In the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. government oversaw the production of civil defense films designed to educate the population about what to do in the event of nuclear war. This article uses films from two distinct periods—the early 1950s and the early 1960s—as a point of departure for discussing U.S. civil defense policies during the Cold War. The article traces four key shifts in the film program's rhetorical strategies. First, an early focus on ideological matters was replaced with an emphasis on practical steps citizens could take. Second, the early conventionalizing of nuclear dangers was replaced by a more subtle integration of those dangers into everyday life. Third, the early films' narrative structures were replaced by a straightforward, documentary-style approach. Finally, the early flippancy with which nuclear war was treated was replaced by a deadly seriousness. These rhetorical shifts indicate that the civil defense establishment was capable of reacting to scientific, political, and popular pressures.

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