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Public School Air Raid Drills: Do You Remember?

Culture | December 3, 2017

Students at a Brooklyn middle school have a 'duck and cover' practice drill in preparation for a nuclear attack; silver print, 1962. From the New York World-Telegram archive. (Photo by GraphicaArtis/Getty Images)

If you went to public school in America in the 1960's, you may remember the mandatory air raid drills conducted in preparation for being bombed by the Soviet Union. Much like a modern-day fire drill or dangerous intruder drill, some sort of siren or warning would sound putting us on notice that danger was imminent... or at least possible. We needed to be prepared!

“Duck and cover,” was the plan. We were either to get under our school desks, or at the very least, get on our knees and cover/tuck our heads. This simple drill was to effectively prepare and protect us from nuclear weapons. Because practice makes perfect, we were given a handout to study at home to make sure we were sufficiently terrified to leave our homes every day… nightmares would follow. If that wasn’t enough, our parents were glued to the black and white television set to make sure we weren’t going to die before we woke up the next morning!

At the time, President Kennedy was a huge advocate of the fallout/bomb shelter. To add to our childhood fears, he urged our friends, neighbors, if not our own families, to dig holes in the backyard to erect shelters, ensuring our survival in the event of a nuclear attack. The shelters were to be carefully stocked with everything necessary to sustain life, including water, non-perishable, canned goods, clean clothing and of course activities, educational and reading material. The shelter was being portrayed as an oasis of luxury... complete with beautiful women!   

In reality, a personal fallout shelter would have been comparable to a dungeon. Not to mention that if we made it through an actual, nuclear blast, it would have only been a matter of time before we perished, anyway… albeit, without our creature comforts. I would have rather taken the quick and painless way out, but that’s just me.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union, as well as the United States, was threatening to obliterate the other. Although pushing “the button” was a terrible worry and a definite possibility… it was highly improbable that either nation was willing to make good on the threat. In reality, discharge of a nuclear bomb, by either country, would have destroyed everyone… We were all doomed and terrified!

By encouraging and glorifying the bomb shelters, the United States was hoping to persuade the enemy into thinking that we were effectively prepared for an attack and indestructible as well. In reality, there is no such animal as a nuclear proof structure or people.  

Back in the day, there was no such thing as “instant obliteration.” There was always a warning system in place. Today, although the threat of human annihilation still exists, because of technology, there would be no time to prepare. From a human standpoint, war sucks and always has. Can’t we all just get along?

Tags: 60s Kids | Remember This?... | The Cold War

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Rebeka Knott


Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.