Wednesday, December 13, 2017

From the Archives: 'School Training for Civil Defense' (1981)

Some background may shed light on this 1981 article, retrieved from my paper archives.  Fortunately the story behind it has already been told, in a remembrance of celebrated debate coach James J. Unger, which I posted in April 2008:

The high school debate topic the previous year (1981-82) was "Resolved: That the federal government should establish minimum educational standards for elementary and secondary schools in the United States." I came up with the idea, based upon research I was doing in the real world -- if the world of Washington think tanks can be described as "real" -- that we should write a case about civil defense education in elementary and secondary schools.

The problem with this idea was that there was little, if any, information available about civil defense education. (There was some material from the 1960s, but nothing recent and little that was usable by debaters.) But I was convinced this could be a winning case.

So I asked Professor Unger, "What do you do when something is topical but so obscure that there is nothing written about it that you can use as evidence for inherency?" He replied that there was not much to do in that situation, other than to intensify your research and find the evidence you need.

My solution: since I had already had one article published on the topic of civil defense -- appearing in the Washington Star on October 10, 1980, months after I submitted it and based on research I did during the summer 1980 forensics institute -- and had subsequently become an officer in the American Civil Defense Association, I could just write another one, with a focus on education, that could be used as evidence to support our case.

And that's what I did. I submitted the article to several newspapers, and it was published in the New York Tribune (a sister newspaper to The Washington Times), just days before the institute tournament. We inserted the appropriate quotations into the case (not citing me by name), held others in reserve for second affirmative and rebuttals, and moved forward.

The case was relatively successful, with two of my teams making it into the elimination rounds. After the last round that one of the teams lost, they told me that my qualifications as a source had become an issue in the debate. The judge from that round added: "Your boys defended you valiantly, but they lost on other issues."

This is a long tale meant to be background of something that happened a couple of years later. As it was told to me, late one night while preparing for a tournament, members of the Georgetown debate team had hit a brick wall, unable to find the evidence they needed to complete a brief they were working on. Professor Unger popped up and said, "Well, why don't we just pull a Rick Sincere?" -- meaning, why not write an article and get it published in a reputable newspaper or journal? I don't think they ever followed through on that suggestion, but just the idea that my name became associated with a new debate tactic was enough to warm my ego.

This article was published in The News World, a New York City daily newspaper (later called the New York City Tribune), on July 28, 1981:

Richard Sincere
School Training for Civil Defense

Perhaps no aspect of the strategic competition between the United States and the Soviet Union is ignored more than civil defense and emergency preparedness. Americans waste too much effort in debates which obfuscate strategic issues by statistical manipulation of throw-weights, megatonnages, and MIRV capabilities. Public and policymakers alike are blind to the reality of the strategic balance: Deterrence of nuclear war depends as much on the willingness and ability to survive such a conflict as it does on the technical capacity to fight the battle.

News World School Training for Civil Defense 1981
Soviet political and military policies do not reflect a frightened belief in the universal destruction of nuclear war. Instead, they maintain that nuclear weapons are instruments for war-fighting. In many ways, Soviet leaders view nuclear weapons as extensions of conventional war-fighting techniques; Soviet military literature categorizes war by who does the fighting, not by the weapons which they use. Most importantly, Soviet military strategy is fundamentally a survival-oriented strategy.

One result of this thinking has been the establishment of a nationwide civil defense network. The chief of Soviet civil defense is an army general, filling an office equivalent to our own secretary of the Army. The Soviets treat civil defense as a co-equal branch of the military. On the other hand, in the United States responsibility for civil defense lies buried in an obscure bureau of the Department of Commerce called the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Which country takes its self-protection more seriously?

In accord with the principle of protecting their people from the ravages of nuclear war, the Soviets have launched an extensive training program in all public schools from elementary to university levels, and as continuing education industrial plants and communities. Towns and villages celebrate “civil defense days” as holidays, with sports competitions and games geared toward teaching the citizens survival techniques. And if some Soviet citizens scoff at these methods, they will at least have some skills to draw on in an emergency.

Soviet Civil Defense
A widely-circulated Soviet civil defense manual state: “Civil defense training in the public schools occupies an important place in preparing the people of our country for protection against weapons of mass destruction.” In contrast, the editor of the Journal of Civil Defense told me recently that “civil defense education has been badly neglected in the United States in the past few years. With no initiative from the higher levels, it apparently has fallen off to almost zero.”

This attitude seems unlikely to change. The shame of this neglect is that civil defense survival methods are so easy to teach. Generally, Soviet schools spend no more than 15-20 minutes each week on it, mostly in conjunction with sportsmanlike competition. One civil defense game involves nearly 20 million children each summer. The final match of this game, called “Summer Lightning,” is played in Leningrad as an object of intense national interest.

In the United States, inaccessibility to civil defense literature is the greatest obstacle to survival training. A good beginning for civil defense instruction in America’s public schools would be for the Department of Education to sponsor distribution of survival handbooks (such as Dr. Cresson Kearny’s “Nuclear War Survival Skills,” published in 1979) to all school libraries. Such a minimum requirement would allow individual school districts to expand civil defense education as much as they like, especially if assistance from the Department of Defense and FEMA were available.

Civil defense education will immeasurably increase the maintenance of a peaceful deterrent to nuclear war. As long as no civil defense training is available to United States citizens, our country remains a willing hostage to Soviet weapons with little hope of survival or recovery. Survival plays a major role in Soviet strategy and plays almost no role in our own. To neglect such a vital aspect of the strategic nuclear balance is to assure our own destruction.

Richard Sincere is research assistant for church and society at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. A member of the American Civil Defense Association, he also holds a degree in international affairs from Georgetown University.

Subsequent to this and other newspaper articles on civil defense, I testified on the topic before a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, discussed it on many television and radio shows, and published a journal article that was reprinted in pamphlet form by the Ethics and Public Policy Center, which included a foreword by actor Lorne Greene. It was a central focus of my professional life in the 1980s but faded into the background after I finished my master's degree at the LSE and the Cold War came to an end. Civil defense and nuclear weapons policy took a back seat to Africa policy.

As an added bonus, here is a 1950s-era government training (propaganda?) video about school-based civil defense education.

Despite the jokes about it, civil defense in the schools was much more than "duck and cover."

No comments: