This is a 1 minute TV commercial for the longer 9+ minute film, “Duck and Cover.”
It was put out by the Federal Civil Defense Administration and the National Education Association.
(In 1979 the Federal Civil Defense Administration became the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA.)


Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants.
We know more about war than we know about peace,
more about killing than we know about living.
~ General Omar N. Bradley
WWII Commander, US Army in Europe


In checking out the latest CNN news jargon about Putin and his threats to use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine, I discovered that ‘saber-rattling’ – which I thought was a newly made-up word  (neologism) – is actually in the dictionary and has been around since the 1700s when armies literally rattled their sabers in attempts to intimidate their enemies.


One major threat of my growing up years was nuclear war. The Soviets and nuclear war were interwoven to seem like the same thing. The agents of this threat were called ICBMs: Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles. The Big Ones. At least once a week we had an air raid drill, aka a civil defense drill, at school. Those two terms were as familiar to me when I was 6 and 7 years old as Mom and apple pie. Sad.

When the sirens went off the teacher would tell us whether to get beneath our desks – meaning no warning time – or to file out of the room into the hall –  some warning time. In either case, we were taught to ‘duck and cover.’ I remember seeing the film with Bert the Turtle more than once. We even learned the song.

It’s hard to imagine what the collective psyche must have been for our society at that time. It’s clear that fear ruled, given that the adults in our world felt the need to require children to watch such scary ‘educational’ films.

What especially struck me when I watched the 9+ minute film again in preparation for this email was the language of the narrator:

He uses the word ‘when’ at least as much, if not more than, the word ‘if.’

  • When the bomb falls….
  • When you see the flash….
  • When the warning comes….
  • You may be in your school yard playing when the signal comes….

And he uses ‘will’ rather than ‘would’ or ‘could.’

  • We think most of the time there will be warning before the bomb explodes….
  • There will be time for us to….
  • Our military will do everything they can….

In other words, the film is presented with language of the inevitable rather than language of the hypothetical, possible, or even plausible.

And even more baffling to me is imagining how anyone over 8 years old could really believe that ‘duck and cover’ would protect us from the bomb. Even back then. Seriously?


Years later my family moved from rural northern Minnesota back to Minneapolis where I was attending a new high school. On the eve of the Cuban Missile Crisis – a stand-off between the JFK and Khrushchev – the sirens went off. It was 1:00 pm on Wednesday, October 3. I was home alone in our new house. I didn’t know the neighbors yet.

I hadn’t heard those sirens in years but their intrusive and fear-inducing sound was oh-so-familiar! Thus, to me, the wail of those sirens meant only one of two things: an air raid drill or an enemy attack. Given the tension in the global air between the US and the USSR at that very moment, I could not dismiss the latter! Following what I had learned in elementary school when we lived in Minneapolis before, I hid under our dining room table. What an alarming world it was in those days! Literally. Many times events escalated to the point where all we could do was watch and wait – and remember to breathe.

Later that day when my parents came home I learned that, these days, the sirens in the city go off on the first Wednesday of every month at 1:00 pm to test the warning systems for tornados or other severe weather. And I remember thinking: If ever there was an interest in attacking the US with nuclear weapons, 1:00 pm or some time just after that on the first Wednesday of the month would be the perfect time. We would not be expecting it.

Smiling is very important. If we are not able to smile, then the world will not have peace.
It is not by going out for a demonstration against nuclear missiles that we can bring about peace.
It is with our capacity of smiling, breathing, and being peace that we can make peace.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh