The End of Fear

There’s a frightening opinion piece in the New York Times, A Nuclear 9/11, about the need to stop nuclear proliferation. Some people in the know think that there’s a high risk of some form of nuclear weapon being used by terrorists on American soil, sometime in the next 15-20 years. The war in Iraq has done little or nothing to alleviate that risk, and not much else is being done about it.

I grew up with the constant threat of nuclear war between the US and USSR. That threat didn’t loom nearly as large over my generation as it had over my parents’; we never had bomb shelters or “hide under your desk” drills in school. But we did have Ronald Reagan’s massive military spending, sabre-rattling, and “Evil Empire” speeches. Perhaps I’m a hypersensitive soul, but it made me wonder sometimes whether all our hurrying and scurrying to build happy lives for ourselves and our children might be blown to naught by someone’s itchy trigger finger.

My daughter was only a few months old when the Berlin wall fell in 1989. It seemed like a good omen for her life: the world was finally emerging from the shadow of the Cold War, and her skies would be bluer than ours had been.

In 2001, as we all know, the skies got much darker. At least with the USSR we had had détente, mutually-assured destruction actually being a good deterrent. Now we’re up against people who gladly accept their own destruction, if only they can take a few of us with them.

In my research for the Woodstock School history book, I read a first-person account of World War I, by a woman who was a student at the time:

“And then the war. It was always there in those days 1914-1918, over the horizon to be sure, but it somehow took the bottom out of the world for us. We had all been brought up to know that the world was getting better and better, and [war] was more and more impossible. I suppose it will be at least a hundred years before there is such a confident, carefree generation again. The impossible had happened…”

That hundred years has nearly passed now, and we still can’t be confident and carefree. If anything, the prospect seems to recede ever further into an uncertain future. When will mankind grow up?

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