THE COLD WAR – A SHORT VIDEO INTRODUCTION
DRAFT by Dave Peters – rev #6, 04 Oct 2002)
Note: The following is a draft of a potential script for a short introductory video intended to introduce visitors to the Diefenbunker Museum. The video was never produced. I still believe that it is necessary to have such an introduction which is common practice in many similar North American museums.
In 1959, families in Canada were being instructed by their governments to store quantities of food in their houses, Canadian school children practised taking cover under their desks, and television stations announced tests of emergency siren signals. Ordinary Canadians were asked to do these quite extraordinary things because there was a serious possibility that their lives and those of their families would be threatened by a massive nuclear attack on North America. The Cold War was at its most intense and potential nuclear devastation was lurking in the wings. I’m George Rich and in the early sixties when the Cold War was in one of its most dangerous phases, I was one of the CBC announcers that produced the attack warning message tapes that would have been broadcast over the Emergency Broadcasting System in the event of an actual attack on Canada.
What is a “Cold War”? Winston Churchill first coined the term in 1949. It refers to a state of hostilities between nations just short of actual combat. The development of huge stores of weapon systems including weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear bombs, the creation of large standing military forces as part of even larger alliances, intense surveillance and spying by the antagonists, sabre rattling and brinkmanship; these were all characteristics of the Cold War.
The Cold War lasted from 1945 to 1989. The Soviet Union had been an uneasy partner of the United States, Britain, Canada and during the Second World War. However toward the end of the war, with the imminent defeat of NAZI Germany, these nation’s interests in the future fate of post war Europe, and soon after the world, began to dramatically diverge. The United States’ President Truman, Britain’s Prime Minister Churchill and the Soviet’s Chairman Stalin agreed to split Europe into eastern and western zones.
What made the Cold War very different from the “Hot” wars that had preceded it was the existence of nuclear weapons and the very real threat that they would be used in future conflicts. These weapons of mass destruction, developed and employed in war for the first time by the United States against the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, had demonstrated their horrifically devastating effects. Subsequent development of more powerful atomic weapons including hydrogen bombs and warheads along with bombers and later sub-orbital missiles to “deliver” these weapons cast a doomsday shadow across the globe.
On March 5th, 1946 Churchill gave a speech at Fulton College, Missouri where he stated that “_ an iron curtain has descended in Europe”. This iron curtain divided the world into two armed camps, west and east. The “West”, was centred on the United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) allies. Canada’s then Foreign Affairs Minister Pearson was highly instrumental in the establishment of NATO, which had been ratified in 1949. NATO was one of the main bulwarks of the West’s defence during the Cold War. The “East” included the Soviet Union and its partners including East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia formed the Warsaw Pact in 1955. From that point on the lines were drawn on the map of Europe and the east-west confrontation was to threaten the survival of humanity for the next three and a half decades was underway.
As time passed the ideological struggle between communism in the east and democracy in the west grew increasingly tense. It became apparent to the political leaders on both sides and to scientists and analysts as well as to much of the planet’s population, that an all out nuclear attack by either side would have enormous consequences. Civilisation, even the very existence of all life on earth would be threatened by the use of nuclear weapons. There was widespread fear that some international event or situation could at any time trigger the outbreak of a third world war. Many events increased the tension, at times coming very close to the brink of such a war. The Berlin Blockade; conflicts in Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Afghanistan; attempted revolutions in Hungary, Poland, East Germany; the construction of the Berlin Wall; “incidents” such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and the U2 spy plane downing and strife in Africa and central America are examples. Other tense situations occurred when bomber and missile warning systems inadvertently gave false indications of attack. As time went on additional nations became nuclear powers further adding to the intensity of the Cold War. The addition of France, and China to the nuclear club further increased the chances that something would go wrong. The world came close to nuclear holocaust and possible annihilation many times during the sixties, seventies and early eighties.
The West and the East each built up huge military forces, which included nuclear attack systems designed to retaliate against each other in the event of a surprise attack. These nuclear forces were well protected by either being dispersed in submarines at sea, by being mobile in disguised rail or truck launchers or by being placed underground in concrete silos. They were poised to be launched against the other side at a moment’s notice. The existence of such retaliation systems was recognition that there was really no truly reliable, complete defence against a nuclear attack. Both sides attempted to devise counter missile systems but without much real success or confidence that they would actually function while under intense attack. Nations on both sides built secret underground, nuclear bomb resistant bunkers for their government’s leaders.
Canada found itself geographically located between the two principle superpowers. Over the north Polar Regions is the shortest distance between the United States and the Soviet Union! The federal government and many Canadians were rightfully concerned that a war between the superpowers would end up destroying Canada.
In response, throughout the cold war period most nations including Canada created programs to provide for some protection for their civilian population. In some countries comprehensive Civil Defence programs were put in place that were adequately designed and equipped to protect all of their citizens. Sweden, Switzerland and to a lessor extent the Soviet Union and their Warsaw Pact allies had fully functional Civil Defence programs. The United States had initially put a great deal of effort into Civil Defence but as the Cold War waxed and waned, less and less of their preparedness to protect civilians remained truly workable. Given the magnitude of the threat, it is remarkable that France, Britain, along with most of Western Europe did very little to protect their civilians.
Canada had rudimentary plans for Civil Defence and in a few aspects had developed a useful capacity to protect some of its citizens in the event of nuclear war. However the federal government was reluctant to spend the money needed and a general lack of interest on behalf of most provinces (and much of the population) to participate meant that not little significant progress was made. The federal government did publish a number of useful booklets designed to help the public take measures to protect itself. They also had installed a nation-wide system of attack warning sirens and developed the CBC radio-based emergency broadcast systems to warn and advise the public in case of attack. Large numbers of hospital equipment and medical supplies were placed in storage and stocks of radiation detection equipment were acquired. In the 60s and 70s, many civil defence workers and the military were trained in their use. The federal government also encouraged families to build fallout shelters in the basements of their homes. Later they identified, but did not equip millions of spaces in the basements of large buildings for use as community fallout shelters. However such plans were largely incomplete and were not adequately implemented nor maintained.
In the sixties the Canadian government had also secretly built a system of strong concrete and steel underground structures to protect thousands of key national officials. The Carp, Ontario bunker and six other smaller for provincial governments across the country bunkers were constructed under a veil of secrecy during the sixties. These were intended to enable the continued functioning of a minimum of legitimate government no matter what happened. Other nations also built similar bunkers for their leaders, some of which were extremely well hardened and buried deep underground. In the case of the United States and the Soviet Union each appears to have constructed hundreds of such bunkers for their leaders and senior officials, some of which are still in use today.
The Diefenbunker in Carp is one of the few such structures remaining in Canada. The collapse of the Soviet Union was likely caused by many complex factors. Its fall is illustrated by the fall of the Berlin Wall. The result has been the relative democratisation of most of the former Warsaw Pact members and the reunification of Germany which truly signalled the end of the Cold War. This has resulted in the survival of the United States as the world’s sole remaining superpower. Is this the beginning of a “Pax Americana”? Or is it simply the beginning of a new type of cold war where states that possess even a few nuclear weapons are in a position to threaten the world to get their own way. Despite both Russia and the United States having significantly reduced their stocks of nuclear weapons systems, great numbers of such weapons remain not only in those two nations but also around the globe. Whether the lessons of what could be called the first Cold War have been learned by the world remains to be seen.
You are now about to tour a place that was kept secret from Canadians for the first 20 years of its existence. The Diefenbunker has been acquired by a small group of volunteers and is now being operated as a non-profit museum of the Cold War. During your visit we ask you to think about what could have happened to the world, to Canadians and to the families of those who would have had to come to this place to try and maintain a thin line of continuity of government if ever the sirens had sounded signalling the start of a real nuclear attack!