Duck and Cover Earthquake Training Is a Cover-Story for Adults, Not Much More

We were kids but not idiots. How was ducking under his shell going to protect the cute little turtle from a nuke?
We were kids but not idiots. How was ducking under his shell going to protect the cute little turtle from a nuke?

You saw Stephen Young's piece last week about kids in Irving being taught to "duck and cover" (dive under their desks) in case of an earthquake. You probably have to be of a certain age (old) to appreciate the cultural importance of duck and cover drills.

It's what we old people were taught when we were kids. The authorities used cartoons to teach us: A cute turtle is walking down a lane and a cute monkey in a tree drops a cute but ignited stick of dynamite on him. He ducks and covers.

Way too many words have been written about it. We may have been little kids but we weren't total idiots. We watched the cartoon and thought, "Yeah, he ducks and covers, but it's a stick of dynamite, so he still gets the shit blown out of him."

Instead of a stick of dynamite from a monkey, we were being told constantly that the Soviets were going to blow the shit out of us with a nuclear bomb. So we needed to get under our desks. One of the first big light bulbs for us was that the grownups didn't have to get under their desks. What did they know?

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At some level every kid figured out sooner or later that duck and cover was just another grownup scam to keep us quiet. But the thing was, it worked. We were kids. We were stupid. It was the kind of simple misdirection -- "Hey, look out the window, I think I see Superman!" -- that can interrupt the worry cycle in suggestible minds with short attention spans. Get under your desk! Come back out and do your arithmetic! Get back under your desk! Time for art class!

Worked on me. I was in my twenties when I heard an editor at the far end of a newsroom roaring about a mistake I knew was going to be discovered as mine, and I swear my first impulse was to get under my desk. Looking back now, I should have done it.

See also: Cold War Kids: Quakes Make Irving ISD Bring Back Duck and Cover

I distinctly remember that somewhere in my childish mind, there was something strangely seductive about the idea of a nuclear holocaust, because of all the stuff I wouldn't have to do and all of the things I could get away with, assuming I didn't get instantly fried. I saw a post-apocalyptic movie in which the streets were lined with abandoned automobiles, and I thought, "Wow. I could drive!"

Anyway, I have always been hugely bored by all the American writers of my generation who argue that we were traumatized in some life-changing way by duck and cover and that's why we turned later to sex, drugs and rock and roll. First of all, what about all those English kids in the blitz who had real bombs falling on their houses? Secondly, it's an insult to sex, drugs and rock and roll to suggest that they need a reason.

But there is this to say, perhaps. Duck and cover in the Cold War years was for the grownups. It was a way to avoid having to answer questions. But why is the Soviet Union going to blow the shit out of us? What did you do to piss them off that much? Are we going to blow the shit out of them, too? Who started it? If you care so much about us, couldn't you find some way to smooth things over?

And that's what it is for the kids being taught now to jump under their desks in Irving. Why are we having earthquakes? Do you know what's causing it? Did you cause it? Mom and Dad, teacher and preacher, you're the grownups, why aren't you finding out what's causing the earthquakes so you can see if you can stop them? If you can't stop them, how about we move? And, hey, what's this about the polar ice caps melting? Are you in on that, too? Are you our real parents?

Duck and cover! As I say, I think it works. Yes, later on some of these children may become interested in sex, drugs and rock and roll, otherwise known as adult duck and cover. The lesson is that life goes on. So far.

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