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UK Government propaganda for nuclear war in the 1980s

”Sinister yet pathetic’: how the UK was primed for nuclear war, A new history of the government’s cold war public information reveals a range of sometimes alarming, often ridiculous propaganda, Guardian , by Sian Cain,  30 Oct 19,  Even if you didn’t buy a copy of Protect and Survive in 1980, you may still be familiar with the UK government’s official guide to surviving nuclear war. The British public’s reaction, when they learned that their government had been making preparations for a nuclear conflict for almost three decades, was both immediate and very British: they made fun of it.The 32-page booklet, which contained instructions for civilians on how to best prepare their homes – the contents for a good “survival kit”, how to build a toilet from a chair and a bucket, and what to do with your loved ones when they died – was a unique combination of sinister and silly; societal collapse and radiation poisoning don’t really suit the bland language of bureaucrats. Previously only distributed to journalists and emergency planners, it had remained a badly kept secret until 1980, when The Times ran a campaign challenging Britain’s preparedness should the cold war turn hot. Finally, the government published it. …..

Taras Young, author of a new history titled Nuclear War in the UK, estimates he has collected 500 booklets, pamphlets and posters produced by national and local government, volunteers and businesses.

“Until you see them all in one place, it’s hard to appreciate the scale of how much of this stuff was being produced,” he says. “There was so much more going on than Protect and Survive.”…..

“They were essentially advertising campaigns. For me as a marketer, it’s like the ultimate form of marketing – can you convince people that they’re going to survive when they won’t?”

The first pamphlet distributed to the public was Civil Defence and the Atom Bomb, published in 1952. In 1955, the Strath report – a government-commissioned investigation into how Britain would cope after a nuclear war – found that the country would be left on the brink of collapse with millions dead. This made the next pamphlet, 1957’s The Hydrogen Bomb, hugely popular.

By 1963, Advising the Householder on Protection Against Nuclear Attack had a print run of 500,000 copies. Meanwhile, councils across the UK were producing localised guides that imagined nuclear war decimating their high streets, with everywhere from Hull to Bristol getting their own dedicated pamphlets……..

The dilemma for the government since the 1950s, Young says, was that they knew that their guides “weren’t necessarily particularly useful.”

“But at the same time, they had to be seen to be producing something, as they couldn’t just admit that we’d all die,” he says. “If they produce the stuff, people will criticise it as being useless. If they don’t produce it, then they’ll be criticised for not doing anything.”…….

While researching his book, he found a note by one of the civil servants preparing Protect and Survive: “It said something like, ‘We must make people believe that they can survive.’ Not that they could survive, but they needed to believe they could – that kind of sums up the whole thing. And even if you did survive, then what? You’ve survived into hell on Earth. Is there any point in living with envy of the dead?”

……… the legacy of these cold war documents is quite interesting, because it’s just meant that the government no longer communicates with the public in that way any more. They are obviously trying to avoid any public reaction whatsoever.”

• Nuclear War in the UK by Taras Young is published by Four Corners Books

October 31, 2019 - Posted by | spinbuster, UK

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