The Need for Civilian Protection


By DEAN JAMES M. LANDIS, Executive, Office of Civilian Defense

Over CBS, January 17, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 319-320.

CIVILIAN defense as a program divides broadly into two fields. The first is that of protection from enemy attack. If we would understand this field of protection, we must understand a few simple truths. The first is that we cannot count ourselves free from attack. As civilians we would be the first to criticize our armed forces, if no air and sea patrols covered our Pacific and Atlantic Coasts, if no anti-aircraft batteries protected our strategic coastal points or if no network to discover the approach of hostile planes were in existence. But by the very same token we must be the first to criticize ourselves if as civilians we take no measures to protect our lives and property against the very same danger.

A second simple truth that we must recognize is that the building of adequate civilian defense cannot be done overnight, and that we must prepare long in advance to meet new dangers that may rise from the shifting battle lines in the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans. Today we hold the enemy at a distance and, by the Eternal, we shall continue to do so. But lines may change, battlegrounds shift fast, and we must now get ready to deal with whatever the swiftly-moving future may have in store.

The need for civilian protection is now admittedly here, and being here, we must learn another simple truth—that we as civilians must respond in a united fashion to that need.

It is difficult for us fully to realize this, for its realization calls upon us to respond differently than in our customary ways. Subordination to unified authority and unified command has not hitherto characterized our political life. Instead we have distributed the political authority that we must now bring together among municipalities, counties, States, and the Federal government. The enemy, however, knows no such division, and so that we can deal with the enemy as one we must learn to create mechanisms for unified action by quick and simple agreement. This is perhaps a challenge of the deepest kind to our form of political organization that we do not yet know that we can meet. Blackout regulations, for example, cannot vary from town to town, alarms cannot change because a mythical line between city and suburb has been crossed, people in one church cannot be urged to scatter and in another required to remain, police powers of air raid wardens and other officials cannot be one thing in one community and something else in another. If we as a people have ever learned the need for united action, we must now begin to apply it.

This truth is basic to any program of civilian protection. To neglect it is to have no command, no direction, and to leave civilian government hopeless to meet the tasks that it should rightly assume.

The steps that must be taken to evolve the protective organizations that we need call first for the training of millions of people in techniques that only a relatively few people know. Texts for this training are now in existence, but teachers and more teachers must be produced to bring that knowledge home to the millions of persons that are affected.

But mere training is only the first step. Numbers of air-raid wardens, auxiliary police or firemen, tell only part of the story of the necessary preparedness that must characterize the scene. For without organization the civilian effort remains a mob and not an army. Headquarters or control centers which can command these forces must be brought into existence so that the forces can be used efficiently. And to do so, men and women unaccustomed to the rigors of command must learn new lessons in how to act as units and not as individuals.

These lessons are difficult to learn. For the work calls for little that is glamorous and much, very much, that is mere routine. It calls also for a grim type of patience, that must wait and wait and wait—and nothing may eventually happen.

But the significance of preparedness rests in the fact that then no longer need the fear of disaster haunt us. If bombing comes, true, there will be tragedies but not massacres, fires but not conflagrations. Understanding and following simple instructions as the records show cut casualties from a 100 to 10, from a 1000 to a 100.

A nation that grasps the significance of preparedness in this field becomes strong in morale. It knows that it can meet without undue hurt such harm as the enemy may inflict upon it, and thus becomes by that very fact that much more immune from attack, that much better a fighting machine.

But protection is only one side of the Office of Civilian Defense, for war has other consequences to the civilian population than air attacks. Even now it enlists the support of millions of people who want to give their spare time to the war effort. Over and over again men and women are asking the question: "What can I do for defense?" To answer that question is one of our duties.

In fields other than protection, the answers to that question call for efforts of at least three types. The first relates to that host of duties that civilians can undertake which have a very direct relationship to the war effort. Salvage, for example, of necessary materials is required to keep our pace of production. A hundred and one different things are necessary for maintaining the comfort and morale of our armed forces. Writing, speaking, and in other ways making plain the ends for which we fight, the progress that we make, is necessary if everywhere we would keep our ideals, our driving force for victory.

A second general answer relates to efforts necessary to keep the social and economic level that we have built for ourselves. War exerts pressures upon these levels which have to be met. Thus war calls upon us to use wisely the foods to which it limits us, and to do this we must learn something of the elements of nutrition. War dislocates our civilian populations, and we must learn to utilize our resources to bring order quickly out of this enforced chaos. It calls thus for housing, for recreation, for help in readjustment, and for a host of other matters that can be dealt with only if we attack these problems with all the resources at our disposal, both the established resources of government and the new human volunteer energy that war has unleashed.

The third general answer to the question of "What can I do for defense?" relates to the improvement of the society in which we live. To the extent that we succeed in doing this, we succeed in making more real, more concrete the promises of American life for which we now are fighting. To the extent that we learn to do democratic things, we pack our preachings of democracy with a truer, clearer meaning. These things are equally part of defense, equally part of the war effort, and desperately necessary if we would assure ourselves not only that we shall win the war but also win the peace.

It is not the task of the Office of Civilian Defense to do these things, or even to conduct those activities which will bring them about. But it is the duty of that Office to portray to those volunteers the ways and means whereby they can aid in the realization of these ends. On the one hand we have a vast store of human energy, vast resources on the part of Government, and on the other we have the needs of communities. The task of the Office of Civilian Defense is to bring them together, to help them meet these needs through the use of their reserve volunteer energy and the existing resources of government.

The mechanisms that must be used to achieve this goal are many—volunteer bureaus to recruit volunteers, programming committees to lay out tasks where these volunteers can fruitfully be used, community organizations which will be a source for understanding community needs, and constant interpretation of government, its desires and powers, so that people may understand clearly both what it asks and what it can give.

In this way an interpretation of the meaning and significance of the war effort can be brought more clearly home to those agencies of State and local government whose concern is molding the community to meet the impact of the war and to give to the nation their several stores of human energy.

To do this effectively and concretely is the task of the Office of Civilian Defense. It recognizes that in every aspect of our lives we must be at war, giving ourselves to the realization of victory and to the values that victory makes worthwhile. To imprint this idea by service in every walk of life makes that much surer its attainment. To build through protection defenses against attack, through voluntary participation to make our multitudes soldiers for victory, through direction of governmental effort to make clear its abilities to promote the great ends of freedom, these are the tasks in which we dare not fail.