over and over again, he says that—this is a debate with Edward Teller, and Teller's counter is "Maybe. Maybe your estimates are right, maybe, but we don't know." It's a debate in American politics that's framed in terms of children. That should surprise no one who knows anything about our American politics. It's a gruesome debate that's framed in terms of children, also not uncommon in American politics. Other views? There's a trick, isn't there?... Because I like [unintelligible]. Just so you know, Pauling's numbers and the effects there—so here's a talk that he had, my favorite part of it, this poster that is probably hard for you to see if you're any distance away, there's a special children's program at the Bomb Fallout Survival giant public meeting, which I find fascinating. It would be nice to know what happened there. That debate about children has been there since the beginning. So even this, it's [not even years?] before that bomb speech, Ralph he asks "must we hide?" Saying "no, chances are exceedingly small that the offspring will be monsters."
That question about how to deal with children in the atomic age is a debate, and it's a debate about national security and it's a debate about children. It's a debate about parenting and social responsibility, as well. Are we better off by standing strong against the Russians, or are we better off by testing and ducking and covering; are we better off by working for a stronger United Nations, it's a debate. It's a difficult debate. I think that I would like it to be easier. I know 110 million people who went through a whole lot of duck and covering, and they came out in all sorts of different ways.
Alright, so from upstairs as well, this is actually relatively late, 1962, a story about fallout [unintelligible] in milk, 1959, cesium-137. I love the picture, the "DANGER radioactive" sign on the milk bottle. It's actually a CND sign, a peace sign, letter. "The Truth about Horror Fallout in Your Food," just because I think that it should be—you've got to put these things in context. In the same magazine there's a picture of this two and a half year old kid who smokes three and a half—or three cigars a day. They're not sure why he likes them so much. But I am sure they'd let that two and a half year old smoke three cigars a day in order to make this story. So yeah, the important parts here are relatively easy to see. It is a debate framed in terms of children. It's a debate where the fears are often bigger than the science that backs it. Alright, so I'm going to read you a little story. There's three of these that are coming, I promise they're relatively short, but I've got to take out my glasses, so you all just disappeared to me.
"Hurry up," June 15th, 1945, Houston. "Hurry up,' young Stanley Christmas, 13 years old, said impatiently to his mother as the family hurried down the steps. Mary-Lou, 11, followed them. Mrs. Dorothy Christmas had already expressed her slight nervousness while they waiting for the signal to go into the shelter. ‘I'm not worried,' she said, "because everything is so carefully planned.' The shelter, constructed by Houston firms, is fifteen feet deep in the rear of a new home at 5102 [Jackwood?]. The shelter is cylindrical, thirteen feet in diameter, and equipped with food and water, cots, chairs and tables. Games for the children and a radio were installed for more comfort. Mrs. Christmas had not neglected her children's schoolwork. ‘I'm going to spend some time on Mary-Lou's arithmetic and help Stanley with his spelling,' she said. A third child, Dorothy-Jan, had to be left with relatives during the test because of her age. An intercommunication system connects the Christmases with a nurse on duty in the home, who will contact the family every five hours, or every four hours during their stay."
The Christmas family is participating in a shelter survival test for a week, got the house for free. It was a way for home builders to talk about how great their homes were in 1955, the year after the fallout controversy in 1954. It really popped into public consciousness. "We have safe homes. These people were going to go down into the shelter for a week and show you how easy it is to survive in our pre-built shelters." There you go. Hold on to that, hold on to the Christmas story. There are—I'll read it to you, there are a number of ways, I only gave you one here, but I'll tell you my favorite in a moment, where children speak out about what's going on in the world around them. So 1955 as well—'58, I'm sorry.
"Dear President Eisenhower, our third grade class is interested in recession. We think the county should build better homes—or better schools, factories and houses. We think the country should not waste money to try to keep up in the race for outer space or on testing H-bombs. We hope you will think about our ideas." This is from Christina [Belche?] in the Eisenhower files. Twenty-two nearly identical letters in the files. Twenty-two almost word for word letters in those files. I'm not sure that I've actually gotten the voice of children here, so much as I may have gotten the voice of the teacher. Twenty-two times the teacher, Mrs. White from Pinole-Hercules High School, Pinole California. If you're from California and you know how to say that, come fix me later. One of my favorites is someone who writes to Ike and says "our class is talking about issues in our world and we're most concerned about testing and we want to know your thoughts, and as this assignment is due soon, I ask you to be prompt." That's an actual place, that's one where you know, that's some kid.
Alright, so you can't possibly see this, I'll just tell you what it says. This is a letter from grandparents who write in, and it ends up in the hands of [Persons?], I just lost his first name, it will come to me in a moment—[William Persons?], who's high chief of staff for a couple years. Grandparents write him to send along a letter that their granddaughter had sent to them and asked what did he think of this. The granddaughter is—two, Marjorie and Patsy, age 8 and 7, this is from Marjorie [Rose?]:
"Dear Grandma and Grandpa, I got your letter and I do not owe Aunt Marge any money. I still like this school and my grades are up very high. I have a hunch you would like to know about the wars of the United States. I figure that they will bomb New York first. The reason we might have a war is because President Eisenhower will not get rid of the soldiers of the United States. Whose side are you on, the president of Russia or the president of the United States, President Eisenhower? I'm on President Eisenhower's side. I hope you are too. All I can say is keep up your chin up and go all the way up. I'm just writing this letter to say goodbye forever or hell for many years. Your love, Marjorie [Rose?].
So the team of staff writes back and he says "the President asked me to acknowledge your recent communication. Your thoughtfulness in bringing this correspondence is much appreciated," boilerplate, "from the thousands of letters which children write to him every week, the president is afforded ample evidence that America's youngsters are concerned not only with national affairs, but with world affairs. These boys and girls write him their views, ask questions, offer suggestions, and now and then, as with your granddaughter, they air some feelings of uncertainty. Such feelings are understandable. But I want to assure you the president and other leaders of the free world are doing, and will continue to do, everything in their power to promote a just and lasting peace for this and future generations."
Of those thousands of letters, the Eisenhower library saved about three hundred of them. They're on a whole variety of topics, thousands and we come to three hundred. There are a few that are like this, that are kept. There's much that's been lost as well, I'm afraid.
Alright, so I'm going to talk faster, because I see my clock running here. There are a handful of things that governments at all levels try to get to help folks acclimate. This is "Protection from the Atomic Bomb," this one actually came from Massachusetts, you can find it, probably Oregon's got one that looks almost identical. They may have put the word Oregon down here on the cover, but I have seen literally dozens of these from around the country. They are almost all identical. There a little piece at the end that switches to your state capital and where you can turn your radio on your local place. But other than that, they're mostly the same. This is "The Family Survival Handbook," which is actually privately—I think written is the wrong word—it's a collection of these, stapled together by an author and published. It's a bestseller, sells like crazy, and it's illustrated, [not?] well. So this is from that first—hard to see, woman holding a baby. Kid putting out a fire with a shovel full of dirt. Speaks about the difficulties if you're at home, what you do, how the bombs affect people.
So here's number 3: "By Atomic Radiations like X-rays": These are invisible. You cannot feel them. A small amount will not harm you but too much can cause death. They reach to a mile and a half through the air. Concrete or steel can slow and stop them. They cannot penetrate far into earth; that is why cellars and subways make good shelters." And then, and I swear I didn't make this up, it says "If you see no immediate danger, look for a chance to help others."
I think that's not good advice. I think that given the invisible and lasting effects of—I think that at least there should have been a page in between those things. Like I said, it's the same thing; the states just put their own label, but over and over again. It's one of the most widely distributed of the Civil Defense pamphlets, and it's that problematic.
Audience Member: Excuse me, on that last slide it said if a bomb did explode in the air the radiation danger was over in how many minutes?
Linda Richards: A minute.
Chris O'Brien: Yeah.
Audience Member: One minute?
Chris O'Brien: Are you doubting? I see a certain amount of hesitation there. Huh. Yeah, should be fine, haha. There is a certain amount of skepticism about the purpose of these. Let's go back. I'll try and do a fair version of this. There is an acknowledgement by Civil Defense planners that people are going to die, and the question is really how do you press on. So some of the advice is just plain wrong, and if you read back through how they talk about how they're going to give the wrong advice, they actually debate these things. It's pretty gruesome stuff, so there's famously the book by Herman Kahn on thermonuclear war that estimates how many people are going to die and can we survive and what can we make of this and that, but they're talking about this on a regular basis. You're right to be skeptical. But it's actually not necessarily safety advice [unintelligible]. Just because everybody ought to build their own fallout shelter with a kid lying in the mortar I should say. I like the idea that Junior's lying in the mortar, my dad would not have let me build a fallout shelter and trusted it. So that last part is most important.
Alright, I'm not leaving Boy Scouts alone. If you would like one of these pamphlets the Boy Scouts of America is your way to go. Several times during this time period they participate—they cooperate with the Civil Defense Authorities, both the federal and the state, to hand out pamphlets. So this is one of the bigger ones, 1958, 40 million boy scout [in good?] turns to 40 million families, is the intent for it. All the boy scouts of America hand out at least one pamphlet apiece. That's not the same pamphlet you just saw, but might as well be. It is that way that, even though they're problematic, I think, from the bad advice about going out, that we're using children. These are the people who are going to go out and make America safe.
Alright, so I'm doing a couple of voices, you ready? I promised you there'd be voices in here. This is from the collection here, guy named Glenn O'Brien, no relation at all, Glenn O'Brien wrote a piece called "I Remember Civil Defense." So I'm just going to give you a quick little start of what he wrote:
"When I reported for kindergarten at St. Rose School in Cleveland in 1953 the teacher gave me a dog tag. It had my name punched on it and my address and my blood type. Mine was O, which was pretty good, because that was the only thing Civil Defense stored, since everybody likes it." Glenn O'Brien's piece is actually really well done. It's smart; it's funny in a truly frightening tragic sort of smart-funny kind of way. It winds his life in and out of civil defense in the Cold War, and unfortunately it appeared in this magazine. If you think historians have a hard time taking comic books and saying "this is a reliable source," show up at a conference with High Times and say "this is where"—yeah, so. It's actually really well done. What he has to say is similar to other things that I've read elsewhere and he really does a good job with it. It's kind of unfortunate this is the only place I've ever seen it. But it is upstairs. It's a great little read if you'd like to see a closer version of this thing.
Alright, so as promised here we go, I'm going to go fast. The last of the shelter crises for American kids is the 1961/62 crisis. [Unintelligible], John F. Kennedy arriving at the presidency is actually a very difficult time in the American Cold War. It's incredibly tense. He's fared better with folks after he was dead; pretty tense while he was in office. The president called for a national civil defense program, including shelter building. There was a huge push by the Civil Defense Administration to encourage people to build shelters, to encourage towns and counties and individuals to build shelters. And conveniently, right here—did I mention how I stumble on more than I ever go looking for? Right upstairs in the special collections is the Oregon Civil Defense News, and that is [Lynn Davis?], ten years old in 1961, when she and her family went down into a shelter for a week. And she kept a diary. No idea. I'd never heard of this, I've never seen it referenced anywhere, I walked upstairs looking for a fallout—or downstairs—looking for a fallout map that covered Corvallis. Didn't find one of those; found this instead. Completely random. That's [Lynn?] with her sister and little brother. Oh, go backwards. Her parents and her grandmother. So I got two days of [Lynn?], neither of them are very long, as you might imagine, and I'll fill you in a little bit on the rest. Here's the first day:
"We arrived at the Portland Sheraton Hotel at the 10:30 am, November 1, 1961, [Lynn Davis?]. We went into a suite and Dr. M. Urman," I'm, guessing; U-R-M-A-N, kind of hard to tell, "examined all of us to be sure we were all in good health. After the examination we went to the [Promenade?] room and had a delicious lunch, knowing this would be our last good meal for a week. Then we left the hotel and went to the shelter, which was built in the hotel parking lot. At the shelter we were introduced to Governor Mark O. Hatfield. I spoke to him for a short time. Pictures were taken. At 11:45 am we entered the shelter. Governor Hatfield sealed the door. We finally were settled. The shelter is smaller than we thought it would be. The shelter is 7 feet wide, 19 feet long and 6 ½ feet high. At one end is the air pump. We'll have to crank this pump by hand every hour for three to five minutes to change the air in the shelter. We have two cots on the floor and above them are two foldout Navy cots. When not in use, we chain these against the wall. We have sleeping bags instead of bedding. From the end of the bunks, on one wall, is Daddy's broadcast equipment and on the other wall, our table, which is six feet long. We have shelves on the wall above the table for canned food. Canned water, games, etcetera, are stored on the floor under the cots. At the door end of the shelter is a partition. In this area we have a campsite toilet and two airtight garbage cans, battery operated lights, transistor radios and six camper stools. We also have two canaries. They are very important, we need them to judge whether or not we are getting enough good air. As long as they stay on their perches and keep singing, we know we are okay. But if the air is bad, they would fall off. The heat is comfortable. I don't have any of the comforts of home, I don't miss television. The only thing I dislike is that it's too small. When I got to bed I say the Lord's prayer. For supper we had beans, tomato juice and canned mandarin oranges. During the day we played fun [cards? Cards, Yertle and [Dingle?]."
Yertle is "Yertle the Turtle," a Dr. Seuss game Milton Bradley came out with.
"The whole family's here, Mommy, Daddy, Granny, Bonnie, Greg and myself. Bonnie is seven years old, Greg is three years old and I'm ten years old. So that's November 1st. Each day she goes through, tells when she gets up. She normally gets up—she's an early riser—she normally gets up somewhere between 5:45 and 6:15.
"November 6, 1961. I got up at 8:40 am. We got dressed and washed and had breakfast and cleaned the birdcages as usual. Today we have a problem. Our large garbage can is filled with waste and the smaller one is filled with water we used to wash dishes and wash our faces. We must empty the small one somehow. Mommy and Daddy decided to open the tops of the empty one gallon cans that our drinking water came in. They lined each of these cans with a plastic bag and filled it with the dirty water from the small garbage can. Now this can is free from more waste and we will be able to stay until Wednesday. The lights are also a problem, as they are getting very dim. We've used four batteries and have no more. Our doctor phones us twice each day. We cannot phone out. I felt tired and a bit sleepy today. When I first entered the shelter it seemed a bit small. It seems larger now. For breakfast we had eggs and Melba toast. For lunch, soup, crackers and canned oranges. For supper, beef stew, apricots and cookies."
Alright, so here you go.
Linda Richards: Any follow up to—oh, okay.
Chris O'Brien: Check the footnotes, here we go, you ready? I mentioned the problem with dealing with children. The best evidence that we have for how children thought about atomic issues is a series of surveys conducted by Sibylle Escalona and [Milton Schwebel?]. A version of this pamphlet also exists in this book. It's an edited collection. Escalona, who begins publishing in the 19—early 1940s, is still around. I'm trying to go see parts of her collection; I have to get her permission. I haven't been able to secure that yet. Several of these people have listened to me beat my head against that particular wall the last week or two. [The difficulty for us?], called "Children and the Threat of Nuclear War," she interviews in a series of interviews, both closed questions and open-ended questions, asks children about nuclear war in '61 and '62, except she takes the children out and goes with junior high and high school kids, so she's got 130 interviews with kids from 6 to 13 that have never been published anywhere. And the reason, which she says in several different places, is it's too difficult to interpret. So you might imagine, I want those. I would love to put my hands on those very things. They've never been out; they've never been published.
[Schwebel?] also looked at high school students; four open-ended questions: Do you think there'll be a war? Do you think we'll be safe? Big, huge, open-ended questions looking for children's feared. Both of these studies conducted in New York separately, but then they joined their efforts together over time. They are famous among historians who do what I do, but neither of these things sees much light of day because both Escalona and [Schwebel?] are part of those left-wingers that I mentioned, don't actually play all that much, yeah. So the best news that we have, the best take that we have comes from folks where the message just doesn't get out that much. A tragic thing, as far as I'm concerned, that the American politics [unintelligible]. This turns out to be—"Children and the Threat of Nuclear War" turns out to be a developmental approach to how you can acclimate your child to the idea that a nuclear war is coming. She's a developmental psychologist. It's an interested and troublesome read. It's pretty much devoid of the survey data. Little bits and pieces come through, so I'll give you the quick version of hers. The theory is that this is a problem for white middle and upper-class kids, that nobody else really worries about it. And what she finds is that's not really the case, that she doesn't really find the class divide. Maybe, because her sample says it's relatively small, 310, it's still there, but what she finds doesn't show up. [Schwebel?]'s is bigger but all he does [unintelligible] in New York, so really no way to tell if there's a racial component there.
In both cases, here you go, here's the takeaway from either of them: children, in this case slightly older than the children I'm concerned with, think deeply and often about the threat of nuclear war and about international affairs, that they make these links in their lives, that you might have gathered wouldn't be that hard to make, because it's there over and over and over again.
Alright, so two stories to finish. You ready? [Lynn Davis?] says, in her last entry, so they get out, they meet the governor who unseals the door as well, they have pictures again, the doctor checks them out, they get a good meal in the hotel, there's family time, she gets to watch TV, which turns out she actually did miss. She ends it by saying "I hope there's not a war, but if there is, I'm pretty certain that we would be okay in the shelter." So I want to get this right when I give you what Mrs. Christmas says. Mrs. Dorothy Christmas. Oh, by the way, didn't get the house. Three and a half days, they left at three and a half days. Mrs. Christmas, interviewed, says: "husbands and wives are going to have to get along together if they're going to live in bomb shelters. We don't argue, really we don't,' Mrs. Christmas told newsmen, ‘but I can imagine what would happen if two hot-tempered people had been down there together.' She really enjoyed her stay, she went on to say: ‘it was the first time that I had so many of my family together for so long a period of time just by ourselves. Of course it was difficult to cook with everyone in my way and sometimes the children competed for attention when things got boring, but on the whole it was very nice and comfortable."
Alright, so here's my takeaway, you ready? There's all sorts of stuff here. This has been a great experience for me. There's been more stuff than I came here looking for and that I stumbled upon, than I ever would have imagined possible. For children in the early years of the atomic age, they are Cold Warriors. Whether they want to be or not, they are pulled into this. The diving under the desks, the atomic ephemera that filled their lives, they're there. The boy scouts telling you to take a pamphlet and go to 40 million homes, it's there. It's very much a part of it. The fact that 26 years on we're still using the same quotes from the guy who wrote the original ones turns out to be problematic. But I'm hoping to help fix some of that. Mostly by stumbling into things.
And there's this one last little bit. I thought I'd toss in a few voices. So here's an investigation: the Senate Congressional Atomic Energy Research and Development and Radiation Subcommittee. So they were giving Dr. Tompkins, who's the head of the National Radiation Council, says "I know Senator Bartlett, Democrat of Alaska, [unintelligible] indicated the children of Palmer Alaska, St. Louis, Salt Lake City and Minneapolis have been receiving far more Iodine-131 than they are able to absorb, and your comment on whether we expect them to pass out the picture very early. Should we therefore stop building schoolhouses right away? Or might there be some recovery for these youngsters who've been statistically damaged?" Alright, that seems like a cruel place to end. So I'll end it there. Question?
Audience Member: Is that Bugs Bunny, basically?
Chris O'Brien: Actually, this is Atomic Bunny, he is saving the [hippo unintelligible?] here who are vegetables, as near as I can tell. He's one of the standard superhero stuff. I don't know why he's atomic other than it says he's atomic in the title.
Audience Member: I wonder if he had counterparts in Europe, because I wonder if the fact that the US didn't really suffer any war in World War II makes a difference, that something like Civil Defense, which is for maintaining the civil—it's not for protection so much as for maintaining...
Chris O'Brien: Calm?
Audience Member: Calm, right. And I think it seems to me it would have been much more of an unknown quantity in the U.S. than maybe in Europe or England, where they actually experienced a lot of bombs. It was a sort of we had that—I'd hear tell about that, but not the real thing.
Chris O'Brien: So I haven't done much with Europe and I'm more familiar with what's happening in England and Germany than anywhere else in Europe, and they're quite different. As you might imagine, they're really quite different. Both had large scale shelter programs during the war, both of them effectively zero funded shelter programs the day the war ended. I mean they just cut off funding for those things. The U.S. effectively did the same thing. We had shelters in bigger cities and pretty much zero funded the whole program. Their funding for shelter programs comes back more quickly than ours does. I don't see this, though. I don't see the same sorts of things. In part I suspect for what you're suggesting. They've been through it. The—it's an interesting question. I don't have much of an answer to it.
Linda Richards: Well, it's interesting because "The Simpsons." It's like the same thing, here's a stupid kind of adult guy who's working at the nuclear power plant owned by the evil Burns, and then the smart person who is going to save everybody is Lisa, the daughter who is smart, and she is very liberal.
Chris O'Brien: Right, right, yeah. It's clear that Matt Groening has embraced a lot of this, the message that he's carrying out there is pretty much [unintelligible]. So—
Linda Richards: He's from here; he's the same age as them.
Chris O'Brien: Yeah, that's an interesting connection. I hadn't thought about it quite that way, but seems pretty much dead-on, doesn't it? Will?.
Audience Member: How did you get involved in this research [unintelligible]?
Chris O'Brien: So my [unintelligible] was a lefty. Damn lefty. I was a [unintelligible] I was part of the [unintelligible] movement. So I went to grad school, originally I wanted to write an intellectual history of the atomic bomb and this was a sideline project that kind of caught my attention and then I've just been meandering around that for twenty years. The—but it really came to me through politics, originally. It was there. It struck me, so my own personal little bit; I was in seventh grade I went to Catholic school, and then Father Allen [Rankson?] was the cool priest. I know because he told us. He asked us at one point "do you think the world's going to survive?" It wasn't a terribly tense time, I was twelve. It wasn't a particularly tense time. About every single kid raised their hand, and I thought even at twelve, this is a bizarre way to grow up. This is a really strange way to see the world. We just assumed that somebody'd push a button, and—it just struck me even then that it's really an odd way. We've dealt with it in part by moving toward completely ignoring the issue now. That most people who didn't go through this grew up after '63, where it probably didn't make sense.
Audience Member: Yeah, it's interesting because I have [unintelligible], I was born in '61 and my parents are old enough, they were born pre-world war, so they didn't—they weren't in school. They didn't duck and cover either. So we kind of both missed it, kind of book-ended it.
Chris O'Brien: Right, so it does, if you were born in '61, it does depend on where you grew up. The closer you are to a military installation the more likely that this lasted longer in your life. Paranoid teacher could stretch that out longer, but for most folks ‘63's pretty much the end of it. It's the test ban in '63, where the testing moves underground, so the issue disappears from the landscape, I believe is the way that I've seen it phrased. It's a nice phrase.
Chris Petersen: How about during the Reagan era?
Chris O'Brien: So yeah, '80, ‘81/'82, so the big push starts in ‘78/'79 with the move toward "let's move new missiles to Europe," which begins a huge ripple around the globe, anti-nuclear campaign. There's a lot of debate then about what's going to happen with children. [unintelligible] in on this. So I'll do the easy one, in the movie "The Day After," have you seen "The Day After"? If you haven't seen "The Day After," go rent it. It's horrible, truly, absolutely devastating; horrible. There's a big debate in school associations about what should we tell kids if they see the film? How should we deal with this? So in the early 1980s we've got a—we revisit the same topic all over again. There's a push in the early 1980s to encourage people to build fallout shelters. So it's changed its name yet again, but I'm going with The Office of Civil Defense, because it's close enough, right? The interim director of the Office of Civil Defense suggested that people just take a door and pile three feet of dirt on top of it, and if you're behind the door, that that will be enough to stop the blast and radiation. I don't know how you are with visualizing things, but putting dirt on top of the door, so yeah, it was back again.
Linda Richards: How many bomb shelters were built, do you know? Because actually I grew up in suburbs outside of Salem and I don't think I knew anybody who had one. They were a total status symbol, though.
Chris O'Brien: Right. So Kenneth Rose has written a book called America Underground and he estimates somewhere between a hundred thousand and a couple million. So then, is that a nice ballpark for you? The number—Larry can—
Larry Landis: It's possible that in other parts of the country they were touted as being used for other purposes, like storms, protection from tornadoes, that kind of thing. I grew up in the Midwest and I don't remember fallout shelters, but tornado shelters, absolutely.
Chris O'Brien: Yeah, there were tornado shelters where I grew up too. Next door, [unintelligible].
Audience Member: I'm very interested in learning more about the test kits that you were kind of mentioning early, that were for sale and they were advertised in Boy's Life, and [unintelligible]. I know I've seen them before [unintelligible] museum, and I was interested, do you know how expensive they were at the time? Like did you ever notice how [unintelligible] they went up in price or anything?
Chris O'Brien: I didn't. They—so the one that Chris sent me they only made for about a year and a half, because they're actually shipping radio isotopes around and it turns out that even in the early 1950s they say that's probably not a good idea. But I wonder if there's a price on the box here.
Audience Member: I was also wondering, did you notice whether—in your studies—whether experiments became more dangerous? What we would call more dangerous [unintelligible]?
Chris O'Brien: No, in fact the test kit thing, really relatively brief. There's only a few years from roughly the end of the war until ‘51/'52 where you see many of them at all. And you ready? Wild theory: the hydrogen bomb may change the attractiveness of teaching your kid how to build atomic weapons. That right down there, in the tiny, tiny little print, there's a price tag. I guarantee you I won't be able to see it. Oh, I'll get a bigger one of those images to pull up later.
Linda Richards: My partner has a ton of old comic books. He was born in '61, and this nuclear theme is still throughout that kind of literature in whenever the 70's and...
Chris O'Brien: Oh sure. So, is there a comic book fan in here? Okay, then I can talk. Anybody knows what they're talking about about comic books, they feel the urge to help me, and they should, ‘cause it's not my area. Silver Age heroes; so the Marvel comics heroes, the X-Men, Spiderman, those are all radioactive sort of things. Cosmic rays for the Fantastic Four, radioactive spider for Spiderman. There's a resurgence of that, so it goes through, those are Silver Age, if you're a comics fan, where it comes back again. There's a resurgence again in the early 1980s, that new nuclear powered [unintelligible]. So yeah, it does track very much [unintelligible].
Audience Member: I was just thinking wouldn't that make sense though, that the children who grew up reading about nuclear issues in their comic books would then grow up to create heroes?
Chris O'Brien: So, alright—
Audience Member: Are there, have you checked out the—
Chris O'Brien: No, no, I'm with you, let me flip the counterargument [past?] you, which I don't know that I buy either because I haven't really given a whole lot of thought to this, but it goes back to your question earlier, which is does this raise anti-atomic activists, or does it raise people who embrace the atom? And I don't think folks have sorted that out, I mean I think the evidence probably goes both ways. But it's a fair assumption. I don't even know how I would figure it out.
Audience Member: With respect to the anti—well I would say anti-war activists because that was the message throughout the fifties, was "you start a war, it's going to end in nuclear war," and so that was certainly everybody I knew in the sixties against the Vietnam War. That was the progression of it was part of the initial interest, and then it probably fueled the more obvious first example would have been the Cuban missile crisis in the early sixties. I guess I also don't know, having read comic books in the fifties, all of this, you know the green shiny stuff probably went right over my head. I wasn't making any connections to nuclear weapons. It was green shinny stuff and kept—it wasn't good for superman and something else wasn't good for this, our enemies. But there was a lot of anti—or rather, yeah anticommunist scare going through the school system I think.
Chris O'Brien: Oh Sure.
Audience Member: In a comic, you know, just the kinds of free movies that you got to show kids about red china. Which again though, I think it's interesting to study children because I don't think necessarily what you see—you are shown a film like that but I don't know that you necessarily take in the message that was intended perhaps by the adults that showed it to you. I know in the case of China, the Red China film, I remember part of it was them saying "they're going to take over the world and take over the U.S., or they want to surpass us. I thought to myself in that film "well that's kind of cool that they want to be better than us," so it's like what you say and what kids hear are two different things.
Chris O'Brien: So there is a debate in the 1940s about the effectiveness of films shown to us in classrooms. It runs right along those lines of "are our kids getting what we want them to get and how do you most effectively"—so the shorthand [unintelligible] mental hygiene films will straighten those kids brains out. But there's a debate in the 1940s as films cheapen up to go into classrooms right about then. About how do we know that kids are getting outcomes based—how do we know that kids are getting what we want them to get. And I suspect that the same debate's going on now [unintelligible]. Yeah, it's...there are literally thousands at this point that are produced by the organizations of the American government.
Audience Member: You know I think your take on the Paulings is absolutely right in terms of their being so—schemed as so far to the left.
Chris O'Brien: Sure.
Audience Member: The hilarious thing about that of course is that they were free speech internationalists, which is of course far left wing in the United States. And my question for you is—my question for you is was there anyone less perceived, I mean less left perceived—I can't say it—who would be acceptable as an anti-nuclear war spokesperson for children in American society at the time? I should know the answer, but I don't.
Chris O'Brien: That's a great question but I think the answer is mostly no. The—it depends on where you are, but the way that anything's adopted to your school is through your school boards, and often by the 1940s we were at the state level of school curriculum control. So the avenues into classrooms are narrowing. So it becomes much political, that fight over what goes on in classrooms is much more political in the forties and fifties. There is that early, the scientist movement that—
Audience Member: Very early.
Chris O'Brien: Very early. And so there are those folks, but they're out of the picture by '48, '49.
Audience Member: Exactly right.
Chris O'Brien: And then until Women Strike for Peace, 1960, there's really this gap in there, kind of linear gap where there isn't an identifiable person who's regularly appeared in children's literature and children's materials that I'm aware of. I'd love to be wrong, but I don't see anything else.
Audience Member: I don't—no, I don't think you are wrong. I don't think you are wrong, I think that's exactly right, that if you spoke out about the dangers of nuclear fallout, you were ipso facto unacceptable in mainstream American discourse.
Chris O'Brien: So I'll soften that a little bit by saying that there's an awful lot of discussion about fallout. There is a lot of discussion about fallout but it's often about survivability.
Chris O'Brien: Yes.
Chris O'Brien: So one of my favorite letters, this started out a long time ago when I couldn't figure out how to get my [unintelligible] set out. I put ads in the newspapers around the country and said "write to me." And I got 1,175 responses, including people asking me to publish their poetry. About 400 of them were useful, so a third. So I get roughly a third, that's all right. One of my favorite, though it's a [throwaway?], I'll give you two, but one of my favorites is a girl who they had bomb shelter and she knew what to do if she was in the house when the bomb came, which is if you're going to open a can, turn it over, because the fallout might have settled on top of the cans, but the other side of the can will be fine. But then she became worried at about the same time because her mother served Russian dressing and she knew that the commies had infiltrated the salad dressing industry in America and [unintelligible]. And I had a lot of those. A lot of little funny people reflecting back on what they remember. But to give you one of the other ones, the one I've used often when [unintelligible] and grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, learned to ride a bike right around the time of the Cuban missile crisis. And so she could ride around her neighborhood and there was a week where her dad stayed home and her mom went to Raders, the local grocery store, and stocked up. And her dad never stayed home. Dad was never home. And they told her "you can't leave the block. Ride back and forth up and down the block, but you can't go any further than that." So there are those stories that are in there as well. They aren't all funny stories about it. Some thirty-five odd years on, that was not a happy memory for her.
Linda Richards: So is there an age where children become more independent thinkers and who maybe don't swallow everything that they learn in school about communists and then start thinking for themselves? Is that developmentally...
Chris O'Brien: So I am not a developmental psychologist or an educational psychologist, but my understanding is that the big push point for kids to do that independent thinking for school teachers is when they're in about 5th or 6th grade, is when they're really pushing kids to move into the "figure it out" model. Less memorization, less—and more of the "we want you to challenge what you know," within the bounds that are available for kids that age, right? So, and that's been uniformly true. It really hasn't changed over time. It's probably got to do with where kids are developmentally than where we think education should be. But right about there. It makes a nice break point for information like this because you can ask high school students who clearly have thought about this. But asking small children turns out to be more problematic. You have bits and pieces [unintelligible]. There is an awful lot of stuff that I've gathered that is "rah rah America," that is clearly parroting back what they've learned, often in a language that no kid would have, that you can hear [unintelligible]. And I don't do older—I don't do adolescents. But the folks who have— and there's more stuff on that, there's a couple of good books about adolescents in the atomic age. One of them is right here, [Michael Shaybucks? Atomic Teens?]. He and I were in grad school at the same time. He was working on adolescents, I was working on kids. Weird world. He's in a different department. The...the same pressure from on high: "this is what you should know," it's a little better but their responses on the nuclear push kind of worked greater in [Greg's?]. It can go either way.
Chris Petersen: Thanks Chris.
Chris O'Brien: Sure thanks. Thank you.
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