Mr. Beauchamp showed us the movie. It told us we could survive a nuclear attack by getting under our desks and covering our heads with our hands.
None of us talked about it.
The movie said that when we saw the flash we were supposed to jump into a corner, or roll under our desks.
I knew, we all knew, that the flash meant it was too late.
I rode my bike around the neighborhood, pretending it was a spaceship and I was flying to the moon (like the real astronauts were doing).
Television was more wholesome then. Walter Kronkite gave us news on the square and what we watched when he wasn’t on was simpler, cleaner (there was only three channels).
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Today people watch all sorts of horrors for entertainment, and seem to not worry so much about such dangers.
I don’t think that people born after 1980 can understand what it was like. When the SALT I treaty was signed in 1991 I wept.
"I can't believe we have finally taken a step away from the brink of annihilation," I said to Brenda.
You see, when I grew up we all went to sleep each night uncertain if we would wake up in the morning. When we finished our breakfasts and walked outside, we enjoyed the sunshine, but we wondered.
My sons and I watched The Iron Giant this afternoon. It’s a cute animated film (Jennifer Aniston, Jack Angel, Robert Bergen, Harry Connick Jr., Vin Diesel) which explores the tensions of the Cold War.
A little boy shows him comic books, and explains how he is like Superman, from another world, trying to understand who he is. He also explains that all good things have a soul and a soul never dies.
The fear of the local people who encounter the alien robot trigger defenses within it. Powerful defenses. But the little boy convinces the machine that it can choose what it wants to be. It doesn’t have to be a gun.
It sacrifices itself to save the people staring up from around its feet. Flying into space, arms outstretched, it races toward the nuclear warhead and says: “Superman.”
I don’t think younger people think much about nuclear war. They haven't read On the Beach. They didn't hear the constant repetitions from our leaders of how the communists were daily threatening us. The echoes of Senator McCarthy have now faded (though new cries are being shouted). The threat of nuclear destruction doesn’t seem real. They don't believe it will happen. Perhaps they should.
North Korea is striving to obtain nuclear weapons, and have already tested missiles that could deliver a payload as far as North America (Japan is the more likely target).
Iran is striving to obtain such monstrous weapons.
In the last few years India and Pakistan, enemies, have each developed nuclear weapons.
If these aren’t unsettling enough there are still ghosts of the Cold War which threaten. For example, Russia has had trouble adjusting to its changed role. There have been missile control sites which have had their electricity cut off for failure to pay their bills. A few years ago, a scheduled launch of a satellite from Finland was mistaken for a rising submarine-launched missile, triggering the initial steps for a retaliatory strike at the U.S.
I wish we could disarm all of them. Ours included. Swords into plow shares.
This is one of my fears. Born of being born in a time when it was not only possible, but at times, nearly happened.
This past week I considered what it should mean if I were to die. I really wasn’t too upset by it. My left arm was numb, my fingers tingled. My blood pressure was suddenly up higher than it had ever been. Now a week has passed and it is still numb, still tingles. It doesn’t appear to have anything to do with my heart or with a stroke or anything as serious. But even if it had, even if I knew that I would not live another 24 hours, that doesn’t frighten me (though I am concerned for my family’s welfare).
I do not fear death as it just seems to me a passage on to my fuller life. I do not fear meeting my Creator, for I know He loves me, and though he is awe-some, intensely powerful, fearfully omnipotent, I know He will not hurt me. He is not some ultimate weapon bent upon my destruction.
So why does the idea of nuclear weapons frighten?
Because they are so permanent. Because they hurt innocents. If a nation takes such an action, it is irrevocable, permanent. It is bigger than a single life. It would be an act of such evil that would hurt, kill, thousands, millions, perhaps, in the end, billions.
There is a scene in The Passion of the Christ where the nail pierces Jesus’ palm. At that moment there is no turning back. They have nailed His body to a piece of wood. His death is a matter of time.
The threads running through these thoughts are power and weakness.
The Iron Giant was capable of destroying any attacker. Yet it chose to give up its superior position to protect those who would suffer. It chose to sacrifice itself, to be Superman rather than a gun.
You might think I’m headed to some political statement here, and it is tempting. But I’ve another thought.
Being powerful does not mean one needs to dominate. Might does not make right.
Jesus laid there on that piece of wood. His eyes watching the hands holding him down, gripping the nail, gripping the hammer.
He could have cleared them all away. He could have hurt them as they were hurting Him. He could have turned them all into pillars of salt. He could have made them feel every lash of the whip He had felt. He could have simply unmade them, have their molecules drift off in the afternoon breeze.
Instead He showed He was Superman, and not a gun.