Duck and Cover: Its Legacy and the Aftermath

If a child never knows what safety feels like, what kind of adult will that child become?

In my first post about duck and cover drills, I compared and contrasted them to the active shooter drills that students endure today. In the next one, I discussed many of the insane policies that came about due to the sheer panic of the adults who were in charge. Now, let’s get into the ways these drills changed people, and how they reacted to that change.

As the children who were made to cower under their desks got older, they began to realize that the adults had lied to them. Desks can’t save you. Many people now believe that this was a cold war tactic to manipulate the next generation to fear USSR and communism in general. (In fairness, duck and cover might save you from a low-yield bomb that detonated at least 10 miles away, but the subsequent survival would not be pretty.)

This caused many of these kids to reject the system and that, in part, gave rise to the Hippie Movement. Many of them weren’t dropping out of society as much as they were dropping out of the fear of a mass kill off. They figured, if we’re going to die anyway, let’s not think about it. Let’s live for today.

It’s understandable that these kids thought anyone over 30 couldn’t be trusted. But even as a child, I thought that philosophy was terribly short-sighted, because they, too, would turn 30 someday. Then what?

Here are a few posters created to push back against the cold war mindset.

The cold war also inspired a great deal of creativity. The women I spoke to wanted me to recommend several books, songs and movies. I can’t vouch for these recommendations, having not read/seen them all myself, but for those of you who are really interested in this era, I’ll list them here:

Movies:

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Matinee

The Fog of War, a documentary in which Robert McNamara, then Secretary of Defense, with tears in his eyes, discusses how close we came to nuclear war.

On the Beach came out in 1959, prior to movie ratings. A lot of the duck and cover kids saw it at a young age, while the cold war was still going on, and it scared the bejeezus out of them. I saw it for the first time about a year ago, and, far removed from its history, and without any duck and cover trauma from my past, it “only” made me want to cry. I do remember reading the book at a young age, though. It was good, but scary. That’s probably why it took me so long to watch the movie.

Catch 22: the movie, the book

More Books:

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. This is not about the era so much as it is about the end of the world vibe.

The Children’s Story by James Clavell

Songs:

The Eve of Destruction by Barry McGuire

Wooden Ships by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young or Wooden Ships by Jefferson Airplane. Which do you like better?

Hammer to Fall by Queen. That first link shows the lyrics, but if you already know them, I suggest this video, which shows Freddie Mercury in all his incredible glory. (God, I miss him.)

But honestly, so much good music was inspired by the cold war that I could go on forever. Instead, I suggest you check out this article entitled, Cold War Music: A Top Ten List for a deep, eclectic dive.

Clearly, all this fear mongering seems to have backfired for our government. Many of these duck and cover kids became lifelong pacifists and activists against war and nukes. Even more of them grew up to distrust authority and they still have the mindset that you should do what you need to do now, as tomorrow not guaranteed. For some, that sometimes resulted in poor decisions, but others matured into an attitude of gratitude and a feeling that nothing should be taken for granted.

Many of the duck and cover generation, especially the ones that had been plagued with night terrors or nightmares as children, are still stewing in toxic existential dread as adults. That should not come as a surprise. They were taught that the world will end in their lifetime, and that something bad would suddenly happen at some unspecified time. No one should have to live with that type of free floating anxiety.

One woman said, “When kids can’t trust their own instincts, it creates a feeling of powerlessness and an unstable relationship with those in power.”

I was not old enough to be tortured by the cold war antics of the adults all around me, and yet I can relate to that statement entirely. If you have a rational thought at age 7, and everyone ignores it or continues to behave irrationally even though they’re supposed to be in charge, you tend to question authority quite a bit.

Despite everything that one woman from the duck and cover generation went through, she still feels more sorry for the children of today who are enduring the active shooter drills. She said the red threat seemed too far away to worry about, whereas today’s kids see mass shootings on the news that are taking place in their own back yards all the time. That danger is too close for children to ignore. They can’t even pretend to feel safe under those circumstances.

For the duck and cover kids, the treats were mostly from the outside. Today most the threats are close enough to touch. That’s a sobering thought.

This is not the time for the adults, whose primary purpose should be to make children feel safe, confident, and loved, to instead model instability, irrationality, fear, and hatred, all while actively destroying the very planet on which we depend for survival. As a society, we subject our children to terrorism. If a child never knows what safety feels like, what kind of adult will that child become?

Drills should not be about transferring adult anxieties to children. They should be reassuring. They should be honest. They should answer questions, but they also should make it very clear that these drills exist so the ADULTS can be sure they keep everyone safe in the case of an emergency.

If schools insist on doing drills, for the children’s well-being they should combine them with tornado, earthquake, or fire drills. They are anxiety-producing, yes, but at least kids will think the enemy is the weather or faulty wiring, not some insane human being who is actively wanting to kill them. Perhaps turn it into a quarterly safety day designed to teach kids how to be part of a school community working together to remain safe and strong, rather than an exercise in helplessness.

The teachers, on the other hand, should have more in depth training, because they should all be on the same page as to what the plan will be. But that training should be done without students present. Anything more intense than that does more harm than good. After receiving such training, these teachers could then talk to the students, calmly, and say, “In the event of xyz, here’s what you will see the teachers do, and here’s what we may ask you to do. Just so you know.”

And, for the love of God, can we please not manufacture anxiety in children and parents where none need exist? Children should not be pawns in a political game. They should not be taught to fear Critical Race Theory, for example, especially since no public school in this country ever taught it in the first place. They should not be taught that wearing face masks and getting vaccines, as recommended by all public health professionals, is anything more than just that: a way to keep the public healthy and demonstrate your consideration toward those around you. And most of all, we should not be prioritizing our desire for automatic weapons over the very lives and mental health of our children.

It’s a much better tactic to give kids a feeling that their leaders are being rational and will know what to do in a crisis. Let them be children while they still can. Why on earth would anyone want to do otherwise?

If there’s any value in distrusting the Russians, we should be less worried about bombs and more worried about the fact that we aren’t teaching children to think critically, and we ourselves are buying into Russian disinformation campaigns and conspiracy theories.

Khrushchev wanted to bury us. He didn’t. But disinformation will do so if we don’t all take a deep breath and employ a bit of critical thinking. Destruction doesn’t require bombs or bullets these days. It just requires the masses to be ignorant, gullible, lazy, and accepting of social media that is not fact checked or moderated in any significant way.

But we’re too jaded to fall for Cold War fear mongering. Aren’t we? Apparently not. We elected Trump, who taught his base to fear immigrants, education, healthcare, and democracy.

And we need to give up this insane love affair with automatic weapons. Kids today are a lot less worried about being fried to a nuclear crisp than they are of having bullets tumbling at them at a rate of 40 rounds per minute, leaving an unidentifiable corpse. That feeling, right there, is what we are doing to this generation. I can’t even imagine being a student these days.

One thing’s for certain. We are letting these kids down with all our thoughts and prayers. Rest assured that there will be long-range societal consequences, and they will be impossible for us to predict. If we insist on fearing anything, we should fear that. Shame on us all

Special thanks to the women of the Facebook Group Crones of Anarchy!, for revealing so much about their duck and cover experiences.

Check this out, y’all. I wrote a book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Author: The View from a Drawbridge

I have been a bridgetender since 2001, and gives me plenty of time to think and observe the world.

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