Today marks the 70th anniversary of what they called “Victory over Japan Day” or “V-J Day,” when Japan surrendered in World War II, basically bringing that world conflict to an end.
This occurred just nine days after the bombing of Hiroshima. That atomic bomb seemed to galvanize the concept of war and peace into a single, treacherous, and disturbingly quiet “cold war.” Seventy years later we have grown relatively complacent with the positives and negatives of nuclear power. We accept it in our homes for the convenience of a microwave oven (it’s true – popcorn used to take at least five minutes). We submit ourselves to x-rays and other medical uses of radiation. Only after a disaster like Chernobyl in 1986, do we pause to ponder anew the possibilities of a nuclear holocaust.
As a Baby Boomer, I lived in constant fear of the Russians and “THE BOMB.” The ever-present threat of an all out nuclear war was touted more as an inevitable event, than a remote possibility. In those days, it seemed public schools had more civil defense than fire drills. “Duck and Cover” – it was an exercise in futility, where we lined up against the hall lockers and covered our necks with our hands. There was never an option to protect the body part we deemed most valuable. Neck covering was required.
As if the drills were not traumatic enough, at the beginning of the school year, we were given a form to be completed by our parents. It was tactfully phrased to indicate whether in case of a nuclear attack, the child would:
- Remain at school (and die against a locker, with only neck intact);
- Parents would pick child up at school;
- Child was to get home the best way possible
We were never advised whether school buses would be running during the nuclear attack. My best guess was “getting home the best way” meant a kid was to run like all get out to make it home Because I was a latchkey kid before it was cool, my mom checked the “Get home best way possible” box. While that was definitely preferable to dying against a locker, my young mind was left to agonize whether, after making my way home through a virtual Armageddon, I would find my parents and brother had not made it. There’s your nightmare!
I realize in retrospective rearview mirror wisdom, those drills and forms were also relevant to natural disasters. However, the acute awareness of World War III, The Sequel, had pretty much diminished my fear of inclement weather.
The “Cold War” was a way of life for Americans in the 1960s. It seemed both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson regularly interrupted Ben Casey or The Fugitive” to deliver an ominous public address on the state of something to scare us to death Too young to comprehend the content of their messages, I knew they somehow related to war, the Russians, and the bomb. I spent sleepless nights contemplating the life expectancy of the world as I knew it, wondering if I would even live to tell my children about the Beatles, white lip gloss, and go-go boots.
The bombs that were dropped 70 years ago brought peace to one generation and paranoia to another. Truly, my mother’s “greatest generation” viewed the bomb as having saved democracy and life as they knew it. Yet, my generation always wanted to sit down on a college campus, smoke something, sing Kumbaya, and curse anything larger than a Zippo, that could ignite.
Perspective is everything. They called it “Victory over Japan.” Yet, from the moment Nintendo came into my home, addicting my kids to Mario Brothers and other video games, I have wondered about that “victory.” Seriously, I saw video games as Japan’s great revenge.
As for the Cold War – look where we are now – we’re just BFF with Castro, our former archenemy, a key player in the quest to communistize the world. “And the times, they are a-changing…”
Now, for the proverbial “call to action:”
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