After the United States officially entered the Second World War in December 1941, citizens on both the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines were concerned about the possibility of an Axis attack. While that notion seems to be the object of derision and comedy today (or as close as Spielberg’s 1941 comes to comedy, which is to say “not very”), it was a legitimate concern, however unlikely the scenario may have been. Records discovered after the war’s end showed that Axis submarines came quite close to both coasts, and we can’t forget that a Nazi German airship did directly overfly New York City (see the previous post to the Big Blog o’Fun). And before we laugh too hard at our parents and grandparents, let’s not forget the post-9/11 panic in late 2001, a time during which urbanites possessing more money than sense were paying exorbitant sums for NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) suits that they didn’t even know how to properly use.

Americans took civil defense pretty seriously during the war. Both coasts saw frequent blackouts: defense exercises in which people were required to turn out all lights in their homes and cars – even streetlights went dark – in preparation for potential Axis night air attacks (the theory being that the lack of lights would inhibit air navigation with no discernible landmarks). Children were encouraged to remain on the lookout for enemy aircraft; since kids spent a lot of time playing outdoors, why not train them to be spotters? Many housewives laid in stocks of canned food and bottles of water for their families, just in case an enemy air raid would disrupt the distribution and procurement of these items. Older men (and ones rejected by the draft board) joined civilian defense units and helped patrol the streets during blackouts, helping citizens find shelter and castigating those who didn’t douse their lights.

Numerous civil defense publications appeared during the war, most of which were pretty dry, stodgy affairs. But M.C. Gaines (whose company would later become infamous as the publisher of EC horror comics and Mad magazine) released a civil defense comic book which is actually pretty fun to read. How You Can Defend Your Home was a seventy-two page book jam-packed with civil defense tips and information, which included a large number of aircraft recognition silhouettes (both Axis and Allied). Once you start reading the book, it quickly becomes pretty hard to out it down.

Here’s an especially cool page which features the Grumman F4F Wildcat as well as some interesting info about rocketry (a technology which was then still in its infant stages), courtesy of Comic Book Plus:

WWII era civil defense publication

Have fun! — Steve

Copyright 2013, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.