Sunday, June 20, 2004

The Threat of Nuclear Annihilation

Last night I watched Thirteen Days. For those of you who don't know, the movie covers the thirteen days of the Cuban Missle Crisis. It was based on The Kennedy Tapes - Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Cris by Ernest R. May and Philip D. Zelikow. For me the film is absolutely terrifying. It is hard to believe how dangerously close we came to nuclear war.

Indeed, I grew up with the threat of nuclear annihilation. I was born only 17 years after the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and only a few months after the Cuban Missle Crisis. By the time I was born the craze for home fallout shelters of the Fifties were well over, but people still seemed braced for the advent of a nuclear attack. Growing up I can remember two places that had public fallout shelters. One was the municipal auditorium in Moberly. Another was in the county courthouse. As hard as it is to believe now, in school we were actually taught what to do in the event of nuclear war. Unlike when my sister was in school, I don't think we ever had a "nuclear attack" drill to go alongside the tornado drills and fire drills.

Indeed, I would suppose that most peope feared the eventuality of nuclear war when I was a child. It seems to me that it was prevalent enough that even politicians capitalised on it in ads. I was much too young to remember it, although I have seen it since it first aired, but a campaign ad for Lyndon B. Johnson did capitalise on the fear of nuclear war. Dubbed the "flower commercial," it featured a little girl pulling petals from a flower and counting. Her voice was replaced by that of a countdown, as one might hear when a rocket was being launched. The scene then shifted to that of a mushroom cloud--the sort caused by a nuclear explosion. Although neither Lyndon B. Johnson nor Barry Goldwater were mentioned in the ad, it effectively hinted that Goldwater's election could result in nuclear war. Needless to say, the Republicans were outraged, as were many others. For that reason the commercial aired only once, during NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies.

The fear of nuclear war was also prevalent enough that it became a part of pop culture. Movies such as Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and Fail- Safe dealt with the subject of nuclear war itself. The post apocalyptic genre of science fiction was old by the time I was born. In fact, I rather suspect that the movies dealing with life after nuclear war probably number in the hundreds, Planet of the Apes and The Road Warror being two more famous examples.

Even with the demise of the U.S.S.R., I guess there is still the fear of a nuclear threat. While I am not certain that the average person worries about terrorist getting hold an atomic bomb, there is the concern that they might utilise "dirty bombs," bombs with radioactive material in them. And there are new fears as well, such as the fear of terrorists using germ warfare. Still, it seems to me that at least most people no longer worry about the entire planet being destroyed in a nuclear exchange. I know I don't.

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