Pick­led beets no match for Rus­sian nukes

Canada ill-pre­pared for blast at­tack

Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - PAUL GESSELL

At 10:20 a.m. on April 23, 1952, the Soviet Union dropped an atomic bomb on the cen­tre of Ot­tawa.

The blast top­pled the Par­lia­ment Build­ings; down­town was lev­elled; fires threat­ened most re­main­ing homes and of­fices; un­der­ground wa­ter­pipes were rup­tured; bridges to Hull were crip­pled.

As sun­set ap­proached, dazed sur­vivors crowded into Lans­downe Park seek­ing food and wa­ter. Ca­su­al­ties were hor­rific: 25,000 peo­ple were dead, 50,000 were injured and 105,000 were home­less.

How’s that for the be­gin­ning of a book? Not a sci­ence-fic­tion novel, but a se­ri­ous, sober­ing look at Canada’s in­ef­fec­tive plans dur­ing the Cold War to deal with a nu­clear holo­caust.

The book is Give Me Shel­ter: The Fail­ure of Canada’s Cold War Civil De­fence. The ti­tle is in­spired by the Rolling Stones’ 1969 song Gimme Shel­ter which, ac­cord­ing to Mick Jag­ger, is an apoc­a­lyp­tic “end-ofthe-world song.” Hum that song as you read this book by An­drew Burtch, the Cana­dian War Mu­seum’s post1945 his­to­rian.

Burtch has pro­duced a very chilly blast from the past. The book’s open­ing sce­nario about the de­struc­tion of Ot­tawa was one of many penned by gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials in the Cold War as they con­tem­plated Soviet ag­gres­sion. Var­i­ous mea­sures, in­clud­ing mass evac­u­a­tions and bomb shel­ters, were dreamed up to try to save at least some Cana­di­ans from an­ni­hi­la­tion.

But it is doubt­ful the feared apoc­a­lypse from Soviet bombs and mis­siles could have been averted, even if there had been ad­e­quate funds spent by the gov­ern­ment and a greater will­ing­ness by the prov­inces, the mil­i­tary and or­di­nary cit­i­zens to plan for a nu­clear at­tack.

Ini­tially, as the Cold War be­gan, the Lib­eral gov­ern-

by An­drew Burtch (UBC Press in as­so­ci­a­tion with the Cana­dian

War Mu­seum, $32.95) ment of the day de­cided cit­i­zens should take re­spon­si­bil­ity for sav­ing them­selves and their fam­i­lies.

The plan was for armies of civil­ian vol­un­teers (all male, of course) fight­ing fires and other vol­un­teers (all fe­male, of course) run­ning soup kitchens.

Cana­di­ans gen­er­ally did not buy into the plans.

Next came schemes for mass evac­u­a­tions in ad­vance of bomb­ings. Some tri­als in places such as Brockville, Ont., and St. Johns, N.L., were rel­a­tively suc­cess­ful.

But then came the big trial, a planned mass evac­u­a­tion of 40,000 res­i­dents of north­east Cal­gary in Septem­ber, 1955. A freak snow­storm de­layed the evac­u­a­tion for a week. (One can only won­der if the storm would have de­layed bombs and mis­siles.)

When the evac­u­a­tion fi­nally hap­pened, only 15 per cent of the res­i­dents of the tar­get area ac­tu­ally joined the ex­o­dus out of Cal­gary to sur­round­ing small towns.

And then there was the ef­fort, be­gin­ning in 1959, to build bomb shel­ters.

The so-called Diefen­bunker just out­side Ot­tawa is a prod­uct of that Cold War ef­fort. The prime min­is­ter, key cab­i­net min­is­ters and top man­darins were sup­posed to take shel­ter there in case of nu­clear war.

The rest of us were sup­posed to hide out in makeshift shel­ters in the base­ments of our homes, even though a hy­dro­gen bomb dropped nearby would de­stroy base­ments as well. And even if you did sur­vive, what would you do?

The breezes above would be blow­ing ra­dioac­tive fall­out your way, food and wa­ter would be scarce and life might just not be worth liv­ing.

It was dur­ing this era that a film was shown to pub­lic school students in the small Saskatchewan town where I lived.

We were all urged to go home and tell our par­ents to build bomb shel­ters. Well, I tried. My par­ents at­tempted to re­as­sure me that our base­ment had thick walls that could sus­tain the big­gest of Rus­sian bombs and the base­ment shelves were lined with pre­served food.

My 10-year-old self re­mained skep­ti­cal. How long could our fam­ily of six — seven in the win­ters when grandma al­ways vis­ited — have sur­vived on mom’s pick­led beets and rasp­berry jam? And how would we go to the bath­room? Yuck.

My par­ents were no dif­fer­ent than most other Cana­di­ans. Only about 2,000 in­di­vid­ual bomb shel­ters were built in the Cold War. Peo­ple sim­ply did not be­lieve the shel­ters were the so­lu­tion. They fig­ured diplo­matic and mil­i­tary ef­forts to tame the Sovi­ets were more re­al­is­tic op­tions.

“Canada’s civil de­fence (CD) pro­gram failed for a con­stel­la­tion of rea­sons,” Burtch writes. “Suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments pur­sued and al­tered CD and drafted plans be­hind closed doors, but they never pro­vided the pub­lic with the tools re­quired to cre­ate a mean­ing­ful de­fence. Civil De­fence Canada and its of­fi­cials mean­while limped by on a frac­tion of a per­cent­age of the bil­lions of dol­lars com­mit­ted to the mil­i­tary de­fence of the coun­try dur­ing the same pe­riod.

Luck­ily, the Sovi­ets never did bomb us or we would not be around to read Give Me Shel­ter, an ex­tremely de­tailed and shock­ing anal­y­sis of how a gov­ern­ment and its peo­ple failed to con­nect and col­lab­o­rate on one of the most im­por­tant is­sues fac­ing the world dur­ing the Cold War.

The book is scarier than sci­ence fic­tion be­cause it shows how un­pre­pared we were to save our own skin had the Rus­sians ever de­cided to at­tack.

The mother-daugh­ter team of Patricia and Traci Lambrecht, writ­ing un­der the name P.J. Tracy, un­veil the sixth novel in their se­ries fea­tur­ing the Mon­keewrench crew in Off the Grid. Fans will be ea­ger to see their favourite char­ac­ters reap­pear, but new­com­ers will likely feel lost.

Mon­keewrench Soft­ware Co. han­dles del­i­cate com- puter and crime is­sues, and the team of mis­fits use their spe­cial­ized skills to help the po­lice. A part­ner of the group, Grace MacBride, takes a sab­bat­i­cal and soon re­al­izes she can­not stay away from trou­ble. While on a sail­boat off the Florida Keys, she sees a friend at­tacked by pi­rates. She kills the pi­rates and saves her friend’s life.

At the same time, Leo Magozzi, a homi­cide de­tec­tive in Min­neapo­lis, finds two men ex­e­cuted. Soon more deaths oc­cur that ap­pear to be tied to the at­tack on the sail­boat. Magozzi is es­tranged from MacBride, but he needs her and the Mon­keewrench team if the mur­der­ers are to be brought to jus­tice.

The Mon­keewrench se­ries usu­ally fea­tures strong doses of hu­mour mixed with 3-D char­ac­ters and in­tri­cate mys­ter­ies. Off the Grid feels like a rough out­line that needs an­other pass to flesh out the de­tails. Hu­mour is nonex­is­tent, and some of the char­ac­ters seem dif­fer­ent from pre­vi­ous books. Char­ac­ters should grow in a se­ries, but they shouldn’t be­come un­lik­able. The rushed end­ing and lack of a pay­off don’t help.

Give Me Shel­ter: The Fail­ure of Canada’s Cold War Civil De­fence

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