Steuart Pittman, Fallen Father of the Fallout Shelter

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Steuart L. Pittman, the man who tried to woo Americans into fallout shelters a half-century ago to protect them from nuclear fallout, has died.

Pittman served as the chief of President John Kennedy’s civil defense program. He led the effort at the height of the Cold War to organize a nationwide system of nuclear fallout shelters across the country, and died Feb. 10 at his farm in Davidsonville, Md. He was 93.

Friday’s Washington Post reported:

At the peak of U.S. preparedness, Mr. Pittman said, national and local governments were ready to offer shelter to two-thirds of the U.S. population in case of nuclear attack. Shelters were marked with what became iconic yellow and black signs.

The Post added his effort is now “largely forgotten.” But not among those of a certain age, unsure if we should be amused, perplexed, or terrified by those ubiquitous yellow and black signs.



Steuart Pittman

Noted the Post:

The program had begun to attract criticism from members of Congress and local government officials who argued that the shelter system was too expensive, that it gave a false sense of security and that it perhaps fueled an immoral “every man for himself” approach to emergency preparedness.

Mr. Pittman countered that the stakes of nuclear war were “too high to ignore any practical measures” that could save lives. He added that the country could not afford a defeatist attitude.

“If it is appropriate to use moral epithets, such as cowardly and selfish,” he told a congressional committee in 1963, “I personally believe they are more aptly applied to those who loudly proclaim their willingness to lie down and die while our country is under attack.”

Some day, Battleland is confident, they’ll say pretty the same thing about national missile defense.