Sunday, October 6, 2013


October 6, 2013


Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) Fifty years ago tomorrow, President John F. Kennedy signed the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty but just 2 years and a day before, October 6, 1961, JFK wrote a letter recommending "fallout protection for every American..."

In the letter, which was read by Stewart Pittman, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Civil Defense at a meeting of State Civil Defense Directors at the Sheraton Park Hotel here in the Nation's Capital, the President wrote:

"Radioactive fallout.....could account for the major part of the casualties which  might  result from a thermonuclear attack on an unprotected population.

There is a need for a nationwide understanding of what each level of government, each private organization, and each citizen can do to bring about...the for the civilian population against the major effects of a thermo-nuclear attack.

           Model of a Fallout Shelter

In a letter published in LIFE magazine dated September 7, 1961, President Kennedy wrote...

"The possibility of nuclear war (is a) fact of life we cannot ignore today.  The government is moving to improve the protection afforded you in your community through civil defense.

We have begun...a survey of all public buildings with fallout shelters...and marking those with adequate shelter for 50 persons or more.

I have recommended to the Congress the establishment of food reserves in centers around the country where they might be needed following an attack...and we are developing improved warning system."

JFK continued...

"The security of our country and the peace of the world are the objectives of our policy.  But...we must prepare for all the eventualities."

According to an article written by Jessica McElrath, JFK's science advisers warned the President that his calling for citizens to build fallout shelters for their own families "would provide false hope."

McElrath writes that despite that warning JFK, at first, felt it was still a good idea but then after a later conversation with Edward Teller*, the President was at last convinced "that his program was doing more harm than good."  In other words, the planning for the aftermath of a nuclear war "was much more complicated" than just building fallout shelters.

*Edward Teller (1908-2003), born in Hungary, studied at the Universities of Karlsruha and Leipzig then immigrated to the US in the 1930s.  He was part of the Manhattan Project and as a physicist became known as the father of the hydrogen bomb.

                        Edward Teller
                        Director of the
                  Lawrence Livermore 
           National Laboratory (1958)