To say that our generation of baby boomers has lived through some interesting times is an understatement. And as freelance writer Estella Clifford writes from Glenside, Pennsylvania in this Boomer Opinion piece, we’re still living in interesting times. Interesting, and threatening.
There’s a Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.”
I was in 4th grade when the Cuban Missile Crisis went down. Old enough to know the outcome could be really bad. Mom did a credible job explaining to a nine-year-old what an atomic bomb was, and how radiation could pass through anything except lead, and make you really sick, or even kill you.
It was not our first experience with Civil Defense drills. In first grade, we and the kindergartners, the most vulnerable to radiation, were marched down to the basement gym and chivvied into enclosed locker rooms to wait for the All Clear. Fast forward several years, and hale and hearty fourth-graders didn’t need no stinkin’ walled locker rooms. Instead, we were arrayed around the perimeter of the gym floor. I stared up at the sun streaming through chicken-wire-reinforced, pebbled glass windows that stretched a good ten feet down from the top edge of the two-story high ceiling. Windows that would leak radiation in like a sieve. “We’re doomed,” I thought silently.
At home, I went from room to room in our house, and in my grandmother’s house next door, determining where we should stand to avoid the invisible rays that could pass through storm windows, inner windows, and metal blinds like hot air through a screen, should the bomb drop. The basement seemed ideal, with its concrete walls, minimal windows, and subterranean location. My parents never noticed me casing the basement. I never told them I was afraid.
There would be a problem, of course, if a nuclear attack came while I was at school, or anywhere other than home. How I would get back to my family? What if my dad were at work? How would he get home? We wouldn’t be able to go outside. I fantasized about finding my way home underground, through sewer pipes. The details on the how-to were sketchy.
Not long after, young people became activists for change. We stopped a war. We agitated for ecological protections. We protested inequality. We sang about stopping injustice. We agitated, cried, and some, as at Kent State, died. Sometimes we broke barriers, and we cheered.
In 1989, I watched the Berlin Wall fall. In January 1992, the Soviet Union dissolved into component countries. Finally, I thought, our world was safer; we had retreated from the abyss.
Today, as I listen to an unimaginative man ask, “If we have nukes, why can’t we use them?”, as I listen to Putin boast of his huge “invincible” nukes and threaten the world with his presumed power, as I watch high school students forced to see their friends die, and to confront mortality when they shouldn’t have to confront anything more threatening than an SAT or asking a date to the prom, these memories have resurfaced.
Lockdowns and active shooter drills unite these young people with us veterans of Civil Defense drills. American children were threatened then, and they are threatened now by both the old nemesis of nuclear war AND home-grown dangers. The threat remains. We need to support the Parkland survivors, and the survivors of previous domestic terrorist acts, be they shootings or bombings.
The Establishment did not support us. It lingers in Washington even now, STILL not supporting us, or today’s young people. We need to protect these new activists from false accusations and nefarious plots to discredit them when they have barely begun to grieve. There is hope in these articulate young people. We owe it to the world to support and nurture them.
Interesting times? We’re there.