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Boomer Bytes #12: ‘Duck and Cover’

Editor’s Note: Below is Steve Canipe’s fourth column in his series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.

  • See second column – Are We Really Old? – here
  • See third column – Cars and More Cars – here
  • See fourth column – Getting Educated – here
  • See fifth column – Home Alone? – here
  • See sixth column – Death – here
  • See seventh column – They’re Playing Our Song – here
  • See eighth column – Driving: Knowing When To Quit – here.
  • See ninth column – Hobbies: What’s Your Favorite – here
  • See 10th column –  ‘The Last of Life, for which the First was Made’ – here
  • See 11th column – Volunteeering – here

Duck and Cover

By Steve Canipe

April 4, 2014. For those of us who grew up in the midst of the cold war, one of the things that we learned in elementary school was “duck and cover.”  What this meant was get down under your desk and cover your head. 

What this activity was supposed to do was protect us from the expected nuclear blast delivered by the Soviet Union.  Would it have worked?  Probably not, depending on where the bomb actually hit.  Even if we had survived the initial blast, what would life have been like?  It certainly would have given real meaning to the current spate of television shows with names like “Doomsday Preppers.”


Plans for the “bomb shelters” can still be found.  One site is called Military.com.  It offers several varieties of shelters from the 1980s depending on cost and desired amenities. While that may seem just a short while ago, it is important to note that the Soviet Union lasted until 1991.  Some people as late as 1980 in the United States were obviously still trying to be prepared for “the bomb.” – meaning a nuclear one!

With the breakup of the Soviet Union and its division into 15 republics, the threat of nuclear war seemed to abate.  The largest of the republics was Russia with nearly 77% of the entire land mass of the former Soviet Union.

Some of you, like me, may have read a book by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called Masters of Deceit: the story of communism in America and how to fight it.  The book was published in 1958 just as the first of the boomers were getting ready to enter their teen years.  It was a scary book.  I remember it well.  This is the same book growing out of the same type of thinking that led to the House Committee on Un-American Activities and Senator Joseph McCarthy in his Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.  The two committees are often confused. McCarthy was earlier than Hoover’s book (d. 1957) but was just as virulently anti-communist seeing the red menace everywhere.

Once the Soviet Union was dissolved, some people began to breathe easier but there was another major power with Communist leanings that was emerging and emerging in a much more economically powerful way – the People’s Republic of China.  China and the Soviet Union had earlier combined against the United States with actions in Korea and Viet Nam.  There were surrogate fights happening in the Middle East and some of this seemed to be based on the principle of the “enemy of my enemy is my friend.” 

Both powers wanted their ideas on political structure to take hold.  The Soviet/Russian model of total control of all activities including production, and social activities did not last.  President Reagan successfully caused the Soviet Union to spend itself into bankruptcy and it is widely believed that this spending caused those in power in Russia to say enough.  The spending on such ambitious projects as the Strategic Defense Initiative, more popularly called  “star wars,” weapons put the United States into a hole financially as well. The Soviets tried to keep up with our spending but could not do it. Reagan is responsible for increasing the US debt 186% during his eight years in office. (About.com). 

Arguments of whether this was a good thing or a bad thing will no doubt rage, this is not the issue that I want to talk about.  It happened. Just looking at budget deficits is not really germane to the discussion, but the About.com site will give the reader the amounts and percentages. It is what that money buys that is more important.

Back to duck and cover – with the Soviet Union no more and the economy of China seeming to be rocking along on US spending, do we need to worry about the possibility of nuclear weapons being dropped or used on American soil?  I believe the answer is yes, we do need to be concerned.

There are several things that cause me to have this belief.  One of these is the resurgence of Russia as a power and when it flexes its muscles like in the Crimea, it leaves a major question as to what the Western response will be.  Currently we and our European allies are using sanctions.  Will these economic “hurt points” be enough to get President Putin to back off?  Good question for which there is not currently a good answer.  All I can say is maybe and I hope so.

A second thing that concerns me is that the US has lost credibility in the world.  Part of this is due to 10 years of war in the Middle East in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Are we winning there – probably about as much as we won in Viet Nam –  the answer to winning is a resounding — NO.  We are going to pull out after spending somewhere between $4 and $6 trillion dollars. (Washington Post, 2013).  This is $4,000,000,000,000 or enough to give every American – man, woman, and child over $12,000.  Good or bad is not the point.  I just want you understand how much we are talking about – put another way, it would be enough to give every permanent resident of Watauga County (2010 census) over $7.8 million dollars….it is a lot of money we have spent…and the relative figures were based on the 4 trillion number not the $6 trillion.

My point is not to debate whether SDI was good or bad; whether budget deficits are good or bad; whether we should continue sanctions against Russia because of Crimea.  My point is to keep harkening back to the duck and cover, I started with…are we safer now?  Can we really forget duck and cover? 

Or do we have to look forward to more of the scary times like 1962, when Soviet Premier Khrushchev had missiles in Cuba and President Kennedy stood toe to toe and said no more.  I remember that scenario as will most of the boomers, except the youngest.  I was in high school and remember thinking that for a missile we were so close in North Carolina. 

There was the assumption that Atlanta would get hit because of size and economy but we were not sure about Charlotte or likely effects on my home n Lincolnton.  Whether the population center of Charlotte would be hit was a not great likelihood then but there was a lithium mine in Bessemer City (a stone’s throw away from us that probably would get hit.  The reason Lithium was considered important is that one of the Lithium isotopes (Lithium-6) helps in the production of more compact and highly efficient thermonuclear devices.  It basically adds to the yield of a regular fusion or fission device.

Today Lithium is used for lots of other things since we have stopped producing so many bombs.  The FMC Lithium Corporation is still in Bessemer City and might still be targeted.in an atomic exchange. 

Those of us boomers went to a mantra of live for today because we may be dead tomorrow.  This sword of Damocles hanging over our heads caused us to develop in certain ways – will our grandchildren have a similar thing happen to them?

Let me hear from you about your experience with “duck and cover” or talk with older relatives if you don’t remember it yourself. How did and does it make you feel, given a potential new Russian ascendency threat?  Send your thoughts, either via email at boomerbytes@yahoo.com or post them at the end of the column. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.