This 1951 Cartoon Is a Delightfully Insane Way to Prepare Children for Nuclear War
Real threats of death mix with paranoia, and a cartoon turtle tells us hiding in our shell will make it all go away.
Seen through 50 years of history's soft lens, the early days of the Cold War have taken on an idyllic sheen. America, powered by nuclear families living in spiffy new suburbs, with dad driving a new car every year and mom experimenting with pineapple on the ham, was headed for the space age. Sure, scientists were engaged in a fast-paced atomic death race with those evil Soviets, but this is America. Our eggheads would prevail.
That kind of giddy optimism was at the center of much of the early days of the atomic race. Partly it was due to nuclear engineers' early underestimation of the sheer power of the bomb, which led to observers routinely being stationed within mere miles of a test. Partly it was due to the unwavering belief of nuclear zealots like Edward Teller, who believed the atomic bomb would open up a new era of massive public works projects.
And partly it was because the Atomic Energy Commission, among others, downplayed the risks of atomic bombs—whether to ease mounting public fears as we hurtled towards mutually assured destruction, or to protect its own interests. Thus Americans received PSA videos like the one above, released in 1951 in cooperation with the newly-formed Federal Civil Defense Administration.
"We all know the atomic bomb is very dangerous," says the pragmatic narrator, who compares duck-and-cover to fire drills. "Since it may be used against us, we must get ready for us, just as we are ready for many other dangerous that are around us all the time."
The video will be familiar to any kid who grew up in an earthquake-prone area: When shit starts rumbling, dive under a desk. But instead of a warning that the rumbling earth might cause books to fall on your head, here we've got a man suggesting you can hide from an atomic bomb, while simultaneously mentioning that threats surround us at all times. Real threats of death mix with paranoia, and a cartoon turtle tells us hiding in our shell will make it all go away.