The film Duck and Cover was produced in 1951 as a result of the FCDA hiring Archer Productions to come up with a short film that would teach children in schools how to ensure they are safe by protecting themselves and other children in case of an atomic attack. It was filmed in Astoria where it was shown in form of an animation that comprised of adults and children taking part in different techniques of safety that are recommended incase of any attack. The production of the film was encouraged by the events in 1949 where the Soviet Union used a nuclear device in Kazakhstan which was a signal of a new era of the Cold War thus many schools in the United States saw a need for training students how to ensure they were safe when an atomic attack happened.
What Inspired the Production of the Film?
The Cold War of 1949 inspired the defense system of the federal government in the United States to produce the film that would help to respond to different nuclear tests by the Soviet Union. The producers of the film, Ray Maurer and Anthony Rizzo featured a turtle by the name Bert as well as different school going students from New York. The film was appreciated by many as they saw the government's preparedness to handle a nuclear attack in case it happened in a school.
It also received different critics because it taught the children to cover their heads and hide under their desks if such an attack was to happen. Many critics argued about what good covering their heads with their hands and diving under tyheir desks would have on the children against a nuclear attack. Nonetheless, the film played a major role in educating children about the Cold War and what they were expected to do to stay safe and reduce the number of casualties when an attack happened.
The film caused a panic from the government of the United States because it was now aware that it was not the only one that had atomic power over other countries. It dawned on them that the nuclear weapons could now be easily be attacked using nuclear weapons by other countries. President Harry S. Trauman the then president of America came up with programs that incorporated the school drills which aimed at educating both the school going children and the general public about measures to protect themselves.
The film had a hero in form of an animation who is Bert a turtle that was shown to drop to the ground and quickly retreated into his shell after reaching the land in form of an explosion. The rules made in the film to be followed by children was that incase such an attack happened, they were supposed to quickly duck under tables and desks or hide next to walls with a tight cover of their backs to prevent debris from falling on them and causing deaths.
Another rule was that if the nuclear attack happened when the children were outside, they had to run to the nearest location of safety and those who did not have an idea of where the safe location was, they were to ask any adult they met with in the commotion. They had to obey everything they were told by the workers from the civil defense to ensure that they were safe.
Explosions from atomic bombs cause individuals to be blind, burn them, crush them with the power they possess or poison them with the radiation their radiation. The techniques taught in the film could help to reduce injuries from such effects and protect different individuals for a long time under the debris as rescue missions took place for days. The duck and cover approach helped many individuals to cover themselves in shelters which also played a major role in dealing with the effects of fallouts that occurred from the bombs instead of trying to evacuate from the area before the fallouts were finished.
The film taught about fallouts arguing why it was necessary for the victims of a nuclear bomb attack to run to safe zones as soon as the attack happened. Diving under desks or rushing for an immediate shelter or any cover with mass helped to block radiations experienced from fallouts. The film also helped to educate the generation who watched it that it was hard for rescuers to come and search for victims right after the blast due to the fallout.
It would take days or weeks for the fallout to settle which means that the injured victims could only be rescued after several days. Most of those people that found themselves in areas that were not protected had minimal chances of survival compared to those who used different forms of shelters to protect themselves after the blast.
How the Film influenced the Generation that watched it
Bert the Turtle was used in the film to capture the attention of the young viewers in school and he was the most famous Civil Defense icon in the government where he showed the process of protecting oneself from a bomb. The monkey that was carrying dynamite and was used in the film where he followed Bert holding the dynamite around him was a good representation of what happened to any living and non living thing near an explosion site.
When the dynamite exploded, Bert ducked quickly but the monkey vanished with the explosion. It was blown up by the dynamite beyond recognition. The children used in the film also show how people are supposed to duck in cases of explosion. The audience was also taught that light comes before sound which is why they were supposed to duck to a shelter as soon as they saw the light caused by the explosion. They were not supposed to wait for the sound because that would be too late to save themselves from the damage that was caused by the bomb.
In case there was no shelter around, the film showed two children by the names Patty and Paul walking down the streets and as soon as they saw the flash of the bomb, they dived into the nearest wall and covered themselves using the coats they were wearing. This scene showed that it was possible to duck into the nearest barrier like a wall and cover themselves with their clothes to avoid devastating effects from the bomb in situations where there was no shelter around when an atomic bomb exploded. The scene of Tony riding his bike and running for shelter also served the purpose to show the importance of walls and clothes near the viewers when a blast occurred.
Critics of the Film
One major criticism exists for the "Duck and Cover" film which is despite the government using the film to educate people about the nuclear bombs and how they were being used in the cold war, many people were afraid that the government of the United States was using this film to confirm that it was not the only nuclear bomb enabled country. Educating the general public on how to protect themselves in case of an attack using atomic bombs was evidence that the government sanitized nuclear weapons and was forcing the citizens to adapt to the new status quo which was inevitable.
The fact that the weapons were being used in a war terrified many people and many responses to the defense drills that the government had set for the children in schools fueled different activisms against war and nuclear weapons from parents and students. Another criticism for this film is that it was less likely to work because the sound of a nuclear bomb detonating above people would cause them to run away from the danger and seek ways to be reunited with the members of their families rather than following the rules in the film to search for a shelter.
The government had an extra task to prepare and educate the public not to follow their first instincts of running from the danger and being reunited with their families but to search for a safe shelter and use the tactics taught in the film. Hiding behind a wall also had its consequences especially if it collapsed due to the impact of the blast. The collapsed wall would fall on the person taking cover behind it and lead to serious injuries or death. The scene where a family uses a sheet and a newspaper to cover themselves is also weird because in case debris was littered around the area, the sheets and the newspaper would be of no help to the people covering themselves with them.
The production of the film "Duck and Cover" was encouraged by the events of the Cold War in 1949. The Soviet Union used a nuclear device in Kazakhstan which was a signal of a new era of the war thus many schools in the United States saw a need for training students how to ensure they were safe when an atomic attack happened. The film showed different skills to the children and the general public and they were expected to use those skills to protect themselves incase an atomic bomb exploded in the area they were at the time.
Matthews Jr, Melvin E. Duck and cover: Civil defense images in film and television from the Cold War to 9/11. McFarland, 2011.
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