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A Clean House Is A Safe House.
June 29, 2013 6:52 PM   Subscribe

" The House In The Middle" A 1954 Civil Defense film shows how you can protect your home against atomic firestorms via good housekeeping (13 min, YouTube)
posted by The Whelk (44 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
The National Clean Up Paint Up Fix Up Bureau was always one of my favorite bureaus.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:19 PM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


A thinly veiled commercial for paint, for sure!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:29 PM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, this made me want to go out and spend some time throwing trash around the yard and scraping the paint off.

The reviews at IMDB are pretty interesting.
posted by flug at 7:38 PM on June 29, 2013


Huh, shame was usually enough for this sort of thing in the 1950's. Creative use of fear here.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:49 PM on June 29, 2013


Creative use of fear here.

Actually, creative use of fear was abundant in the 50s.

Still is today!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:07 PM on June 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


I had no idea my fence was in such danger.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:07 PM on June 29, 2013


Ha, this is so fucked up.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:09 PM on June 29, 2013


"Hey, McClain! Yeah, you who never rakes his yard! Your house is on fire, you dumb jerk!"
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:15 PM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Okay, if this is a scam then I've fallen for it hook, line, and sinker. It seems totally plausible to me that a house with a well-maintained, white exterior will be overall more survivable than one with bare, dried-out walls and flammable materials strewn about outside. What am I missing?
posted by aw_yiss at 8:34 PM on June 29, 2013


The music cues were pretty amazing. I always find these types of 50:s atomic movies incredibly scary. And yet they make me want to play Fallout...
posted by gemmy at 8:35 PM on June 29, 2013


What am I missing?

The fact that you're dead.
posted by emjaybee at 8:39 PM on June 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


Please tell me that they didn't set off multiple actual atomic bombs just to see if the house with the plastic cover on the armchair and no newspaper on the end table was intrinsically superior to the naked armchair house.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:52 PM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


So than if you home is closer to the center of the bomb blast your house can be a disheveled mess because you will blown to kingdom come.
posted by robbyrobs at 8:53 PM on June 29, 2013


In the not-too-distant future . . .
posted by theredpen at 8:58 PM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I just have visions of becoming...annealed to my armchair, thanks to the melted plastic cover.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 8:59 PM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


What am I missing?

The fact that you're dead.
--emjaybee

Hah!

For a more accurate portrayal, here's a link with lots of maps and photos (warning--lots of bytes) of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the blasts. Basically, if you are near the blast and your house isn't behind a hill it is vaporized, paint or no paint. If it has heavy walls of reinforced concrete it might survive somewhat, but everything inside is still vaporized.

And if your house is just exactly far enough away that paint makes a difference between a fire and no fire, but the heat is high enough to catch loose newspaper in your house on fire, then you are still a toasted marshmallow.
posted by eye of newt at 9:01 PM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


The reward may be survival.

Yes, as you pull yourself out of the basement and struggle to breath through heat-seared lungs, you can look around at the neat and clean, barely singed interior that surrounds you, with the burn shadows of your cat and slow moving grandma on the wall opposite the gaping frame of the picture window, and know the satisfaction that comes from doing one's civic duty. Thanks to your hard work cleaning up trash, painting walls and covering chairs with plastic, some other survivor will now have a structure they can proudly rebuild civilization in. Between retching gasps for air, you expire with a smile on your face. Job well done!
posted by Kevin Street at 9:17 PM on June 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


originally digitized and hosted in prelinger's archive, which has other similarly fun movies.
posted by brewsterkahle at 9:34 PM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I remember this house! There's a floor safe under the bed upstairs and a hunting rifle behind the refrigerator. And bones.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:01 PM on June 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm as corny as Kansas in August

High as a flag on the forth of July.
posted by The Whelk at 10:05 PM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


And if your house is just exactly far enough away that paint makes a difference between a fire and no fire, but the heat is high enough to catch loose newspaper in your house on fire, then you are still a toasted marshmallow.

I think you're conflating different bomb effects.

At a distance from ground zero, the main effects would be a blinding flash of light (direct effect of the bomb), blast and fireball (resulting from air immediately around the bomb being turned to plasma). The flash could set structures on fire or cause third degree burns at a much greater range than any of the other effects. That flash is very short; a structure affected only by the flash and not instantly set on fire by the flash would not burn. Someone inside that white painted house would not be roasted. White paint really would have made a non-zero contribution to the safety of the people inside. 1955 was one of the last years when this sort of precaution was halfway rational.

We're used to thinking of nuclear bombs as instant death to all, especially those of us who grew up in the 1980s, when nuclear war would have been near-omnicidal. This film was made in 1955. The hydrogen bomb had only existed for a couple of years and relatively few had been deployed. A fission bomb striking an urban center would be quite survivable in the suburbs, as at Hiroshima. Given smaller bomb yields and fewer bombs the odds of nuclear winter were much lower than they would have been in the 60's. "I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed," hundreds of millions of people would have been killed in a 1955 NATO-Soviet war, but survival was possible and you can see why someone would have wanted to maximize their odds.

That's what the intended audience for this film would have wanted, to be able to do anything to increase their family's chances, however slightly. They wanted some measure of control over their lives, not to be entirely at the mercy of the folks at the RAND corporation.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:07 PM on June 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


eye of newt: A 16 kt bomb like the one dropped on Hiroshima has very different effects from a 10 MT bomb. The 16 kt bomb had its radiation, overpressure, and thermal effects all focused on the 12 km² around the detonation point. With the 10 MT bomb, this area extends to 120 km² – but there is also a 2500 km² area which is spared the worst of the radiation and overpressure, but still gets exposed to severe thermal effects. Within this area, flammable materials with a direct line-of-sight to the explosion will catch on fire.

So let's say that a bomb explodes above downtown or above a major industrial area, and you are 20 km away. If you are standing naked in front of a window in full view of the explosion, you will not be having a good day. That is obvious. But if you are elsewhere in the house – maybe in the bathroom or the kitchen, or on the side farthest from the explosion – I think there are cases where you could survive, if the house doesn't just immediately catch on fire.

We are potentially talking about 60% survivability versus 0% survivability. That is a huge difference, especially when we're talking about tens or hundreds of thousands of people being affected. Yet people here are talking like there is literally no difference between these scenarios, since WOE IS US, THE SURVIVORS SHALL ENVY THE DEAD! Is this something I would need to have watched Threads to understand?
posted by aw_yiss at 10:21 PM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Look, if people are coming poking through my atomic bombed house because I've been vaporized, I WANT IT TO BE CLEAN. I don't want the atomic bomb scientists being all, "HAHA, SHE NEVER MOPPED HER FLOORS!" They're going to be like, "Wow, this is a neat and orderly house and I wish I lived here and it totally doesn't look like she let her children leave toys everywhere."

True story, my house was burgled when I was little, and my mom was relieved that when we went on vacation, we left the house neat, so the burglars WHO STOLE OUR SHIT saw that she was a good housekeeper. Also really upset and traumatized by the whole thing, but also glad that they didn't steal our shit AND SEE THE HOUSE WAS MESSY. Also I believed her for YEARS that burglars didn't steal my stuff because my room was clean, not because 5-year-olds have no stuff worth stealing, stuffed animal collection notwithstanding, and it was an extremely effective "CLEAN YOUR ROOM!" tactic. If it's clean, the burglars won't steal your shit!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:26 PM on June 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


That's basically the broken window theory there eyebrows mcgee
posted by The Whelk at 10:40 PM on June 29, 2013


“...intrinsically superior to the naked armchair house.”

Give me a naked armchair house any day to a plastic see through fetish cover armchair house.
posted by quazichimp at 11:36 PM on June 29, 2013


Give me a naked armchair house any day to a plastic see through fetish cover armchair house.

The furniture in my grandmother's house was all nicely enveloped in plastic - not because of any fear of nuclear bombs or cleanliness fetish - but in the 1950s there were plenty of people alive who had lived through the Great Depression. My "middle class" grandparents had an acquaintance with abject poverty that children who grew up in Reagan's 1980s can't possibly imagine. To people like my grandmother a couch was an investment so large that it was supposed to last a lifetime.

People who have only ever lived in prosperous times should be careful to make fun of those who have experienced real poverty.
posted by three blind mice at 11:56 PM on June 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Please tell me that they didn't set off multiple actual atomic bombs just to see if the house with the plastic cover on the armchair and no newspaper on the end table was intrinsically superior to the naked armchair house.

They set off so many weapons that I'd be surprised if that wasn't one of the tests.

See also: A time-lapse of every nuclear explosion since 1945 which explains so much about the 50s and the start of the Cold War.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:01 AM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


The problem with the plastic see through stuff is that it makes the couch last a lifetime at the expense of making it something you might want to sit on. Which might, in fact, be a large portion of the mechanism that makes it last a lifetime.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:29 AM on June 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is basically "only the shiftless have anything to fear from Nuclear war, good, decent citizens like yourself will be saved" isn't it?
posted by Catch at 1:53 AM on June 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I plan on coercing mutants to put out my fence-fires. Problem solved!
posted by item at 2:20 AM on June 30, 2013


Alright, I'll wash the fucking dishes.
posted by h00py at 3:39 AM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


In 1954 nuclear exchange was still a seriously considered possibility. This was towards the beginning of the period where our Civil Defense system slowly morphed into an elaborate ploy to convince the Soviets both that we were fucking nuts, and thus maybe its not such a good idea to antagonize us, as well as that they needed to spend even more money on nuclear weapons and 'defense'. While the actual practical effects of this video would clearly have been negligible in the aftermath of a real nuclear exchange, its goal clearly would have been to serve as a strong argument for convincing the Soviets of how fucking nuts we were, and make the possibility of a first strike against them more palatable to people who vote. For example, in the early days of FEMA one of the big projects was the Crisis Relocation Plan, which had a similar goal. The basic idea was to evacuate our 400 largest cities in the event of nuclear war but goal was to “make nuclear war plans credible to the Soviets and acceptable to Americans” and “make nuclear troops out of the citizenry” while encouraging the Soviets to construct additional weapons to target the relocation points.

At the same time though, while this is about the point where it began to no longer made sense to take atomic civil defense seriously where any nuclear exchange was necessarily just so inconceivably catastrophic that meaningful planning was not possible, that era is over and we need to start thinking about it again. Even though the Soviet Union is dissolved and a state derived attack on the US is not at all likely, there are still nuclear weapons in this world and many of them are not properly accounted for. The is still a very real possibility of a nuclear attack on the United States, and one that is considerable, it would not be the end of everything and there are meaningful things we can do to plan and know to do.
  • DONT LOOK AT IT. Seriously, shield your eyes as best you can, as if you look at it you can be blinded either temporarily or permanently.

  • Open you mouth so your eardrums don't burst.

  • If you've survived this long, congratulations, you have 15 to 20 minutes to get out of the way of the cloud of radioactive dust before it falls and you start breathing that primordial shit in. If you are downwind of where the blast occurred and can flee, do so perpendicular to the wind. If you can't you will want to shelter in place either in a basement or above the 9th floor of a solid looking structure.

  • Try to keep you skin nose and mouth covered so long as it doesn't impede you getting out of town or sheltering.

  • Get out of town.

  • Decontaminate, though there will likely not be dudes in yellow suits to do this for you. Essentially you want to separate yourself from the radioactive dust you brought with you while spreading it as little as possible. This means taking off your clothes, which does 80 percent of the job and then taking a shower with lots of soap, shampoo, and scrubbing, which will do 95% of the job.
  • posted by Blasdelb at 4:26 AM on June 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


    Sure, you could do all this. Or you could just rent, and then it's someone else's issue.
    posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 4:43 AM on June 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


    The only reason we haven't had a nuke war is because it would be bad for business.
    posted by seanmpuckett at 5:34 AM on June 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


    Alright, I'll wash the fucking dishes.

    Screw that, I'm just going to put them out on the lawn and let them get cleaned by fire!
    posted by sriracha at 5:41 AM on June 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


    Am I missing something? None of those houses had any school desks to crawl under.
    posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:06 AM on June 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


    This os fascinating and frightening and sad. Thanks for posting.
    posted by windykites at 10:07 AM on June 30, 2013


    Speaking of Civil Defense planning, this was the focus of a few episodes of the Kickass Oregon History Podcast a few years ago (Part 1 | Part 2). The latter talks about a film narrated by Glenn Ford, A Day Called "X" from 1957. Mentions the plan evacuate the city, assuming they had an hour or so warning from Alaska, and the bunker they built to house city government.

    Evidently the bunker is demolished. Pity, the Fallout fan in me would love to have toured it.
    posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:57 AM on June 30, 2013


    Related: Homeward Bound. The author explores "domestic containment" during the Cold War. It's an interesting topic.
    posted by Hop123 at 12:31 PM on June 30, 2013


    We are potentially talking about 60% survivability versus 0% survivability. That is a huge difference, especially when we're talking about tens or hundreds of thousands of people being affected. Yet people here are talking like there is literally no difference between these scenarios, since WOE IS US, THE SURVIVORS SHALL ENVY THE DEAD! Is this something I would need to have watched Threads to understand?

    I think a lot of people feel that being instantly vaporized is preferable to a lingering death by radiation poisoning or starvation, yes, and that both of those are very likely. If you are far enough away to not get irradiated and survive, great, but now where does your food come from in a country where all the major trade centers are rubble? How does a society rebuild when radiation takes so long to disperse and has such dire effects while it lingers? And then there's the nuclear winter effect. How do you grow food? Where do you get safe water? There's no more doctors or drugs, either, so one infected injury could take you out even if you survive the rest. And it's not just you, but your loved ones, your kids.

    I mean, we find Threads and other films and books terrifying because they do, in fact, seem pretty fucking accurate about what life could be like after a nuclear war. Do you have some evidence that it wouldn't have a similar result?

    (A good Metafilter thread on this very topic here)

    I get that at the beginning of the Cold War we didn't understand, as a populace, how bad it could be, and that the bombs were smaller and Total War less likely (But how much less? We had just finished a conventional weapons version of near-total war, twice.) I don't know if those higher up in government really believed the BS, or if they just didn't want to think about it and were happy to crank out propaganda to make people feel good about it.
    posted by emjaybee at 2:33 PM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


    This was meant to incentivise 1950s housewives to perform their expected role. As the half of a couple that is "neater," I hope I don't post-apocalyse nag my spouse, but maybe that will be comforting...who knows? "Honey, did you check for zombies before we closed the airlock?"
    posted by Morrigan at 4:56 PM on June 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


    Blasdelb - "there are still nuclear weapons in this world and many of them are not properly accounted for"

    Nuclear weapons have shelf lives, no? How long would it take banging a warhead around during transport and maybe stored in sub-optimal conditions to render one inoperative or at least prone enough to failed detonation to make it not worth using?

    The Pu239 has a half life of thousands of years, but what about the electronics and mechanical components?
    posted by porpoise at 7:38 PM on June 30, 2013


    There where plenty of modern bombs Bob but you had to go for that oh so retro 50s charm!
    posted by The Whelk at 7:56 PM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


    The shelf life of nuclear weapons.
    posted by Chrysostom at 8:54 AM on July 1, 2013


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