Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Duck and Cover Drill

Civil defense training exercise to prepare U.S. civilians to respond to nuclear explosions as part of the American Civil Defense preparedness activities of the 1950s and early 1960s. The drill required individuals to find potential shelter, such as a wall or a desk, and curl up with their faces down and away from the direction of the initial flash that immediately precedes a nuclear detonation. The duck and cover maneuver was intended to reduce the potential injuries from the heat, blast, and flying debris created by a nuclear explosion. The drills were designed to develop awareness of warning alarms, including civil defense air-raid sirens, and to condition individuals to react to an unexpected flash, which could be the initial indication of a surprise nuclear strike.

The duck and cover concept is most famously remembered through the 1950 U.S. government-released training film Duck and Cover, which featured an animated character named Bert the Turtle. The film was designed to teach school-children about the protective procedure as well as civil defense activities in general. As part of the Federal Civil Defense Administration's education program, the technique and the training were part of a serious effort to reduce injuries during a nuclear attack; however, the concept clearly had limited value and has served as a source of many jokes. Duck and cover drills were most notably lampooned in the 1982 film The Atomic Café. Antinuclear activists and critics of civil defense often used the drill as a symbol of the futility of preparing for a nuclear conflict, especially when policymakers debated whether a nuclear war could be fought and won. Critics of the duck and cover training also expanded their argument, claiming that the drill was intended to induce fear in the population, produce compliance with government security programs, and influence American behavior.

Jerome V. Martin


Further Reading
Oakes, Guy. The Imaginary War: Civil Defense and American Cold War Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.; Rose, Kenneth D. One Nation Underground: The Fallout Shelter in American Culture. New York: New York University Press, 2001.
 

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