Arms and the Man: Going Underground in Massachusetts

Arms and the Man: Going Underground in Massachusetts

To “preserve free government” through war and peace alike, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has decided to go underground. Its legislators have determined to become pioneers of the nuclear age by approving construction of America’s first emergency underground shelter for state government.

Shelter plans, which date back to 1955, were conceived with maximum haste, minimum debate, and little thought. $1,069,000, to be matched with federal funds, was appropriated then, as part of the annual state construction boondoggle. The wheels of Massachusetts government, however, grind exceedingly slow. Bids for shelter construction didn’t open until February 15, 1961. Digging is to begin in the Spring, and the impregnable shelter supposedly will be ready “in a few months.” The chosen spot is in Framingham, some twenty miles from the State House on Beacon Hill. Three hundred persons can be given an umbrella of six feet of dirt and four feet of reinforced concrete for a mere two million-odd dollars. And the select three hundred? These are to be “working delegations of the three branches of state government,” and the entire state civil defense staff.

IF SENATORS and Representatives actually read the bills they vote for, we might expect some querulous voices to be raised. Legislators have been observed to demonstrate normal human concern about saving their own skin, and the problem of the composition of the “working delegations” eligible for salvation should have given the politicos pause. An even less subtle cause for alarm exists. Framingham is a full half hour’s drive from Beacon Hill in light traffic. Since our schizophrenic civil defense program alternates between shelter and evacuation plans, between telling us to run and telling us to hide, we may be certain that millions will run when the sirens scream, and that the resulting traffic jam will make twenty miles seem two hundred. The Framingham location was chosen in the technologically primitive early fifties, when warning time was measured in hours rather than minutes. In the ICBM age, working legislators will likely have only the gilt on the Capitol dome to interpose between themselves and a twenty megaton warhead, not an assuring ten feet of earth and concrete.

If any of the Commonwealth’s elected officials brooded darkly on these difficulties, they resisted all temptation to let the electorate in on the secret. Hardly anyone had even heard of the Framingham project when, on February 8, ninety people from Boston SANE appeared at the State House for an anti-shelter demonstration. A long picket line formed along Beacon Street, and curious passers-by were given a protest leaflet. A second demonstration brought out 135 marchers, again mostly students. Press, radio, and television coverage was good, and a sharp detailed critique of the shelter plans was dispatched by SANE to every member of the legislature. Lib...