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Fear is a primal instinct that is instilled inside us, shaping our decisions whether we realize it or not. During World War II, the United States government feared that the Germans might develop a nuclear weapon. As a result, on December 28, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt started the Manhattan Project, which unified various scientists and military officials to invent the first nuclear weapon. On July 16, 1945, Trinity, the first nuclear weapon, was successfully detonated in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Following this event was the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States and the results were horrific. The first atomic bomb, “Little Boy” was dropped in Hiroshima and it exploded with about 13 kilotons of force instantly killing 80,000 people as well as tens of thousands more after detonation due to radiation exposure. When the Japanese refused to surrender, the United States dropped the second atomic bomb, “Fat Man”, which killed about 40,000 people on impact. Japanese Emperor Hirohito surrendered following the drop of the second atomic bomb marking the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War. For a short while post-World War II, the United States held a monopoly on the atomic bomb until August 29, 1949, when the Soviet Union successfully tested their first atomic bomb. Knowing the potential destruction an atomic bomb is capable of the United States fell into a state of panic.
On December 1, 1950, President Harry S. Truman organized the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) an agency dedicated to distributing posters, programs, and information about communism and the threat of communist attacks in order to better prepare the civilians of the United States in case of an emergency. One of the major threats that the FCDA addressed was atomic warfare and on 1951 the FCDA hired Archer Productions, a New York City ad agency, to produce a film that could be shown in schools to educate children about how to protect themselves in case of an atomic attack. By 1952, “Duck and Cover” was released by Archer Production distributed nationwide in schools across the country. The civil defense film, “Duck and Cover”, was written by Raymond J. Mauer, who was born in Detroit, Michigan. Mauer had just gotten an advertising career with Campbell-Ewald at the time and moved to the New York City office location in 1950. This allowed Mauer to get involved with the creation of “Duck and Cover” which was filmed in Astoria, New York.
During the time this film was produced, tensions between the United States and the Soviet was thick. Following the successful testing of the atomic bomb by the Soviet Union on October 1, 1949, the CCP, led by Mao Zedong, declared victory against Kuomintang nationalists in China. This came as a big loss for the United States in the Cold War, which supported democratic ideals against communist ideals overseas. The Kuomintang nationalists fled to the island of Taiwan as the CCP took over mainland China establishing the People’s Republic of China. The American people started to shift more attention from Europe to Asia as communism started to gain a foothold in Asia. In April 1950 the release of NSC-68 or the National Security Memorandum 68 started to plant the seed of fear into American minds. The NSC-68 spoke of an “international communist movement” as well as warning the American people of “increasingly terrifying weapons of mass destruction,” which served to remind “every individual” of “the ever-present possibility of annihilation.”
The NSC-68 urged a “rapid build-up of political, economic, and military strength” in order to stop the growth of communism worldwide. In the spring of 1950, Stalin advocated North Korean leader Kim Il Sung’s plan to liberate South Korea by force in order to unify Korea under him making Korea a communist country and on June 28 the North Koreans launched a surprise attack on the South and took control of the capital. The United States wanted to avoid direct conflict with the Soviet Union due to the fact that if they started a war against each other it could lead to a nuclear war, but this didn’t mean that the United States would sit back and let the Soviet Union help spread communism. With the recent fall of the Kuomintang in China, the United States believed it was vital to help support South Korea in defending against the North Koreans in order to contain communist ideals from engulfing all of Asia. The Korean war signified the first proxy war between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. That July, UN forces mobilized under American general Douglas MacArthur and retook the capital on September 28th. The Republic of Korea and United Nation forces pushed into North Korea and approached the Korea-China border. The Chinese saw this as a threat and retaliated pushing the ROK/UN forces back down into South Korea eventually reaching a stalemate. General MacArthur proposed that the use of nuclear weapons could swiftly end this conflict, but President Truman fearing that a third World War would be inevitable if nuclear weapons were used refused. On June 23, 1951, the Soviet ambassador suggested a cease-fire to the UN, and the US immediately accepted.
While the United States was deterring the spread of communism overseas, the American people were confronted with the inducing fear of communist ideals and spies in America. Joseph McCarthy made his debut on the national scene in Wheeling, West Virginia, on February 9th, 1950. He proclaimed that he had “a list of 205 … names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist party who nevertheless are still working and shaping US policy.” His claim was questionable as the number of names he said he possessed fluctuated as he was pressed constantly by the public. Finally, he promised to disclose the name of just one communist, the nation’s “top Soviet agent”. McCarthy’s claims brought him fame and fueled the ongoing “red scare”. McCarthyism was a product of massive and widespread anticommunist hysteria that consumed Cold War America. Facing the growing anti-communist movement after World War II, President Truman issued Executive Order 9835, establishing loyalty reviews for federal employees.
The FBI conducted closer examinations of all potential security risks among Foreign Service officers. In Congress, the House Un-American Activities and the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations held hearings on communist influence in American society. In September 1950 the Internal Security Act, or McCarran Act, was passed mandating all “communist organizations” to register with the government which allowed the government greater powers to investigate sedition and made it possible to prevent suspected individuals from gaining or keeping their citizenship. Anticommunist ideology supported overt patriotism, religious conviction, and faith in capitalism. Those who shunned such “American values” were open to attack. Communism was viewed as a plague overseas spreading across Europe and Asia while anti-communist ideals instilled its beliefs as what it means to be an “American”. In order to combat communism in America, American society urged conformity and unity as well as familial ideals. “Defiant” behaviors that were out of the norm were viewed as an act of communism and a threat to America.
With the threat of atomic warfare looming over America, “Duck and Cover” made its debut in American schools nationwide for children. In the opening scene of “Duck and Cover”, Bert the turtle is introduced in an animation along with a jingle to encourage children to emulate his actions if there were to be an atomic bombing. The film chooses to omit the consequences of an atomic bomb as well as the aftermath and destruction that is possible because the audience is for children. The film never shows what the bomb is truly capable of only showing an explosion through animation as dynamite as well as a house being knocked over whereas if there was truly an atomic bomb dropped it would level the city into almost nothing.
Throughout the film, you can see the influences of the anticommunist movement reinforcing “American” values and the need to follow authority figures. The jingle at the start of the film also encourages the children to be “very alert” so that “when danger threatened” them they would never get hurt. When looking at the scenarios the film presents to the viewer of when they need to duck and cover, you can observe that the children are placed in scenarios that the children should be in. Most of the scenarios are in a school where children should be like out in the schoolyard playing, in a corridor on the way to another class, on the school bus, or in the cafeteria. When they are not in school the film presents a scenario where the children are on a picnic with their family spending time together, on the way walking to school or going to a Cub Scout meeting. This reinforces the idea of unity and family during this time period which was seen as an effective method to combat communism whereas anything else outside of the norm was looked at with wary eyes and suspicion. The need to follow an authority figure was also present during this film. This is very important because it emphasizes that anyone else not in an authority position should not be trusted. For instance, in the classroom, the teacher is able to answer any questions the children have, in the home the children should go to where their parents have fixed a safe place for them to go to, or when you are on the way to a Cub Scout meeting and there is a warning signal you should remain in a duck and cover position until a civil defense worker arrives to tell you that you are safe.
The film helps the viewer to better understand that the American people were afraid of an atomic attack and that they should be prepared for the worst. They speak about how there could be two scenarios of an atomic bombing: with warning and no warning. The film tries to reassure the viewer that the Civil Defense workers will do everything they can to warn them if an enemy plane was to bring a bomb near America, but a bombing with no warning is also possible and that by being able to duck and cover when necessary could save their lives. The “Duck and Cover” film is presented as a means for every individual to be able to help protect themselves from an atomic bombing making them feel safer, especially with the Korean war going on at the time not knowing if it could spark into something bigger. The film reveals that the American people were wary of atomic bombs and that it could lead to civilian casualties if not careful. By making children more alert of what was going on and teaching them to report to an authority figure, the children could be an extra set of eyes for America in its war against communism and the dangers that were present. You can tell that America was on very high alert of dangers both inside America as well as dangers from outside America.
With the release of “Duck and Cover” in the 1950s, children in school were living in fear of an attack at any time as well as being fed the idea of conformity to combat communism. You can see the influence of “Duck and Cover” as well as the idea of conformity on the children in the next decade, the 1960s. In the 1960s counterculture is prominent, going against the norm and conformity. The hippie movement also begins by the youth of the country most likely due to the fear that was instilled in the children about war at a young age.
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