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The legacy of Duck & Cover

I had hoped never to see kids terrorized again, especially terrorized by the authority. I grew up in Manhattan in the 1950s ‘til I was 12 (in ‘62) and remember well the drills practicing Duck & Cover. At first kids were bemused by a break in routine and classroom discipline. But after the first drill, concern radiated around the room — not least with teachers — and left an impression either of bravado (often false) or fright for what could happen or the need to think of others first (which for a kid of 6 was a change in innocence and freedom). Duck & Cover was not a benign exercise, it was not a simple thing to execute for teacher or children. All you had to do was see images in LIFE or LOOK magazines to know that the aftermath of any nuclear explosion was terrifying.

Today’s kids are faced with the same terrorism — terrorism perpetrated by evil-doers, aided and abetted by feckless law-makers and, worst of all, commercial interests using political leverage the likes of which Carnegie, Morgan and Vanderbilt would have thought pernicious. If you think school drills for “lock-down” are benign, you are wrong, as wrong as Duck & Cover turned out to be. As wrong as one school slaughter after another is proving to be. The images are no longer Life and Look, they are everywhere on the internet, every kid’s phone, every tablet. 

And please, don’t pretend kids aren’t seeing the blood and gore, the suffering, the bodies being pulled out of school — with sub-conscious repetition imagery always reminding them of their own school, their own cafeteria, their own classrooms.

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Duck & Cover caused many children’s revulsion for man’s ability for carnage. True, the Cold War never became hot partly because politicians knew the real dangers of any nuclear aftermath. But what was more endemic was a revulsion of my generation for the terrorizing the Cold War engendered. You could not ask a kid to Duck & Cover without that kid understanding why, and understanding why made them become informed of the nuclear aftermath, man’s inhumanity to man, the evil in all conflicts and a disgust of anyone wanting to cause such atrocities. Does anyone today remember the “Make love not war” slogans? And taken from the Jewish sentiment and greeting “Shalom,” came “Peace, man!”

“Peace, man!” as both a greeting and a slogan was a direct outcome of Duck & Cover kids wanting to unshackle themselves from the world of terror and carnage they had been taught to expect. Yes, expect. You tell a kid to Duck & Cover and you have to explain why, you have to openly tell them it is a possibility. A possibility becomes, in young minds, a real possibility ... it becomes a nightmare threat they have to live with.

So too it is today with mass shootings with military weapons for kids in school, from age 5 to 22. Kids do not feel safe in school. Let’s not pretend otherwise. We’re teaching them drills for safety in case, those drills breed a sense of likelihood, breed a nightmare they have to live with every day.

So, on TV you’ll see parents angry, weeping, being consoled and, yes, wanting our lawmakers to do something, anything (especially not say it is not time yet to discuss anything as their NRA bosses demand). But what everyone needs to think about is this: These terrorist attacks (yes, they breed terror therefore they are terrorist attacks) change the mindset of our children, children who will one day grow up damaged (as many from the ‘50s and ’60s did turning to drugs), or want to fight back against the establishment (think of the riots in the ’60s), or, worst of all, feel their country abandoned them and refuse to be an active member of our society (as many from the ’50s and ’60s did and still do). We’re going down that pathway once again.

Who can stop it? Vote. Only you can. Only you can protect our kids and their future. Only you can override lawmakers’ fecklessness.

 

Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.