Gimme Shelter


CD. To the nineties student, it means a compact disc. That is, unless you're an Ec concentrator--then it means certificate of deposit. But to the Harvard student of the early sixties, CD stood for civil defense was at the core of an intense political, psychological and scientific debate that prompted 500 Harvard students to protest in front of the White House while others wrote editorials and responses to editorials back in Cambridge.

CIVIL DEFENSE encompassed a variety ofactivities, from keeping transportation andcommunication lines open to ensuring thathospitals remain functional and supplied. TheDefense Department drew up elaborate plans andprovisions, most of which are now probably burieddeep in a file cabinet in the Pentagon, never tobe uncovered. But one aspect of CD remains visibletoday--the hundreds of millions of certifiedfallout shelters that dot every town in thiscountry.

They are scattered throughout Harvard. Somepeople think that if a bomb hits, the safest placewould be Mather House. That assumption is not thatfar off. Civil defense experts regarded Harvard asthe key to Cambridge's salvation. The HarvardCorporation formed a Civil Defense StudyCommittee, and the group concluded that Harvard'sextensive network of tunnels and basements couldprovide 25,000 people with shelter from nuclearfallout. So if you said go to Mather when the bombhits, you were close. You'd be better off,however, in the Adams House tunnels.

In fact, beneath Adams House may be one of thesafest places in town. According to a Crimsonarticle in April 1962, food supply can come fromkitchen stockrooms (one of which is in Adams) andsafe water can be obtained from the now defunctAdams House swimming pool. That is, if you'd wantto drink water from the Adams House swimming pool.I heard they did crazy stuff there in the sixties.

Today, while we still have the basements andtunnels, they are no longer kept stocked withcanned food and boxes of government-suppliedBulgar wheat biscuits. But the yellow and blackfallout shelter sign still hangs outside of Adams,Wigglesworth, Eliot and other buildings throughoutcampus, testimony to an era gone by.



FALLOUT SHELTERS were encouraged by theKennedy Administration in the wake of the Berlincrisis. Kennedy's advisors believed that theshelters could save millions of lives byprotecting populations from radioactive fallout.The idea was that when a nuclear bomb hits, theimmediate surrounding area is demolished, andnothing can be done to save anyone unfortunateenough to be at ground zero. But people living amile or so from the bomb may not be immediatelykilled. For them, the danger lies in radioactivebits of pulverized earth and buildings that fallto the ground in the hours and days following theexplosion. A fallout shelter is simply a sealedroom that has walls thick enough to block thesedangerous radioactive particles. To be federallyapproved, a shelter must be able to block out97.5% of the outside radiation.

So the idea behind the fallout shelter is quitesimple. One needn't be a nuclear physicist, oreven have completed his or her Science Arequirement, to understand it. When the call camefrom the White House to build the shelters,hundreds of millions were established across thecountry. The Civil Defense Study Committee atHarvard surveyed the University's buildings whilethe federal government listed names of certifiedfallout shelter inspectors and disseminatedinformation in schools and post offices.

According to Douglas Forbes, the Director ofPlanning for the Massachusetts EmergencyManagement Agency (the new term for the state'scivil defense agency), there is fallout shelterspace for 7.5 million people under Massachusettsbuildings. With a total population of under sixmillion, that's more than enough room foreveryone.

Forbes, who was working for the Civil DefenseAgency in the early sixties, recalls with pridethe quality of Massachusetts fallout shelters."The shelters were stocked with biscuits andcarbohydrate supplements, which were hardcandies," explains Forbes. "There were tons andtons of supplies in these shelters. In someselected shelters, there were 200 beds andpackaged disaster hospitals. These were completeportable hospital units with operating rooms,X-rays, you name it."

Cambridge itself has excellent fallout sheltercapabilities, according to Forbes. The city hasspace for 187,000 people in shelters with aprotection factor of 100, which means that over99% of the outside radiation is shielded out. Ifyou include lower quality shelters, withprotection factors of 95 or above, there is spacefor 599,000 people in Cambridge. "That's well overthe city's population," points out Forbes.


HARVARD is the jewel of Cambridge'sdefense. According to The Crimson, the Buildingand Grounds Department determined that "6470people could be protected in Lowell House, QuincyHouse and Holyoke Center. Basements in the Yard,particularly those of Widener Library, HoughtonLibrary, and Wigglesworth Hall could shelteranother 6120."

So all a student needs to do to avoidradioactive fallout is head down to the Housebasement. Harvard's fallout impenetrability didnot, however, offer comfort to many students andfaculty members. The government shelter programwas a source of heated debate on campus. It wasthe subject of two or three Crimson articles eachweek in April 1962 when fallout shelterspecialists descended on Harvard to survey theUniversity's buildings.

Michael S. Gruen '63 wrote an editorialattacking the government's effort to educate thepublic about fallout protection, arguing that itmade nuclear war seem like something that isn't sobad as long as you know how to prepare for it.Over thirty years later, he still has strongopinions about the government pamphlet heattacked. He recalls exercises he went through asa child. "In the midst of class, the teacher wouldyell, `Drop!' and we would crouch down under thedesk. That was pretty silly. It's not going tosave you from getting blasted out of theuniverse."

John L. Frewing '62, a Navy ROTC scholar whoconcentrated in Engineering and worked in theNavy's Nuclear Reactors Division after graduating,wrote a letter to The Crimson attacking Gruen'seditorial. "We should still urge people to becautious of radiation exposure," he warns.

The civil defense debate attracted such a largeportion of the student body and the facultybecause it touched on so many issues. StanleyHoffman, Dillon Professor of the Civilization ofFrance, was a mem-B-12The Department of Defense