Cresson H. Kearny’s survival skills

Tuesday, August 21st, 2018

Eugene P. Wigner, physicist, Nobel laureate, and, in May, 1979, the only surviving initiator of the Nuclear Age, wrote this about Cresson H. Kearny, the author of Nuclear War Survival Skills:

When the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission authorized me in 1964 to initiate the Civil Defense Project at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, one of the first researchers I recruited was Cresson H. Kearny. Most of his life has been preparation, unplanned and planned, for writing this guide to help people unfamiliar with the effects of nuclear weapons improve their chances of surviving a nuclear attack. During the past 15 years he has done an unequaled amount of practical field work on basic survival problems, without always conforming to the changing civil defense doctrine.

After I returned to my professional duties at Princeton in 1966, the civil defense effort at Oak Ridge National Laboratory was first headed by James C. Bresee. and is now headed by Conrad V. Chester. Both have wholeheartedly supported Kearny’s down-to-earth research. and Chester was not only a codeveloper of several of the survival items described in this book, but also participated in the planning of the experiments testing them.

Kearny’s concern with nuclear war dangers began while he was studying for his degree in civil engineering at Princeton — he graduated summa cum laude in 1937. His Princeton studies had already acquainted him with the magnitude of an explosion in which nuclear energy is liberated, then only a theoretical possibility. After winning a Rhodes Scholarship, Kearny earned two degrees in geology at Oxford. Still before the outbreak of World War II. he observed the effective preparations made in England to reduce the effects of aerial attacks. He had a deep aversion to dictatorships, whether from the right or left, and during the Munich crisis he acted as a courier for an underground group helping anti-Nazis escape from Czechoslovakia.

Following graduation from Oxford, Kearny did geological exploration work in the Andes of Peru and in the jungles of Venezuela. He has traveled also in Mexico, China. and the Philippines.

A year before Pearl Harbor, realizing that the United States would soon be at war and that our jungle troops should have at least as good personal equipment. food, and individual medical supplies as do exploration geologists. he quit his job with the Standard Oil Company of Venezuela. returned to the United States, and went on active duty as an infantry reserve lieutenant. Kearny was soon assigned to Panama as the Jungle Experiment Officer of the Panama Mobile Force. In that capacity he was able to improve or invent, and then thoroughly jungle-test, much of the specialized equipment and rations used by our jungle infantrymen in World War II. For this work he was promoted to major and awarded the Legion of Merit.

To take his chances in combat, in 1944 the author volunteered for duty with the Office of Strategic Services. As a demolition specialist helping to limit the Japanese invasion then driving into the wintry mountains of southern China, he saw mass starvation and death first hand. The experiences gained in this capacity also resulted in an increased understanding of both the physical and emotional problems of people whose country is under attack.

Worry about the increasing dangers of nuclear war and America’s lack of civil defense caused the author in 1961 to consult Herman Kahn, a leading nuclear strategist. Kahn, who was at that time forming a nonprofit war-research organization, the Hudson Institute, offered him work as a research analyst. Two years of civil defense research in this “think tank” made the author much more knowledgeable of survival problems.

In 1964 he joined the Oak Ridge civil defense project and since then Oak Ridge has been Kearny’s base of operations, except for two years during the height of the Vietnam war. For his Vietnam work on combat equipment, and also for his contributions to preparations for improving survivability in the event of a nuclear war, he received the Army’s Decoration for Distinguished Civilian Service in 1972.

This book draws extensively on Kearny’s understanding of the problems of civil defense acquired as a result of his own field testing of shelters and other survival needs, and also from an intensive study of the serious civil defense preparations undertaken by other countries, including Switzerland. Sweden, the USSR, and China. He initiated and edited the Oak Ridge National Laboratory translations of Soviet civil defense handbooks and of a Chinese manual, and gained additional knowledge from these new sources. Trips to England, Europe, and Israel also expanded his information on survival measures. which contributed to the Nuclear War Survival Skills. However, the book advocates principally those do-it-yourself instructions that field tests have proved to be practical.


  1. Sam J. says:

    This is a great book. It has a lot of practical information on surviving.

    Here’s some fantastic knots you can use that are easy to remember. Best of all you can do most anything with just these knots.

    The Grapple hitch and the Zeppelin knot. The grapple hitch is fast and great to tie onto stuff and the Zeppelin is the best way to join ropes period.

    I really like the Farrimond friction hitch.

    Blake’s hitch. Tree climbing hitch that you use to go up a rope while the hitch clasp the rope. What’s so good about this is it’s easy to remember, it’s grasp is super, super strong, it won’t slip at all if you set it and it’s easy to move the hitch up by pushing on the coils from the bottom or the top. Pull on the rope to the left in the diagram to lock it on the rope.'s_hitch

    If you want to make a loop in the middle of a rope this is probably the easiest way that’s simple to remember. Make a loop and twist it the same direction twice. Pull around and through the first loop twist.

    Here’s a great video on the Truckers hitch to tie things down. I like the last one. Easy.

    If you make several loops instead of one before you tighten you have a pulley system that can produce tremendous force to hold down the load. Look at these pictures of a versatackle to get the general idea.

    This is good for tying bottles, buckets or other containers you want to hoist.

    Nice video of barrel hitch. Hit the numbers and letters to advance.

    Last but not least you need to be able to lash sticks together. This method uses the least rope and is fast and super strong, tourniquet lashing.

    I made this because I wanted to find out what are the basic knots that I need for just about any situation. These knots are all as Trump would say,”Highly Rated”, meaning the people who study knots give them high marks for being strong and easy to untie which is just as important as tying. I looked at all kinds of knots and these seemed to be easiest to remember. Some knots are really great but they’re impossible to remember if you don’t use them every day. You can tie these a few times and they’re fairly easy to remember. They’re kind of basic and you can mix and match them to do most anything.

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