I am watching the old 1964 movie “Fail-Safe,” which I first saw in a movie theatre as a child of 12—I remember being bored. Its black-and-white, TV-theatrical-style, the high moral dudgeon of its characters, and lack of eye-catching special effects—whatever that meant, back in the early ‘60s—left me cold. Now, it holds different meanings for me. Growing up with “duck-and-cover”—believing, in the 1st Grade, that a quarter-inch of formica could possibly protect me from sure death if an A- or H-bomb exploded outside my classroom window, near the corner drugstore where my mother bought me a Cho-Cho malted ice cream bar for a dime on the way home from school—my classmates and I could never really conceive of what a Nuclear Armageddon might be like, nor could anyone else, from the President on down.
Instead, we saw the world through the eyes of “Dr. Strangelove,” or “The Twilight Zone,” which dealt with such themes regularly. Living in New York City, we did not experience the spectacle of neighbors building quaint and handy fallout shelters in their backyards. We did have surplus cans of peanut butter, marked PROPERTY OF US DEPT OF AGRICULTURE NOT FOR SALE, but these, we believed, were simply Uncle Sam’s largesse, nothing more. And it was, truth to tell, tasty peanut butter—Smooth only, though I preferred Crunchy.
We believed Pres. Kennedy, his tousled hair blowing in the wind, when he announced to the world, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” and the embattled West Berliners believed it too; only years later did we non-Deutschers discover that our martyred young president was announcing to the world that he was not a doughnut. Eventually, Pres. Reagan’s arms race, proposing to make even outer space a battleground, caused the old Soviet Union, panting to follow our massive expenditure for soldiers and new weapons systems, to collapse of its own rottenness, eventually becoming the anachronistic near-czarist near-democratic dictatorship it is today.
As I watch my TV screen, the crew of the movie’s Convair B-58 Hustler has just learned that their designated target is nothing less than Moscow. And I wonder: have we lost something, moving from those bygone days of Overkill and the universal threat of Nuclear Winter, to our current state of Terrorism Nerves? As peaceful, law-abiding Muslims the world over continue to be subject to suspicion, the result of hundreds of young, misguided men flocking to the colors of Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, as well as other, less-well-known terrorist groups, should we long for the comforting security of a steel-and-concrete-lined bunker, waiting for the “all clear” signal to come over our klaxons?
In short, have we traded the end of the World War III threat for a never-ending series of brushfire wars throughout the world?
Come take my hand, Beloved: we will crouch beneath the coffee table, as Pres. Henry Fonda discusses his nuclear option with his Soviet counterpart, and we will dream of Armageddon days gone by….