I grew up in the shadow of the mushroom cloud.
When I was in elementary school, we had daily disaster drills where we had to get underneath our desks. The basement of our school was a fallout shelter; I remember the signs above the staircases down with the symbols for radiation. The air raid sirens used to be tested every day around two o'clock; you just kind of got used to the sound and didn't really notice it (which begs the question; what if we were under threat of nuclear attack at two in the afternoon? Would people just ignore the sirens?). I remember posters in my classrooms that showed the rings of destruction if downtown Chicago took a direct hit--distance rings from the center of the blast showing what could be expected at that distance from the center; where our school was located we wouldn't be killed by the blast itself supposedly, but we were at very high risk for death from suffocation and so forth, and of course, the radiation. One of my earliest memories of living in Chicago--I don't know how old I was, but it was in our very first apartment there, where we lived for only a very brief time when I was around two years old--is of my mother holding me in her arms in the backyard while the air raid sirens went off.
It seems weird now, at age fifty-four, to think back and remember what it was like to live when we were under almost constant threat of nuclear war. Whether we were actually or not, I cannot say, but we were certainly led to believe that we were. There were all kinds of apocalyptic novels and movies about life in the aftermath of a nuclear war; Neville Shute's On the Beach and Pat Frank's Alas Babylon come to mind. There was also one called Warday by James Kunetka and Whitley Streiber (who was much more famous for his books about alien encounters, both fiction and non-fiction) that was published in 1984. The premise of that book was the authors were traveling across the country five years after the nuclear bombs took out--if I am recalling correctly--Washington, New York, and San Antonio; the result was the nation being splintered into different parts; California, for example, was an independent, very martial, very protected nation. There was a highly-rated television movie, The Day After; which focused on Kansas City. (A PBS documentary that aired when I was in high school in Kansas pointed out that actually Kansas and several other midwestern states were at high risk of nuclear attack because we had missile bases scattered across the state; there was one near our high school that had been abandoned and periodically, as crazy teenagers are wont to do, we would go exploring there. The door was always open a crack to the underground base, and we would open it, but never go inside. It was very very creepy inside of there, and I always have thought about writing a book about the abandoned missile base out in the middle of nowhere. Anyway, the documentary mentioned a small town that was part of our consolidated high school as a target: Bushong, which a lot of people talked about at school the next day. I don't know remember--I didn't see it--if there was another base outside of Bushong as well as the abandoned one, or if it was still listed as a possible target because of the abandoned base and the list hadn't been updated...in retrospect it seems odd that there would be two so close together.) Even the premise of the original Mel Gibson Mad Max movies were about the aftermath of nuclear holocaust. The collapse of Communism and the break-up of the Soviet Union seemed to put an end to those fears once and for all for us; I remember how exciting it was when the Berlin Wall came down, and the popular revolutions overthrew the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe. The big bugaboo, the big threat, Communism and the Soviet Union, was gone, and we could all breathe freely.
But the seeds had already been planted for the next existential threat to truth, justice and the American way.
Constant Reader knows that I have always loved history, and I've always loved to read; I would go so far as to say that outside of Paul, the two great loves of my life are history and reading. I've always been fascinated by history, and felt that it was taught incorrectly; a meaningless system of dates and names and places and events that are dry and boring without any context being given to them. History is complex, and diverse, and the context is everything; but the way it is taught doesn't encourage discussion or thought. I don't know if US History is still a required course for high school students--it was when I was in high school, as was Government--but it really should be required for all four years, and the two should be taught in conjunction: this is how the government works, this is why it was set up this way, and this is the way it can be changed. I am constantly amazed, on a daily basis, how few people understand how the government works, and what the Bill of Rights actually means; I see sound-bytes that are meant apparently to show knowledge but actually expose ignorance. "The right to free speech" is one of those; people are constantly beating their breasts and shrieking about free speech without understanding what precisely that right means; and also show a lack of knowledge to the limitations that have been placed upon that right in the 200 plus years since the Constitution was ratified. People also don't seem to understand the concept of the division of powers, why it was set up that way, and how it works.
There's also this strange mentality in this country of "it's okay when my guy does it, but not when yours does" that creates an endless circular argument about out country's politics with no one ever willing to admit their party or those who shares their political values and beliefs could possibly be wrong or have done something wrong. I have a front row seat to this sort of thing, because my family and I do not share the same values and beliefs when it comes to politics and social liberties. I was raised to be deeply conservative, but as an adult I have become more and more liberal, and the older I get the more liberal I become. I was split between the two for a very long time, and even now I am more of a fiscal conservative than I am liberal when it comes to government spending: I don't disapprove of taxes and spending, but I also think there's an incredible amount of money wasted that no one seems to care about.
I also believe that the real vampires on our economy and on taxpayer dollars are corporations, not the poor.
I read an article the other day about listening to people you don't agree with, and one of the things it mentioned was how we tend to make our social media outlets echo chambers; unfriending people whose views we disagree with and narrowing our feeds down to those with whom we agree, and that we shouldn't do that as it tends to divide us more. I don't agree with that, quite frankly; I've hidden many people from my own feeds but not because I disagree with them. I hide people because I don't want to listen to certain points of view: there is no value with discussing, or listening to, sexism, homophobia, or racism. My social media feeds are there for my entertainment, primarily, or for me to talk publicly about cultural things I produce or produced by others that I enjoy. I don't go there to get angry, or upset, or to be hurt by insensitivity or ignorance. I try not to engage when I see it happening on posts by my friends, no matter how angry I get or how wrong something I see may be.
Yesterday for example, on a friend's thread I saw someone write this astonishingly hyperbolic comment beginning with our country is divided today more than it ever has been before.... and I resisted the urge to reply, those who lived through the Civil War would disagree. But I was not feeling well, and I also had no desire to get into an argument with someone I don't know on a friend's thread. Discussion shouldn't be blood sport, and it shouldn't be about winning or scoring points off someone else. Discussion should be about ideas, based in fact and reason and logic. "I believe this, and this is why." "I disagree with you here, and let me tell you why." For discussion to be meaningful and educational it has to be non-confrontational and unemotional; you have to be prepared to listen as well as to talk, and I find that many people are unwilling to do the listening part. I'm guilty of it myself; which is why I no longer get involved in on-line discussion about things I'm passionate about.
People just want to be heard, really, but I don't think that social media is the best platform for that. At least, it isn't now.
I opened this post with talking about growing up in fear of nuclear war. No matter what, that was always there, in the back of my mind when I was growing up; just as fear of being the victim of a hate crime is always there. We've traded the fear of nuclear attack for terrorism over the course of my lifetime; it seems as though there always has to be some kind of bogeyman out there for politicians and media to whip people into a frenzy about to sell products and collect votes. I do worry about the future of the country, and the future of the world. I worry about the divisiveness of politics, beliefs, and values.
I don't understand why we can't all find some common ground.
I've probably not expressed this as well as I would like, but this is all stuff I've been thinking about a lot over the past few months, and there will probably be more to come.
And now I am heading back to the spice mines. I feel better today; I slept better last night and I no longer feel ill this morning, which is a lovely thing. I am way behind on everything, even more so than I was yesterday so I really have to buckle down now.
Here is today's hot Olympian:
Yes, it seems many people live in the 'here and now' and are not interested in or pay any attention to the lessons of (and fascination of!) history.
I agree thoroughly with your points about teaching history. So much of it at school was very dry and therefore difficult to follow, but afterwards reading, reading, reading taught me so much. And social history as much as historical events.