CIVIL DEFENSE: THE TRUMAN ADMINISTRATION:
United States. 1945-1952. One of President Truman's early actions in 1945 was to
complete the drawdown of civil defense as the progress of World War II made
attack on North America increasingly unlikely. In the absence of a threat,
Executive Order 9562 disestablished the Office
of Civilian Defense, an action consistent with a series of other terminations of
Early post-war examinations of civil defense roles in the Truman administration set the policy course for the future development of civil defense. Although the United States Strategic Bombing Survey reported in 1946 that wartime civil defense measures in Germany and Japan had had an impact on national survival and called for national efforts to minimize the effect of any future attacks on the United States, this was a minority view. The War Department Civil Defense Board, directed by Major General Harold R. Bull, released the Bull Report in 1947 advocating that civil defense was properly a civilian, not military, responsibility, and that this responsibility was best fulfilled as self-help by individuals and local organizations. This view was mirrored in the National Security Resources Boardís handbook on civil defense published in 1950; it assigned responsibility to individuals and local governments. This view of very limited Federal government responsibility for passive, civilian protection of its citizens remains a persistent theme for the entire history of civil defense and emergency management, and is in stark contrast with the Federal governmentís perception of the importance of the active, military defense of the nation.
As a result, President Truman took no action to reactivate a Federal civil defense program beyond the level of supporting planning for future crises. Truman believed civil defense was a state and local responsibility, even though there was interest from these levels of government in Federal leadership. Limited defense budgets meant that the armed services had little interest in taking on additional responsibilities, and there was a widespread perception that the Soviet Union would not pose a nuclear threat until 1953 at the earliest.
The events of 1949-1950 changed all this. The first detonation of a Soviet nuclear device in August 1949 set the stage. In response, President Truman established the Federal Civil Defense Administration in December 1949. This was followed in June 1950 by the start of the Korean War, and in November 1950 by intervention by forces of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army. In this environment the invasion of Korea was seen as a possible diversion to be followed by an attack on Europe and the United States. In response Congress passed two key pieces of legislation. The Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950 provided the statutory authority for the Federal Civil Defense Administration; the Defense Production Act established the basis for dispersal of the industrial base. The key provisions of the Federal Civil Defense Act included authority for planning, sheltering, and evacuation and support to states and localities with planning, technical guidance and assistance, training, and fifty-fifty matching grants for equipment.
To meet this mandate, the Federal Civil Defense Administration projected a $3 billion Civil Defense program, and the first budget request for $403 million was submitted to Congress in March 1951. Of this, $250 million was programmed to initiate a shelter program to identify existing shelters, upgrade potential shelters, and construct new shelters in target areas identified by the Department of Defense and the Federal Civil Defense Administration.
In a clear precursor to the fate of future Civil Defense budgets, Congress cut the 1951 request to $31.75 million. To some degree, this cut may have resulted from the failure of the Soviets to attempt to capitalize in Europe on the commitment of United States military forces in Korea. However, significant internal issues in the Civil Defense program may have been more important. Federal initiatives faced stiff opposition in the Appropriations Committees (especially from Clarence Cannon and Albert Thomas of the House Appropriations Committee) based both on philosophical and legal grounds. Because the Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950 fixed primary responsibility for Civil Defense on states and localities, Representatives and Senators argued that the federal responsibilities did not include paying for large acquisition and construction programs.
At the same time Civil Defense may not have been well served by its leadership and the lack of technical and programmatic expertise of its staff. Administrator Millard Caldwell lacked a Civil Defense background and is reported to have had some difficulty in working effectively with legislators, a surprising situation given his prior service as a Congressman and Governor. An initial estimate of $300 billion to provide a nationwide system of deep shelters to protect the entire population rapidly changed from a hypothetical comprehensive solution into the adequate solution. As a result, Congressional leaders had difficulty envisioning how commitments in the millions of dollars range would have a measurable impact on the overall population protection problem. The disconnect between the perfect solution, what was possible, and the perception of how annual programs contributed to meeting either was to bedevil Civil Defense programs for the next three decades.
Even when debate focused on the actual proposed $250 million program for the first year, the results were no better. Federal Civil Defense Administration staffers suggested a varied and confusing range of shelter programs: large underground community shelters, family shelter subsidies, dual-use shelter subsidies, and surveys and upgrades of existing shelters. Administration staff could not describe how they arrived at the projected budget request, for what the money would be used, or the operational benefit in terms of lives saved. The lack of a focused and supported approach made even Congressional advocates, including Estes Kefauver and Brien McMahon, ineffective in their efforts to develop reasonable compromises in an environment that focused on economy and a balanced budget.
The Federal Civil Defense Administration and Congress rapidly reached an impasse. Although the first year of operations of any new governmental program is potentially subject to a steep learning curve, the poor program definition and lack of internal coordination created an impression of ineffective program management and intransigence that influenced the effectiveness of Civil Defense for years to come. This intransigence and the failure to learn from experience were clear when the same budget request came back to Congress each year for the next two years, to meet the same fate, with average annual budgets of $50 million being approved.
President Truman supported the efforts of the Federal Civil Defense Administration, and forwarded their budget requests as submitted each year. However, the Civil Defense budget never reached the level of priority needed to receive significant Presidential efforts to ensure its passage.
Sources: Blanchard, B. Wayne, American Civil Defense 1945-1984: The Evolution of Programs and Policies, Washington, District of Columbia, United States of America, U. S. Government Printing Office, 1986. Vale, Lawrence J., The Limits of Civil Defence in the USA, Switzerland, Britain and the Soviet Union, New York, New York, United States of America, St. Martinís Press, 1987.
Entry 0113 - updated 12 August 2003