Growing Up in the Atomic Age
For his Sophomore Exhibition the student I work with picked the topic of how the development of the atomic bomb impacted the world when viewed through the political and psychological social science perspectives. Boy did his choice of topic get me to thinking the last couple of weeks.
Once that jinn was out of the bottle the United States and the world was set on a course that created the Cold War, the Atomic age and is arguably responsible for the rebellion of the Baby Boomers in the 1960s. Talk about psychological perspective!
Because he worked for Boeing on the B-52 flight test program my father was part of the government’s operations Redwing and Hardtack in 1956 and ’58 respectively. I don’t remember a part of my life when the atomic bomb wasn’t in my consciousness. It loomed like a dark cloud over my childhood. It is not that my father wanted to frighten me, but as a veteran of WWII and Pearl Harbor, he considered the threat of a nuclear attack to be a very real possibility and wanted my mother and me to be as safe as possible. He considered Boeing to make Seattle a prime target and while he did not build a bomb shelter in our backyard (he didn’t think them worth the money), he did come up with a plan.
My father felt that if we were lucky we’d have 30 minutes warning of a nuclear missile headed our way. He hoped that would be enough time for my mother to get me far enough away from Seattle to not be involved in the initial destruction. If the air raid siren (which was tested weekly) behind my elementary school sounded I was to go to the back edge of the school property and meet my mother there. We were to drive to my grandparents’ beach house on the south Washington coast where he believed the prevailing off shore winds would blow the radiation inland¸ away from the coast. Initially we were a one car family with my father riding in a ride pool. I don’t know what was supposed to happen if the attack occurred on his day to drive.
Around the time my father returned from his first tour on Operation Redwing one of the television networks produced a program that he thought was important for my mother, her sister and brother-in-law to watch, but which my cousins and I were not to see. We were visiting my aunt and uncle at the time. I guess I developed my nose for news at an early age because despite my cousin’s protestations (she was a very good child who always minded), I crept to the bedroom door and peeked into the living room where I could see the television. I sat on the floor in stunned horror as I saw a program about the death and destruction promised by a nuclear attack. I never told my parents what I’d seen.
Not long after that a new high school was being built in Bellevue where we lived. My mother drove me by it, cheerfully saying, “That’s where you’ll go to high school.” I didn’t say anything. I knew she wasn’t kidding anyone. I wasn’t going to live to go to high school. None of us were going to live long enough for me to go to high school. Imagine my surprise when not only did I go to high school, but realized that I was going to graduate and had better figure out what I was going to do.
The development of the atomic bomb, the Cold War and the arms race, a world that our parents, the Greatest Generation, had not been raised in, but had created, contributed materially in the rise of the Peace Movement and the rebellion of the 1960s. I grew up envying my parents childhoods. Sure they had to deal with the depression, but they didn’t have to worry about becoming so much radioactive ash at a moment’s notice. This gap in understanding made it difficult if not impossible for that generation to understand the Boomers. My mother regularly asks the universe how she could have raised such a radical liberal. Maybe I’ll show her this.