This essay examines the development and demise of one of the least studied elements of U.S. homeland defense efforts in the 1950s: the Ground Observer Corps (GOC). The article recounts the history of the GOC from its founding in the mid-1950s until its deactivation in 1959 and concludes that it never came close to achieving its goals for recruitment and effectiveness. Yet, despite the major shortcomings of the GOC, the U.S. Air Force continued to support it, primarily because it was seen as helpful for the public relations interests of the Air Force, continental air defense, and, more generally, U.S. Cold War policies. The lack of widespread public support for the GOC raises questions about the view that Americans were deeply fearful of an imminent Soviet nuclear strike in the 1950s.

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