Anoka County history: Defense in case of the unthinkable

by Randy Getchell

Their high-altitude bombers could reach us, easily, but we couldn’t stop them with the old armaments.

So, the military developed a new weapon capable of reaching the new bombers, the Nike Missile. Minneapolis needed protection, requiring four strategically placed Nike missile sites.

The government came looking north of the city for one of its sites.

According to an Anoka County Union retrospective of May 27, 1994, when the federal representative explained the situation, farmer Carl Palm “wasn’t pleased with the idea of having a missile site in the neighborhood.” He worried to the fed that if the missile site were built on his farm, the Soviet Union might come looking for it and bomb it. Palm was told, in effect, “if the buttons are ever pushed … it really wouldn’t matter anymore.”

The Bethel Missile Site was dedicated on Sunday, Jan. 17, 1960. Though the site was in Isanti County, well away from Bethel, for some reason it carried the Bethel name.

During the Cold War, the government did what it could, militarily. Civil defense organizations in most Anoka County communities prepared for dealing with the aftermath of a nuclear explosion. The Anoka County Sheriff’s Department had a CD arm, as well.

Some people constructed home shelters and community shelters were designated. Of course, most of us knew these measures would be futile. But, we needed to do something, didn’t we?

Perhaps the most disingenuous attempt to make us feel prepared for atomic war was the film, “Duck and Cover,” produced by the Civil Defense Administration, in consultation with the National Education Association, a classic piece of propaganda because it aimed to quell fears with false information.

Shown to school children, the film instructed that, in the event of nuclear blast, they could save themselves from harm if they simply ducked under, or against, something solid and covered their heads.

In a letter to the editor of the Circulating Pines March 10, 1955, Circle Pines resident and future Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, Rosalie Wahl, suggested that the film instilled fear into the minds of school children that “they have no resources to handle.”

At the same time, in Justice Wahl’s opinion, the children were being deluded into thinking that by simply hiding under a piece of furniture, they could survive. Illustrating her point, she noted the staggering damage statistics of destruction and radioactivity emanating from the center of a bomb blast.

Then Justice Wahl wrote, “The only way to protect our children from the bomb is to keep that bomb from falling.” She asked her fellow citizens if they would be “urging … leaders into finding constructive solutions to the problems that face us?” Or, she chided, would there be just “superficial assurance that something is being done?”

Editor’s note: Randy Getchell, a retired reference librarian, writes this column on behalf of the Anoka County Historical Society.

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