About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for "Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself—While the Rest of Us Die"


Good afternoon. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I’m pleased to welcome you to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives. Whether you are here in the theater or watching on YouTube, we’re glad you could join us for today’s discussion of Garrett Graff’s new book Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself—While the Rest of Us Die.

Before we get started, I want to tell you about two other programs coming up here at the McGowan Theater.

Next Tuesday, July 25, at noon, Christopher Ullman will be here to talk about his book, Find Your Whistle. Ullman, an international whistling champion as well as a Wall Street insider, tells the story of how he found, developed, and shares his whistle with politicians, special needs children, Wall Street billionaires, and more than 400 people on their birthdays every year. He’ll also be giving a demonstration of his whistling talent.

On Tuesday, August 8, at noon, journalist Thomas Oliphant takes us behind the scenes of John F. Kennedy’s campaign to the White House in The Road to Camelot: Inside JFK's Five-Year Campaign. Oliphant follows Kennedy from his failed attempt to win the Vice Presidential nomination in 1956 to his success at capturing the Presidency in 1960. Book signings will follow both programs.

To learn more about these and all of our public programs and exhibits, consult our monthly Calendar of Events in print or online at Archives.gov. There are copies in the lobby—along with a sign-up sheet so you can receive it by regular mail or email. You’ll also find brochures about other National Archives programs and activities.

Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Pick up your application for membership in the lobby or become a member online at archivesfoundation.org.


* * *

Garrett Graff’s Raven Rock describes the federal government’s plans for continuity that have evolved since the end of World War. In a nuclear age, public officials asked who and what could be saved so that the basic functions of government might go on. “Doomsday planning” reached beyond federal agencies to government cultural institutions, which had to choose which artifacts to might be saved from destruction.

In a New York Times review, Justin Voight wrote that Raven Rock is ”…a thorough investigation of Washington’s longstanding efforts to maintain order in the face of catastrophe. In exploring the incredible lengths - and depths - that successive administrations have gone to in planning for the aftermath of a nuclear assault, Graff deftly weaves a tale of secrecy and paranoia...”

Carlos Lozada, writing in the Washington Post, says that Graff “covers every technicality” of the planning for a nuclear aftermath, but the book’s power “lies in the author’s eye for paradox”— decades of planning can be upturned in a moment by a chaotic reality.

Here at the National Archives, the safety of the Charters of Freedom—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights—was a top concern. In 1952, seven months before the Declaration and Constitution were transferred here from the Library of Congress, Archives officials asked the Army’s Office of the Chief of Engineers for an assessment of our building. In our records is a summary of the meeting, titled “The National Archives Building vs. an Atomic Attack.”  The answer: “barring a very near miss or an explosion at ground zero, we should come through . . . in fairly good shape. That is, if we are talking about a nominal-type bomb and not a super duper. . . .”

Thankfully, in the 65 years since that discussion we have not had to face that kind of threat. But continuity of operations is still an important part of government planning, and the National Archives’ most direct role is through its operation of the Federal Register. In fact, the Register gets the last word in Graff’s Raven Rock with this statement: “The rest of the nation—and indeed much of the world—would tune in to the Emergency-Federal-Register.gov website to figure out what our nation would look like after an attack.”


* * *


Garrett M. Graff is a distinguished magazine journalist and historian who has spent more than a dozen years covering politics, technology, and national security. He’s written for publications from Wired to Bloomberg Business Week to the New York Times, and served as the editor ofWashingtonian and Politico Magazine, which he helped lead to its first National Magazine Award.

Graff is the author of multiple books, including The First Campaign: Globalization, the Web, and the Race for the White House, which examined the role of technology in the 2008 Presidential race, and The Threat Matrix: The FBI at War, which traces the history of the FBI’s counter-terrorism efforts. He is currently working on an oral history of September 11th, based on his Politico Magazine article, “We’re The Only Plane in the Sky.”

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Garrett Graff.