How did the students protect themselves from an atomic bomb in The Wednesday Wars?

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To protect themselves from an atomic bomb, the students are instructed to crouch down under their desks with their hands protecting their heads, breathing "quietly and evenly" until the danger is over and they are signalled to come out.

The actions the students had to take to protect themselves from an atomic bomb were similar to drills held in some schools today for earthquakes and other potential disasters, and seem ludicrous in light of what we all know about the utter destruction such a bomb would wreak.  Back in 1967, however, the actions described really were the procedures recommended by the government; those of us who were alive during that period most likely remember the drills well. Air raid sirens would wail at a preordained time, and all students would have to scrunch under their desks, covering their heads with their hands, in absolute silence. The teacher would then open the classroom door, pull the shades down on the windows, turn off the lights, and make sure everyone was following procedure exactly before retreating under her desk herself. According to the instructions outlined by the government and described with a sense of irony by Holling, students were to stay under their desks

"for eighteen minutes, until the wind would have whisked away the first waves of airborne radioactive particles, and the blast of burning air would have passed overhead, and the mushroom cloud would no longer be expanding, and every living thing would have been incinerated except for us because we were scrunched under our gummy desks with our hands over our heads, breathing quietly and evenly" ("May").