Today I talked with a colleague about the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the impact it had upon us Baby Boomers. I wasn’t very old before I realized that I lived in a scary era. Now there are those who say, “The 1950s? A scary era? No way! That was the ideal time to grow up. Peace and prosperity permeated the decade. Life was a combination of Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver!”
When Billy Joel’s younger fans suggested a similar scenario about Billy’s childhood, he responded by composing \”We Didn\’t Start the Fire!\” Reading through the lyrics exposes the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of the 4 decades of the singer/songwriter’s life from his birth in 1949 to his 40th birthday in 1989. (By the way, Mr. Joel and I are almost the same age.)
I won’t argue that growing up in the 50s and 60s was really a terrific time to come of age, but that doesn’t negate the fact that underlying the idyllic setting of a home in the suburbs; a mother, father, two children, and a dog lurked the threat of a nuclear attack by the USA’s arch-nemisis, the United Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR).
The influence of the Cold War upon movie plots supplied my most dramatic awareness of this tense situation. I know we practiced “duck and cover” drills at Lewis and Clark Elementary, but I didn’t take that interruption of the school day any more seriously than students
pay attention to earthquake drills today. What really scared me witless was the cinematic story of a man caught in the fallout of an atomic or nuclear explosion. Watching “the incredible shrinking man” diminish in size until an arachnid hunted him down triggered months of nightmares.
When I wasn’t dreaming of bomb blasts, I was worrying about them especially after watching the leader of the USSR, Nikita Khruchev, pound his shoe upon the United Nations’ podium while yelling, “WE WILL BURY YOU!” I even imagined a scene where I learned World War III was to start at any time. Somehow, I saw myself working my way to Moscow and receiving an audience with the Premier. Frightened as I was, I tried to reason with the pudgy bald man who looked more like Elmer Fudd than a Communist leader. In my young mind, I could not imagine anyone turning away the argument for peace when presented by an 9-year-old girl.
I learned years later that Mom and Dad had attended a meeting about building a bombshelter and had seriously considered investing in one. Like the majority of Americans, they decided against it for reasons of unaffordable expense and lack of practicality. (Perhaps they pictured 20 years cooped up in the claustrophobic cement cottage, emerging with 2 mal-adjusted daughters to a world of burnt metal and skeletal remains. Or even worse, they missed hearing, “This is only a test,” and stepped out into a world where the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse – not because OUR missiles were bigger than THEIR missiles but because Communism had run its course.
So, today as I contemplated November 9, 1989 and watched again the film footage of the Berlin Wall – symbol of the Communist threat – being torn down, I remembered thinking I would NEVER see that day. The “Evil Empire” had so entrenched itself into my world, that I could not imagine its disappearance. For months, we all shook our heads in disbelief that such a monumental shift in world power would occur in our life times. And for a few years, we all felt a little bit safer.
I’m thankful for that day, 20 years ago, and I pray for the day when the threat that brought down two towering buildings on American soil is also put to rest. After witnessing a day in Berlin two decades ago, I know anything can happen.
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