Just what are we teaching our children during lockdown drills?
When I was a little girl, the elementary school that I attended in the suburbs of Chicago held regular fire drills, where we all lined up and calmly marched out of the school building in single file. The administration also held tornado drills that involved crouching down on both sides of the center hallway of the school, with our hands over our heads to protect them from flying debris. And of course, we had the duck-and-cover nuclear attack drills as well.
For some reason, the threat of a nuclear attack was more frightening than a tornado or fire. Perhaps it was because the latter two allowed for the possibility of survival. A nuclear attack presented a more existential threat; not only would we likely die, but the world, as we knew it would be destroyed. And early in the Cold War, a nuclear attack was a realistic threat as the Soviet Union raced ahead in nuclear weaponry. And so, we were raised with the fear that the narrator in the below video makes clear, “Always remember, the flash of an atomic bomb can come at anytime, no matter where you may be.”
The federal government was even willing to send out pamphlets showing how to build an affordable backyard bomb shelter. I know this as I tried desperately to talk my father into building one when I was in the fourth or fifth grade.
As a freshman in high school, I had an English class assignment to write an essay answering the question, “what three things will you take with you to the bomb shelter when the nuclear attack occurs?” The threat of nuclear annihilation was so pervasive that it became part of who we were as a generation.
On Christmas Day, 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev dissolved the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and resigned as general secretary. In a peaceful transition, Boris Yeltsin assumed the leadership of the Russian nation.
The news left me with an intense feeling of relief that took me a while to understand. Then I realized that the deeply buried tension I had carried since those long ago school days, a stress built upon a lifetime of tales of the apocalypse, abruptly relaxed.
When will today’s children recover from the fear that they now live with everyday of their lives?