It has been determined as a matter of Federal policy,” reports the President’s Advisory Committee on a National Highway Program, “that at least 70 million people would have to be evacuated from target areas in case of a threatened or actual nuclear attack. No urban area in the country today has highway facilities equal to this task.”
So reads the first paragraph of this 1958 ad, which capitalizes upon Atom Age anxieties to pitch the virtues of the coming system of interstate highways…and the fine Caterpillar products used to construct them.
It’s no secret that the post-WW2 highway building boom was motivated considerably by the strategic concerns engendered by nuclear weapons (hence the original name for the project, “the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.”
The goal was to decentralize and scatter vital industries away from the existing compact (and target-rich) urban cores while maintaining transportation efficiency should a nuclear war actually occur. The I-495 loop, for instance, not only links greater Worcester to Boston’s I-95/93 corridor, but acts as a fallback route to maintain the integrity of the grid should the Expressway be reduced to so much glowing rubble.
The promise of easy evacuation from threatened areas was the icing on the cake, and something for present-day folks to ponder as they sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic caused by some lookyloos gawking at a disabled vehicle in the breakdown lane ten miles up the road.
Recommended Reading: Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America by Tom Vanderbilt
Recommended Listening: Young Marble Giants – Final Day (from Colossal Youth, 1980)
I have a fairly large collection of nuclear war related music, with selections ranging from pop to jazz to funk to punk and all genre points in between. This piece of Welsh postpunk is the most effective bit of the lot, as it boils the fear, sadness, and resignation down into a hauntingly heartbreaking epitaph for a suicidal world.
This is how the world ends. Not with a bang, but with an almost imperceptable sigh.