The get-to-know: Edward M. Geist

Edward M. Geist is currently employed at The RAND Corporation. His research interest are focused on Emergency management, Soviet History, Nuclear Power and Weapons as well as Simulation and modelling.

From his presentational website at Stanford:
”Edward Geist received his Ph.D. in history from the University of North Carolina in May 2013. Previously a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the RAND Corporation in Washington DC, he is a native of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. His research interests include emergency management in nuclear disasters, Soviet politics and culture, and the history of nuclear power and weapons. His dissertation, a comparative study of Soviet and U.S. civil defense during the Cold War, draws upon previously unexamined archival sources to examine the similarities and differences in how the two superpowers faced the dilemmas of the nuclear age. Edward is also interested in the potential uses of simulation and modelling for historians and is developing a piece using these techniques to explore the potential historical implications of the the U.S. and Soviet Union’s use of qualitatively different technical assumptions to model strategic nuclear exchanges. A previous recipient of fellowships from Fulbright-Hays and American Councils to conduct research in Moscow and Kyiv, he has published articles in the Journal of Cold War Studies, Russian Review, and the Bulletin of the History of Medicine.”

Selected articles of interest with regard to workshop theme:

Political Fallout: The Failure of Emergency Management in the Chernobyl Disaster. Slavic Review Vol. 74, No. 1 (SPRING 2015), pp. 104-126.

Ever since the accident that destroyed unit 4 of the Chernobyl’ Nuclear Power Plant on April 26, 1986, became public knowledge, the Soviet government’s response to this catastrophe has been the subject of bewilderment and withering criticism. The exact sequence of events that unfolded in the days following the disaster and the forces that shaped it have, however, remained obscure. While the USSR’s civil defense organization urged prompt and decisive measures to inform the population of the accident and move people out of harm’s way, other Soviet institutions, such as the Communist Party and the KGB, feared the accident’s threat to their legitimacy more than its implications for public health. Drawing on declassified archival documents from Ukrainian archives and memoir literature, I explore the political and institutional logic that prevented the USSR from acting appropriately to protect citizens from the consequences of the nuclear accident.”

Was There a Real ‘Mineshaft Gap?’ Bomb Shelters in the USSR, 1945-62,” Journal of Cold War Studies 14 no. 2 (Spring, 2012): 3-28.

During the Cold War, the nature, intent, and scale of Soviet civil defense were the subject of heated debate in the West. Some analysts claimed that the USSR possessed a massive civil defense program capable of seriously destabilizing the strategic nuclear balance. This article draws on previously unexamined archival sources to investigate Soviet shelter construction from 1953, when the USSR’s civil defense forces began planning for nuclear war, until the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962. These documents indicate that shelter construction consumed the majority of Soviet civil defense funding and was conducted by order of the Council of Ministers. Although the shelters were inadequate both technologically and quantitatively to protect the Soviet population from an all-out U.S. thermonuclear attack, they existed in significant numbers and represented a considerable expenditure of limited Soviet resources. These new revelations provide important insights into Soviet thinking about nuclear war during the Khrushchev era.

Dissertation: “Two Worlds of Civil Defense: State, Society, and Nuclear Survival in the USA and USSR, 1945-1991.” Advised by Professor Donald J. Raleigh.

This dissertation provides the first historical study of the Soviet civil defense program from 1945 until 1991, as well as the first comparative account of American and Soviet civil defense. Defined as the use of measures such as shelter and evacuation to reduce damage to civilian life and property caused by enemy attack or other disaster, civil defense evolved over time in both superpowers. Initially, civil defense focused exclusively on the consequences of enemy air attack, yet by 1991, both American and Soviet civil defense oversaw preparations to mitigate the effects not only of nuclear war, but also of industrial accidents and natural disasters. Civil defense presents an ideal opportunity for exploring the impact of the atomic age on Soviet and American culture because it was the means whereby ordinary citizens learned about the prospect of nuclear catastrophe. Bombarding citizens with civil defense propaganda, both governments attempted to inculcate a belief that their nations could survive and win a nuclear war, but the content of these messages contrasted dramatically. While Moscow promised that the state would ensure citizens’ collective survival, Washington delegated survival preparations to families and businesses. The two countries’ civil defense programs differed as much as their propaganda, with the Soviet Union secretly investing heavily in bomb shelters while American civil defense largely remained on paper–a consequence of the superpowers’ radically different attitudes toward nuclear war. While elucidating how civil defense both reflected and shaped Soviet and American Cold War culture, this study makes three interrelated historical arguments. First, civil defense agencies in both superpowers promulgated narratives about nuclear warfare that suited their institutional needs, and as a result civil defense sometimes contradicted other government propaganda. Second, it argues against the contention that the superpowers’ civil defense programs constituted a mendacious effort to delude the populace into accepting the dangers of the arms race, as civil defense officials earnestly believed in the possibility and necessity of their institutional mission. Finally, it finds that civil defense made only limited impact on Cold War nuclear strategy, as the USSR did not regard its civil defense as a possible strategic advantage.