Sometime In October

Richard Wall

© Copyright 2018 by Richard Wall

Photo of school children during a atomic bomb drill.

Sometime in October of 1962, my 12 year old self was huddled down in a somewhat muddy, newly dug trench in the cold, clear weather outside my school in East Point, Ga. That part of Georgia is known for its red clay, and I faced a wall of red dirt with the occasional root sticking out. I was not alone. My classmates and teacher were there too.

Somewhere between Florida and Cuba, military men were coming close to a decision which could render the area near that town and school a radioactive cinder. The warning sirens had sounded, my teacher’s face going white with fear, and we students were rushed to the trenches, where it was believed we would be “safe”. Whatever that meant.

My father had been a bomber pilot in WWII, was in the Air Force reserves, and had been called back to active duty. He was flying tankers for the SAC bomber fleet, and had been briefed on the situation. He was very worried.

As a precocious science and history student, I knew what a nuclear warhead could do, and what the aftermath of radiation might mean. I had read about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I had seen the pictures.

I huddled down in the trench, wondering what the near future might bring.

As it happened in that October of 1963, the all clear sounded and we went back into the school. But I emerged from that trench a different person. There would be other warnings, other “heads under the desks” moments, and that crisis came to an end a few weeks later.

Or did it?

We lived under the shadow of nuclear war, sometimes closer as in the Reagan years, sometimes less. In the 90s the cold war was over, or so they said. But the warheads remained, lessened perhaps, but never gone. Life goes on, politics, religion, history carrying on like a stiff current.

Nuclear War. A human stain which was never lifted, just filed away into the background. The 12 year old in the trench remembers, has never forgotten.

We now face a world even more dangerous than 1963. More nations with nuclear warheads, more instability. In 90 minutes or less, many thousand years of human history, rising up from ignorance, superstition, and injustice, still could come to an end. Not a reality show on TV, but real and now and in your face like that wall of red clay in 1963.

Our elected president wears his ignorance and arrogance like a banner. Across the world there is a new arrogance between nation states, demagogue leaders and a rising of old conflicts, reborn as new. The president does control the codes which can reopen the doors that lead to 12 year olds huddling in muddy trenches, and much worse.

The 65 year old faces that wall of red clay knowing the ugly truth. This is real. This is now. This is possible. Wondering what the future might bring.

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