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Remember "Air Raid Drills" in Schools From the 1950s and Early 1960s? I Do Remember Them!

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Kathy is a freelance writer for Textbroker, Verblio, and Constant Content and published author in Neon Rainbow Magazine.

I was in school right at the tail end of these, but I DO remember them!

These days, if I were to tell my boys about "Air Raid Drills" in elementary schools, they are likely to look at me as though I'm speaking a foreign language. Now, granted, they did go through times when there were threats in schools, or news stories of threats (random people with automatic and other weapons). And yes, those are terrible things... although I don't know of schools having drills for this, some schools do have a "lock down" plan in place, and many schools in urban areas do have scanners that everyone entering the school has to go through to be sure they are not bringing weapons in. And this is a GOOD thing to help keep kids safer.

But back in the early 1960s when I was in school (I started school a little bit young, at age 4)...I don't even know if they allow children to start school that early these days, but I did start at age 4 back then - I can remember doing these drills. I can remember being 5 in kindergarten, and 6 in first grade and having "drills" where a siren would sound, and we would have to "duck and cover."

One day at work we were in the lunch room talking about the "Air Raid Drills" that used to take place in schools and we got some blank stares from the younger ones who were in the lunch room with us!

Today's kids wouldn't have a clue about the paralyzing fear that came along with these drills. This was in the days at the height of the cold war. Nuclear bombs were being used to put fear into people, and there was a race going on to see who could stockpile the most bombs. At the time, this was thought to be the way that we would "protect" ourselves, and retaliate if attacked.

We were shown a film in school called "Duck and Cover." And along with it came a handy-dandy little comic book. We can look back now and think how absurd it was, but back then, I think it was just the adults truly believing they were doing the best thing. It was to educate kids on how to protect themselves, should a nuclear blast take place near their school or home. I think it accomplished more than that. I have heard of kids who had nightmares back then. But then, with all the news coverage we have today going on 24/7, people these days have nightmares, too for different reasons!

When seen in the context of the times, in 1949, the Russians had blockaded Berlin and were pushing their way into Poland and Eastern Europe. Their plan was to turn other nations into communist regimes, and in August of 1949, they were in a joyous frenzy when they announced that they had detonated their first nuclear bomb. For average Americans, this was a very real threat to their safety and security, and American's had visions of death and destruction coming onto our soil!

A cartoon used to educate children to "Duck And Cover' in the event of a nuclear bomb explosion.

A cartoon used to educate children to "Duck And Cover' in the event of a nuclear bomb explosion.

Almost humorous in the way that a cartoon turtle and monkey were used!

Almost humorous in the way that a cartoon turtle and monkey were used!

A bit simplistic, but the people behind it meant well.

A bit simplistic, but the people behind it meant well.

Under desks was one place to duck and cover.

Under desks was one place to duck and cover.

If you couldn't get under something, you were to duck away from windows, up against and inside wall, and cover the back of your neck and face to keep from getting burned by the radiation.

If you couldn't get under something, you were to duck away from windows, up against and inside wall, and cover the back of your neck and face to keep from getting burned by the radiation.

There Was A Film We Watched In School Called "Duck And Cover"

A film called "Duck and Cover" featured a cartoon turtle, and was made to lull kids into a false security - when you see the bright light of the bomb, simply duck underneath a desk or other hard object, or duck facing away from windows, and cover to protect yourself from flying debris and burns from the nuclear blast.

The way we talked about it in the lunch room that day, one guy said "what it REALLY meant is to duck, bend down and kiss your b*tt good-bye"... now he meant this in a joking way, but with the information that we have today about the dangers of nuclear radiation, he really did have a point!

A warning siren would sound, and you were to immediately, in an organized fashion, take cover "Duck and cover" as it were. If you were outdoors on the playground (and this is where I remember having to do these drills), you were to line up in an orderly line and shuffle single file into the fallout (bomb) shelter. By the time we'd get everyone in, we would have all been "glowing in the dark". But I guess it lulled people into thinking that they were being proactive and doing something.

In 1953, things got worse when Russia exploded it's first hydrogen bomb. Kids would have reactions ranging from terror and nightmares, to plain boredom from being made to do these drills. I can remember doing one about every two weeks. I can remember hoping that it WAS indeed "just a drill" and not the real thing. Teachers would sometimes lead the kids in prayers and comforting songs... which would totally be frowned upon today, but back then it was a normal thing to do.

No wonder many of these kids who participated in these drills grew up to protest war as young adults! Government eventually began to see the foolishness in these drills, even though they were well-intended (trying to teach kids how to survive something that almost surely would not be survivable), and the drills were stopped in many places in the early 1960s. But where I went to school at the time, in the Midwest, they continued at least until 1965.

Anti war protesters thought things like this film were "terrible" and a way of "brainwashing" young people into believing that we needed to solve problems like this by pushing back and fighting. Their voices were partly instrumental in stopping the drills in the mid 1960s.

I'm just thankful that today's kids don't have to go through drills like this, although I know the feeling they must get every time they hear of another school shooting... it looks as though every generation will have their own memories, I just pray that in the future, those memories will be of the achievement of peace in their lifetime.... we can only hope!

© 2011 KathyH

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