Cover image for One nation underground : the fallout shelter in American culture
One nation underground : the fallout shelter in American culture
Rose, Kenneth D. (Kenneth David), 1946-
Publication Information:
New York : New York University Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
x, 313 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
UA927 .R67 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



For the half-century duration of the Cold War, the fallout shelter was a curiously American preoccupation. Triggered in 1961 by a hawkish speech by John F. Kennedy, the fallout shelter controversy--"to dig or not to dig," as Business Week put it at the time--forced many Americans to grapple with deeply disturbing dilemmas that went to the very heart of their self-image about what it meant to be an American, an upstanding citizen, and a moral human being.

Given the much-touted nuclear threat throughout the 1960s and the fact that 4 out of 5 Americans expressed a preference for nuclear war over living under communism, what's perhaps most striking is how few American actually built backyard shelters. Tracing the ways in which the fallout shelter became an icon of popular culture, Kenneth D. Rose also investigates the troubling issues the shelters raised: Would a post-war world even be worth living in? Would shelter construction send the Soviets a message of national resolve, or rather encourage political and military leaders to think in terms of a "winnable" war?

Investigating the role of schools, television, government bureaucracies, civil defense, and literature, and rich in fascinating detail--including a detailed tour of the vast fallout shelter in Greenbriar, Virginia, built to harbor the entire United States Congress in the event of nuclear armageddon-- One Nation, Underground goes to the very heart of America's Cold War experience.

Author Notes

Kenneth D. Rose teaches history at California State University, Chico.

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

Although Rose (history, California State Univ., Chico; American Women and the Repeal of Prohibition) might have wished his popular history of the Cold War to work from below ground on up, his excavation of the great fear of the Fifties reveals a discourse overwhelmingly top-down. Government and civic elites propagandized for shelters built from theoretical funds that mostly were never appropriated; average citizens fretted that their neighbors were building bunkers to exclude them come Armageddon, yet apparently very few private spaces were ever erected. Rose demonstrates that the shelter was the leading if least visible icon of a civil defense debate that questioned whether nuclear wars were confinable, hence survivable, but also whether shelter was more practical or at least not incompatible with mass evacuation. Rose reconstructs Herman Kahn, the pro-limited nuclear war physicist/Dr. Strangelove model, as the most intriguing if possibly insane personage in his account but leaves much possibly fertile soil unturned. (What did history's most famous shelterists, the World War II British, think of their Yankee cousins' official mania only a few years later?) This book fails to live up to the originality promised by the subject but as a first-of-area undertaking should be acquired by academic libraries. Scott H. Silverman, Bryn Mawr Coll. Lib., PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introductionp. 1
1 A New Age Dawningp. 14
2 The Nuclear Apocalypticp. 38
3 Morality and National Identity at the Shelter Doorp. 78
4 Taking Government, Business, and Schools Undergroundp. 113
5 The Theory and Practice of Armageddonp. 150
6 The Shelters That Were Not Built, the Nuclear War That Did Not Startp. 186
Postscriptp. 214
Notesp. 225
Indexp. 301
About the Authorp. 313