Amid nuclear threats, public historically left out of plans
The recent threats from North Korea to unleash hellfire — or whatever Kim Jong-un was promising — brought back somewhat foggy memories of being a kid during the Cuban Missile Crisis . You know, you begin to wonder whether you’re going to see a flash on the horizon sometime soon.
So the question is: If we did get attacked with nuclear weapons, what would we do after?
Garrett Graff, the author of “Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself — While the Rest of Us Die,” tells me that there is no plan for the public. The book traces the history of continuity-of-government plans, in which the government and key leaders will be sheltered in order to, eventually, begin rebuilding the country.
Those plans include what would happen after a nuclear strike on the U.S., how and where we would launch our nukes, and how to rebuild. He says while the plans date back to the Cold War, they are still enforced today.
“The advice we see the government giving in the North Korea crisis, and even the facilities in which the government would retreat … are very much the same facilities as in the Cold War,” he told me.
In the meantime, the public fallout system has been abandoned.
“That’s absolutely right,” he said.
King County is just one of many examples of an area that prepared for nuclear war, but since abandoned those plans. KIRO 7 recently published a map of hundreds of fallout shelters that could have been used in a nuclear attack. The plan was distributed through five newspapers. But times have changed.
As KIRO 7 reports:
Many of the buildings have changed in the 45 years since the plan was developed, and many are private buildings. The plan was also meant to prepare residents for a major earthquake and other natural disasters.
However, a state law passed in 1984 now prevents Washington State Emergency Management from planning for a nuclear strike. Additional details on that law and the recent developments with North Korea are below the map.
Graff says the government had a “real hope” of protecting the public in the event of nuclear war. Those hopes faded as weapons technology improved.
“The idea that the civilian population would be protected in any meaningful way during a nuclear exchange was ultimately abandoned,” he said.
Which means we now rest our hopes on deterrents and the government’s ability to recover quickly and restore the country to some semblance of normalcy.
Though the general public seems to be left out of these plans, historic items, such as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address would, at least during the Cold War era, have been saved. Graff’s favorite detail is the plan for a special team of park rangers to evacuate the Liberty Bell in Pennsylvania.
Here’s hoping the government can also save the head of the Statue of Liberty to show in the post-apocalyptic documentary.
Listen to the entire interview with Graff here.