Nuclear War: "Self Preservation In An Atomic Bomb Attack" (1950) AFSWP 18min

Nuclear War: "Self Preservation In An Atomic Bomb Attack" (1950) AFSWP 18min

United States Armed Forces Special Weapons Project.
“Soldiers prepare themselves, just in case the big one hits.”

Nuclear War Survival Skills or NWSS, by Cresson Kearny, is a civil defense manual. It contains information gleaned from research performed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory during the Cold War, as well as from Kearny’s extensive jungle living and international travels.

The book aims to provide a general audience with advice on how to survive conditions likely to be encountered in the event of a nuclear catastrophe, as well as encouraging optimism in the face of such a catastrophe by asserting the survivability of a nuclear war. It was placed in the public domain by the author and is available in digital format for free from several sources online. In the printed form a modest charge will generally be incurred.

Originally released September 1979, it was updated and republished in May 1987 with (among other things) a significant addition on nuclear winter, comprised largely of “refuting facts.”. In 2001 a one page addendum on radiation hormesis was added…


The main chapters are preceded by forewords from Edward Teller and Eugene Wigner. Following this is an introduction which explains that even the fruition of the Strategic Defense Initiative program would not make “self-help civil defense” obsolete. A comparison is made of the civil defense preparations of Switzerland, Russia, and the United states, where it is concluded that: “Switzerland has the best civil defense system”; “The rulers of the Soviet Union… continue to prepare the Russians to fight, survive, and win all types of wars”; and that “the United States has advocated… a strategy that purposely leaves its citizens unprotected hostages to its enemies.” Thus, “The emphasis in this book is on survival preparations that can be made in the last few days of a worsening crisis.”

The Dangers from Nuclear Weapons: Myths and Facts

The first chapter aims to give background information to dispel various demoralizing myths and reaffirm the potential survivability and reality of nuclear weapons. “An all-out nuclear war between Russia and the United States would… be far from the end of human life on earth.” Myths listed include: “Fallout radiation from a nuclear war would poison the air and all parts of the environment. It would kill everyone.”; “Fallout radiation penetrates everything; there is no escaping its deadly effects.”; and “Unsurvivable “nuclear winter” surely will follow a nuclear war.”

Psychological Preparations

This chapter provides information on the immediate effects of thermonuclear explosions, and peoples’ likely reactions to them, in an attempt to lesson the terror and confusion that would be prevalent after an unexpected nuclear attack. “Some people would think the end of the world was upon them if they happened to be in an area downwind from surface bursts of nuclear weapons that sucked millions of tons of pulverized earth into the air.”

Warnings and Communications

Illustrates the limitations of the National Warning System (NAWAS) and the Attack Warning Signal sirens, concluding that “In an all-out attack, the early explosions would give sufficient warning for most people to reach nearby shelter in time.”

Due to the replacement of large warheads on inaccurate missiles with smaller warheads on more accurate missiles, “you may logically conclude that unless your home is closer than 10 miles from the nearest probable target, you need not evacuate to avoid blast and fire dangers.” Evacuation relevant to fallout radiation risk is thoroughly discussed, where it is noted that most available fallout risk-area maps are inaccurate, outdated, and misleading.

Shelter, the Greatest Need

Provides information on fallout protection and basic structures; complete designs for “6 types of earth-covered expedient shelters” are provided in Appendix A.

Ventilation and Cooling of Shelters

“Some shelters will become dangerously hot in a few hours.” The Kearny Air Pump (for which a design is included in the appendix) is recommended, with natural ventilation considered typically inadequate, and electric pumps considered unreliable and prone to heating the air..


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Nuclear War Survival Skills