Submitted by kaustin on Wed, 05/24/2023 - 13:44
When Texas Saw Red


“A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on. Ideas have endurance without death.”

-President John F. Kennedy, December 14, 1962


In November 2014, the world celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Only weeks later, the United States and Cuba announced that the two countries would normalize diplomatic relations after more than 50 years, suggesting that one of the last chapters of the Cold War may be closing. With the passing of these two events, the Texas Archive of the Moving Image has selected highlights from its collection through which to explore the intricate, complicated history of the post-WWII period.

In WHEN TEXAS SAW RED, TAMI explores how the Cold War permeated Texas news, politics, home life, schools, careers, and entertainment. Join us for a peek behind the “curtain” to see uniquely Texan experiences of the national and international political context of the mid-to-late twentieth century.


“I suppose that history will remember my term in office as the years when the Cold War began to overshadow our lives. I have hardly a day in office that has not been dominated by this all-embracing struggle. And always in the background there has been the atomic bomb.”

-President Harry S. Truman, 1953

Whether the Allied victory in World War II could have been achieved without the atomic bomb has been debated historians and political scientists for more than 60 years. With the unparalleled death and devastation wrought by U.S. nuclear power in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, however, the “bomb” and who would control it dominated socio-cultural and political discourse throughout the twentieth century. As Joseph Stalin worked to expand his “Soviet sphere of influence” in Eastern Europe, the Soviet leader polemically stated that “A-bomb blackmail is American policy.”

In 1946, George Kennan, an American diplomat based in Moscow, wrote his notable “Long Telegram” to President Harry Truman. The “long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies” he described would shape U.S. foreign policy for the remainder of the century. The Soviet Union developed atomic capabilities in 1949—the same year in which communists won China’s civil war—which heightened tensions. Newsreels, network broadcasting, and federally produced non-theatrical films worked to communicate how Americans should understand and prepare for a potential war with the communists. In Texas, local news helped showcase how cities were participating in national preparedness campaigns, while home movies illustrated how Texans defended U.S. interests in military bases around the world.

The air defense siren has sounded! With the new threat of nuclear war with Russia, evacuation procedures were put into place throughout the United States. In this silent footage from the Texas Department of Public Safety, local authorities and military personnel direct the citizens of Houston in an evacuation of the city. Made by the Federal Civil Defense Administration, Duck and Cover (1951) shows children what to do in the event of an atomic bomb. With Bert the Turtle teaching children to "duck and cover" when they see the flash of a nuclear bomb, the government film captures the atmosphere of fear during the Cold War.

The United Nations divided Korea in post-WWII concessions at the 38th parallel boundary. When communist North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung and Stalin decided to invade South Korea, a venture they assumed would be quick and easy, Truman decided to support South Korea—and set a precedent for his own policy laid forth in the Truman Doctrine. This home movie captures scenes of the life of an American airman from Texas in 1953 during the last year of the Korean Conflict. Included are images of training, maintenance, and test flights on the Goodfellow Air Force Base, focusing on a rescue helicopter crew and a jet plane.


“If you don't like us, don't accept our invitations and don't invite us to come to see you. Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you.”

-Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, November 18, 1956

Any illusion of cooperation between the U.S. and the USSR faded away with the Korean War, with the Cold War entering its most volatile era in both domestic and international affairs as General Dwight D. Eisenhower assumed the American presidency. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev proved an unpredictable leader who frequently and unabashedly threatened the United States with nuclear attack, often boasting of exaggerated missile capabilities. Landmark Cold War events, such as the formation of the Warsaw Pact, the Bay of Pigs Invasion, and the erection of the Berlin Wall, all culminated in the Cuban Missile Crisis—the closest the United States ever came to nuclear war on its own soil. The constant threat kept Americans on high alert, creating an atmosphere of heightened fear that permeated culture and politics not just on the national level but also across Texas. Texas politicians capitalized on the era’s concerns by voicing commitment to fighting the threat of communism at home while local residents built bomb shelters. The heightened fear of communism and the nuclear bomb that took hold in these years would carry through to the mid-1970s.

This above campaign film for the re-election of Governor Allan Shivers of Texas is one of the most notorious political spots to ever appear on television sets. Produced during a time of internal turmoil and fracture within the state's Democratic Party, the film invokes McCarthyist Red-Scare fears, equating pro-union support with a pro-communist agenda. The film goes so far as to suggest that Port Arthur was merely the entrance point of a larger plot by northern and eastern left-wingers and union-organized African Americans to destroy business throughout Texas. The only salvation was that Shivers had discovered the invasion and were fighting against the subversive elements.

Produced by Austin's KTBC-TV, Target... Austin, Texas (1960) presents the scenario of a nuclear missile strike on the outskirts of Austin. The film follows several characters from the moment they hear the CONELRAD broadcast to the announcement that it is safe to emerge from shelter. Heightening Cold War fears, films like this made nuclear war in Texans' hometowns seem plausible. Broadcast on January 15, 1963, this news segment for Houston's KPRC-TV tours the local Nabisco factory soon after it received a government contract to produce survival cracker rations, also known as “fall-out biscuits,” in the case of a nuclear event. The reporter details their nutritional value, as well as explains how they are produced and sealed for storage. 

In the unedited interview below, produced for a 1997 program titled Austin Remembers When, Cactus Pryor talks about how heightened Cold War fears negatively impacted fellow Austin entertainer John Henry Faulk. In 1957, the right-wing, for-profit organization AWARE, Inc. blacklisted Faulk for alleged communist associations and sympathies—likely in retaliation for Faulk’s previous efforts to thwart AWARE’s control of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists union. Faulk filed and won a libel suit against the organization, winning a historic settlement that was much larger than Faulk sought in his original petition. Despite his courtroom victory, Faulk's show business career was effectively over. Pryor says the communist Red Scare "covered America like a giant scab."


“Détente is a readiness to resolve differences and conflicts not by force, not by threats and saber-rattling, but by peaceful means, at the conference table.”

-Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev, 1977

The Texas experience of the Cold War assumed a more central role with the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The Texas White House in the Hill Country served as host for national and international meetings and press conferences. Presidents from West Germany and Pakistan journeyed to Texas to discuss anti-communist measures, and LBJ’s domestic policies reflected Cold War priorities with an emphasis on higher education, science, and technology. The “space race” between the Americans and Soviets grew concomitant with the City of Houston as home to the federal space program. Moreover, when Johnson reluctantly sent troops to Vietnam to resist a communist invasion, thousands of Texans served in the military while others protested the same war in the streets of Austin and across the state.

Perhaps the most famous campaign advertisement of all time, "Peace, Little Girl" aired only once on September 7, 1964. The television spot instantly received criticism for implying that Johnson’s opponent in the 1964 presidential race, Barry Goldwater, would begin a nuclear war.  Filmed by Texas native Marcellus Hartman while serving in Vietnam, this home movie captures daily life at Camp Evans. Included are scenes of a helicopter landing, the base dog Killer, a soldier washing a puppy, and another soldier hanging laundry to dry.

The United States and Soviet Union continued to build their nuclear arsenals in rivalry with one another, advancing their technology until their missile stockpiles were nearly equal. In the midst of this stalemate, the two nations pursued détente—or the easing of political hostilities—with the primary goal of limiting the further production and spread of nuclear weapons. Détente led to the Helsinki Accords, SALT I, and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, with both local and national broadcasters documenting events to a concerned citizenry galvanized by increasingly graphic footage of televised warfare. Though this period of cooperation deteriorated in the late 1970s, détente achieved its goal of stability, if not of justice and human rights.

Produced by Austin's KTBC-TV, this episode of Project 7 clarifies the source of the unpredictable and unnerving thundering sound heard from the skies over Austin during the early 1960s. The noise—sonic booms created by Convair B-58 Hustlers on training missions out of Carswell Air Force Base in Forth Worth—caused alarm among residents living in perpetual fear of nuclear war.  Produced by the Department of Defense and the Office of Civil Defense, this 1965 government film profiles United High School in Laredo. United was the first school in the nation to not only build its classrooms underground but also design the school with a protective shield for the lower level so that the school could be locked down to serve as a community shelter in the event of nuclear fallout. 

In what could now be regarded as a moving image time capsule of the Cold War, this short documentary film narrated by Pryor surveys West Berlin circa 1970. Using historic film footage from pre-war and World War II, the film recounts the events that led to the splitting of the city into East and West, and the resulting social and economic consequences for citizens on both sides of the Berlin Wall.


“The West will not contain communism; it will transcend communism. We will not bother to renounce it, we'll dismiss it as a bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages are even now being written.”

-President Ronald Reagan, 1981

Détente dissolved in 1979 with the Iranian Revolution and subsequent Iran Hostage Crisis as well as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The abdication of the American-supported Shah of Iran gave rise to an Islamic state under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Afghanistan’s civil war echoed Iran’s anti-Western rhetoric and reignited old Cold War positions as American and Soviet resources were funneled into opposing sides of the conflict. Once again, Texans played key roles as the war played out on the national and international stage. East Texas Representative Charlie Wilson agitated tirelessly on Capitol Hill and around the world to raise awareness (and money) for the Afghan mujahideen fighting the communist invasion of their country.

On January 16, 1979, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, leader of Iran since 1941, fled the country and went into exile. Plano’s Yousefi family was in Tehran to capture the celebratory scene. People march through the streets, holding signs supporting revolutionary leader Ruhollah Khomeini. Although the Shah commanded an authoritarian regime, the United States continued to support him in order to maintain American—not Soviet—influence in Iran. Filmed during a January 1984 visit to Pakistan, this footage illustrates Congressman Charles Wilson's goal to bolster support for the Afghan mujahideen in their fight against the Soviet Union. Wilson later said the trip "was the experience that will always be seared in my memory." "I left those hospitals determined," he recounts, "as long as I had a breath in my body and was a member in Congress, that I was going to do what I could to make the Soviets pay for what they were doing!"

Unlike his predecessor Jimmy Carter, President Ronald Reagan defied diplomatic cooperation with Soviet countries upon his election in 1980, and implemented new, aggressive armament plans with which to encourage the end of the USSR. And yet some communist leaders refused to believe that communism and free enterprise were mutually exclusive, with Mao successor Deng Xiaoping establishing China's market economy and Lech Wałęsa creating Poland's first trade union. For Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who knew the Soviet Union had to change course in order to survive, the stage was set for the eventual dissolution of the Soviet Empire.

The above home movie captures scenes of a peace gathering held in 1982 at Austin’s Wooldridge Square Park in response to the Iran-Iraq War. Although the United States remained uninvolved during the first two years of the war, the Soviet Union gave its support to Iraq, selling large quantities of weapons and military hardware to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. In an effort to prevent further Soviet influence in Persian Gulf states, Reagan took Iraq off the list of countries “supporting terrorism” and began to sell them American weapons in 1982. 


“When the Berlin Wall fell, it was the product of nearly a half century of bipartisan American determination to protect the freedom of Western Europe and to stand up for our values.”

-President Bill Clinton, 2009

Reagan’s famous speech in which he implored General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev “to bring down” the Berlin Wall solidified his public identity with the end of the Cold War. However, contemporary historians largely credit Texas’ own George H.W. Bush and Gorbachev as the leaders who successfully brought the Cold War to a close. Gorbachev’s political campaigns of “glasnost”—or publicity, to reduce corruption in the Communist Party—and “perestroika”—or restructuring, to introduce capitalism into the Russian economy—ushered in a new era of international cooperation closely watched and reported on by media across Texas. Upon his arrival in the Oval Office, Bush carefully evaluated changes the Soviet Union made during the Reagan administration, including the removal of intermediate and short-range missiles. He showed similar restraint by not declaring it a Western victory in response to the fall of the Berlin Wall. While not a popular reaction at home, Bush’s “prudent” approach served to improve diplomatic relations with Russia and Eastern Europe and paved the way for further negotiations with Gorbachev in normalizing U.S.-Soviet relations and economic reform.

In this C-SPAN footage of a 1987 legislative session, Congressman Mickey Leland of Texas reports on a recent meeting between a bipartisan congressional delegation led by Speaker of the House Jim Wright and leaders of the Soviet Union. Leland describes successful conversations with Gorbachev and others and makes special note of the fact that Wright was invited to speak for 20 minutes on Soviet television. 

Gorbachev withdrew troops from Afghanistan in February 1989, thus withdrawing their effort to extend Soviet influence. The communist governments of Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania subsequently fell in rapid succession. The Berlin Wall, the most notorious symbol of the Cold War, fell in 1989 as joyous German citizens took hammers to it. East and West Germany reunified in 1990, and the USSR officially dissolved a year later, marking the end of a unique era in America’s history—an era that nonetheless continues to define our foreign policy today.

On July 31, 1991, Presidents Bush and Gorbachev held a joint press conference. With both men in good spirits as Bush reports on the results of their talks, the footage illustrates a new ease between the two countries at the end of the Cold War. The United States and Russia vowed to reform their economic relations, with the U.S. granting Russia "Most Favored Nation" status. Video courtesy of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library via the Miller Center of Public Affairs.


When Texas Saw Red was originally curated and produced by Madeline Moya for the Texas Archive of the Moving Image as a part of the Texas Film Commission's Texas Moving Image Archive Program.

Edited and reproduced in 2023 by Katharine Austin.

It features archival materials contributed to the award-winning Texas Film Round-Up program by the following individuals and organizations: Texas Department of Public Safety Historical Museum and Research Center, John Cocuzzi, KPRC-TV, Cactus and Peggy Davis Pryor, Marcellus Hartman, Gordon Wilkison, Paul and Elizabeth Nelson, Bahram Yousefi, East Texas Research Center, Jon Montgomery, and Texas Southern University. 

Find TEKS-compliant lesson plans for grades 3-5, 6-8, 9-12, and post-secondary level that complement this exhibit here.