In light of the tragedy and ongoing crisis in Japan, I doubt if I am the only Baby Boomer having flashbacks of Duck and Cover drills held in grade school. Duck and Cover was a regularly practiced exercise of civil defense taught to school children during the 1950s and 60s. It was based on the probability that a nuclear attack was a clear and present danger that could occur in the United States at any time. There was even a film produced about Duck and Cover that used an animated turtle to show kids how the exercise would protect us in the event of a nuclear attack. Our instructions were that if we saw a bright flash of light we should immediately get beneath a table or huddle against a solid wall and cover our head with our hands.
Perhaps the whiz kids had it all figured out, but I doubt if I was the only average student in class who disbelieved that such an apparently insignificant action would save our lives during a nuclear attack. Theoretically, ducking and covering would provide protection from flying glass and falling debris, but we were also told that the radiation resulting from the nuclear bomb could incinerate us. What the hey? If a bomb was powerful enough to blow to smithereens our school or any other building, how would merely cowering on the floor in a fetal position save us?
The government purported that Duck and Cover was an essential procedure for saving our lives. Certainly some preparation is always better than none at all. But to this day, as much as I remember the drills, what I remember more was that whenever our class practiced or even discussed Duck and Cover, for days afterward I had terrifying nightmares and disturbing daydreams.
As I watch the continuous broadcasts about the explosions at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant, not only do I imagine, but I also feel the desperation and fear engulfing the people in Japan. When it gets to be too much for me, I turn off the television. I’m sure that the people who live in those areas devastated by last Friday’s earthquake and tsunami probably wish that they could turn off their present reality just as easily. They have already lost so much; family members and friends, their homes, and now they are facing the threat of a nuclear meltdown. It is a calamitous situation that is too disturbing to consider feasible, yet too plausible to deny. And it is not only the people in Japan, but people in other countries who are now looking for – and hoping not to see – a daunting radioactive cloud. Duck and Cover and Pray.