As Baby Boomers (those of us born between 1946 and 1964), we were the first generation to grow up during the Atomic Age. Aware at any moment that devastatingly destructive nuclear bombs could rain from the sky, ending much of life and civilization as we knew it.
Of course, at no time was that threat more real than during those 13 tension-packed days of October, 1962, which came to be called the Cuban Missile Crisis.
During that short, yet terrifying period, the world held its collective breath as the two major nuclear powers, America and the Soviet Union, appeared on the brink of war over Russia’s decision to install armed nuclear missile launchers in its fellow Communist country of Cuba, an island nation only 90 miles from America’s Florida coast.
However, thanks to luck, back-door negotiations between representatives of the two countries, and calming, not calamitous, decisions from American President John Kennedy and Russian leader Nikita Kruschev, the horrifying tragedy that was first witnessed when the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II was averted.
During the ensuing years of the 20th Century, although the threat of nuclear war was always a possibility, Baby Boom parents were relieved to find their children didn’t have to undergo the terror of the duck-and-cover drills and daily reports of imminent danger that had filled their own childhoods.
However, our grandchildren aren’t being as fortunate.
Increasing worldwide terrorism, continuing tensions in the Middle East, and a flurry of worrisome tweets and official statements between American President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong II have once again brought the possibility of nuclear war to the forefront of media coverage.
Three recent events demonstrate just how serious the situation is.
Earlier this month, Hawaii, which was already undergoing emergency preparations for any possible nuclear attack from North Korea, was plunged into a state of panic when a message with this warning warning was dispatched to cellphones across the state.
Emergency Alert – BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL
The alert was found to be false and the result of human error, but for 38 dread-filled minutes, residents of Hawaii prepared for the worst.
People scrambled to find their families. Residents flocked to established shelters or hunkered in their homes. Others crowded the highways in terror, intent on seeking supposed safety outside of cities. And, all the while, emergency sirens wailed in parts of the state, adding to the panic.
Of course, while utterly terrifying for all those involved, the false alert did end happily.
But it does starkly remind us of what can happen when the old realities of the nuclear age collide with the speed and uncertainty of our new internet age.
Then, just last week, a panel of scientists and scholars announced they believe the world right now is as close as it has ever been to a nuclear doomsday scenario.
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, a group which has been tracking the threat posed by nuclear weapons since the 1940s, moved the second hand on its symbolic Doomsday Clock forward to two minutes before apocalyptic midnight.
“North Korea’s nuclear weapon program made remarkable progress in 2017, increasing risks to North Korea itself, other countries in the region, and the United States,’” the group warned in a statement. “Hyperbolic rhetoric and provocative actions by both sides have increased the possibility of nuclear war by accident or miscalculation”.
In an announcement certain to chill many, especially Baby Boomers, the last time the clock was so close to midnight was in 1953 during the Cold War arms race.
The final sign of our new nuclear age, while not as prominently reported as the other two, may, quite possibly prove to be the most disturbing.
On February 13, Severin Films will release on DVD and Blu-Ray the infamous 1984 British film Threads, a completely terrifying (Writer’s Note: I consider it to be the most horrifying film I have ever seen) made-for-TV dramatization of what would happen to the British city of Sheffield and its people in the wake of a nuclear attack.
Peter Bradshaw, a writer for The Guardian, calls the shocking post-nuclear masterpiece “the only film I have been really and truly scared and indeed horrified by.”
“it wasn’t until I saw Threads that I found that something on screen could make me break out in a cold, shivering sweat and keep me in that condition for 20 minutes, followed by weeks of anxiety and depression,” Bradshaw added.
(Here is the trailer for Threads. Please be aware there are some disturbing images.)
Of course, these warnings, terrifying as they are, do not have to become prophetic reality. Nuclear Armageddon is not inevitable.
But as concerned scientists and activist filmmakers point out, the clock is ticking. The symbolic hands can, should, and must be turned back. That will take action from every one of us concerned about the fate of ourselves, our progeny, and indeed the entire human race.
For if we fail to let our voices be heard, we will be forced to learn the hard truth behind American jazz musician Dexter Gordon’s somewhat glib saying: “In nuclear war, all men are cremated equally.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in an ongoing series of Booming Encore articles which will examine some of the history behind atomic weaponry as it has affected Baby Boomers; what science, art, literature, and film have to say about the issue; and what can be done to assure that nuclear fears do not become nuclear realities.