Lewis, Gunner

The proliferation of nuclear weapons in the end of World War Two and the following decades instilled a sense of fear within America that affected almost every citizen. This was especially true after the Soviet Union detonated their first nuclear weapon in 1949 because the general public did not fully understand how powerful and devastating atomic weapons could be. The Federal Civil Defense Administration (FDCA) was set up in 1951 with the intention of informing the public about the dangers of nuclear war, while ensuring them that they could survive an attack as long as the proper steps were taken. A particular emphasis was put on educating children on the actions that needed to be taken in the event of a nuclear attack. The FDCA accomplished this by encouraging teachers to practice air raid drills in which the students protected themselves by kneeling down under their desks, or wherever they were when the drill happened, and shielding their faces. This training, however, did not stop in the classroom. In 1951, the FDCA contracted Archer Films to produce an educational film called Duck and Cover that depicted a turtle, named Bert, practicing the steps to ensure his safety in the case of a nuclear attack.

The use of educational cartoons and classroom emergency drills represented a change in the American social structure by instilling the same fear within the nation’s children that had been growing within the general, adult public. Even before the threat of nuclear warfare, children may have been used to seeing war-time procedures during the Second World War, but these generally involved conflict abroad and less drastic measures at home. But, due to the threat of nuclear war, they were now facing the very real, and understandably terrifying, threat of total decimation on the homefront. Many of these children had to become much more responsible and self reliant in the threat of nuclear war since it was up to them to ensure their personal safety by following the steps provided to them in their education of nuclear war and attack.