Did you take things literally as a child? Pretty naïve over here. I recall the giant ’62 pale blue Olds floating down the road: Dad driving, Mom riding shotgun – but we didn’t call it that back then. It was the read-the-map, or more accurately misread-the-map-and-get-in-trouble, spot. Why would anyone want to sit there? As my older brother and I did gymnastics in the humongous back seat, I overheard the parents talking about a billboard we’d just passed.
“That’s misleading advertising!” Mom declared.
But this is what I heard: a teacher, named Miss Leading, was advertising something. I wanted to know what. The parents couldn’t really explain it.
The Iron Curtain was another one. “Mom. What’s an Iron Curtain?” Of course, I pictured an enormously heavy, grey curtain made of iron. How would it be held up and who would want such a thing?
Somehow Mom actually got this one through to me. It had to do with politics, she explained. The ears disengaged at that word, “politics”, but I did hear this: west is best! Communism sounded cold and dark, whereas I knew democracy to be warm and light.
Now, as I study up on the Iron Curtain, I see that it was much larger than I pictured as a child, a full 7,000-kilometres worth of fences, walls, minefields and watchtowers that divided the “east” and “west”. Perhaps, to keep it to something I could understand, Mom pretty much equated it with the Berlin Wall dividing East and West Germany. It made me immensely sad thinking about people from the same country, the same city even – Berlin – being kept apart by this ugly concrete wall with barbed wire on top of it. I did not like the Iron Curtain and, although I was run ragged with my three young kids when the wall fell on November 9, 1989, I did take the time to breathe a life-long sigh of relief. Thanks to peaceful protests by East Berliners, known as the “Monday Demonstrations” that eventually swelled to number half a million people, dreaded threats from my childhood – “Cold War”, “A-bomb”, “Nuclear War” – became obsolete. Phew.
And, you know, like so many things from childhood it’s hard to pinpoint the specific moment that threat was born. After a recent book club discussion about Pewtin’s Pewtrid War, one of our members pulled up an old black and white video of Duck and Cover drills, with a cartoon Bert the Turtle. Oh, this feels pretty familiar; for sure we saw and practiced this in elementary school. Bert’s a smart turtle, and he knows to just get into his shell at the first sign of threat. As we’re not turtles, we can use our desks. (Sadly, these have a similar feel to current day active shooter drills in the US.) It’s all friendly and light; prepare, but don’t scare.
There were movies too, like Atomic Attack(1954), starring Walter Mathieu, about a family trying to flee the fallout of an atomic bomb that falls on NYC. Something like that was probably playing on the old RCA Victor in the corner of the living room one night when I couldn’t sleep, crept down, caught a few horrific images, sounds.
And some people back in the day, like my uncle in New Brunswick, had fallout shelters. I knew that “fallout” had something to do with the “A-bomb”, but I never saw that space being used for anything but parties: the adults played Country and Western LPs, danced the 1, 1-2 step with each other and drank bitter drinks. Mom gave me a sip of her Schooner beer one night. Disgusting! And the more they drank? The louder the talk and laughter.
Born in the late 50s, I’ve enjoyed all the benefits of being a Boomer: a stable middle class environment, access to education and health care. While nuclear often loomed large in the imagination, as you know it never became a reality; I’ve enjoyed a lifetime of peace.
My father, a sensitive soul like me, was not so lucky. Conscripted to serve in WWII, he, his brother (fallout shelter owner) and a cousin made a pact not to fight, were labelled “zombies”, and therefore did a lot of KP duty. Still, Dad was on the 3rd Canadian Division tasked with liberating Amersfoort, a concentration camp in the Netherlands, so he no doubt saw unpleasant things. Things he never talked about, as was expected of a man at that time.
And now, our social media feeds and televisions have erupted with unpleasant things. Ukraine: bombed, blasted and bloodied. Geopolitical analyst Ian Bremmer says we’ve abruptly moved into a post-post-Cold War period. More significantly, he calls it the end of the “peace dividend”, defined as “a sum of public money which becomes available for other purposes when spending on defense is reduced”. At a time when global cooperation and funding is needed, more than ever, to tackle critical climate change issues? Global stability has been disrupted and spending on military will be increased.
Do you feel sad? Sick? Horrified? Helpless? Besides being shocked and worried, we can resort to donations, of money and needed items, but it sure doesn’t feel like enough.
I watched name-sounds-like Hero-ensky via video link addressing US Congress, and while I’m continuously struck by his courage and resolve, I’m also impressed by how he tailors each request to the country he’s speaking to. Recall Pearl Harbor, recall 9/11; attacks from the sky, as he begs for a no-fly zone. “I have a dream”, became “I have a need”. He followed up his requests with a heart-wrenching video contrasting scenes of Ukrainian’s major cities prior to February 24th, to the current ones of the Russian invasion. It’s graphic. If you have a heart, you cannot watch this video without sobbing.
A 7-year-old Ukrainian boy pointed out this pointlessness to his mom as they took a brief hiatus from sheltering in their basement to wander around town. The boy rambled in an impassioned way about the damage, the fact that he (Pewtin) might get their land, but it would be totally destroyed. Why would he want a ruined country?!
If a 7-year-old, under duck and cover in his basement, gets this, why can’t a 69-year-old, no doubt under duck and cover in his bunker right now, get this?
Website photo: Bert the Turtle practising Duck and Cover.