The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It


Ah, for the halcyon days of childhood.  The cold war was in full bloom.  America was taking every precaution and making preparation.  Fallout Shelter signs greeted us on government and privately owned buildings and on our schools, their stark yellow and blue/black message signaling the way to a false sense of security.

In class our teachers guided us in making our preparations.  When the test signal went off we dutifully got out of our seats, knelt under our desks and buried our heads in our arms so that we could survive the nuclear blast that might be only moments away – that is if this weren’t only a test.

We were unified in our resolve against a foe who threatened our safety.  The phrase “Better dead than red” was one that everyone heard with regularity.  We took comfort in the fact that we were building more and bigger bombs and missiles.  If they messed with us we were going to mess them up right back – to the utter annihilation of the whole planet.  That would show them.

Our AM radio stations broadcast these tests on a regularly scheduled basis.  Their message was introduced by a high pitched tone and then the words … “This is a test of the civil defense system .. this is only a test.”  Even as a child I learned when to expect to hear them.  I thought, if I figured this schedule out why couldn’t the enemy?  Wouldn’t that be an ideal time to launch an attack?  Fortunately I was more precocious than the leaders in the Kremlin.  Or perhaps they realized that if this war were ever fought there would be no victor.

Unlike the terrorists of today we could identify those who would do us harm.  We knew where they lived.  In some ways, despite the potential for utter destruction, that simplified things.  And it was probably for that reason that in the end we took the only sane path and began to dismantle all the weapons of destruction that we once viewed as our sole protection against Armageddon.

It’s hard to imagine how any of us who grew up during this period escaped without incurring terrible mental scarring and went on to live productive lives.  As tensions mounted between the parties and then waned, I remember some sleepless nights, thinking about what would happen in the aftermath of a nuclear attack.

I remember my parents coming in to my room to comfort me and ask what was wrong.  I would simply say, “I had a nightmare” – never telling them the source of my malaise.  What I had imagined was too horrible and indecent to put into words.  It still makes me shudder as I write this.

Although I didn’t understand it at the time, there was one good thing that came out of the cold war.  We were united as a people.  We were all Americans – and in our resolve we stood shoulder to shoulder with one another – rich and poor, black and white, Jew and gentile.

Perhaps what we need today is the inspiration of leaders who understand the importance of solidarity and who recognize that while we have differences, our common values far outweigh them.  Maybe that sanguine message would help us pull together instead of constantly hearing the drumbeats of division which are pulling us apart.

It’s a theory that is worth considering.  The worst that can happen is that if it doesn’t work we can try something else.

After all, “This is a test … this is only a test.”

But it is a test that we cannot afford to fail.


Comments on: "THIS IS ONLY A TEST" (10)

  1. Looking back, the good thing about the Soviets as an enemies is that they weren’t any more suicidal than we were. That’s the problem with terrorists (and maybe Iran), they are. I mostly thought about it after we went to or from Minnesota and drove by the old Nike base in Griffith, IN.

    And yes we had superb leadership in those days from Eisenhower to Nixon, whatever else they were, they were Americans fist, last, and always, and competent too.

    And you’re also correct that there was a lot of unity in the country, remember when politics stopped at the shore, and they meant it. Those were the days.


    • I don’t think that most of the kids today understand that the reason that we developed an interstate highway system (which they and most of the rest of us take for granted) was because of General Eisenhower’s experience in WW II. He realized how important it was to be able to supply goods and required materials to the troops – and that was his fundamental reason as President for creating the outstanding road system that America enjoys. This was a direct response to the threat he saw coming from the then Soviet Union.

      How quickly we forget.

      • That we do but then, even when I was in school, I never had an American History survey course that even made it to the First World War.

        Ah, yes, The Eisenhower Interstate and Defense Highway System to give it it’s proper name, I can remember the signs still. Based on the German autobahns, no less.

        It was a great and necessary thing, though if we were to continue our personal independence. Talk about the infrastructure project to end all infrastructure projects.

      • We covered WW I – but the history books regarding the second conflict were just being written. All that was coming out at the time were preliminary stories about the Holocaust and tales from returning veterans about their experiences.

        You know, though I realized what Ike’s motivation was in building the interstates, I had forgotten its proper name. Thanks for refreshing my memory.

      • In truth our books were comparable, but somehow my teachers tended to get sidetracked. Couldn’t have had anything to do with me, could it? Nah, of course not!

  2. Wow, this was alarming & sort of comforting at the same time. Comforting, was the fantasy & hope that maybe one day we will have more leaders that foster unity rather than ravage us for their own profit & personal vendettas. When did it begin to happen, that our leaders morphed into sharks? I think there was a time in the distant past when we the people still counted for something, right? When did that change? And why? And, most importantly, where were we the people when it happened?? Meaning, why did we allow it to happen?? Did we not see it? Did we see it & just wallow in apathy? What the hell happened??

    • In both the elections of 1952 and 1956 we had Ike vs. Adlai Stevenson II. They represented different philosophies – Ike being the more practical and Adlai the more intellectual. I never remember hearing a single adult who discussed these elections questioning either man’s integrity. Deciding between the two was merely a matter of philosophical conviction – not a matter of voting “for the lesser of two evils.”

      In 1960 JFK beat Nixon. Both candidates had flaws, prompting a popular joke, “Kennedy and Nixon were in a boat. The boat sank. Who was saved?” Answer – The American people.

      Years later when I started school in Chicago I learned first hand about political corruption and voter fraud. In the 1960 election which sent JFK to the White house, Illinois decided the election. Downstate was a Republican stanchion. The large cities bastions of the Democrats. Donwstate voted using paper ballots which took a long time to count. The big cities used machines whose votes were easy to record.

      Then Mayor Richard J. Daley held back reporting the vote for Chicago until after downstate had reported – and was able to produce enough votes to give JFK the presidency – or so goes one popular and highly supportable theory. I think most of us knew that – but we tolerated it. JFK and Jackie were very popular and the country was almost evenly divided between the two candidates.

      If I were to pick one single event (and that’s probably a naive thing to do) which most contributed to our lack of holding to standards, it would be this election. Politicians, seeing our apathy, gained a greater sense of empowerment to use and abuse the power that a sleeping electorate was willing to grant them. And as long as we continue our Rip Van Winkle nap, we can expect more of the same – or worse.

      • This was really informative. I didn’t know the Kennedy/Nixon election had a secret taint of voter fraud. I thought that only happened in both Bush elections, albeit not so secret. 🙄 I was under the impression that a large deciding factor for voters in the Kennedy/Nixon election was the advent of televised debates & the fact that Kennedy looked & played better to the camera. And how amazing it must have felt to not have to choose btwn the lesser of two evils! But that was the 50’s, when I assume there was still some element of decency in politics. (Or is decent politics an oxymoron?) Thanx for this insightful trip into our political past. Too bad we’ve come out of it in some kind of apathetic stupor. But if I had to pick that pivotal moment of destruction to our system, it would have to be the 2000 Bush election, when we allowed him to steal the presidency, followed by his stolen re-election. Those were shameful, corrupt historical points in our recent history that blind partisan politics still won’t allow us to acknowledge. And we can’t change what we don’t acknowledge. 😐

      • You raise good points regarding the two Bush elections which go directly to my point that, “it’s not important how you vote. It’s important who counts the ballots.”

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