According to the author:
This scripting of danger and stagemanaging of nuclear effects became increasingly sophisticated at the Nevada Test Site in the 1950s, eventually including parallel civil defense material aimed at civilians. Again, panic, not nuclear destruction, was positioned as the real danger in nuclear warfare. This argument was made with careful crafting of the images of nuclear warfare, censoring of nuclear effects such as fire and radiation, and focusing on atomic bombs rather than the much larger thermonuclear weapons already in the U.S. arsenal.
In Operation Cue, there is no discussion about radioactive fallout or the extensive fires that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki produced. Instead, the film provides a detailed portrait of a functioning post-nuclear state. Rescue personnel pull damaged mannequins from the rubble, flying several to off-site hospitals; meanwhile, the mass feeding takes place alongside standing homes and power lines. Later, the mannequins scorched by Operation Cue went on a national tour of J. C. Penney department stores, which had provided the clothing used in the test, offering an explicit portrait of nuclear survival to the U.S. public.
A closer reading of Operation Cue reveals a more complicated message: The film is training citizens to accept nuclear war as a normative threat, employing nuclear fear to craft a militarized society organized around preparing for nuclear war every minute of every day. To accomplish this, the portrait of nuclear danger presented in Operation Cue is partial, a carefully edited version of nuclear science that the day’s prevailing experts had already disproved via the test programs in Nevada and the South Pacific. In actuality, the fallout produced by nuclear tests such as Operation Cue traversed the continental United States, creating negative health effects for soldiers and civilians that continue to this day—a much starker reality than Operation Cue promises viewers.
Here Masco is arguing that the Federal Civil Defense Administration was being willfully mendacious in its propaganda efforts, intentionally withholding disturbing facts about nuclear weapons in order to engineer Americans' emotional lives to fight the Cold War. The truth of the matter is that when the film was made, the FCDA was not privy to the information that the AEC had gathered about fallout in the course of the nuclear tests in the Pacific in 1954. Indeed, a big part of the reason that Ralph Lapp went public with the problems posed by fallout in 1954-5 was so that civil defense planners could take this information into account in their planning efforts. (Lapp was a longstanding civil defense advocate, who wrote a pro-civil defense book titled Must We Hide? in 1949.) After information about fallout began reaching the FCDA, "Operation Cue" was edited to include an introduction regarding the fallout problem, as seen here:
And part two:
Besides the fact that the FCDA lacked up-to-date information to censor, the current knowledge about fallout in mid-1955 left a very great deal to be desired. It doesn't help that Masco's citation on this issue is to Richard L. Miller's 1986 Under the Cloud: the Decades of Nuclear Testing, a book which does not evaluate the health impacts of fallout scientifically. Indeed, in 1988 Technology and Culture published a scathing review of the book by Barton C. Hacker dismissed the book as merely the latest addition to the lengthy list of anti-nuclear screeds (including Harvey Wasserman's Killing Our Own) which "vary considerably in quality, but all are one-sided" and "selective in their use of evidence." In particular, Hacker noted that "nowhere, in any event, does Miller show that detectable fallout equals hazardous fallout. There may be a case for that view, but it needs better evidence than hazy memories, self-interested statements, or innuendo." This book hardly seems to be a stable foundation upon which to build a historical argument.
On the fire issue, Masco calls on Lynn Eden's Whole World on Fire, which is certainly not a bad book (albeit very partisan to the Harold Brode school of predicting fire effects from nuclear explosions). Unfortunately, I do not believe that Eden's book supports Masco's claim that the FCDA was willfully ignoring fire effects of nuclear explosions. The entire point of Eden's argument was that the AEC, SAC, and the other pillars of the American nuclear establishment all downplayed or ignored fire effects in their nuclear war planning. Seeing as the FCDA played second fiddle to these organizations, it's no surprise that they followed the contemporary fashion. It is also worth pointing out that the nuclear explosion in the film did not incinerate the model buildings prepared by the FCDA. This was due to inadequate fuel loading, and as a result of this and similar tests civil defense planners concluded that so long as fuel loading was kept sufficiently low, firestorms could not develop. Brode regarded this as a serious error, but it is worth pointing out that his was a minority view. In any case, I do not believe that the FCDA was being willfully mendacious on the fire issue, even if they were arguably very wrong about it in hindsight.
On top of this, "Operation Cue" is not a good example of the FCDA's elaborate fear management theories. This is partially because Behavioralism was on the wane by 1955, but it is also because the film is about nuclear weapons effects rather than people. Although subtle, the message of the film is really that then-current investment in civil defense infrastructure was inadequate. Keep in mind that hardly anyone built the home blast shelters featured in the film, and plans for public blast shelters were canceled by the Eisenhower Administration. Therefore, the average viewer in 1955 was likely to have thought, "what if that was my house? I don't have a shelter...I'd be killed!" This is very different from "I must accept nuclear war as a normative threat, and prepare for it every day of my life." The FCDA's hope was that this would translate into clamor for increased civil defense spending, but between the problems posed by the H-bomb and the highly disturbing overtones of civil defense in general, these efforts were in vain.
Besides this, the author gets even the simplest facts wrong, such as describing Val Peterson as the "inaugural head of the Federal Civil Defense Agency." Firstly, it was the Federal Civil Defense Administration; and secondly, Val Peterson was the second head of the FCDA. The actual inaugural head of the FCDA was Millard Caldwell, a segregationist southern Democrat whose racism and general incompetence caused massive problems for the FCDA's initial civil defense efforts in 1951-2. So on the whole, I must say that I am not altogether impressed by this article.