When I was a child, I had a recurring dream that I woke to find a wall running down the middle of my house. Over the course of the dream, the wall moved, until finally it was just outside my bedroom. At that point in the dream, I went into the closet, where there was a small hole in the floor for the bathroom pipes, and started to expand the hole so I could dig my way under the wall.
I always woke up then, so I don’t know if I ever escaped.
This dream showed up eight or ten times. The connection to the Berlin Wall is obvious, but I suspect it was brought on by general Cold War fear-mongering. The Russians are coming! Communists are hiding under your bed!
And, of course, The Bomb.
The alert debacle in Hawaii, coupled with the “who has the biggest button” debate, has put me back in mind of those days when we worried about whether some idiot would decide nuclear war was in their country’s best interest. Truth is, I thought we’d moved on from that. Maybe someone would drop a dirty bomb somewhere. Maybe a nuclear power plant would blow up. But I didn’t think the Fail Safe scenario was still on the table.
Yet another reminder to never underestimate just how stupid things can get in this Best of All Possible Countries.
I picked up most of my childhood fear from headlines and television. Fortunately, my school did not do the duck-and-cover drills, maybe because Friendswood was run by Quakers, and while they were conservative Quakers, they were still against wars. And my parents laughed at the people building bomb shelters.
But the fear still slipped in and came out in my dreams.
In recent years, many other bogeymen have been thrown up to scare us all. Crime always works. Terrorism, too, especially if it can be tied to some other country. (Apparently we aren’t supposed to be scared of mass shootings by white men, even though that’s a more common kind of terrorism.)
September 11 caused a lot of fear. As someone who lived in Washington and whose sister lived (and lives) three blocks from where the World Trade Center used to be, I was properly scared. But then I got more scared by what those in power were doing with that fear.
I re-read Catch-22 when I was waiting to be screened for my first plane ride after September 11, because I was already starting to worry more about the abuses my government was committing in the name of “security” than I was about terrorist attacks.
But now we’re back to The Bomb, because despite various efforts to reduce the number of nuclear weapons over the past seventy years, we still have enough of them to wipe out the Earth over and over and over.
And while I can be cynical about other scare tactics and even occasionally find some hope that we will deal with the non-war problem humanity faces with climate change, I’m still scared of The Bomb.
I’d blame that on the childhood fear-mongering, except that the trouble is that we, in fact, have a huge stockpile of very dangerous weapons under the control of people who, at best, tend to think that sometimes doing the unthinkable is necessary. (That doesn’t take into consideration the ones who would give the same amount of thought to dropping a bomb as they do to sending out a tweet.)
I notice that the Atomic Scientists are worried, too.
Last year I kept pointing out that I didn’t want to march in the streets again. Been there, done that, back when I was young enough to find it exciting.
I don’t want to worry about The Bomb again, either. If I’ve got to worry (and despite being at heart an optimist, I do worry), it would be nice if I could limit my worrying to new stuff, like sea level rise and mudslides and artificial intelligence developed by people who also pride themselves on their pragmatist, sometimes you must do the unthinkable, reasoning.
But it appears we are cursed with fallout from the human habit of never quite fixing one problem before lurching on to the next.
I’ll be at the Oakland branch of the Women’s March this Saturday.