Fifties History          

Duck and Cover: A Propaganda Film for Red Scare Youngsters?

By Amy Cottrell

During the height of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, a safety drill started to be instructed to Americans: "Duck and Cover!"

Although this "defense" against nuclear fallout seems amusing to us now, people were then unaware of radiation damage from nuclear weapons.

Instead, people were mainly concerned about the impact of a bomb's blast and the impending rubble that may fall upon everyone's heads.

In 1951, a nine-minute safety film entitled Duck and Cover began screening in classrooms across America. Children were drilled on a regular basis to, upon nuclear attack, duck and cover under their desk.

It wouldn't be until several years later that people became privy to the even more devastating effects of a nuclear blast, effects that couldn't be shielded by human hands.

Produced by the Civil Defense branch of the U.S. government, Duck and Cover features an animated character named Bert the Turtle, who proceeds to demonstrate the protective benefits of ducking and covering (his head disappears into his shell when faced with danger).

This was all accompanied by a catchy, albeit morbid, tune about the proper reaction to a nuclear bomb:

There was a turtle by the name of Bert
and Bert the turtle was very alert;
when danger threatened him he never got hurt
he knew just what to do...
He ducked!
And covered!
And covered! He did what we all must learn to do'
You And you And you And you!'
Duck, and cover!'

Despite the film's amusing flaws (or rather because of them), Duck and Cover has become a cult hit and is still shown today on television programs that are discussing the Cold War.

Baby boomers may not find this so amusing, however, as they had the thought of imminent Soviet attacks on their minds daily.

To this day, adults complain of Red Scare nightmares that were induced by government tools like Duck and Cover.

Although many look back on the Duck and Cover film as being the innocent product of a simpler time, others condemn it for being not a safety film at all but a propaganda film to keep the Cold War on the forefront of every American youngster's mind.

Even during the time it was released, there were complaints about the films' tactics and perhaps ulterior motives.

Regardless of how the film is remembered, it is an enduring landmark of an unusual and tumultuous time in America, a time of fear and uncertainty.


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