Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Early on, we were very afraid
I decided yesterday that the best way to understand any particular period of history is to study what happened right before it, which of course requires studying what came right before that, etc.
What I was thinking about in particular is the Cold War. After World War II, especially considering how many people were killed (sixty million, I read somewhere. 60,000,000!), also because it must have come as a nasty shock to realize the Nazis really had systematically killed millions of people - to learn the rumors weren't war propaganda, and after seeing graphic photos of the damage done by the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki - well - paranoia is an absolutely logical reaction. Ergo: the Cold War.
Nature abhors a vacuum, hence the push after the war, in the U.S. (at least), for women to have babies, lots and lots of babies. Here we came, born high on ether or whatever anesthetic they gave our mothers, slapped on our little baby boomer butts straight out of the womb, after which we were placed in
play pens so as to amuse ourselves, surrounded by a haze of second hand cigarette smoke. It was a lot like what they call crate training, only that is for dogs.
As soon as we could walk, we were taught to "duck and cover." I learned how to allegedly protect myself in case of a nuclear attack by the time I was in kindergarten. Five years old, and already worried about Soviet bombers dropping the big one. What a way to begin a life! Wow. Or should I say whoa?
I heard an interview with Mark Helprin on Studio 360 Saturday afternoon. Mr. Helprin was promoting a novel he wrote, set just after WWII. He said people didn't really talk about the Holocaust in the 40s, that the first books about it were published in 1953 or 1954. I think people couldn't really take it in for a few years. It was just too much to understand.
The U.S. as well as the Soviets, in spite of the damage done in Japan, continued testing what we called "A bombs." It was as if the military actually thought nuclear warfare was an option. After WWII, people were a mess. How could they have suddenly gone back to "normal" life once the war was over? They were in shock.
After WWII, western culture was frozen, for a number of years, in a state of severe PTSD. People went about their daily lives, and things looked ok on the surface, but oh my, all was not well.
This is the world into which we baby boomers arrived. Good lord. It explains a lot.