The year was 1984, and I was 10 years old. I remember watching an ABC made-for-tv movie entitled “The Day After.” The possible future of a nuclear holocaust was a frightening, though very real prospect to me, and I will never forget what that movie taught me. It was at a time when the Cold War was at its most bitter cold, and though I was young, I knew about things that an 11 year old had no business knowing about. Terms like megaton, ICBM, fallout, EMP, and flashburn were common knowlege to me, for we were under the ever-impending doom of a Soviet nuclear strike.
I remember seeing maps in the newspapers that showed which cities were targets, how many missiles would strike each, and the different zones around them which would be deemed ‘safe’ within 30 or 40 miles from ground zero. In my 4th grade creative writing class I remember getting an A on a story that I wrote about being at school when the mushroom clouds came and we had to hide in the basement of the school. I had dreams about it that i still remember today, horrifying views of familiar places where I spent every day, suddenly changed as I saw contrails from our missiles going off into the sky which would turn blood red as enormous clouds rose on the horizon. Fortunately, that day never came.
Today’s generation saw the new threat unfold right before thier eyes. Unfortunately, what they saw was not made for tv, the people who were dying were not paid actors. They face a new fear, and a new nightmare that will not go away anytime soon. Terms like Taliban, Anthrax, jihad, terrorist cels, and Cipro have become everyday vocabulary as this new way of life settles in. The threat of terrorism is very real, as more than 5,000 people lay dead at in the rubble of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, and every day, new reports of exposure to Anthrax are reported across the United States and the world. Today’s maps in the papers show only select states which are thought to have terrorist ‘cels’ amongst them, though they depict nearly the same thing: the nation under a threat of attack, but from within.
This generation will be the first to have to learn to be more patient at airports, bus depots, and the post office. They will be the first who must be prepared to surrender liberties that all before them took for granted, for the sake of safety, and peace of mind. They will have this strange inclination to look up in the sky as jet aircraft fly over, and they will never be able to look up at a skyscraper the same way. Opening an envelope will never be just that. They will be the first to learn to live with the everyday threat of an act of terrorism taking place in thier back yard, to someone they know, someone they love.
The new generation of Americans will be the last to be able to say, “I remember what life was like before.”
This new generation includes all of us.