Thought For Today

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Sunday, November 10, 2019

Growing Up During The Nuclear Threat Era

Living Through The Soviet Threat

Until the later part of the 1940s, the United States was the only super power to possess the atomic bomb, but that was about to change.  The Soviets detonated their first atomic bomb on August 29, 1949. Fearful as that was, the United States felt that they could deter any Soviet threat through the use of its military.  This all changed though when the Soviets altered the course of human events on October 4, 1957 when they launched Sputnik, the first spacecraft ever into space.  Our military was horrified at this event since they knew that it was only a short time before the Soviets would be able to launch their nuclear weapons into space, and drop them on the United States or for that matter, anywhere in the world.  And with this threat, fear would lead both countries to the brink of nuclear war.  

Could things get worse?  The world would soon discover that indeed they could.  The Communist threat was spreading extremely quickly in the world, toppling many existing governments.  Because of the Communist domino belief, (one government falls to communism, causing many others to soon follow) led many people in  democratic nations around the world to think that there was a Communist around every corner in their country, all trying to topple their government.  Along with this, every military event seemed to have millions of Americans and many others in the world glued to a new form of media called, television.  These events would finally lead us to the brink of nuclear war on October 1962.  Millions of Americans watched their televisions as President Kennedy began telling them that nuclear missiles were seen on the Island of Cuba not far from the United States’ coastline.  Our president followed by giving the Soviet leader, (Nikita Khrushchev), an ultimatum to get his missiles off Cuba or face a major military confrontation. It finally came to the breaking point when a major sea battle was about to take place.  

The U.S. and Soviet navies were facing a head on collision that would soon bring the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation.  Near the coastline of the U.S. in the Caribbean Sea, both navies would meet for the first time.  American ships were first to spot a Soviet submarine near Cuba, and were given orders to use non-lethal depth charges to force the Soviet submarine to the surface.  As the sub was being depth-charged, the Soviet officers and crew aboard their ship thought war had in fact finally broke out.  Knowing that their sub had been discovered by the U.S. Navy, the Soviet crew realized that it would be just a matter of minutes until their sub would be crushed by the depth charges falling on them.  Unknown to the Soviet submarine crew, the U.S. Navy sent messages to the sub informing them that the charges were non-lethal, but for some unknown reason, the Soviets never got their message.  Meanwhile, the captain of the Soviet sub was preparing to fire his nuclear torpedo against an American carrier. But first, according naval protocol, 3 officers on board the Soviet sub had to all agree to fire their nuclear torpedo, and it was down to one man, a Soviet submarine officer named, Vasili Arkhipov.  Out of the three officers needed for the firing of the torpedo, Arkhipov was the only officer that would not agree to fire it.  If they had indeed fired upon the Americans, the radiation would have been felt by many on the southern coastline of the United States, which in turn would most likely have led to a nuclear response by the U. S. It was this one man who saved the world from nuclear annihilation.  And so, it came to this moment of history that I write this story of how a little boy was going to save his family while the world was heading towards nuclear doom.  

In the 1950s, our elementary school was having nuclear fallout drills on a regular basis.  Our techniques would not go down as inspirational, or for that matter, repeatable for future generations.  It wasn’t a complicated process to learn, when we heard the bells ringing, we would hide under our desks until told that the drill was not real.  That was the scary part, not knowing if it was a drill or not.  Sometimes during these exercises, when I was trying to look unafraid, I would glimpse over at the girls in my classroom, and I could see that they too were terrified over the idea of being bombed. During those frightening moments, I thought if it really did happen, I knew which girl I would protect first. Though she didn’t know I even existed, or even breathed the same air as her, I was determined to protect her with all my heart, that is, if the bombing did in fact start.  I just knew at that moment I could be her hero and she would think of me as her prince in shining armor coming to protect her from all the devastation caused by the nuclear blast.  

In looking back at those times, we as children were in fact constantly frightened over the possibility of a nuclear war and the devastation that would ensue.  In my own way, I wanted to protect my family from such calamity, so one day I acted in a bold move to keep them safe.  Sitting in the moonlight of my yard, I came up with my most daring plan yet.  I was going to build a cave for my family.  The next day when carrying out my gallant plan, I first had to scale a cliff overlooking the Des Moines River, right next to a 60 foot
drop off and it was straight down.  My thoughts were that if we were bombed by the Soviets and overrun by their armies, we would have my cave to protect them from the blast, and hide them from their advancing armies. As I was digging my tunnel, I kept thinking, “This has to be better than my school desk!”  So I dug and I dug, day after day without telling anyone.  

After about a week I had the cave done and I was very proud of myself.  The next part of the plan was to tell my brothers, and then with much pride, my dad and mom.  But, before that, I needed to show (Mike and Ken), my brothers my cave and see what they thought of my engineering feat.  The next day I led my them to the cave, but first we had to dare the cliff with much reservation, and after many near falls, we made it to the area close to the cave entrance.  As we neared the cave, I could almost feel my shirt buttons bursting from my monumental accomplishment.  Next, I  turned around and faced my brothers with my back to the opening of the cave, and with much pomp and ceremony I addressed them by pontificating in as serious a tone as possible, “I can hide at least 7 people in this cave.“ There faces by now were
glazed over in amazement, at the same time bobbing their heads on either side of me in an attempt to see my masterpiece. With a somewhat cocky attitude, I turned around to face my greatest magnum opus.  But, what I saw next was not what I had hoped to see; the whole cave was not there.  Spinning around looking at my brothers, I said, “It’s gone, someone found my secret spot and caved it in!”  They looked at me and then at each other with stunned looks.  At that moment, recognition dawned on our collective faces and we knew that no one had collapsed my cave; it came down all on its own. In our slow retreat home, and after escaping the death-defying cliff, I found myself totally deflated, but somehow trying to save my dignity as we walked back home.  Following my two brothers I made one last effort in salvaging my pride by telling them, “You know guys, that was our best hope in hiding our family if the Soviets decided to drop a bomb on us, or for that matter, come for us.” As I trailed behind them, I looked intently at their collective reactions to my last statement.  Silence was their only response as we walked along through the woods.  I knew in my heart though that they were making every effort to keep from snickering as I saw their clinched jaws tightening.  

As I trailed further and further behind my brothers I began to think, "Walking can help one think!"  It then came to me as I went past a badger entrance, “I could have been in there when my cave had collapsed.”  As small as it was, I had accomplished that, saving myself!