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A '50s-era standard's unwelcome return
Scripps Howard News Service


January 04, 2007
Thursday PM

WASHINGTON -- An old fixture from the Cold War era of the 1950s is making a reappearance - the blast-zone map.

This was a map of your hometown with concentric circles imposed on it showing the degrees of damage from a nuclear explosion. In the immediate center, you were incinerated right away, while in the outer rings you would only suffer a slow, lingering death from radiation poisoning.

As children of that era, we vied to find our places on the map and, thanks to helpful Civil Defense propaganda, made such useful observations as: "We're fried, but you guys get to live a couple of days before all your flesh falls off."

And then the other day, there it was in my local paper, The Washington Post, a map of Virginia and Maryland, with Washington at the epicenter, with a large red ring around it helpfully labeled "50-mile fallout zone of a nuclear explosion in downtown D.C."

The point of this is that federal agencies have been quietly decamping the capital for more distant locales such as Winchester, Va., whose location 75 miles from the capital is a "geographic ideal," says the Post, "far enough from the capital to escape the fallout of a nuclear explosion - a distance often estimated at 50 miles - but still close enough that employees can get to the District relatively easily when they need to."

In the event of a nuclear blast, why would they need to? Haven't they seen enough post-nuclear-apocalypse sci-fi films to know that we - and I think I speak for much of Washington - will emerge gaunt, ragged and hollow-eyed from the rubble to kill them for their cars?

This being America, certain market forces are behind enticing large chunks of the federal government out of the capital. "There's a certain distance they need to be out from the strike zone - and Winchester is outside of that," Jim Deskins told the Post. He, as it turns out, is head of economic redevelopment for Winchester.

Winchester, with a population. of 26,000, is in the truly beautiful Shenandoah Valley - as in the song "Oh, Shenandoah" - and it is beyond me why they would want to re-create the capital-area experience - malls, sprawl, subdivisions, traffic and, once they get all the federal agencies out there, the threat of nuclear extinction.

I work in downtown Washington and my house is well inside the Beltway, within easy striking distance - perhaps an unfortunate phrase, that - from a large intelligence facility and just across the river from the CIA. We're well within the zone of extinction, so to speak.

But it is unseemly in the extreme for federal agencies to be edging out of the capital. It makes you wonder if they're not telling us something. We might be like those hapless Russian proles on the streets of Moscow in 1941 wondering why the Soviet bureaucracies suddenly found that they had such urgent business in the Urals.

After 9/11, it gradually dawned on the average prole on the streets of Washington that all those security precautions being hurriedly thrown up were not there to protect "him" but to protect "them".

Adding to the atmosphere of '50s flashback is the return of the doomsayer. From Virginia Beach - well outside the blast zone, it should be noted - the Rev. Pat Robertson is predicting an attack on the United States this year, probably nuclear and involving major cities and mass killing, possibly millions.

The Lord didn't specify nuclear when he gave Robertson the heads up, "but I do believe it will be something like that."

Winchester - and all the other crossroads outside the blast zone that have been stealing our agencies - you've been warned.

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