Source analysis one page | American history homework help



Lesson 25 in our online textbook has this to say about the Cold War: “During the 1950s, Americans lived in a climate of fear as the threat of communism and nuclear war loomed large.  The Cold War fueled this anxiety.  The Cold War was the name given to the conflict that emerged between the Soviet Union and the United States immediately following World War II.

“The war was ‘cold’ in the sense that it did not lead to any direct battlefield engagements between the two countries.  Instead, the war fueled international tension and ideological conflict as the United States and the Soviet Union struggled to gain spheres of influence around the world.  This protracted struggle would shape United States foreign policy and influence all aspects of American society for nearly half a century” (UNT).


A notable reaction to Cold War anxieties was the introduction of training to survive a nuclear attack into the American public-school system in the early 1950s. According to The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, “Today’s school children are familiar with fire drills, earthquake drills, tornado drills, and even tsunami drills. Filing out-doors to athletic fields or hiding under desks from imaginary natural disaster debris is expected, scheduled, and routine. Parents and grandparents of these students, however, likely remember duck-and-cover drills. 

“During the Cold War, nuclear war with the Soviet Union seemed constantly on the horizon. Adults around the United States built fallout shelters and stocked their basements with canned food, water, and safety supplies. Children learned to ‘duck and cover’ whenever they heard the alarm, sliding under their desks, lunch tables, or whatever was sturdy nearby, and covering their heads and necks.

“In order to prepare Americans for a potential nuclear attack, the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) was established in 1951. The FCDA commissioned an educational film to teach school children about the perils of a nuclear attack. The resulting short, Duck and Cover, was first screened in January 1952, and featured Bert the Turtle. At the first sound of an alarm or the tell-tale flash of light from a nuclear bomb, Bert would jump into his shell to protect himself. The film toured around the country with the Alert America civil defense exhibit convoy, teaching Americans about atomic bomb preparedness. Duck and Cover was later distributed to schools around the US” (Kwasnik).

Many historians have criticized the Duck and Cover movie as misleading. One blogging historian suggests that though a character like Bert the Turtle may seem comical when viewed through twenty-first century sensibilities, “this was a serious part of the American government’s initiative to stamp out social fear throughout the Cold War. It was initiatives like this and other failing governmental attempts to eliminate fear that in fact assisted in heightening it through the period” (Goodrick). Another blogger suggests Duck and Cover reflects the “collective delusion…going on in the Cold War U.S. of the early 1950s” (Holden).


Please proceed with Source Analysis 5 in this way:

  • Read Janet Ford’s very short and light-hearted article titled “Duck and Cover – The Infamous Cold War Civil Defense Film” in which the author highlights some of the most famous (and infamous) aspects of the film.
    • For your convenience there is a PDF version of this article at the link below.
    • If you like to see a movie before you read the book, you may want to reverse these first two steps.
    • This article CANNOT be used as your outside source as called for in the information found at SOURCE ANALYSES / GENERAL INFORMATION. You may draw upon Ford’s article in your essay, but you need an outside scholarly source that YOU locate and draw upon for context.
  • View the 9:15 minute film, Duck and Cover at the YouTube link below which provides closed captions.
    • There is a link to the movie in Ford’s article though it does not provide closed captions.
    • This movie (not Ford’s article) is the source you are analyzing.
  • Consider this definition of the word “propaganda” from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary:
    • the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person
    • ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause
  • Respond to this question in your Source Analysis 5 essay:
    • Is Duck and Cover a piece of US government propaganda, or evidence of a well-intended though naïve effort to negate the impact of a nuclear attack on American school children?

When responding, give examples to support your statements (“for example” is always good for me to see). When searching for external scholarly sources to provide context to your essay, an online search under “bert the turtle propaganda” may prove helpful. TheSource Analysis 5 upload portal becomes available to you Wednesday, 24 at 9:00 am and is due Friday, April 26 at 11:59 pm. 

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