When I was a kid I greatly feared an atomic attack. My feeling was enhanced by the seriousness with which every adult approached the “Cold War”. I was far too young to understand oxymoron, paradox or even onomatopoeia……but something didn’t sound right here! All the fighting I’d ever heard tell of somebody got heated up! A “Cold War” didn’t seem like much of a conflict to me. I understood my age and my place so I didn’t say nothing, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t scratch my head and wonder.
It became a little more unsettling when our fifth grade teacher passed out the ugly yellow and black colored pamphlets entitled “What to do in case of a nuclear attack.” The first thing we had to recognize was the Civil Defense signs that marked the nearest fallout shelter. Those signs were also yellow and black with triangles in the background. I think it was Ricky Hale who pointed out that not only did our little school not have a single fallout shelter, there was not one to be found in the whole town!
Now, I’m telling this story with my hand up. I went to school one morning thinking I’m going to be asked to spell “article”, and maybe, “rarified” and ended up under my desk with my head tucked between my legs. It was in the booklet! We had, as per instruction, air raid drills. We dived under our desks at different speeds depending on whether it was a “Red Alert”, “Blue Alert”, “Yellow Alert” and so on. It was also Ricky who took his life in his hands by leaning out from under his desk and asking, “Will this save us if the bomb lands anywhere close to us?”
That atomic Cold War saber rattling could scar a guy for life!
Me and David Mark went to building a fallout shelter just as soon as we got home. It was a good thing we were small. There wasn’t much crawl space beneath the floor joist. We pushed the excess dirt to the far reaches of the underpinning and hauled a few loads out to the field beside Aunt Jessie’s house.
It took us a month to get it where we could stand up in it. David found some old cans of Vienna sausage and I begged Mom for a sleeve of saltine crackers. We hauled in some black walnuts from Mrs. Boaz’s yard and figured we’d be set if this nuclear attack only lasted for a day or two.
The very first “Weekly Reader” we were exposed to in junior high had a map of Russia right on the front page. That danged country which had us ducking and digging for two years was on the other side of the world! Why would they want to bomb us? We must have really made them mad. And, maybe more to the point, how could they get over here to drop an atomic bomb on us? ’Course, those Civil Defense folks had done thought of that. We had NORAD, the DEW line across Canada and a Ballistic Missile Early Warning System to alert us to exactly when to sound the CD sirens. I scratched my head again. Why would we put in a Weekly Reader for the whole world to see detailed information about our nuclear missile defense system?
Sometimes I think America is not the smartest country on earth.
Daddy bought a TV a year or so later and Walter Cronkite kept a close eye on the commies for us. That Khrushchev guy never looked happy in black and white. We played ball, learned to drive, dated, spent some great afternoons out at the clay pits and made plans to graduate and move on, all under the specter of a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. We raced them to outer space, cheered against them in the Olympics and faced off against them in Berlin, Korea and Cuba. Even Vietnam always seemed to be a pawn in a larger game.
Old habits die hard. But the fear slowly left me as the passing years revealed a Russia that seemed more bent on threatening and posturing, than bombing. They toned down the rhetoric and tore down the Wall. “Red Alerts” and air raid drills drifted into obscurity. I turned my attention to making a living and raising children…..
The fear for the safety and welfare of America has once again awakened in my heart. This time is has nothing to do with Russians, Taliban, foreign agents or intercontinental ballistic missiles.
I am afraid that America is going to self destruct from the inside out! We rant and rave at each other on the Senate floor, “Meet the Press”, traffic jams and local get-togethers. “My way or no way” has become the national yell. We seem more angry and hostile than friendly and hospitable. It’s enough to make you re-read Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”.
Leon was the only casualty I know of from the atomic threat in the 1950’s. Daddy whipped him when he couldn’t find our hammer. Dad allowed that the oldest son was responsible for the tools. It didn’t dawn on Dave or me until it was too late that we had taken that hammer down to our fallout shelter to bust open those walnuts in case of an emergency.
I’m not sure we can all come out with just a whipping if the “bomb” blows up from within.