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Duck and Cover with Bert the Turtle


Duck and Cover is a film produced 1951 by Archer Productions Inc. and promoted by the U.S. Federal Civil Defense Administration to show kids how to protect themselves against the effects of a nuclear explosion. The movie is a cearly a witness of history with its educational cartoon elements and  funny musics. But it also implies an ideological struggle that the people of the Cold War were in. Since the first successful testing of a Soviet nuclear bomb, the U.S. felt a constant threat of an attack on own grounds.

The movie shows that under the conditions of a surprise attack (which was after 1959 rather unlikely because of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System), immediately after the bright flash one had to stop whatever one was doing and get to the ground behind or under some cover. For this use anything can be used as the film shows – a table, the next wall or even a newspaper to cover exposed skin.

“Proponents of duck and cover argue that thousands could be saved through following the advice’s precautions, without which, for example, people would instead run to windows to find the source of the bright nuclear weapon flash. During which time the slower moving blast wave would soon arrive causing a window glass implosion, shredding onlookers” (Wikipedia, 8.11.13).

On 15 February 2013 a meteor exploded over the Ural mountains “in a momentary flash as bright as the sun and generating a shockwave that injured over thousand people” (Wikipedia, 8.11.13)  – mainly because of bursting window glass.

What must be kept in mind is that during Cold War, the political and social atmosphere was maintained by a strong sense of fear. Both Cold War superpowers U.S. and the Soviet Union stoked fear among the population and in the spirit of the time made most of the people constantly feel under threat of being attacked.

In that sense it is assumable that Bert the turtle might be a metaphorical image of the ideologically bound civil community of the fifties itself – being under a permanent threat what other animal could carry the message of taking shelter better than the one with a natural shell?

If we think about an animal that represents the modern time society nowadays, I would suggest it is the ostrich because lot of people having a ostrich attitude towards the abolishment of nuclear weapons. Ever heard of the ostrich algorithm?

In computer science, the ostrich algorithm is a strategy of ignoring potential problems on the basis that they may be exceedingly rare. It is named for the ostrich effect, i.e. “to stick one’s head in the sand and pretend there is no problem.”  (emphasis mine).

Usually one assumes that it would be more cost-effective to allow the problem to occur than to attempt its prevention. Maybe that counts for computer science, but rather not for maintaining nuclear weapons. The U.S. is on track to spend between $620 billion and $661 billion on nuclear weapons and related programs over the next decade. Do we really need to be spending so much on weapons that military experts don’t believe are relevant to today’s threats? Read here for further information.

In addition it must be said that there are also a lot of instructions and articles to be found on the web with the purpose to guide readers how to survive a atomic explosion including fallout (some of them with remarkably odd titles like “The good news about nuclear destruction“). And for the wanna-be-sure and preemptiv safety type of person: why not consider a purchase of an own geiger counter for a favorable price of only 750 bucks? Bert the turtle would surely buy one.