Brief Thoughts on ‘Duck and Cover’


Being the 1950s aficionado that I am, I can’t help noticing some, to me, odd things about our subsequent perspective on the era. Briefly, there’s a strange, vitriolic hatred for the time period that leads people to characterize it in a way that really doesn’t fit what I see myself in relics from the era. I could probably do a whole essay on that (maybe I will), but for the moment, I just want to address the whole ‘duck and cover’ thing. To be clear, that’s the atomic bomb drill, where kids were taught to duck under their desks or against the wall in case of a nuclear attack. This is usually presented as being somehow ridiculous: an example of the absurdity and madness of the time.

I never understood that: what exactly is wrong here? What’s so insane about teaching kids how to better their odds in case of a bombing (which, after all, was a real possibility given the circumstances)?

What you’ll usually hear is something like “Oh, yeah; like that would help!” Well…yes, actually, it would. Many of the people who survived the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were saved because they were somehow protected from the direct force of the blast by walls or heavy furniture. Ducking under a desk absolutely would help. Not to mention that it simply stands to reason that getting out of the way of flying glass and debris and putting a barrier of some kind between you and the blast would improve your chances.

Now, obviously your chances would never be that good, depending on how close you were to the bomb itself. There’s nothing anyone could do about that, but they could stack the odds a little in the kids’ favor. Again, what’s so absurd about that? I’ve never understood the perspective that something which improves your odds of survival had better not be done unless it’s a guarantee.

Basically, I never understood what we’re supposed to be laughing about: there’s a particular known danger, so we teach people how to improve their odds of survival. How, exactly, is that different from any other safety drill?

The difference, as I see it, is that it was the atomic bomb, and the potential enemy was Communist Russia. Our perspective in the modern era has largely been shaped by people who primarily hate the one because they sympathize with the other, and who have an extreme resentment towards American culture as it was in the 1950s. So ‘duck and cover,’ a perfectly reasonable precautionary measure, is made to seem ridiculous, insane, and idiotic more or less just because we say it is.

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