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Steuart Pittman: 5 Facts About the Man Behind Fallout Shelters
Posted By Patrick Kiger On February 19, 2013 @ 2:00 pm In Bulletin Today | No Comments
In 1961, a Washington lawyer named Steuart Pittman was tapped by President John F. Kennedy’s administration for a singularly unpleasant job: getting Americans to prepare for a nuclear Armageddon.
As assistant secretary of defense, Pittman was in charge of the nation’s civil defense program. He headed a crash effort, ordered by JFK, to build fallout shelters across the nation to protect the nation’s population against Soviet missiles and bombers. It was a scary time, given escalating tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union; indeed, the two nations came perilously close to war in October 1962, when there was a tense standoff over Soviet plans to put missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles from U.S. shores.
Pittman rightly took his job very seriously. He played a public role that was jarring in its seeming paradox. On one hand, he had to be the shrill, dire voice warning Americans that we needed to be prepared to go underground, unless we wanted to die. But at the same time, he had to reassure Americans that it would be possible to survive those fearsome mushroom clouds, knocking down cynics and skeptics who argued that there wasn’t any way to escape.
Here are five facts about Pittman, who died on Feb. 10 at age 93 in Davidsonville, Md., and his preparations for a future that, fortunately, never came to pass:
Here’s a 2009 interview with Pittman, in which the official whose job was to contemplate the worst-case scenario described his surprising optimism about the future of humanity:
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