Wait. It was that long ago. You know, way back when it was easy to sort the geopolitical good guys from the bad guys. When evening news reports of the latest Soviet and US above-ground A-bomb testing were humdrum; radioactive milk and dead livestock from fallout were a small price to pay for freedom and President Kennedy was advising American families to build backyard bomb shelters - never a good sign. And a guy somewhere with his finger on a nuclear trigger was just as much a part of our everyday routine, our fear-based reality, as the Wonderful World of Disney and American Bandstand.
Stunned, I watched on the living room Silvertone black and white as President Kennedy delivered his sober address to his “fellow citizens,” glued to every potent phrase. I had never seen him like that. While not saying we were screwed, exactly, Kennedy made it clear to anyone watching or listening how he would deal with this “clear and present danger.” The United States would not tolerate the existence of offensive weapons minutes from our border. He also made it clear that America would not stop short of military action.
“We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the costs of worldwide nuclear war in which even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth; but neither will we shrink from that risk at any time it must be faced.”
It was the “ashes in our mouth” part that caught my attention, indelible to this day.
Now, Air Force brats knew why their dads spent weeks away from their families on alert status. A coping mechanism of my father’s helped with such separations. Like most Strategic Air Command aviators, my father had to compartmentalize worst case scenarios - in this case, the nuclear annihilation plot lines of my worst nightmare - in the Fail Safe recesses of his day job box. My father also had a compartment for his Jimmy Stewart reality, his adoring family the military had trained him to kill, along with the rest of humanity. And that week I knew where we ranked with SAC.
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