In the early days of nuclear weapons, the U.S. government concocted an elaborate scheme of a chain of command, underground bunker cities, and survival plans that have evolved into an even more elaborate system today.
That’s the research-based basis for a new book, “Raven Rock,” written by Garrett Graff, Tuesday’s (Nov. 28) speaker at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. The first blogger to receive credentials to cover the White House, Graff has also written a book chronicling special counsel Robert Mueller’s efforts at the FBI to combat global terrorism. He’s also a former editor of Politico and The Washingtonian magazine.
In “Raven Rock” — the name of one of the underground bunker cities located near Waynesboro, Pa. — Graff explores the evolution of the nation’s system of defense and response to nuclear war. It began in the 1940’s and 1950’s at the behest of Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. The effort involved the construction of the national highway system and coordinated efforts among government agencies to set up a shadow government and relocation process should the U.S. find itself a victim of nuclear attack.
“When you begin to talk about how to save America after the apocalypse, it very quickly becomes an existential question of what is America? And whether, are you trying to preserve the President? Are you trying to preserve the three branches of government? Are you trying to preserve the historical artifacts that have bound us together, generation by generation?” Graff said.
From the 1960’s to the present, the federal government’s sprawling plan to cope with nuclear holocaust helped develop the Internet, an air and sea system of continuous government operations and communications, and the advancement of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which was originally created for the sole purpose of preparing for a response to nuclear war. After largely sitting idle for years, FEMA began to be deployed for other disaster responses like hurricanes, earthquakes and storms.
In the early days of the Cold War, government officials expected isolated targets of atomic bombs that could kill and dislocate urban dwellers to more rural parts of America. Food was stockpiled and a master plan involving multiple federal agencies was constructed to coordinate a potential Russian nuclear attack.
After years of escalation of nuclear weapons – enough to kill every man, woman and child from the planet – the government response took on a much broader role of allowing the President or a designated survivor to control the nation’s nuclear codes from remote locations on land, sea or air. On 9/11, much of this government response was initiated before the extent of the airplane attacks was fully known.
One of the more interesting items Graff found through his research is how the government’s nuclear response effort set up a system of priorities to not only govern in a post-apocalyptic age, but to preserve American ideals and icons.
“What these planners very quickly figured out is that the heart of America is much larger than any individual person, any individual generation even. And so you’re looking at a way to preserve the idea of America,” he said, noting that the government’s plan prioritizes saving the Declaration of Independence before the Constitution and Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address before George Washington’s Military Commission. “This is a fascinating exercise in determining what is America, that’s worth preserving for future generations, even after the apocalypse.”
Graff answered several questions regarding his profile of Mueller in his 2011 book, “The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert Mueller’s FBI and the War on Global Terrorism.” In his research for the book, he was able to sit for hours with Mueller for personal interviews.
So how does he think Mueller is handling and will complete his current task as Special Prosecutor investigating Russia’s interference in the U.S. election?
“No question that Bob Mueller is going to do an incredibly thorough investigation. I’ve said in the past, Bob Mueller is America’s straightest arrow. And that in Washington he has been in the Justice Department for decades now as probably the most apolitical, non-partisan figure that you can find. And I think that in many ways he is the only person in the country who could carry out this investigation. Because whatever he concludes, by one side or the other, both will have to be able to believe whatever it is that he settles on,” Graff said.