by Rod D. Martin
January 16, 2002

September 11th brought into sharp focus the defenselessness of America. And despite our astonishingly-effective offensive campaign in Afghanistan, here at home we remain as we were.

The United States maintains armed forces in over a hundred countries around the world; nevertheless, on the morning the World Trade Center was destroyed, there was not one air defense battery to shoot down the hijacked airliners, not one “Star Wars” system to destroy the atomic bombs which might have come next; and not one American town had the ability to shelter its people against nuclear, biological or chemical attack.

This unconscionable vulnerability remains, and the threats are only growing. Even if no terrorist groups presently possess ballistic missiles, states do arm terrorists, and practice terrorism themselves. And the number of wicked, unstable, and well-armed states grows by the day.

Much of this can and should be addressed by deploying air and missile defenses, something Republicans have been trying to do since Goldwater. This need is so obvious that even Russian President Putin barely whimpered when George Bush withdrew America from the ABM Treaty. Only the Loony Left complained.

But strategic defense is only half the equation. No defense is perfect, and “something” might always slip through, particularly if the “something” in question is a terrorist bomb on a ship, on a plane, or in a truck.

This is why America needs a civil defense.

The president of Doctors for Disaster Preparedness, Dr. Jane Orient, explains this need very simply: “If that soot raining down in Brooklyn [from the World Trade Center] had been radioactive, there would be many thousands, maybe millions of people dying slow, agonizing deaths from radiation sickness that could have been prevented had people had access to shelter.”

But there are no shelters.

After an early rush to protect Americans in the 1950s – from the construction of fallout shelters to the famous “duck and cover” drills in schools – civil defense was effectively gutted by JFK. Shelters and such didn’t fit with the spirit of MAD (“Mutual Assured Destruction”); nor did they have big-ticket defense contractors to lobby for them. After a brief revival under Reagan, the Cold War ended, and with it the program: Bill Clinton officially abolished the Office of Civil Defense, selling off the few emergency supplies which remained.

During the Cold War, calls for even the most basic civil defense measures were met by Leftists with retorts like “why waste time on civil defense? When you came out of the shelter, there’d be nothing left.” The very idea of protecting American families was ridiculed by peaceniks with slogans like “after a nuclear attack the living will envy the dead.”

These were stupid comments even then; they ring imbecilic today. After an atomic September 11 there would have been an entire country left, waiting desperately for the return of its loved ones: men, women and children whose lives could have been saved with just two week’s shelter from the radioactive rain. Yet the legacy of this hippie foolishness remains.

Other countries were never so dumb. The Soviet Union built and stocked sufficient shelters to house over 90% of its population, and required regular civil defense training for all. China’s system is so vast and so thorough that an entire city such as Beijing can be evacuated in ten minutes. Switzerland’s civil defense network is designed to handle its entire population, as well as tens of thousands of refuges; and it’s equipped to handle biological and chemical attacks as well.

Why should Americans have less? Why, in fact, do Americans have nothing at all?

Civil defense is low-tech and low-budget: starting from nothing, we could protect every American for a one-time investment of about $500 per person, or less than half of our so-called “Defense” budget for one year (and less than 10% of one year’s federal budget). After that, it’s all maintenance and training.

A proper civil defense would give America – and Americans – the means to survive: survive terrorist attacks, survive the inevitable wars of the 21st Century, survive even natural disasters like the tornadoes that pummel our heartland every year. And make no mistake: a foreign enemy facing an America which can shoot down its missiles and survive what get through will think a lot more than twice before attacking. Japan, and now Afghanistan, have clearly demonstrated the cost of waking, but not killing, the sleeping giant.

But above all else, civil defense is just the right thing to do, morally as well as constitutionally. What kind of leaders don’t protect their own people? And what sort of nation spends billions on weapons but leaves its cities – its children – undefended? Earlier generations understood this well; and the mark of real leadership in our brave new world will surely be returning to those roots.