Sunday, June 26, 2016

1950s Nuclear Propaganda Films, or How to Not Panic, Duck and Cover, and Save Yourself From Nuclear Fallout

I've spent a lot of time on YouTube recently, employed on a search and destroy mission to uncover the best 1950s propaganda films concerning the nuclear menace.

Remember this was the period right after the war. Communism was spreading throughout Europe and Asia, the McCarthy Hearings were in full swing here in America, and companies were making a killing promoting portable bomb shelters for your backyard and basement.

It was a crazy, paranoid time. Many people expected the Red Army to come marching down your street at any moment. If you were a child of the fifties or sixties, one thing you're bound to remember is the "duck and cover" air raid drills. Students were marched out of the classroom, into the hallway, and forced to press their head between their legs. Like that was going to save you from a rogue Soviet nuclear missile.

One of the classic videos from this period is Duck and Cover starring Bert the Turtle. 

Duck and Cover was designed to teach elementary school kids how to protect themselves in case of a nuclear attack. It took a practical approach, telling kids what to do, should a nuclear crisis occur. 

The film told students, "There is a bright flash. Brighter than the sun. Brighter than anything you've seen. If you are not ready. If you did not know what to do, it could hurt you in different ways. It could knock you down hard, or throw you against a tree or wall. It is such a big explosion it could smash in buildings, or knock sign boards over, and break windows all over town. But, if you duck and cover like Bert, you will be much safer."

If you duck and cover, you will be much safer

I'm not sure who they're trying to kid because there's no escaping a dead on atomic explosion. I guess it was the fifties way of telling kids, it's gonna be alright.

And, "always remember," the announcer cautioned. "The flash of an atomic bomb can come at anytime, no matter where you may be. You might be out playing at home when the warning comes. Be sure to get into the house fast."

"If there is a warning, you will hear it before the bomb explodes. But, sometimes, and this is very, very important - sometimes the bomb might explode without any warning. Then, the first thing we know about it would be the flash." If that happens, duck and cover fast.

Another government produced video, Aspects of Nuclear Radiation, attempts to tell viewers, not all radioactive materials are bad. Take for example, the illuminated dial of your watch. It's not going to hurt you.

And, if the bomb does go off, the film lists several rules to stay safe.

  • The first and obvious one is to be some place else when it happens. But, under some conditions, that's a hard rule to follow.
  • Atomic warfare might allow little choice in the matter. So if you can't stay away from it, you must stay with it, as safely as possible, and stay properly protected.
  • Concrete, earth, and water furnish good shielding. The best shelters are strong, reinforced structures.
  • If the bomb exploded in the air it's safe to return to the area of the explosion about two minutes after it occurs, because the dangerous particles quickly move upwards. If the bomb explodes on the ground, or in the water, the effects are going to last much longer.
Perhaps the most unsettling part of this film deals with its concerns over worry. At the worst, only 15 percent of the people affected would be killed. The other 85 percent would just be worried.

So, why concentrate on the bad news, right?

According to the video, "That's unsound. It doesn't fit. If you must worry, concentrate on the blast effects of an A-bomb. It causes a gigantic rearrangement of things, a complete change of scenery, and means sudden death to those who chance to be in the way when it happens."

And, "don't forget the fires that follow," and the "flash heat." It'll be a little bit of hell on earth. 

The main thing is not to "panic."

The final video I've chosen to review is called Nuclearosis. It's short, just 37 seconds, and explains the need for a nuclear fallout shelter in your backyard, or basement.

The man in the video, like many others in the country is suffering from a dread disease. "All he can see is a mushroom cloud. He is blinded from the fear of it. Deaf from the sound of it. There is a short circuit in his brain. All he can think of is the awfulness of the nuclear bomb."

The best cure for his ailments is a home fallout shelter. As soon as he gets it, his illness clears up. He can see. He can hear, and smile again. 

These are just a few of the 1950s nuclear propaganda videos I discovered. I liked them because they were funny, paranoid, and demonstrative of people's fears.

Too many Americans were afraid of the bomb. They expected it to arrive at any moment. American troops were fighting the spread of Communism in Korea. Soviet tanks were roaring across Europe, eating up many countries supposedly freed by the hard fought battles of Allied forces. And, Joe McCarthy was fighting the Communist threat on the home front.

In spite of it's innocence, the 1950s were a scary time. 

An unsteady hand, or mind, could have ended the world at any moment, with the push of a button. Sixty years later, nuclear war is still a threat, but we are distanced far enough from the dropping of the first bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, that much of the paranoia has disappeared.

The threat today, is Korea, and some of the smaller dictatorships. Will they be crazy enough to let loose the bomb?

Only time, (and Donald Trump) will tell.

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