Nightmares of Nuclear War

When I was about 12 years old, I was awakened early one morning by the sound of an explosion right outside our building. I ran to the window (we lived on the seventh floor) and, still not completely awake, saw a pillar of thick smoke rising and gathering. For one moment, I was so terrified, I couldn’t breathe.

It turned out to be the smoke from a car explosion — in an act of revenge for some slight or other, somebody had apparently thrown a molotov cocktail at an empty car parked outside. But when I found out what had caused the explosion, I wasn’t all that impressed. Because it wasn’t the idea that people were throwing around home-made bombs in my neighborhood that had frightened me so badly.

It was that, for that one second, I thought I was looking at an atomic blast.

I was born early enough so that I have vague memories of watching President Kennedy talking on TV during the Cuban Missile Crisis. At the time, I didn’t understand what was happening, but I did understand that my parents were also watching, and that they were very, very frightened. I also understood that there could be a war, and that the nuclear explosions that I’d seen movies of could blast us out of existence at any moment.

I had nightmares for weeks after that — not helped by the atomic war drills that we had at school. (Which, even at an early age, I knew were ridiculous — was sitting in a hallway with our arms over our heads really going to protect us from a nuclear blast?)

In fact, I spent my childhood and adolescence living with the terror of an early death from a nuclear war as a constant background hiss in my consciousness. It was like the static from a badly-tuned radio station — you tried to ignore it, you even forgot about it occasionally, but it was always there. It only began to slowly ebb in my college years — while there were still fights to be fought, I began to finally feel that I, and my younger brother, and the even younger children around me, might survive into adulthood, along with the rest of the world. And in the years following, I was grateful that, although there were other problems to be faced, and other horrors around the world, at the very least annihilation by nuclear holocaust was not an imminent threat. That people younger than me didn’t need to know what that felt like.

And now, the nightmare is back.

Our president is tweeting about pressing the nuclear button as though he and Kim Jong Un are a pair of teenagers playing the dozens on a street corner; as though the threat of unleashing a force that could murder millions — hell, billions — of people has no real significance.

trump nuclear

There is nothing I can say to something like this. I doubt if there’s anything anyone could say to impress upon Mr. Trump how unbelievably frightening it is when somebody at his level of government and with his level of power exhibits this level of childish bluster. He is threatening our lives, and the lives of our children, and the lives of adults and children around the world, just so he can play “mine is bigger than yours.”

I have never been religious. I am pretty much an agnostic. But if there is a god, or gods, or any kinds of deities out there, then this is my sincere and fervent prayer: Please let us survive this man. Whatever humanity’s sins, we don’t deserve him.

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