Worries about a nuke dropping on Seattle? We spent the Cold War preparing

A bit worried about a North Korean nuclear bombs dropping on Seattle? We’ve been through this drill before — for at least three decades during the Cold War years. Fallout shelters, warning sirens, schoolkids lying down and covering their faces. Been there, done that.

We’ve been through this drill before, Seattle.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump have been exchanging pleasantries about “fire and fury.” But we spent at least three Cold War decades, beginning in the late 1940s, worrying and planning in case the Soviet Union fired off its nuclear missiles.

So, you know, old news.

All those years, we expected Puget Sound to be targeted. We had Boeing, the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Fort Lewis, McChord Air Force Base, the University of Washington, a major port.

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Here is a brutal paragraph from a leaflet published in 1956 by the Seattle & King County Civil Defense Departments. It carried the beguiling title, “EVACUATE. Don’t sit under the mushroom.”

The leaflet also featured a surreal graphic that shows a woman and a man sitting and relaxing against the tree-trunk portion of an atomic blast. She appears to be holding a baby. For some reason he’s wearing a sombrero.

“Seattle is considered a Major Target Area,” it warns. “A 10-Megaton Hydrogen Bomb can be dropped on the center of the business section. This would cause utter destruction for a radius of 4 miles, major destruction for a radius of 7 miles, moderate destruction for 10 miles, and minor destruction out to 7 miles.”

There was lots of advice in the leaflet. Say it’s doomsday and you don’t know what to do: “A hole in the ground with cover is remarkably effective.”

Also, “Get as far as possible … If no transportation, start walking.”

Another memorable Cold War artifact was a 1951 civil-defense manual sponsored by KVI Radio, then a market leader, showing a mushroom cloud detonating over downtown, red flames erupting into the sky.

One of the tips in the manual: “DON’T START RUMORS … a single rumor might touch off a panic that could cost you your life.”

Let’s ask Don Wall, director of the Nuclear Science Center at Washington State University, if he’s made any preparations in case of a nuclear war. He’s in charge of a nuclear reactor right on campus.

“No, I haven’t,” he says.

He’s weighed the probability of a nuclear war.


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