Monday, January 16, 2012

Duck and Cover- Be Like Bert the Turtle!

Here's an interesting piece of nostalgia and history from the Cold War Era, the video "Duck and Cover"
Duck and Cover was a suggested method of personal protection against the effects of a nuclear weapon which the United States government taught to generations of United States school children from the early 1950s into the 1980s. This was supposed to protect them in the event of an unexpected nuclear attack which, they were told, could come at any time without warning. Immediately after they saw a flash they had to stop what they were doing and get on the ground under some cover—such as a table, or at least next to a wall—and assume the fetal position, lying face-down and covering their heads with their hands. Similar instructions were given in 1964 in the United Kingdom by Civil Defence Information Bulletin No. 5 and, in the 1980s, by the Protect and Survive series.

Duck and Cover is a civil defense film (sometimes also characterized as a social guidance film or propaganda) produced in 1951 (but first shown publicly in January 1952) by the United States federal government's civil defense branch shortly after the Soviet Union began nuclear testing. Written by Raymond J. Mauer and directed by Anthony Rizzo of Archer Productions and made with the help of schoolchildren from New York City and Astoria, New York, it was shown in schools as the cornerstone of the government's "duck and cover" public awareness campaign. The movie states that nuclear war could happen at any time without warning, and U.S. citizens should keep this constantly in mind and be ever ready.

The film starts with an animated sequence, showing an anthropomorphic turtle walking down a road, while picking up a flower and smelling it. A chorus sings the Duck and Cover theme:

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'd duck! [gasp]
And cover!
Duck! [gasp]
And cover! (male) He did what we all must learn to do
(male) You (female) And you (male) And you (deeper male) And you!'
[bang, gasp] Duck, and cover!'

While this goes on, Bert is attacked by a monkey holding a string from which hangs a lit stick of dynamite. Bert ducks into his shell in the nick of time, as the dynamite goes off and blows up both the monkey and the tree in which he is sitting. Bert, however, is shown perfectly safe, because he has ducked and covered.

The film, which is about 10 minutes long, then switches to live footage, as a narrator explains what children should do "when you see the flash" of an atomic bomb. The movie goes on to suggest that by ducking down low in the event of a nuclear explosion, the children would be safer than they would be standing, and explains some basic survival tactics for nuclear war.

After nuclear weapons were developed (the first having been developed during the Manhattan Project during World War II), it was realized what kind of danger they posed. The United States held a nuclear monopoly from the end of World War II until 1949, when the Soviets detonated their first nuclear device.

This signaled the beginning of the nuclear stage of the Cold War, and as a result, strategies for survival were thought out. Fallout shelters, both private and public, were built, but the government still viewed it as necessary to explain to citizens both the danger of the atomic (and later, hydrogen) bombs, and to give them some sort of training so that they would be prepared to act in the event of a nuclear strike.

The solution was the duck and cover campaign, of which Duck and Cover was an integral part. Shelters were built, drills were held in towns and schools, and the film was shown to schoolchildren. According to the United States Library of Congress (which declared the film "historically significant" and inducted it for preservation into the National Film Registry in 2004), it "was seen by millions of schoolchildren in the 1950s."

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