Mises Daily

Doomsday Blueprints

In Time magazine’s August 10, 1992, issue, Ted Gup reported on newly disclosed plans that the federal government had developed for salvaging the state in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States by the Soviet Union.

“Though the Soviet Union is gone,” the story went, “Washington was once convinced that World War III could break out without warning . . . and in case of nuclear attack the U.S. government hoped to save the President and keep the country running by relying on THE DOOMSDAY BLUEPRINTS.”

If “doomsday” had arrived, a president running the country from the top down would have added mass starvation and social extinction to the mass devastation of nuclear war.

The doomsday planners of the ‘50s envisioned a post-apocalyptic urban America largely in ruins and darkened under the breakdown of private-sector and governmental services and the imposition of martial law, food rationing, price controls, censorship, and the curtailment of individual liberties. They also envisioned outright federal dictatorship, too.

In a 1955 top-secret memo to advisers, then-President Eisenhower wrote: “We would have to run this country as one big camp—severely regimented.” Later on, he asked, “Who is going to bury the dead? Where would one find the tools? The organization to do it? We must not assume that we are going to handle these problems with calmness. . . . We will be running soup kitchens—we are going to be taking care of a completely bewildered population.”

It was estimated that tens of millions of people would be dead, with the major cities of the United States in ruins or in ashes. But in addition to the millions of civilian casualties, there would be another, more prominent casualty: the pretense of constitutional government.

The Doomsday Blueprints were developed during the Eisenhower administration with a single-minded mission: to save the federal government, preserve and restore law and order, and prime the pump of the devastated economy. To achieve these ends, the doomsday planners labored to create a vast and secret doomsday bureaucracy.

Mr. Gup described their plan’s effects: “. . . they drafted detailed contingency plans and regulations that . . . would have radically transformed the U.S.’s political and social institutions.” Indeed, nowhere in Mr. Gup’s piece—and maybe not in the Doomsday Blueprints themselves—are the state and local governments mentioned. Presumably, they would be steamrolled over in Washington’s—or, rather, the White House’s—drive to impose war socialism on the ashes of American society.

The doomsday planners’ secret bureaucracy planned and built a network of relocation sites for the federal government in a ring around the capitol that became known as the Federal Arc. Amongst these were Raven Rock, code-named “Site R”—or the “Underground Pentagon,” as it was more commonly called—an 81,000-square-foot complex located near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; and Mount Weather—code-named “High Point”—a 61,000-square-foot mountain bunker near Berryville, Virginia, where the president, the cabinet, and the Supreme Court justices would be relocated. The director of Mount Weather was given a simple commission directly from President Eisenhower: “I expect your people to save our government.”

Buried underneath the five-star Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, was built the relocation center for the entire United States Congress. Built with its own replicas of the House and Senate chambers—and a vast hall for joint sessions of Congress—this site was code-named “Casper.” Only a half dozen members of Congress at any one time knew it even existed.

 Of course, the Federal Reserve Board had its own relocation site: a 43,000-square-foot radiation-proof facility dug out of Culpeper, Virginia, and stocked with a thirty-day supply of freeze-dried food to be served up on fine bone china. This facility was not mothballed until July 1992.

Several plans were hatched on how best to evacuate the president and the first family from the White House. The plan that was implemented—and that was in effect until 1970—was code-named “Outpost Mission.” The 2857th Test Squadron, an elite unit of helicopter pilots and crewmen, was organized and stationed at Olmsted U.S. Air Force Base in Pennsylvania, disguised as a search and rescue team. Stationed just outside the blast range of Washington, only the pilots and base commander knew their real purpose. When the time came, the unit’s helicopters would swoop in and whisk the president and other officials and family off the White House lawn.

And every year the government conducted elaborate test drills with thousands of bureaucrats in mock nuclear strike exercises. As it happened, it was during one of these annual drills, as Eisenhower and the cabinet were meeting in Mount Weather, that Eisenhower was presented with a note that the Soviet Union had just shot down a U-2 spy plane. (Eisenhower exclaimed: “I’ll be a son of a bitch.”)

During one doomsday drill, a presidential convoy to Mount Weather was halted on the narrow road by the sudden appearance of a farmer’s truck loaded with pigs. The farmer was forced to laboriously inch his truck in reverse back up the road until it passed the entrance to the bunker. Such are the best laid plans of central planners overturned. Yet these doomsday planners still believed they could work miracles.

On doomsday, the Doomsday Blueprints would have come into full effect. Before leaving the White House, the president would have removed from the vault the executive orders, already signed and authorized long before, that would impose martial law. Once the attack commenced, the top-secret Bomb Alarm inside Mount Weather would register impacts from nuclear strikes from coast-to-coast.

The Bomb Alarm’s network of sensors and copper pressure wires that crisscrossed the country and registered heat, light, and pressure changes would display these changes on a giant map of the continental United States. Hundreds of tiny red lightbulbs would light up to mark the sites of atomic impacts. Washington. New York City. Chicago. Los Angeles . . .

Using the Emergency Broadcast System, recorded messages from both President Eisenhower and entertainer Arthur Godfrey would be broadcast to the people. The message would be stark: “The country has come under nuclear attack, but the government continues to function.” In an attempt to sooth the psyches of a shattered people, celebrity newsmen who had agreed beforehand to accompany the president in retreat would lend their voices and names to the effort to calm the survivors, testifying to the heroism of the fourth estate.

Later, the presidential address would most likely inform the people on how the government was going to work to improve their quality of life through martial law, state-planned production, and rationing. ”Plan D,” the new dictator’s options for responding to the surprise attack—without a congressional declaration of war, of course—would be decided on almost immediately.

From nuclear exile, the surviving bureaucracy would swing into motion. The Emergency Federal Register—which would inform survivors of the emergency laws and regulations now in effect, including martial law—would be published and distributed to the public. The Civil Service Commission would enact a regulation to designate government employees who were reported dead to be “on administrative leave until the reported date of death.”

The Post Office would announce that postage stamps would no longer be needed to send letters and postcards to the recently depopulated areas. Special delivery would be phased out except for medicines and surgical dressings.

The Treasury Department would order surviving banks to remain open during normal hours of business, but would confiscate property by imposing withdrawal limits “to prevent hoarding.” The Treasury would move to oversee private-sector price and wage controls for rent and salaries. Following an agreement with private companies “in non-critical target areas,” they would begin printing checks. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation would order surviving bank examiners to report at once to the nearest surviving Federal Reserve Bank “where they can assist in the reconstruction of the banking system.”

The Federal Reserve governors, from the safety of their Culpeper hideout, would continue their function as the central counterfeiting agency. Deep inside the Fed’s bunker, forklifts would begin moving out a mountain of the government’s stored worthless paper currency. Inside the Fed’s vault sat tons of five-, ten-, fifty-, and one-hundred-dollar bills in shrink-wrapped packages forming a wall of preprinted fiat money standing almost nine feet tall. This gigantic vault still housed this wall of the government’s currency into the late 1980s—ready at a moment’s notice to prime the pump of the hollowed-out post-nuclear economy.

The Federal Highway Administration would fan out to attempt to protect motorists from nuclear fallout. The Department of Agriculture would act to implement its national food-rationing program, establishing decrees on what every person what be allowed to consume. Each civilian would be restricted to a maximum caloric intake of 2,000 to 2,500 calories a day. Among the weekly rations for civilians were six eggs and three and a half quarts of milk. (Not mentioned was any plan for confiscating surplus food to facilitate rationing and “prevent hoarding,” but this would seem, given everything else planned, a sure likelihood.)

The Department of Housing and Urban Development would enact its regulations to relocate and house the surviving population. These regulations were code-named “Asp,” “Bear,” “Cat,” and “Dog,” and contained elaborate plans for how HUD planned on housing millions of displaced Americans—defacto refugees. (Mr. Gup makes no mention of the possibility of resorting to forced labor to bury the dead or to build temporary housing for the survivors, but this would also seem like a likely eventuality.)

Regulations established long ago would come into effect for producing goods and services deemed to be vital to national survival. The upper management of major companies from their bunkers—where regularly updated company records were stored and rooms were available for the executives and their families, along with dining halls, security vaults and radio-communications equipment—would put into effect their “unified emergency plans.”

Private producers would be shackled with controls (the plans would prevent outright nationalization of surviving industry) that would subordinate private production to the production dictates of the doomsday bureaucracy. All distribution, production, and prices would be determined by the state.

And coordinating all of the Doomsday Blueprints’ activities would be the Wartime Information Security Program, or WISP (as in Whisper)—the national censorship office. Then-CBS Vice President Theodore F. Koop agreed to act as the national censor, with a staff of forty civilian executives in a secure facility located well outside Washington and stocked with censorship manuals and regulation codes.

The site was equipped with its own communications and broadcasting center. (Although the existence of the censorship office was exposed to the public in 1970 and the public was told that it had been shut down, its duties were transferred to yet another arm of what an internal memo referred to as “the shadow government.”)

What is striking is the enormous waste of it all: the resources, manpower, and time; the unknown lost potential that was destroyed by the statism that the cold war so vividly represented; and the absurdity of the government’s assumptions and elaborate planning. It demonstrates a callous disregard for liberty and property that treats people like cattle and clay.

And although some of the doomsday sites are being converted into document storage and office space, and some procedures have been rendered obsolete, Mr. Gup winds up his cover story with an admonition from the doomsday planners themselves: “that new dangers abound—nuclear proliferation, the resurgence of ethnic nationalism, and the renewed threat of terrorism—and that only the dead have seen the last of war.” Obsolete bureaucracies, as we all know, are only really productive in inventing new reasons for their own continued existence.

How different the twentieth century might have been if people had understood the arguments for peace and freedom. Sacrificing human liberty at the cost of state power has had only disastrous results. The antidote to war—and total war and the total war mentality—is liberty, not slavery. But of course, this goes entirely against the grain of statist thinking. The goal of the doomsday planners—like all central planners and bureaucracies—was the continued survival of the government and its rule over the survivors of the very same holocaust that it brought about. 


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