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  • The British Journal for the History of Science, Volume 43, Issue 2
  • June 2010, pp. 149-180

Architects of Armageddon: the Home Office Scientific Advisers' Branch and civil defence in Britain, 1945–68†

  • MELISSA SMITH (a1)
  • DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0007087409990392
  • Published online: 08 October 2009
Abstract
Abstract

In 1948, in response to the perceived threat of atomic war, the British government embarked on a new civil defence programme. By the mid-1950s, secret government reports were already warning that this programme would be completely inadequate to deal with a nuclear attack. The government responded to these warnings by cutting civil defence spending, while issuing apparently absurd pamphlets advising the public on how they could protect themselves from nuclear attack. Historians have thus far sought to explain this response with reference to high-level decisions taken by policymakers, and have tended to dismiss civil defence advice as mere propaganda. This paper challenges this interpretation by considering the little-known role of the Home Office Scientific Advisers' Branch, a group of experts whose scientific and technical knowledge informed both civil defence policy and advice to the public. It explores both their advisory and research work, demonstrating their role in shaping civil defence policy and showing that detailed research programmes lay behind the much-mocked government civil defence pamphlets of the 1950s and 1960s.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

J. Hughes , ‘The Strath Report: Britain confronts the H-bomb, 1954–1955’, History and Technology (2003) 19, 257–75

Matthew Grant , ‘Home Defence and the Sandys Defence White Paper, 1957’, Journal of Strategic Studies (2008), 31, 925–49

J. Agar and B. Balmer , ‘British scientists and the Cold War: the Defence Research Policy Committee and information networks, 1947–63’, Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences (1998), 28, 209–52

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The British Journal for the History of Science
  • ISSN: 0007-0874
  • EISSN: 1474-001X
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-for-the-history-of-science
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