Copyright John T. Reed

I was a kid in the 1950s. I do not remember seeing the famous 1951 Duck-and-cover movie that is now invariably made fun of, but I vaguely recall doing drills in school that had us do that maneuver. That is, get under your desk and put your head down with your hands interlaced on the back of your neck.

Nowadays, everyone who speaks of it does so with a smirk. How dumb could people back then have been to think that would protect anyone from a nuclear blast?

Duck and cover was, and is, good advice. If the main danger is flying glass shards and other building material projectiles, you want to get under the desk or in the closet. If the main danger is collapse of the building, you want to bo on the floor besid ethe deks, not under it. That’s because there are often cavities in the collapsed building next to desks, beds, stacks of paper and so forth.

A nuclear bomb is a form of explosive. All explosions, nuclear or conventional, have three radius areas:

• interior radius where duck and cover is useless
• duck-and-cover band at some distance from ground zero where that maneuver would reduce injuries significantly
• band completely outside the blast area where duck-and cover is not necessary

This is not my opinion. It is just the laws of physics.

To be sure, the trick is giving warning fast enough to the people in the duck-and-cover band that they need to duck and cover. But the best way to do that is to just teach duck and cover whenever the student sees an extremely bright flash. The light from the blast travels at the speed of light or 186,000 miles per second. The blast force moves more slowly so the light from the blast warns people at some distance away in enough time to duck.

Civil defense authorities and school officials in the 1950s were well aware of the uselessness of duck and cover if the person in question were within the interior blast radius. Duck and cover was based on the working assumption that the students in question would be fortunate enough to be in the duck-and-cover band. It would have been, and is irresponsible, not to teach the people in the duck-and-cover band to take what little action they can to reduce their injuries. The authorities cannot help the people who are unlucky enough to be inside the interior blast radius. They do not need to help those outside the blast radius. The only ones they have any chance to help are those in the duck-and-cover band.

Most 1950s adult men, were, after all, World War I or II veterans. Some were even veterans of nuclear blasts because they were prisoners in Japan when the two bombs were dropped or because they participated in nuclear blast training in the U.S. or Pacific Ocean after World War II.

The smirking duck-and-cover critics of today are typically draft dodgers who have no experience whatsoever with military explosions.

John T. Reed

John T. Reed military home page

Link to information about John T. Reed’s Succeeding book which, in part, relates lessons learned about succeeding in life from being in the military