Remembering the duck-and-cover years

Fear about Iran with a nuclear weapon brings many Baby Boomers back to their duck-and-cover years. Living with a nuclear threat was a mix of justified concern mixed with occasional irrational fear.

Recently, Neal Karlen of MPR’s Public Insight Network, asked people to recall their duck-and-cover years.

“We worried about what life would be like if we survived. We had a place in the basement where we kept canned goods. Life seemed bleak. Canned food, living in the basement with centipedes, all the other members of my classes dead from radiation. I wasn’t sure how the spiderwebs and brickwork in the basement would save us and not the rest of the planet. there was no tee vee in our basement. No bathroom. I’m not sure how we planned to keep 9 people alive in a space about 10 by 10 feet. Except for my dad, we were pretty small.” — Tom (Minneapolis)

” I grew up in Miami, Fl. During the Cuban missile crisis the people of Florida believed that we would be attacked first because Florida is so close to Cuba geographically. My parents prepared the center of our home as a kind of bomb shelter. My dad moved mattresses to cover the doorways and my mom sterilized the bath tub and toilet tank so we could use it as a source of clean water. ” — Rosalind (Glencoe)

“I grew up in Australia, a country that, at the time, didn’t depend on instilling fear in its citizens to survive.” — Patricia (Port Orange, FL)

“I was a child during the last 20 or so years of the Cold War. I remember thinking about the likeliness that my home town would be a target, how much warning we might have and what chances I would have of escaping the blast. I also remember being confused about the reasons that the US and USSR were engaged in this conflict (was it all political ideology, or was there more to it?)and angry that such great powers could not just agree to disagree.” — Cynthia (Saint Paul)

“I grew up as a very naive child. The first time a drill was held in elementary school, I had no idea what was going on, but I recall some of my classmates saying that we must cover the backs of our necks. The teachers had us huddle in the hallway, facing the lockers in the hall, then kneel down, and duck the head. The clasped hands cover the back of the neck. For the some time afterwards, I believed that the back of the neck allowed entrance of the radiation waves, although I could not figure out how or why.” — David (Louisville, KY)

“My school in Burbank, CA had the standard air raid drill–curl up in a ball under your desk until the all-clear. It was just part of our elementary school experience. The fallout shelter industry also boomed during this time. My family did not dwell on the possibilities, and I remember my mother talking with some scorn about the people who were sure there was a Communist under every bed, so I think my brother and I had a fairly healthy attitude about the likelihood of nuclear devastation.” — Jean (Laporte, MN)

“The ‘duck and cover’ didn’t frighten me, as much as being told to run home as fast as possible – timing us. The Cuban Missile crisis was scarier because I was 12 and understood more what nuclear war meant.” — Kate (Willow River, MN)

“I remember my (Catholic) schoolteachers closing each day with with the prayer that we’d all meet again the next day, that the Godless Russians wouldn’t blow us all up. I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, and a restaurant near us on Lake Street getting its windows blown out by sonic booms.” — Chuck (Milan, MN)

“During the Cuban Missle Crisis I was a freshman in college. The Dean of Men called a meeting in our dorm and told us that the Soviets might shoot ICBM’s at Barksdale AFB which was only 60 miles away, and that if they missed by a little bit, we would be incinerated. I thought he was exaggerating. Years later Robert McNamara confirmed how close we really came to global annihilation.” — Dan (Houston, TX)

Today, President Obama said that their was “still time and space to pursue a diplomatic solution” but pledged to keep up the pressure on Iran to dismantle any nuclear weapons program.

Check back in 50 years to see if many people found these days particularly memorable.

(h/t: Kate Moos)