Those Were The Days?
I was helping a friend's daughter with her history homework last night when I had occasion to recall a very dark, and disgusting, period of American history.
Somehow, the conversation turned to how difficult it was to be a child in America in the 1970's. To begin with, we were told, literally every day, that the next breath we took could very well be our last. We lived in fear of nuclear holocaust, and if that wouldn't kill us then pollution would. Or overpopulation. Or red meat. Or another Ice Age, ad infinitum.
It was a time when the country was just emerging from the chaos of the 60's; the hippies were becoming parents, the battle for civil rights had left the streets and entered the courtrooms, but the animosity those battles created was still everywhere. There was a divide created between black and white which has stgill not been bridged (at least in the manner of discourse on the subject).We were in the midst of the sexual revolution (which turned perfectly good women into men with breasts, in my opinion), and the changes this was bringing about were difficult to foresee. It was the era of the latchkey kid as Mom left the home to enter the workforce.
It was the age of disco, which was the second worst idea in human history (Communism having been first), an age of glitz and glitter and mirrored balls hanging from ceilings reflecting multi-colored lights. A cheap veneer that hid a society on the verge of blowing itself apart with it's selfishness, shallowness, rampant street crime and drug use. Instead of facing these issues head on, we procrastinated and dissembled mostly because the people who might have taken stands were, in fact, the one's who started the process of decay themselves; college professors, politicians, lawyers and all the rest of the "liberal" hanger's-on.
The period was even more difficult when you grew up in a place like New York City. A bankrupt city stuffed to the brim with unthinking zombies created by the times in which they lived, and in which the ultimate icons were the polyesther leisure suit and the pet rock.
The young lady I was speaking to had never heard of "Duck and Cover". She didn't know what a Fallout Shelter was. She didn' know about the Iranian Hostages,or the Neutron Bomb, or the Son of Sam. The more we discussed these things, the more I began to remember that at some point, I had probably made a conscious effort to forget.
And the 1970's were, ultimately, forgettable. But the damage done remains with us.
For people of my generation all those threats of nuclear holocaust have returned with a vengence as Iran and North Korea busily stockpile fissile material and turn it into weapons. In the bad old days we only hadto worry about the Russians, now the threats seem to come from even the remotest places, and from people with even whackier ideologies. I can now say this about the Russians: they may have been deluded by the utopian promises of communism, they may have been as ignorant of us as we were of them, but in the end, we still had the same roots, dug deep in the soil of Western Civilization. We could inderstand each other. Today we have lunatics running around under the impression that they are doing God's will by blowing up day care centers and office buildings. The Russians may have been barbaric in terms of their government, but I don't think they were ever as crazy as the murderers row we face now.
When you stop and think about it, just how nutty were they? They were in the same boat, but following a different ideology. We were just as guilty in the Cold War as they were, but that was the world of Realpolitik.
The planet we inhabit today is inherently more dangerous. We're living amongst people who suffer from an incredible range of deficiencies: colonialism was evil, anything Western is to be distrusted, God said that life is supposed to be this way. As crazy as it sounds, I almost miss the Cold War for at least in those days if were to be blasted to atoms, you could at least understand why. Nowadays, when your mortality finally arrives it does so with "American Airlines" painted on it, and your deliveryman probably expects 72 virgins as his reward.