For the past two generations, we have had the ability to be the authors of our own annihilation. But the reality of this realization has not managed to discourage a tiny fraction of sunny optimists who believe post-Apocalyptic survival is possible. We have a new generation of so-called “doomsday preppers,” hyper-rich survivalists who are building luxury bunkers within which they hope to survive and start anew. Unsurprisingly, they’ll still be at the top.
But they’re not the first to have a go at this game. The US government is the original doomsday prepper, as revealed in the terrifying, can’t-look-away history by Garrett M. Graff, Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself–While the Rest of Us Die. Graff’s book is both page turning and thought-provoking. Graff does nothing less than map out, in compelling detail, the impact of our nuclear arsenals on our government’s perception of its own mortality. As soon as we knew that we could destroy all life on earth, we sought to make ourselves the exception.
Graff begins his book with a vision of Richard M Nixon. drinking, depressed, on the verge of resigning as a result of the Watergate scandal. He’s taking what will be his last trip on Air Force One as President. The proof of that is that he still has what we now call the “nuclear football.” In retrospect, it is a frightening moment.
You’ll find many more of these sorts of scares in this book than you expect as Graf expertly takes us through the history of modern Armageddon. Once we dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, it didn’t take long for the government to realize that a single shot could now cripple our nation. We had to de-centralize the government in secret, to prepare for the possibility, the eventuality of nuclear war.
Graff finds a powerful storyline amidst a complicated tangle of history and follows it with clear expertise. Having come to the realization that it might be mortal, the US government seeks to prevent its own extinction. Graff describes acronym-rich plans for COG (Continuance of Government), in example, the “Designated Survivor” program, which runs some 20 levels deep and quickly to absurdity, with plans to install the an Illinois DA as the president should the 19 before him be vaporized in an attack. Chillingly, ECG (Enduring Constitutional Government) involves tossing our large portions of the Constitution. Even more frightening is the fact that this program is so classified little is known bout to this day.
The history of Civil Defense is equally illuminating, and not in manner that will calm our fears. In the earliest years of nuclear ignorance, there was some thought that the “duck and cover” drills some might remember might help. But as the totality of nuclear destruction became clear, Civil Defense was quickly eroded as the government sought to take care of number one. Visions of “bomb-proof” underground cities never came to fruition.
In the run-up the The End of All Things, we’ve had a few dress rehearsals, most of which went badly. Graff offers a particularly poignant look at the chaos that followed the attacks of September 11, 2001. Our ability to learn from our mistakes apparently does not go too far in informing our plans. This is not to say that plans have not been altered, but rather that the no matter what is being planned, readers of the book are not likely to benefit.
As for the abandoned bunkers made obsolete by our advancing understanding of just how bad it would be, well, they’re now being re-made and re-sold to ensure that the 0.01% can survive along with the government. Graff effortlessly takes us to the edge of post-Apocalyptic survival for those who can afford it. We can be certain that some of us at least, think we are ready for The End. The rest of us are collateral damage. We won’t even get an acronym.
Graff’s storytelling skills cannot be suppressed, and when we sat down to talk, I was happily surprised to find that he was talking about some of details I found most enjoyable and compelling. That said, if you follow this link to [download] our in-depth interview, we only whet your appetite for destruction. Heck, you might as well listen to the whole damn shebang below, right now. As long as the nuclear football is still in play, the Game is on, until we are over.