Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 24, 2011

“See something, say something” – Old School

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Christopher Bellavita on May 24, 2011

“It may not be a very cheerful thought but the Reds right now have about a thousand bombers that are quite capable of destroying at least 89 American cities in one raid…. Won’t you help protect your country, your town, your children? Call your local Civil Defense office and join the Ground Observer Corps today.”

That was a line from a 1950s Air Force radio advertisement, looking for volunteers to join the Ground Observer Corps.

The GOC (and I refuse to believe anyone used that acronym in the 1950s) started in World War II when 1.5 million civilians volunteered to staff 14,000 observation posts along the U.S. coasts.

According to the Ground Observer Corps website: The “mission was to visually search the skies for enemy aircraft attempting to penetrate American airspace.”

The Corps disbanded in 1944, but was brought back to life in 1950, “with the belief that the Korean War served as a precursor to a possible Soviet attack.”

Here’s another commercial (thanks, Rudy), from 1954.  Click on the “Will You Volunteer” link below to listen.  The ad runs a bit more than one minute:

Will you volunteer?

Here’s a transcript of the ad:

If you’re of teen age or up, a loyal American, male or female,  your country needs you in the civilian Ground Observer Core.

You’ve heard the radio broadcasts, seen the television pictures.  You know the facts.  You know what a single H Bomb dropped in any metropolitan area could do.  And today’s long range bombers have made intercontinental war possible.  Enemy planes based on the other side of the world could reach the United States in a matter of hours.  Radar can help detect them.  But there are dangerous gaps through which low flying planes can  penetrate without detection.

To fill out our detection system, civilian personel is [sic] needed, particularly along the east and west coast and in the northern states.

Sky watching is not a game.  It’s a necessary precaution.

The Ground Observer Core is now operating on a 24 hour a day basis, and needs at least 200,000 volunteers to contribute a few hours of their spare time to this vital work.

Will you volunteer?

Get in touch with your local civilian defense center at once.

The campaign seems to have worked: “Eventually over 800,000 volunteers stood alternating shifts at 16,000 observation posts and seventy-three filter centers.”

A 2006 story in Air Force Magazine reported the Fate of GOC:

By the late 1950s, the need for volunteer sky watchers was diminishing. In July 1957, the main Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line was declared technically ready. … That September, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) was established.

By then, both the US and the Soviets had ICBMs capable of delivering atomic warheads to their adversaries’ homelands. Volunteer sky watchers, trained to spot aircraft when there still was time to intercept them, would be of little use against such weapons.

In January 1958, the Ground Observer Corps was reduced from 24-hour to ready-reserve status. A year later, it was inactivated. That same month, the first Semiautomatic Ground Environment (SAGE) division became operational in Syracuse.

Fifty years later, the wings and badges of the GOC observers and the airplane models used to train them in recognition are collector’s items enshrined in museums or sold on eBay. Many of the teenagers who helped man the ramshackle observation posts are drawing Social Security. Only a few of the towers from which they phoned their reports have survived as historic monuments…..

Whether keeping watch on the skies helped to head off a fatal attack on the US is debatable. There is no way to tell how things would have been different if the watchers and plotters had not been there.

Like the GOC members of World War II, however, those who served in the Cold War leave another legacy. For a brief period, thousands responded to the perceived threat and served alongside the uniformed services in defense of the country.

“The Cold War was starting to crank up,” noted Sutter. The Ground Observer Corps “had a feel-good element to it, where people felt they were doing something. Then, when word got out that there were actually people up there watching, it had a warm fuzzy feeling for other people who weren’t participating but knew that it was going on.”

The article closes a tad wistfully:

The US has not experienced anything quite like that kind of nationwide public participation with the military since the GOC disbanded.


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Comment by William R. Cumming

May 24, 2011 @ 2:21 am

Airpower and air raids were a factor in WWI. But even in WWII the USA remained largely immune from air attack. But the crash landing of a B-29 in Russian and its reverse engineering did give the Soviet Union for the very first time long range capability for one way bomber runs to the USA until the strategic range and accuracy of the missile world largely replaced the bomber.

Note however the USA is about to launch the construction of a whole new generation of man piloted bombers. Naturally all these bomber aircraft crews will be fluent in several languages of MENA and ASIA in case of destruction by
AA systems.

Comment by Rudy Darken

May 25, 2011 @ 7:00 am

I’d like to get a sociologist’s perspective on this issue. I’m sure there’s a rich literature on the subject. I wonder how much of the public’s unwillingness to participate isn’t actually unwillingness but rather the attitude that it’s somebody else’s job. Why should I serve in the military? My friend’s aren’t. Why should I get involved in Citizen Corps, my neighbor isn’t? How do you overcome that barrier without mandating participation (which I would not advocate). People’s attitudes change drastically as they shift from being one, to part of a group, to being part of the majority. The threat of nuclear war motivated us to overcome that. What can motivate us again?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

May 25, 2011 @ 7:26 am

It is not my experience that the public is unwilling to participate. Rather they are not invited to participate. Too often they are instructed in how to comply. Very different. In the vast majority of situations where there is an authentic invitation (from vitare suggesting friendly, entertaining, welcoming) to participate (from participare meaning to share as an equal) the public responds enthusiastically and creatively. Some of the best research and action I have seen in this regard is via the Redefining Readiness project (Please see: http://www.redefiningreadiness.net/)

Comment by Christpher Tingus and Public Trust....

May 25, 2011 @ 10:15 am

The public is quite willing to serve, however more often than not, they see the same political appointees and the same “pals” at the table so – in essence – they are – closed out – by the very same who they “entrust” by precious vote to serve the public trust and the majority so that the local politician can assure their own security and long term benefits — a cntrol and lusting for power which this corrupt system so differing in posture than that of our forefathers who were so enlightened, so perceptive to the evolving of man’s greed…so apparent today and to the demise of all of us who see America failing in so many ways, no longer leading in education, so on and so forth….

Listen, – term limits – should of been imposed for every elected office and for that matter, appointees as it has all become a haven for the good ‘ol fellas and anybody wh wishes to serve, for the most part, position filled!

We are soo corrupt in our ways and surely we know how corrupt thse in the basement in the palace in Pakistan are in inviting only cash to be passed, however when we see local “Selectman” election contests requiring $20k+ to win a seat because those with deep pockets are striving to use their pals to make local decisions to their benefit here in good ‘ol New England gvernment tradition and specifically, Milton, MA as just one twn where all poltics is certainly local — we are destined to fail – just look nat Massachusetts’ and Uncle Teddy’s and grand ‘ol Mitt’s healthcare plan and how much nearly universal coverage has about bankrupted the Commonwealth despite Barry’s pal, another elitist and their synonymous theme ” change ” — the State cannot afford this arrogant and ill conceived plan to insure everyone in the manner the god ‘ol fellas planned to afford accolades upon one another in what I refer to as “incestuous applause” of one another while the – public – you refer to shake their heads and walk away – as We all know here on Main Street USA that this system has been so worked by the inside manipulatrs that we are broke – yes, not only Taxachusetts, but good ‘ol USA where the solution continues by the inept – raise the debt ceiling and make some meaningless “cuts” to make it look good — Let’s start here in MA by looking closely at the Massachusetts Department of Revenue where I have first hand knowledge of this “uniqueness” it boast about…its ability to overlook the Rights of citizen and mandate by the cronies in the State Legislature laws and regulations in complete disregard for the State Constitution and its obligation to protect and to offer regard for its citizenry — what a charade and yu ask about public involvement — let’s make it quite clear that citizens are frar more enlightened than those they elect perceive and while the most charatable people on this globe and willing to give the benfit of the doubt, this partisan, corrupt, gridlocked State and Federal sham in suggesting any form of capable governing as mandated by our forefathers is tolerated less and less and unfortunately for me, who stood for three winters, 1,491 hours in one man silent protest to reopen a closed fire station as a mere citizen against the “politician” monkeys despite their best efforts to thwart my concerning and willingness to stand on behalf of fellow neighbor and citizen with much compromise to my self today with my own financial security in jeopardy, there are no Winston Churchill types and while We love our beloved Republic, once the Beacon of Hope to the oppressed on distant shore, foreclosures and inflation, continued 9% joblessnes as you Barry as I advised should have stayed in the Chicago neighborhoods w/Rev Wright preaching for the Right of the “Brutes of Tehran” to have WMD’s for as you say Rev – Israel has them — how bigted you bth are — as depicted by the way the WH showed it face when showing such disregard for the Israeli MIT educated leader…and soon a hefty “interest” rate hike which will hammer in the last nail to the coffin and the return to soup line and maybe bread – believe it —

Get some manure and hide anything you might salavage because you know that no politician will get his hands dirty – today!

God Bless America!

Christopher Tingus
PO Box 1612
Harwich, MA 02645

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