The United States: a nation duct and covered

Last week an official announcement by the U. S. government urged citizens to be prepared to take care of their families and to buy duct tape and plastic sheeting to do so. Not since the cold war and the now infamous “duck and cover” movies was an order that was meant to instill a sense of safety in the population so questionable.

When in 1949 the Soviet Union managed to do its first testing of a nuclear device, the United States was suddenly not secure anymore. The attack could have come at any moment, and the secure feeling that Americans had cherished until then was no more.

The answer was simple: Provide the public with a sense of safety through simple steps that they know they can easily remember and quickly administer. The last thing the government wanted was mass hysteria. For this purpose, short movies were made that starred “Bert the Turtle,” a cartoon character who knew how to protect himself. Like the jingle of the movies repeatedly stated, the answer to a nuclear attack was simple: Duck and cover. (Watch it online at )

Later movies suggested that if the flash of a nuclear explosion were seen while on a picnic, covering yourself with the picnic blanket meant safety.

Of course, today these movies seem ludicrous. It would definitely not be advisable to stand around and gaze into the center of an atomic explosion, but a picnic blanket does not offer safety from it.

Nevertheless, 50 years later, public alerts are still handled the same way. To suggest that it is your duty to protect your family by buying duct tape is insulting.

However, let’s assume that duct tape helps against biological warfare. It can only do so if every crack and crevice were sealed off, not to mention the air conditioning, and the seal was never broken, as it would only help if the area was never contaminated. If a warning was issued when you were not already inside, it would be too late.

So, are we supposed to sit at home, gas-masked and “duct and covered?” According to Tom Ridge, head of the Homeland Security Department, this is precisely what the department does not want people to do as they “just don’t want folks sealing up their doors or sealing up their windows.”

The magical duct tape should, therefore, only be used after the crop dusters have passed overhead or a warning has been issued officially (A system that warns us 24 hours after an attack is currently being installed in big cities.) This is an interesting approach that somehow leads me to believe that keeping me occupied is a prime target of this whole endeavor. The system is an attempt to keep Americans from panicking just as “Bert the Turtle” used to be. Either that, or the Bush administration has ties to the duct tape industry and this is their way of jump-starting at least that sector of the economy. (No hate mail please, it’s a joke.)

If the last couple of weeks showed one thing, it is that we are not prepared for another terrorist attack. I do not know how we are supposed to protect ourselves, but what I do know is that duct tape will not do the trick. But maybe it works for reptiles named Bert?

Sebastian Meyer is a junior majoring in environmental science.spmeyer@mail.usf.edu

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