Abstract

This essay employs the issue of West German civil defence as a vehicle to write the history of postwar fear and anxiety. Drawing on more recent theoretical efforts at conceptualizing a history of emotions, the essay first outlines the contours of a postwar ‘emotional regime’ that tended to pathologize fear and anxiety. Against the general background of West Germany's position in the Cold War, the essay highlights the limitations and inherent contradictions of West Germany's civil defence preparations from the late 1940s onward. It then focuses on the planning, production, and reception of the first government-sponsored civil defence brochure, “Everybody Has a Chance”, that had been in the making since 1957 but was not distributed until the autumn of 1961, shortly after the building of the Berlin Wall. Yet rather than containing popular fears, the publication directed attention to the shortcomings of West German civil defence and thus ended up intensifying nuclear angst. In particular, selective memories of German suffering in World War II shaped largely negative popular responses to the government's civil defence campaign. By the mid-1960s, however, this popular opposition to civil defence—as well as nuclear angst in general—began to decline gradually. The essay concludes by providing a multifaceted explanation for this subtle emotional shift. Emotional change needs to be explained with reference to a variety of factors, including changing domestic and international contexts, the emergence of a new commemorative culture, and shifts within the emotional regime itself.

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