Hi there friends. What with North Korea lobbing missiles in various directions, I’ve been singing a little song to myself about what to do in case of an attack.
Those of you my age or older probably already know this song, and the animated turtle who demonstrated its lyrics. You may have had drills which involved piling into the basement of your school, or crouching next to the wall in the hallway, or squeezing yourself under your desk. I bet you’re already remembering the sound of those sirens wailing.
For those of you who don’t know, I’m talking about the 1951 film Duck and Cover.
This film was created by the Federal Civil Defense Administration (now TACDA) in order to teach children what to do in case an atomic bomb was detonated nearby. The advice what just what the title suggests: duck and cover. Duck under your desk (or next to a wall, or into a doorway) and cover your head and the back of your neck. These actions will keep you safe.
I can see your skeptical eyebrows from here.
The point of the film was really for those who were far enough from the blast not to suffer the immediate firestorm effects, but still be within the radius of destruction. Light travels faster than sound (and accompanying blast waves), so if you DID duck below something and cover your face after seeing the light, you were less likely to be hit by flying debris, like broken window glass. Humans (especially children) are curious, and want to run to the window to see what’s going on; that’s a recipe for carnage if a shock wave rolls by a school full of ceiling-height windows. So kids were drilled repeatedly in the duck and cover method, to build up a habit of taking actions that would lead to their safety.
I think I can actually hear your skepticism now. I don’t blame you. Especially with the narrator voicing over an interrupted family picnic with the line, “They know that even a thin cloth helps protect them. Even a newspaper can save you from a bad burn!”
Sure! Cover yourself with anything thin and highly flammable. That’s sure to protect you from the fire of a thousand suns. (South Park did a great job poking fun at this scene in their episode involving a volcano.)
There were a number of films on preparedness for such attacks. Another from the FCDA in 1951 was Survival Under Atomic Attack, which features more explanations and fewer admonitions. Designed more for adults than kids, it explains how to choose an appropriate site for an in-home shelter, and what kinds of things to keep there (bottled water, a first aid kit, etc). It’s far more realistic in pointing out what the actual dangers are. It does rather gloss over the radiation victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But there’s a jaunty 1950’s soundtrack, so that’s something.
1951 was a bumper year for these films, and we also have one from the fine folks at Encyclopedia Britannica, Atomic Alert (Elementary Version). As the title suggests, this one was designed for school-aged children. There’s plenty of animation, shots of kids playing with a geiger counter, and more dialogue between characters.
Archives collection on the Internet Archive. These all run between 8-10 minutes.
And many of us here are sci-fi nerds, so we’ve covered the “what-ifs” of nuclear fallout before:
Cheryl has taken a good look at Them!
Havilah has watched all of the Gamera films she could find.
And I’ve seen the future in 2889.
In non-fiction, Gen wrote an excellent post on how to put together an emergency bug-out bag.
If you haven’t seen it, this video by Isao Hashimoto is a time-lapse map of every nuclear explosion on Earth since 1945.