Note from Ron:
On Monday (November 22), while experiencing an acute case of writer’s block, I wanted to compose an article in which I compared the fears of today to the fears which my generation experienced in the 1950’s. Children of the 1950’s lived in fear of instantaneous nuclear incineration while children of today harbor fears of future global warming and a planet unable to feed future populations. I planned to express thanksgiving that the fear of the 50’s has almost disappeared.
I told my daughter Betsy that I was struggling with words to capture the fears of seventy years ago. She reminded me that I did not need to because “Reb” (her nickname for her mom/my late wife, Cookie) had written an article following the terrorist destruction of the World Trade Center that captured the common fear of that era.
I will let Cookie describe the 1950’s for me. I will comment upon the fears of today in a future article. Cookie’s article of October 11, 2001, follows:
The Jelly Generation Meets its God
By Cookie Allen
Once again, the picture of the family of mannequins appeared on the black and white TV set as the narrator dramatically informed the watchers that “These mannequins are about to be tested during a nuclear explosion.” As I watched, the family disintegrated before my eyes. Then the picture broke suddenly and another picture appeared on the screen of the familiar mushroom shaped cloud rising far away in the distance. Once again, I was getting educated on what can happen to a family of dummies who are blown to pieces by a government nuclear testing experiment.
All during the 1950’s, the American public was “educated” to the fact that any day, we might be turned into nuclear waste by the big Russian/Chinese terror duet.
There wasn’t much we could do about it because if those two ever got really upset, they might just push that button.
The government sponsored education programs told us that we possibly might survive if we stockpiled a 14-day food supply in a safe, underground fallout shelter. Lists of foods were available at any government agency office.
I remember that besides water and specially prepared food, the government people said that eggs were probably safe because they were covered in shells. Since I never liked eggs, I decided I would just skip them if I ever had to go to a fallout shelter.
I got a lot of “educating” back in the 50’s because there was only one local TV channel, and when a kid comes home from school, he or she generally wants to watch something. I always seemed to get the government education films.
Some of the films that were geared to kids seemed to want to make us think that staying alive could be a fun experience. Cartoons of some little woodland animal who wore a jaunty expression and smiled a lot set the stage for “Survival During a Nuclear Attack.” A catchy theme song might tell us that “When the bombs are falling down, stay low to the ground.” We were often advised to take refuge under a table but any kid knows during a nuclear attack, a table is not going to keep you very safe from the bomb. I always supposed that the people who made these films were just plain stupid or didn’t know what they were talking about. When we went to the movies on Saturday, we were very likely to see a second feature about a monster that had mutated somewhere near Japan because of the atomic bombs that were set off there in World War II. Everyone would watch as some huge lizard tried to attack Tokyo. The only thing that saved that city from destruction was that the creature was held back temporarily by the high voltage electric lines around Tokyo. Some scientific genius finally figured out how to get rid of the big critter, and so mankind was saved from the Frankensteinian monster that nuclear pollution had created. A lot of the films were just plainly too bizarre to ever have been anything more than a fantasy experience for kids and grownups who liked excitement. However, some of the films were “supposed to make you think.” One of the “thinking” films was a black and white picture called simply, “Seven.” In this grim story, only seven people had survived the nuclear holocaust. Only one woman was among the group, and the only reason she had been saved was because she was under a lead table in an x-ray room. She was searching for her husband, and much of the film dwelt upon that. When she finally found what was left of him, the audience got one of those usual “jolts” and a “Ack!” from the audience when they saw her husband had been reduced to a skeleton.
Due to one reason or another, all the group had perished by the end of the film except the woman and one man. The idea there, of course, was that they were the new “Adam and Eve” who would start the human race all over again, although under a more enlightened, non-warlike type of society. I came to the conclusion on that one that if the first Adam and Eve had failed so miserably, how could we hope for anything better with the second pair.
I wasn’t a big fan of the nuclear holocaust film and much preferred Roy Rogers to either seeing monsters or “thinking films.” A good adventure story held more interest to me than watching giant lizards crush part of Tokyo.
Although nuclear holocaust could provide themes for entertainment, mostly the idea just scared people. People had a reasonably mature response to the possibilities of nuclear attack and did not panic. Yes, it could happen, but every right thinking person was doing everything he or she could possibly do to prevent it.
One thing that did spook me a little during life under the shadow of the atomic bomb was the CONELRAD test on the radio. Right while you were listening to an exciting cowboy show, the announcer would come on and say, “For the next 60 seconds, a test will be made of the CONELRAD emergency radio network system.” Then this awful shrieking, buzzing sound would come over the radio for the next minute. I never could see what good a noise on the radio would be if the Russians ever did pull the trigger and drop the A bomb on us. Who would be around to listen to the noise anyway?
I remember one time back in the early 1950’s that a test was conducted in St. Albans to simulate an evacuation of all the people in the area. At a pre-determined time, everyone was supposed to start driving away from St. Albans as quickly as possible. I listened to the descriptions of this on the radio as it was happening and it seemed to be more chaos than an orderly test. The whole thing must have been a big flop, because to my knowledge, no one ever tried to repeat that one.
Surprising thing about all this was that no one ever really seemed to panic. We developed a good healthy fear and respect of what the atomic bomb could do, but we learned to carry on our every day lives in spite of the fact that there was some possibility that we might all be blown to smithereens, possibly in the near future. There was no massive movement to construct bomb shelters, no matter how the government bureaucrats tried to inspire people to do it. Nobody to speak of stockpiled great quantities of food, water and the perpetual “safe egg.”
Back in the 60’s, a demonstration bomb shelter was built at the Ohio State Fair in Columbus. We visited it along with a lot of other people who were curious. The bomb shelter wasn’t much bigger or deeper than a small root cellar. Those who suffer from claustrophobia might have preferred the bomb to spending 14 days in a thing like that. They kept the thing around at the Ohio State Fair for years. When Ron, Betsy, William Taylor and I visited the fair in 1998, I made it a point to see if the bomb shelter was still there. It had long since been abandoned and a new building had been built over where it once reposed.
Also missing from view in most places are the old bomb shelter notices in cities. While in Columbus, we did see a few old rusting signs on some buildings, but they seemed to be a sight that is fading into oblivion. Back when they were first put up, maybe they did provide some feeling of security for some people.
When I was a kid, I did quite a bit of philosophizing. I thought about the atomic bomb, as did many other kids of that period. After all the government “education” films, talk by experts, watching both giant lizards and “thinking” films, and seeing that little forest creature smiling and singing about how to survive an atomic bomb attack, I came to the conclusion that if you managed to survive an atomic bomb by living 14 days in a hole, when you came out, there would not be anything worth coming out for. That childhood realization satisfied all my musings and cogitation, and nothing since that time has done anything to change my opinion.
When the Cuban Missile Crisis came around in 1962, I scarcely batted an eyelash. When I once make up my mind about something, I usually keep that opinion and my opinion was that if the world ever had an atomic holocaust, there would be nothing worth coming out of the ground for.
Not even the campaign pictures Lyndon Johnson’s election team came up with during the 1964 election did anything to change my mind. The Johnson propaganda machine paid for a TV ad that showed a sweet little girl sitting in a daisy covered field. As she picked the leaves from a daisy flower, in the background were the words “Ten… nine… eight… seven … six… five… four… three… two… one…BOOM,” and the mushroom cloud then spread over our screen. The message that the Johnson boys wanted to convey was that if Barry Goldwater were elected President, he would plunge the country into a war with Russia/China that would end in a nuclear catastrophe. I still voted for Goldwater.
Most of the people probably came to the conclusion that I did: if the world were stupid enough to bomb itself to annihilation, there wouldn’t be anything worth coming back for anyway. Although some people might call it fatalism, there is a certain strength in the realization that after all, that if man has not the sense enough to keep himself from destroying himself, then the only thing between disaster and man is God Himself. In other words, it is all out of our hands and in God’s hands. People who feel this way generally are less inclined to panic.
I have seen more panic over the internet in the past month than I ever saw at any time during the super hot days of the Cold War. People seem to think now that terrorists are lurking everywhere, hiding behind trees, just waiting to nail them. Now, the sight of powdered sugar on a donut in a restaurant might drive some of them to the state of total panicked mindlessness. People have rushed out to buy so many gas masks that there are none left in stock, as though a gas mask would be any possible use to any of them anyway.
Now some fearful people are even afraid to buy supermarket tabloids because they think the ink has anthrax in it. Just say the word, “Anthrax,” and it will have the effect of a wizard shaking his hands and pronouncing a curse upon his unfortunate, doomed victim.
“The end is near, the people run in fear, oh dear, oh dear,” and Chicken Liken says the sky is falling down on her head. If there are any aliens in outer space, they must look down and say, “Our invasion will be easy; look how the wimps on earth run in fear and panic.” An older alien might interject, “I remember their ancestors, the stanch frontiersmen and women, who braved diseases, hostiles, and cold weather to settle the country. It looks like the gene pool ran out with this crop. I don’t think the place is worth taking now; let’s find a more worthy planet. These lamers would probably want us to come down and protect them!” and with that, they would fly their spaceship to another galaxy.
Just what did our ancestors endure? Many of their children died from childhood diseases before they reached the age of 5. The old cemeteries are filled with graves of babies who died of such things as measles or mumps. People back then commonly were beset by plagues of cholera, diphtheria, thyroid fever, and other fevers that have long since succumbed to the skills of the doctors. Although the hardships were great and the dangers were high, these rugged pioneers had the pure nerve, courage and guts that it took to go on, come what may. Many of them had their faith and destiny placed firmly in the hands of God and no danger was too frightening for them to face.
Obviously something has been lost over the years when people turn to simpering piles of jelly by the sight of some harmless powder or by the very mention of the word “anthrax.” Materialism has made many Americans soft and weak and with materialism comes the easy life. Many have come to expect government protection from the cradle to the grave, and when that government cannot protect them, they suddenly discover that their god, whose feet were always clay, has failed them.
Underneath all the weakness, the wimpiness, the silliness, the mind and spirit turned to jelly mood that has swept America since September 11th, I still have hopes that the country will not be washed away into a state of total wimphood and lameness and cringe and quake at the slightest mention of some disease. Somehow underneath all the pudgy softness that has come about through reliance on the government and upon materialism to save mankind, somewhere, that spirit that empowered the pioneers who first settled this country still exists and men and women of reason will prevail.
For the past month, I have felt like shaking a lot of the people of this country back into common sense. The words and behavior of many have sickened me. Fools have cried, “War!” when there was no war. Sensationalists have spouted, “Attack upon America!” so they could sell more copies of their newspapers and tabloids. Alarmists and extremists have helped set the stage for the panic and fear that has now engulfed so many people.
Rather than seeing nonexistent terrorists lurking behind every tree, and catching some disease that it is not even remotely possible that the average citizen would ever contract, I would like to see a return to the courage and strength to face life with dignity and to fear no human but only God Himself.
I would like to see these words written in the hearts and minds of all Americans, “This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” – First Inaugural Address of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945).
Yes, those of us who were kids during the Cold War did have a good reason to think about the atomic bomb, but few were ever driven to the state of panic and out of control fear that many of today are experiencing. I really don’t think that we were “built of sterner stuff,” but I don’t think that many of us allowed television commentators, news media, the internet, and the fears of others to influence us. We held tightly to our own minds and thoughts. If Americans are victims of anything now, it is a victim of itself and its artificial crisis that its leaders and mind controllers have conceived for us. Indeed, the only thing we have to fear is fear, and perhaps ourselves.