civil defense

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civil defense

civil defense, nonmilitary activities designed to protect civilians and their property from enemy actions in time of war. A civil defense program usually includes measures taken during peace (e.g., building home shelters or air raid warning practice), measures to warn civilians of an impending attack, to protect them during attack, and to save their lives and property after attack. Civil defense grew in proportion to the use of aircraft in modern warfare, becoming significant during World War II, when both sides engaged in the strategic bombing of civilian populations. After World War II the existence of nuclear weapons, the development of long-range bombers and missiles, and the ever-present possibility of war encouraged the establishment of comprehensive civil defense systems. The principal U.S. civil defense agency was established by executive order in 1950, and in 1961 civil defense functions were transferred to the Defense Dept. Opinion in the United States has traditionally been divided over the value of civil defense programs. Opponents of civil defense have maintained that, given the destructiveness of modern weapons, warning and shelter systems are useless and merely encourage war hysteria. Proponents of civil defense have asserted that, since a major danger from a nuclear attack is radioactive fallout, an adequate shelter program can save the lives of a large portion of the population. After the beginnings of a détente with the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China in the 1970s, interest in civil defense in the United States, which peaked at the height of the cold war, began to decline; that decline was furthered by the break up of the Soviet empire. However, most industrialized countries still maintain some form of civil defense.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Civil Defense


a system of nationwide defensive measures carried on in peacetime and during war in order to protect the population against possible enemy attack and ensure stable operation of the national economy.

Measures to defend the population and national economy began to be implemented as early as World War I (1914–18). They played an important part in World War II (1939–45), during which air strikes were made against the entire territory of some of the warring states, such as Great Britain. During the 1950’s and 1960’s civil defense was established in most of the major states, in connection with the appearance and development of nuclear weapons and missiles and the significant increase in the destructive capabilities of aviation and other means of armed combat. In most countries the general management of civil defense is handled by the governments, and in local areas civil defense is managed by local governmental agencies. Special administrative bodies are formed for direct management of civil defense, and the necessary forces and means are prepared, including special civil defense troops and paramilitary and civilian formations drawn from the able-bodied population.

Under present-day conditions civil defense involves organizing and ensuring the evacuation to safer regions of people from cities against which attacks with weapons of mass destruction are most probable and from regions that may be flooded as a result of the destruction of large hydro-engineering structures. In addition, civil defense involves protecting the people in shelters and other defensive structures. Great importance is attached to providing the population with individual means of protection: gas masks, respirators, and medicines that make it possible to reduce the danger of radioactive and other types of contamination. Plans are made for conducting rescue and urgent emergency-restoration work in burning areas and zones of radioactive fall-out and flooding.

Another important mission of civil defense is ensuring stable operation of the national economy during wartime. Various organizational and engineering-industrial measures are carried out for this purpose. Stocks of raw materials, equipment, and means for restorative work are established.

In order to accomplish successfully the missions of civil defense advance preparation of the population is essential, including universal education in methods of protection against weapons of mass destruction.


Chuikov, V. I. Grazhdanskaia oborona v rakelno-iadernoi voine. Moscow, 1968.
Beliavskii, V. A. Grazhdanskaia oborona—vsenarodnoe delo. Moscow, 1968.
Tolstikov, O. V. KPSS o neobkhodimosti sovershenstvovaniia grazhdanskoi oborony. Moscow, 1967.
Champe, E. Slralegiia grazhdanskoi oborony. Moscow, 1958. (Translated from German.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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