The eastern world, it is exploding
Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’
You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’
You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you’re totin’
And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin’
But you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction.
Don’t you understand what I’m tryin’ to say
Can’t you feel the fears I’m feelin’ today?
If the button is pushed, there’s no runnin’ away
There’ll be no one to save, with the world in a grave
[Take a look around ya boy, it’s bound to scare ya boy]
Fallout Shelter, My Ass
By Casey Gauntt
“It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”
President John F. Kennedy delivered this message during a live nationally televised broadcast to the American public, and anyone else tuning in, on October 22, 1962 at the absolute zenith of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Nikita Khrushchev was the fiery president of the Soviet Union, a stocky, bull-necked, ruddy faced, hairless man, whose shortness in stature greatly exceeded the length of his fuse. I will never forget watching a televised speech of his at the United Nations in New York in October of 1960. At one point he got so mad he took off one of his shoes, banged it on the lectern and screamed at the U.S. Ambassador, spittle flying out of his grotesque mouth, “We will bury you!” I was ten years old and quickly concluded “This man is insane. We are so fucked.”
I wasn’t the only one terrified of what was happening. In October, 2009, my wife and I visited the Greenbriar Hotel near Lewisburg, West Virginia, a two hour train ride from Washington D.C., and took a tour of The Bunker. In 1956 then President Dwight D. Eisenhower, with the silent nod from Congress, initiated the ultra top-secret design and construction of a massive fall-out shelter sixty feet beneath the Hotel and large enough to house the entire United States Senate, House of Representatives and their staffs in the event of a nuclear attack on our nation’s capitol. The Bunker was completed in 1961 and remained a secret until 1992, eight years after the so-called end to the Cold War.
My generation grew up with the Cold War lurking all around us. In grade school we had nuclear attack drills at least twice a year. We would sit under our desks as far away as we could get from the windows and put our heads between our legs—some comedian would later add ” and kiss our ass goodbye.” This of course was utterly useless and absurd. We had watched, over and over, the film clips of atomic bomb tests on television and Super 8 movies in class—the fake towns in the desert, with mannequin moms working in the kitchen, mannequin kids playing in the yards, and mannequin dads watering the lawns or driving their Chevrolet convertibles with the tops down. The bomb, usually placed in a fake water tower in the center of town, would explode and instantly disintegrate everything within a five mile radius into dust and vapor sucked up into an enormous mushroom cloud rising into the thinnest layers of our atmosphere. Our puny formica desks would be no match for that.
As kids, we knew all about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, and the horrific damage and death caused by the real A-Bombs “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” dropped by the U.S. Air Force on those cities in August of 1945. Those weapons were firecrackers compared to the behemoth “Nukes” that were loaded in the arsenals 16 years later.
Not surprisingly, I had a recurring nightmare in my pre-pubescent years. I’m playing baseball on one of the fields next to Washington School in Itasca, a small, boring suburb of Chicago. It’s a bright, sunny day and I’m in the outfield looking up for the fly ball hit by one of my buddies. In the sky, eclipsing the sun, are one hundred Soviet bombers readily identifiable by the Red Star on their tail sections. I drop my glove and start to run—I have to get home and into our fallout shelter—but I can’t move my legs. It is as though they are buried in quicksand. I pull my legs as hard as I can, but I can’t free them. I can’t move! I fall to my stomach and try to pull myself along the ground with only my arms. I make a measly yard or two. Then I’d wake up, panting, a sheen of icy sweat clinging to my forehead. My first thought was always
“What a joke! We don’t have a fucking fallout shelter in our house.”
My mother finally stamped down upon my incessant protestations. “Look here!” she said. “If there’s an attack your father is going to be at work or off in Timbuktu or wherever, and you and your brother will be at school. So it’s gong to be me and your sister in the basement in this pathetic little room your father thinks is a fallout shelter. We’re the ones who need to be worried, not you!” Comforting, I guess. At least I wasn’t the only one freaked about it, and she was probably right. When the bombs did begin to fall, I’d be under my desk with all of my scared shit-less friends and teachers with our heads between our legs.
I’m glad they kept secret The Bunker at the Greenbriar. That knowledge could have very well pushed me over the edge.
Nuclear war wasn’t just hypothetical—it was a very real possibility. This wasn’t going to be a matter of sending men overseas in boats with guns, knives and tanks to fight the enemy at close range while the mothers and children were safe at home. This wouldn’t be the kind of war, the nightmare, my father and his generation fought only seventeen years earlier. The atomic bomb was a game-changer.
became allies. It was the perfect partnership—the Soviets embraced Cuba for its strategic location ninety miles off the coast of Florida and as a stepping stone for the spread of communism throughout Latin America. Castro feared an invasion by U.S. forces to put Cuba back in the hands of leaders more friendly to the United States and welcomed the protection of a big-brother. We had backed some coup attempts including one in April 1961 when a band of Cuban exiles supported by the CIA and undercover U.S. forces invaded southern Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. Within three days Castro’s forces completely overran and killed or captured the invaders. It was a humiliating defeat and the singular tipping point in the Cold War with the Soviets.
The “Threat” was Everywhere! ~ Even For Us Kids…
[The Twilight Zone’s “The Shelter” AIRED: Friday, September 29, 1961-Find and rent it sometime. Humankind at their worse in a crisis.]
The Cuban Missile Crisis is unequivocally remembered as the moment the Cold War came closest to becoming an all out nuclear Armageddon. You won’t get any disagreement from me. We dodged a bullet; a big one.
And life went on in our quiet little town of Itasca. The U.S. was safe, for now. Everyone, for the most part, appeared civilized and seemed to have retained their sanity— back to work, back to school, back to the daily routine. Yet “it” was always right there, conveniently out of sight, but never out of mind. We got too close and our family didn’t need the fallout shelter after all—at least not for that near disaster.