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Civil Defense and Public Safety

"Duck And Cover" (1951)

Perhaps the most famous of all Cold War Civil Defense films, Duck and Cover (1951) was produced by Archer Productions with the intention of instructing children how to behave in the event of an Atomic bomb. The film was commissioned by the FCDA, after a brainstorming session with over 20 teachers from across the country on how to best present civil defense to children in an engaging manner (Matthews, 21).

Atomic Alert: Elementary Version (1951)

Atomic Alert (1951) was produced by Encyclopaedia Brittanica Films, instructing children in elementary school on how to behave both during and after an Atomic bomb. The film was commissioned by the FCDA, and was seen by thousands of children (Jacobs, 32).

The two films to the left, Duck and Cover (1951) and Atomic Alert (1951) represent the films created early on in the Cold War as a way of teaching civil defense. For many children, the Cold War was a time of fear and paranoia. The threat of an atomic attack permeated the environment, causing a presumed need for constant vigilance. In the early 1950s, school air-raid and civil defense drills were a regular occurrence (Matthews 13). As such, the very first educational films distributed in schools were commissioned by the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA), as a way to present necessary instructions to children without overwhelming them. These films, produced by companies such as Archer Productions and Encyclopedia Britannica Films, emphasized methods such as “duck and cover” - as seen in the famous film featuring Bert the turtle – to help reassure children and give them a clear instruction to follow (Jacobs 26).

These films also placed importance on the existing social order, and the need for children to be obedient as a way to survive. In both Duck and Cover and Atomic Alert, children are explicitly told by the voice-over to find and listen to the nearest adult or civil defense worker, and that these authority figures will take care of the rest. The moral of these civil defense films was that an atomic attack was survivable, but you had to be prepared. Survival was, essentially, “a choice” made by listening to authorities such as the government and schoolteachers (Jacobs 26). 

Civil Defense and Public Safety