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Awaiting the Sirens’ Call: U.S. Disaster Planning Addressed at DU History Forum

Threats to U.S. national security such as World War II, the Cold War and 9/11 have left some Americans wondering how well the U.S. government had prepared them for foreign attacks and their own survival. Historian and author Dr. David F. Krugler will discuss U.S. emergency planning from 1945 to today at the annual Duquesne University History Forum Lecture at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 15, in the Power Center Ballroom.

Krugler’s lecture, Awaiting the Sirens’ Call: American Encounters with Disaster Planning From Hiroshima to 9/11, is free and open to the public. A reception will follow.

The lecture, a multimedia presentation with time set aside for questions, will address the various ways that America has responded to fundamental questions of preparedness and survival: How strong are our defenses? Could the population and our constitutional democracy survive a catastrophic event, such as a nuclear attack, and its aftermath?

The world wars of the 20th century inspired military states to spend fortunes manufacturing long-range weapons to inflict destruction from a distance and put civilians in harm’s way as never before. With nuclear arsenals, peace brought but little comfort, and Krugler, associate professor of history at the University of Wisconsin, Platteville, has documented America’s disaster preparation during the Cold War.

The nation’s defense is a basic responsibility of the national government, but in the Cold War era through the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Krugler points out, Americans have looked to Washington not simply to protect them from disasters but to lead and aid them afterward.

“The basic problem with this expectation is that the federal government expected the American people to take the initiative themselves in disaster preparation or ‘civil defense,’ as it was called in the 1950s,” Krugler said. “Federal policy was based on the idea that the government could provide guidelines, and Americans would follow them. But most Americans ignored these recommendations, leaving themselves woefully unprepared for the worst.”

Krugler is the author of This Is Only a Test: How Washington, D.C., Prepared for Nuclear War. The book explains how the need to protect and preserve the nation’s capital—an attractive target to our enemies and a powerful symbol to our citizens—inspired federal officials to use urban planning, civil defense measures and contingency operations plans to keep the government functioning after an attack.

The Department of History’s annual forum has provided a venue for scholars to address topics of civic and academic interest for four decades. Attendance satisfies Act 48 credit requirements. For more information, call 412.396.6470.

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