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Free Study Guide: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank - Free BookNotes

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Randy spends "The Day" taking care of necessary tasks, but never out of earshot of a radio. Unfortunately there is nothing informative on the radio.

That afternoon, Helen is making her “inventory of necessities,” discovering that a number of important items were not in the house and would need to be purchased somehow. As she and Randy are discussing it, the radio squeals and announces an important message. The message is from Josephine Vanbruuker-Brown, the Acting Chief Executive of the United States. Previously, she had been the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare.

Mrs. Brown, speaking from an undisclosed location, tells the country about the Soviet nuclear attack on the United States and about the American response to the attacks. Further attacks, she says, are to be expected. She declares a state of national emergency and declares martial law in the devastated areas. She then tells how she became the acting president - she alone survived the attack on Washington as she was out of town on an inspection tour. Helen observes that, as bad as things are, there is still a government.

Helen wonders if Omaha and Mark survived the attack. Randy does not think so, but says nothing. He tells her that they will visit Sam Hazzard, a retired Navy Admiral with a shortwave radio, that night to see if he has any additional news.

Helen goes to town for supplies while Randy gets the first sleep that he has had in a while. When he awakens a few hours later, Dr. Gunn has just arrived to check on Peyton. He finds that Peyton is doing well and will recover.

Before dinner, Randy and the doctor discuss the doctor’s day - it has not been a good one. After dinner, Dr. Gunn leaves, and Randy and Helen go to visit Admiral Hazzard.

At the admiral’s house, they listen to U.S. Navy pilots talking with their home base. They have found an enemy sub east of Norfolk and are coordinating an attack on it. Afterward, Helen asks Sam if he thinks Omaha survived. Not remembering that Mark’s was stationed in Omaha, he says it is unlikely. Too late, he remembers that Mark was stationed at SAC headquarters. He tells Helen that he is in the same situation of unknowing - his son was with the Sixth Fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean and it is unlikely that he survived, although Sam has no way of knowing one way or the other.

As they are talking, the lights and the radio go out as the room is lit up as if it were midday. Orlando, the source of electricity for Fort Repose, has been hit - “ that moment civilization in Fort Repose retreated a hundred years.”


Josephine Vanbruuker-Brown had been Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare - a single cabinet position now divided between the Secretary of Education and the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

From her statement, it is clear that the U.S. leadership was caught by surprise. The Soviets have not used all their military resources yet and the U.S. can expect more attacks. Martial law is declared in the 49 states, indicating when the novel was written - after Alaska was admitted as a state, but before Hawaii.

One of the acting president’s decrees is to enact a moratorium on all payments due. This is an emergency measure to help keep afloat what is left of the economy.

Helen hopes that Omaha survived. In reality, SAC headquarters at Offutt Field outside Omaha was number two or three on the Soviet’s target list. Target number one was Washington; numbers two and three were SAC headquarters and NORAD, although the order varied. Other major U.S. targets in the 1950s included New York City (the center of national communications), major ports, and, of course, military bases.

During dinner, Dr. Gunn makes a prediction about Randy. He says, “...some people melt in the heat of crisis... Others meet the challenge and harden. I think you are going to harden.” Randy is not sure about that, but we already see the beginnings of a change in his personality and nature.

Sam Hazzard notes that he has heard a radio station calling itself Radio Moscow, although Moscow no longer exists. He says that he has been hearing statements from Soviet leaders, so they appear to have survived. Unlike the American leaders, the Soviet leaders would have known the timing of the attacks and would have taken shelter far away from any important targets. He also notes that he should be hearing radio broadcasts from the major western European nations but he has not heard any. Those nations, including Great Britain, France, West Germany, etc., are probably gone.

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