MIGHTY HISTORY

You'll still get taxes and mail after a nuke

(Pixabay, Department of Energy)

Think of all the parts of the U.S. government that can and should have a plan to keep working after a nuclear attack. The Department of Defense? Sure. Congress? Yup. FBI, NSA, and CIA? Yeah, they seem necessary in the aftermath. But there are two groups you may not have thought of who plan to dig in and get the job done: The IRS and the USPS.


Yeah, you're almost certain to keep getting taxed after a nuclear attack, and you might even be getting notices through the mail (though, not if you were in the city that got hit).

But the IRS and USPS weren't focused on that, and they were actually working with the Parks Service for a good reason: Those three agencies were key to a rebuilding plan.

If your city is hit by a hurricane or crippled by an earthquake, you're evacuated to cities outside of the danger zone. But if multiple cities or dozens are hit with nuclear bombs, then there likely won't be suitable infrastructure to support all the refugees in nearby cities. So, the plan was to move them to the national parks.

A role player pretends to be injured during Exercise Scarlet Response at Guardian Center, Georgia.

(U.S. Marine Corps Pfc. Dylan Bowyer)

But what then? Hundreds of thousands of lives would be gone, and billions of dollars in buildings and infrastructure destroyed. Even in the midst of the grief, the government would have a job to do. There would be millions of people living in the parks, and it would fall to the USPS to process who had remained in the city, who had escaped, and who had died.

And, once they could begin to wrangle all that, they would begin delivering mail, again, though the postal leaders conceded in 1982 that the delivery plans would've been useless in an all-out nuclear exchange.

And that could include delivering notices of new tax plans. If only one or two cities were lost then, as crazy as it sounds, that would mean the IRS could get back to business as usual with few major changes. It would be horrible, but the American economy would shake itself off and get back up.

But a more extensive attack would've changed the way the U.S. worked for generations. There would be no guarantee that income and corporate taxes could cover the insane costs necessary to rebuild lost cities, decontaminate hundreds of square miles of terrain, and support the war being waged against the attacker.

So the Treasury Department had a plan to restart the economy and to help the IRS develop a new collection plan within 30 days of an attack. The new tax plan could be something as simple as a flat sales tax (congratulations, libertarians!) That would greatly simplify the IRS's job, something that would be pretty necessary if their offices in Washington D.C. were hit.

And it would be necessary in a cash-based economy. Yes, cash-based. The plan was to slowly release stockpiled $2 billion in cash until they could get back to printing money. In an odd twist of fate, that was mostly two-dollar bills. A 1970s printing run of the currency had failed to impress the public, so the government just used the unpopular bills to create their stockpile.

The government's Cold War plan was largely exposed thanks to the extensive journalism of Garrett M. Graff, one of the first journalists to find the Raven Rock facility where the government would retreat to in case of nuclear war. His book Raven Rock is one of the foundational works on the post-nuclear government.