May 20, 2003
Blast Echos

35 is a funny age. With, God willing, roughly as much life ahead of me as behind me, I'm starting to get a perspective on just how much the world has changed. Oh there are myriad little things we've added... antilock brakes, glow-in-the-dark condoms, DVD collections and CD box sets, wine in big boxes and juice in small ones, telephones that fit in your pocket and televisions that hang from the roof of your car. All of these are things my daughter will take for granted that I simply can't stop marveling at. But there's one thing that is gone from our lives, that I, and perhaps everyone over the age of, say, 33, remember. One thing that is never commented on by "pundits" but is no less remarkable for its absence.

My daughter will not know fear of the apocalypse.

The dream was always the same. We would all be playing with our Star Wars toys out in a harvested bean field, wearing ripstop nylon windbreakers to protect us from the cold bed sheet breezes of autumn. Luke (Jeff) and Wedge (Me) would be running down the Death Star trench described by a stubbly dirt row, valiantly dodging Darth Vader (Jimmy) and his evil henchmen (Stewart). Just as we were making our "final run" (when everyone got to change sides), the sky would be split by a ripping sound, like someone tearing apart a thousand sheets of steel. The gray clouded sky would show a spark arcing across it like a struck match head, quite clearly a missile inbound. I knew what it was, we all knew what it was, and we would start running for home.

Running for home as time slowed and sliced into heartbeats, as the beautiful, awful thing fell over the horizon. A single pause, a silence between breaths, a last look at everything I ever knew frozen in a moment, and then the dome of cloud above us would burst with a blinding flame and a skull-cracking roar. Only then would I jerk awake, realizing it was in fact just a dream, all the same still feeling the heat on my cheek, sunburn hot and as real as the bed I was sleeping in.

I can't think of anyone I knew who didn't have these kinds of nightmares at least once in awhile. And not just kids either... I would hear grownups talk in quiet voices about each international crisis, not in terms of how it would affect them or the country, but how it might bring about the end of the world. It didn't help that every Christian fundamentalist preacher, in a town full of Christian fundamentalist preachers, could barely disguise their glee convincing everyone that now was the rapture, today would be the kingdom, coming at us on the point of a missile.

"And we'll be glad too," the 'guest speaker' at our boy scout meeting said to us, standing on the pulpit of our local church. Normally I wouldn't set foot in the place, but as an awkward 14 year old I was trying to walk in the footsteps of my old man and become a scout like him. The meeting started out in the basement, but we were brought to the main hall, ostensibly to hear how important scouting was.

Instead we got an earful. "You boys need to learn how to survive, because the Bible tells us that everything around us is doomed to destruction. Doomed, by the godless communists who as prophesied in REVALATIONS will destroy us, manipulated by the antichrist. Your brothers, your mothers, your dads and your uncles will have to rely on you to save them, and you must remain PURE to your oath, and PURE to Christ, because when those missiles fall down it is written that only the just, only the righteous, will survive."

Needless to say my scouting career was quite short. I could only imagine what my friends, who sat through things like this all the time, must've had running through their minds. And it was everywhere, anywhere you looked. Every military thriller ended the same way. Each one wrapped up with tragedy, the heroes on opposite sides nearly coming to terms, only to be shattered when one of the generals drew a dagger simply to kill an asp.

It only got worse when Reagan became president. Reagan inherited a shattered and weak military, incapable of even rescuing a few hostages in the desert. He inherited an economy weakened by inflation and recession. He inherited a press corps and international community happy for American weakness that made their jobs easier. Most of all he inherited a people who had sunk into despair and self-loathing over a stupid war in a stupid place that sent all too many sons home in boxes.

Reagan would have none of it. A charismatic man, someone you literally could not help but watch speaking, who had a mind like a razor and a love of country from a simpler time. He decided appeasement would not work, communism was a danger to the entire world, and only through confrontation would it be defeated. He rearmed, rebuilt, and reaffirmed America. For the first time in a very, very long time someone was standing up in front of cameras saying this country was the best country in the world, and you could be for us or against us, but you didn't want to be against us because we were going to win no matter what it took.

The rest of the world went bananas. This crazy old man, this actor, was going to get us all killed. The press did everything to tear him down. Almost the rest of the world (lead by, no surprise, France) heaped scorn and did their level best to keep America where it should be... beaten down and only just strong enough to keep the tanks from rolling through the Brandenburg gate and down the Champ Elysee. The Hollywood elite completely blew a gasket, convinced the plebes really had managed to elect Hitler himself to the Whitehouse.

In truth it was a scary time, because even though nearly everyone else liked Reagan, we weren't really sure if he actually was going to get us involved in a nuclear holocaust. A veritable deluge of books, movies, and TV shows rolled out showing in graphic detail what, exactly, would happen if it all really did come apart at the seams, if the bombs really did fall. The nightmares weren't going away, they were getting worse.

Every year it was the most entertaining part of graduation. You were supposed to predict what would happen, where you would be, ten years after high school was over. "In ten years, Jimmy Freeman will be flipping burgers and working for Tom Steward." "In ten years, Jane Summers will be married to Greg Banner and have two happy, healthy children." "In ten years Scott Johnson will be doing something exciting, far far away from here." All were typical.

Also, at least as typical, were these: "In ten years, Ted Murphy will be on the front lines, helping win WWIII." "In ten years, Roosevelt Smith will be living in his bomb shelter with his wife Latonya Hooper." "In ten years, Jim McGhee will be serving alongside Ted."

That was 1986, but in truth at that time even we were beginning to laugh at it. Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev had been elected General Secretary of the Communist Party, the first Soviet leader who did not serve in WWII, a comparatively young man far more concerned with Russian people than with Soviet power. Seeing his own country rapidly approaching ruin, he decided to cut and run in the competition for world dominance with the United States. Taking a huge national, and in fact no less personal, risk, he reached out to Reagan. To nearly everyone's surprise, Reagan reached back.

It is every West German male's duty to serve in the military or the civil service. It's a requirement. It's also a requirement that every West German work toward re-unification with East Germany.

Two years later, and everyone chuckled as our European History professor so seriously intoned these words. Reunite with East Germany? The thought was self-evidently absurd. The Soviets would never, ever let it happen. Czechoslovakia and Hungary quite graphically demonstrated what would happen if either side tried. Anyone who studied the military situation around that border, and in that class we had all studied it, knew there were divisions of Soviet tanks waiting on one side and entire armies and air forces on the other poised on a hair trigger, a precarious balance that could, must, be maintained, perhaps forever.

Then less than a year later the goddamned wall fell down.

By this time the first George Bush was in the White House, a decent if rather colorless man. The media and entertainment elite proved incapable of absorbing that Reagan, their very own Hitler, probably was responsible for it all, and instead focused on the fact that really the entire world was caught flat-footed when it happened. I lived through it, and it really did seem like one day we were all gathered around ready to defend against an invasion, and the next a half-naked drunken German was dancing on top of the wall, surrounded on both sides with jubilant people holding hammers, smashing away at the everlasting symbol of their division.

And then it was over, so suddenly it was over. The Soviet Union collapsed, and we treated it with high drama but nothing compared to Kruschev banging his shoe. We signed nuclear reduction treaties with miniscule fanfare, utterly without somber comparisons on the evening news of cartoon stacks of holocausts, any one of which could end the world. The Cold War, which had been declared over and done with in 1968 by the 1977 press (as we cruised into purgatory of post-cold-war "detente"), was declared really, really over by that same press corps 15 years later. Everyone seemed to have forgotten what it really was like, as if by pulling Damocles's sword up into the shadows it had never existed at all.

"Daddy," she asks me, as she does every night, "tell me again what Grandpa did."
("Mommy," I ask her, as I did every night, "do you think the missiles will fall tonight?")

"Oh, your grandpa got to do really cool things. He got to help put people on the Moon."
("Oh of course not. We're going to be just fine")

"Oh I know that story daddy. What did he do before that?"
("But you say that every night.")

"Well, before he worked for NASA he was in the Air Force. He worked on Titan Missiles."
("I know, but really, it will be all right. I promise.")

"What are those?"
("But how can you be sure?")

"They were big terrible things that had huge bombs on them. We pointed them at Russia, which we called the Soviet Union back then. And they pointed ones at us too. If we'd ever actually used them, it would have been very bad."
("Because I'm your mom, and I know. It will be all right.")

"Wow, I'm glad we don't live back then."
("I'm scared.")

"So am I."
("So am I.")

Posted by scott at May 20, 2003 06:39 PM

eMail this entry!

Simply excellent! What else is there to say?

Posted by: Pat on May 20, 2003 07:14 PM

Wow, the ending dialogue gave me chills!! Great work, Scott!!

Posted by: Battie on May 21, 2003 09:43 AM

Having kids makes you think about all kinds of things, doesn't it?

Great post!

Posted by: Rita on May 21, 2003 07:03 PM

Long thoughtful pause preceded commenting. Still I'm mostly speechless. Well done sir! Well done.

Posted by: Greyhawk on May 22, 2003 01:07 AM

It's spelled REAGAN

Posted by: Richard Frei on May 22, 2003 01:19 AM

Uh, I think Regan was Reagan's Secretary of the Treasury. Donald Regan and Ronald Reagan. Quite the pair, eh?

I called my mom up just the other day,
As I hung up, I swear I heard her say
"Bye-bye, Bruce..."

- Rick Springfield, They Call Me Bruce

Posted by: Tatterdemalian on May 22, 2003 03:04 AM

ARG! This one got past two proofreaders. I think my yellow-dog demo proofreader sabotaged me on purpose. A conspiracy I tell you, a conspiracy!

Thanks for the notes guys, apologies for the screwup.

Posted by: scott on May 22, 2003 08:06 AM

Oh, man! I thought I was alone... born 1946, I was 17 as the VietNam war heated up, 18 when I finished a year of study to learn Korean, and then in Korea I had 12 nightmares over an 18-month period... each one beginning with or ending with The Blast.

Each one so wrenching and terrible, that I'd awaken myself by the sound of my own sobbing, my pillow drenched with tears...

Each one of me vainly, fruitlessly warning others of the coming blast, or serving (as the doctor I now am, a life/career choice due at least in part to these horrific nightmares!) to perform triage walking through ACRES and ACRES of writhing, blackened Americans, spotting one... [You! No, you! Can you walk? If you can follow us, you might live...] Playing God? Its triage, and it HAS to be done after a large-scale injuring like a small-yield surface blast...

They stopped, and I've never had another since. My life on mountain tops, on islands just south of the North Korean border, putting my ears DEEP into where they were not wanted, helped keep the free world FREE, and I regret not one moment of it! I learned there terrible, painful truths about the differences between America and the Free World, and Communism and its minions.

None of the leftoid, whining foul-mouthed foil-hats can change my mind, for I've seen some of the 'benefits' of Communist socialism, up close and ugly. I've known South Koreans whose heartfelt, truthful recollections so far exceeded anything Leftists today can imagine along the lines of Workers' Paradises and secret police and gulags for 'counter-revolutionaries' 6 years old and their starving families...

But I wanted to thank you for your courageous posting. We need to remember, not just Memorial Day, but DAILY.... REMEMBER, Communism = 100 Million DEAD! No human rights! No unpermitted travel even within your own nation! No chosen career! No colleges worth studying at! No FOOD! Poor hospitals and no trust!

Reagan (not Regan, his PR officer at the White House) had courage and vision! I remember my mother tearfully telling me over the phone from America to me in Korea, "Reagan's won... we're afraid there'll be a war soon..."

There was, and it was for Truth, Honesty, Responsibility and Creativity! It was against the whining, puling media-swine who sell out their own consciences to snipe and criticise and belittle and demean, America first and foremost!

We're winning, and we're NOT Leftists!
And that's a REAL Eye Opener!

Posted by: Eye Opener on May 22, 2003 08:17 AM

My friends and I never worried about WWIII. We live right outside D.C. and we always figured that if the war came, we would instantly be vaporized, and hence would not know about the war anyway. Pretty sick way for a grade school kid to think.

Thank You Ronald Reagan, may God make your homegoing peaceful and painless.


Posted by: MensaMan on May 22, 2003 09:12 AM

It's not often that the written word can choke me up like that. My hat's off to you.

Posted by: Morpheus on May 22, 2003 09:30 AM

You told me you didn't want an editor that you had already spell checked this piece. I thought maybe I had been misspelling all these years.

Posted by: Pat on May 22, 2003 12:08 PM

Wow. Just wow.

Posted by: Dave on May 22, 2003 12:32 PM

I'd venture to say that people my age (33) and older likely can't read this without crying or trembling or just staring off into space, while younger people can't understand it as anything real.

I remember, when we moved near Tinker Air Force Base where my father was stationed, figuring out which circle we were in from the nuclear weapons effects charts. I was not yet a teenager.

Posted by: Jeff Medcalf on May 22, 2003 01:14 PM

I was pointed here by Emperor Misha I, and I'm glad. You and Bill WHittle are the only two people out here in the blog-o-sphere that have managed to send chills across my body as I read.

I used to be a tad more left than I currently am. (I got better! *grin*) I remember thinking how horrible for the world it was going to be when I noted that RWR had been elected. Yeah, so horrible that even the writers for Laugh-In got a shock. (Remember "News of the Future"? One of them went: "October, 1988 - the Berlin Wall came down today. Jubilation was shortlived as they replaced it with a moat.") Can you imagine the writer of that joke, written at a time when the wall wasn't that old, seeing his joking prediction come true? (Except for the moat, of course. LOL)

We live in wonderful times, I say. Yeah, the threat of war is there, but the threat of instant annihilation is radically reduced.

Sorry for rambking. This was originally supposed to be simply a "Thank you for writing this" posting...

Posted by: Keith McComb on May 22, 2003 04:20 PM

Interesting, I was having almost this same conversation with my wife yesterday, after she made the comment that our kids will be the first generation to not think before putting on a seat belt.

Posted by: Terry on May 22, 2003 04:32 PM

"..and perhaps everyone over the age of, say, 33.."

Wrong. I'm younger than you (three years....) and I remember OH SO WELL... but you've given me more ammo to back up my "Reagan is a hero and the best president ever." arguments with my liberal family!

Thanks (again....) Scott. You RULE!

Posted by: Jim S on May 22, 2003 05:00 PM

A few years ago I asked my son, who was around 14 at the time, "Did you ever worry about dying in a nuclear war when you were growing up ?" No, never he said.

I sure as hell did when I was a kid. I was in third grade and lived on Eielson AFB during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Scary, scary times.

Thanks for the beautifully written post.

Posted by: Gary on May 22, 2003 05:28 PM

great article .. as someone who "pulled alert" in the Strategic Air Command, I thought it was an incredible day when George Bush (41) stood down the alert force. No more aircraft ready to, essentially, destroy the world with 4 minutes notice. And yes, Ronald Reagan is the best American President of my lifetime.

Posted by: rob on May 22, 2003 06:42 PM

Your article brought back memories... duck and cover in our grade school classes, the fallout shelter Dad installed in the new house we were building, the science fiction stories, listening to JFK on TV in October 1962 and hoping Dad got out of Detroit (Ground Zero then) before it would be hit, awakening with a terrific start at any bright flash of light at night, wondering if there was any point to growing up. We have been blessed in our time.

Posted by: Tresho on May 22, 2003 09:55 PM

I'm 26, and I remember thinking the Cold War was never going to end. My nightmares were of walking along empty streets, knowing that everyone was dead. However, I also remember that when the 1989 eartquake happened and they ran the "breaking news" bit (I lived in Sacramento) that I was annoyed because they'd already *told* us about the Wall coming down several times and I was sick of it! (They took longer to get to the actual new back then, sometimes as long as a minute after they started the graphic.)

Sometimes age does make a difference... :)

Posted by: B. Durbin on May 23, 2003 01:30 AM

All I can say is WOW.

Thank you.

What a post!

I remember too.

Never thought I would have to explain to my daughter what WE were afraid of. She's afraid fo planes being crashed into buildings, and the idea of making her afraid of worse than that is not a good feeling in the least. How do you tell such an innocent one that what we all thought was over and done with is still a threat?

Posted by: Sharon Ferguson on May 23, 2003 01:05 PM

I work with your mom and am very impressed with
your ability to paint such vivid pictures in my mind each time I read one of your articles. Are you familiar with HILTON SUTTON?

Posted by: Mary on May 24, 2003 12:08 AM

My husband and I were dating during the 1980 campaign. I was a hard core conservative Reaganite and he was a self proclaimed pacifist for Carter. The day after the election, he told me he was frightened of the future.
I married him anyway.
Four years and two children later, Reagan asked America "are you better off than you were four years ago?" My intelligent and honest husband yelled "Hell yes!" and enthusiastically voted for Reagan, along with the rest of America. When that wall came down, there was never any doubt in our minds who was responsible for making the impossible come true.
I show them letters like this so that they will hear what it was like, and understand a little bit why so many of us think RR was one of the greatest.
Thank you,

Posted by: mlp on May 27, 2003 10:33 PM

I am only 30, but I also had those nightmares. I remember a particularly vivid one I had shortly after seeing the mini-series The Day After.

Thank you, you really captured that well. But we should be wary. If we allow rouge elements to get their hands on Nuclear Weapons, our children may end up with their own set of nightmares.


Posted by: shaulie on January 6, 2004 12:48 PM

This is simply one of the best, if not the best thing you have written. I took the time to re-read all the comments also. One of the most wonderful things of all is to see the world through the eyes of your child. Do things look a little different now that Olivia is a reality and not just a concept as she was when you wrote "Blast Echos"?

Posted by: Pat on January 7, 2004 03:42 AM

I just took the time to again read this post. Hard to believe how much the period is like what is happening right now with George W. I pray all turns out as well with his administration as it did with RR's. I am watching the new on Iraq and I feel very afraid.

Posted by: Pat on November 9, 2004 02:16 AM

Watch today's new out of North Korea. Scary stuff.

Posted by: Pat on May 1, 2005 02:55 PM

"Hard to believe how much the period is like what is happening right now with George W."

Only to you, I'm afraid. Most other people realize that the possibility of a single city being wiped out by a terrorist is something a bit different than the possibility of the entire world being wiped out by MAD.

As for the news out of The People's Democratic Republic of Democracy and Free Socialism and Socialist Freedom for All of North Korea, they've been doing the same thing ever since the Korean War. They won't stop until they are forcibly stopped, and that's unlikely to happen thanks to some overly-trusting US presidents.

Posted by: Tatterdemalian on May 1, 2005 11:15 PM

Hey, maybe I should just read this once a year,maybe you should too!

Posted by: Pat J. on March 8, 2008 04:00 PM

Well done. That time was my coming of age. I remember being on a bus going to a baseball game when we bombed Libya. I joined the Marine Corps in 1987 with the knowledge I was probably going to war.
Very well done sir brings back memories I had not thought of in a while.

Posted by: Rick K. on May 25, 2009 10:05 PM

I am reading this essay for the 6th year in a row. Oh my how my world has changed and now Olivia will be entering the 1st grade next month. Time trulydoes fly. I am sad that you stopped writing.

Posted by: Grandma Pat on July 23, 2009 12:22 PM
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