Alas, Babylon

by Pat Frank

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Summarize Mark's views on the United States' state of Civil Defense preparedness. Does the author seem to agree with him?

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Mark's views on U.S. Civil Defense preparedness are enlarged upon in the conversation Mark has with Randy in Randy's new Bonneville at the virtually abandoned airfield, and his views have a most negative tone.

The term "Civil Defense" has been replaced in recent times with the terms "emergency management" and "Homeland Security." Civil defense preparedness is the government authorized, non-military actions that are taken (or planned) to prepare the civilian population for military attack (or for other catastrophes such as the contemporary focus on asteroid collision or massive solar flares and coronal mass ejections). Mark speaks rather succinctly to the civil defense preparedness in the setting of the story when he says that tipping off the people is "something Civil Defense should have done weeks--months ago."In summary, Mark's views of the country's Civil Defense preparedness (in the setting of the story; the author's own views reflect Civil Defense preparedness in the United States during the Cold War era) is that it suffers form:

  • secrecy; "[S]omebody says, '...Let's not alarm the public.' So everything stays [classified as] secret or cosmic."
  • delay: "[E]verybody ought to be digging [shelters] or evacuating right this minute."
  • reliance on the covert: "Maybe if the other side ... knew that we knew, they wouldn't try to get away with it."
  • out-moded mentality: "Chevrolet mentalities shying away from a space-ship world."

Mark has a poor opinion of the decisions made at the highest government level and at the top level of military command. If Mark were in a position of authority, Mark would have approached Civil Defense by (1) honestly and candidly informing the public of the mounting threats; by (2) instructing the populace to immediately begin "digging" bomb shelters and stocking them with provisions; by (3) making approaches to "the Russians" to lay out the intelligence that was known (rather like the disclosure of information that later occurred in real life with Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs); by (4) getting "Bold" "Impatient" "Rude men" to jolt and invent and demand the country's way out of the "Chevrolet" mentality and into a "space-ship world" mentality. While trying to deduce an author's views from the fiction that that author writes can be tricky, it can also be said that, as with the poet of lyric poetry, the voice and stance of the author can be assumed to be heard in the protests, warnings, views and lessons of apocalyptic narrative. This was certainly true of The Riddle of the Sands written in 1903 by Erskine Childers as a warning to the British about their lack of invasion preparedness in England. Considering other apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic literature, like Wyndham's The Chrysalids and The Day of the Triffids , that the author speaks through his narrative can further be asserted as a truth. Consequently, there is a firm argument for asserting that Pat Frank expresses his own views about United States Civil Defense preparedness through his narrative and, particularly, through the voice of Mark Bragg. Indeed, the argument can be...

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taken further to assert that Frank is, like Erskine Childers before him, warning his country about its failures to be prepared, in this case, for Civil Defense.

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Through flashbacks and conversations about previous incidents and talks with Mark, it becomes clear that Mark felt very strongly that the U.S. was not prepared for the results of a nuclear exchange.  It wasn't so much that they weren't prepared for the actual exchange itself, just for the civil defense situations protecting the public that would occur afterwards as vital services became unavailable.

In terms of whether or not the author agrees, society and civilization quickly break down in the novel, and this would suggest that the author agrees with Mark's assessment of the readiness in general of the U.S. civil authorities, since civil defense is concerned with non-military preparedness.

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