It’s never wrong to seek every advantage, however small, in the face of gravest danger. And it’s never wrong to help people survive however impossible the odds may seem. This is not silly, unrealistic, or pointless. This film certainly would have helped save lives if the unthinkable happened. That was true in the fifties when it was made. It was even true in the seventies and eighties. Bert is a role model for all of us.
Welcome to my first Nuclear Friday. I feel like I should give a little background about how I became so interested in nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are scary and the global strategic situation was at its worst around the age kids like me started reading the front page instead of mostly just the comics.
And then it got worse. The Soviet Union rolled into Afghanistan. Detente was over, and there was more saber rattling from the Carter cabinet than you probably would expect if you aren’t old enough to remember it. And then Reagan got the nomination by taking an even more hawkish stance that we didn’t know at the time was mostly bluster.
Remember that episode of The Simpsons when Homer needs heart surgery? Lisa did what she always did, she researched and studied to help deal with her fears. And that’s what I did to help with my fears. I got my hands on every book I could about nuclear weapons and strategy. It helped.
I came to have a healthy respect for civil defense during nuclear war. Sure, some of the things people did, such as building backyard family shelters, was not cost effective, and by the seventies there was no way a nation could survive an attack as an intact political entity. Nevertheless, there are ways to save lives. All hope is not lost.
Most kids I knew disagreed. They thought we would all be dead. They were probably right, and their nonchalance about doomsday was probably just another way of coping with the same kinds of fears I had. They laughed when we saw excerpts from 1950’s civil defense films in history class.
But I will always defend Bert the Turtle. You have to be aware of the horrible truth that Bert’s advice was based on the best data possible, two actual nuclear detonations over real cities filled with living human beings. I will post my own views about the use of atomic bombs on Japan on a future Nuclear Friday, but I will say that part of the motive was simply to have a weapons test under real life conditions. And one thing we found is that lots of people died or were severely injured at the edges of the blast area who could have been saved if they simply ducked and covered, especially if they could find even the most meagre improvised shelter. Remember, you will have time to find that shelter between the flash and the blast. Think about the few seconds gap between lightning and thunder.
Some of you are probably thinking that duck and cover was good advice in the early fifties when all there would be was 20 kT yield fission bombs loaded on Tu-4’s on one way suicide missions, but surely when the hydrogen bombs of the late fifties came along such measures would be pointless. No, a bomb 120 times the yield does not destroy 120 times the area. The inverse square law works in your favor. Even in the strategic environment of my youth when forces were at their largest sizes and on keenest alert, ducking and covering will still work in some situations. However many bombs hit, some people will be at the edges of the blast zones. And you simply do not know if you are one of those people. So duck and cover.