In 1964 I was a freshman at Beavercreek High School in rural Ohio. I was a lonely, introspective young girl with an active imagination and an ability to seal myself off from whatever goings on were taking place around me.
One day an announcement came over the PA system stating that we were going to practice a disaster drill in case of nuclear war. Our teacher explained the procedure to us, and then when the bells rang, we silently walked into the hallway, faced the red brick wall, sat down, crossed our legs and put our hands over the backs of our heads. We sat in that position for what seemed like hours but was probably only minutes. When the all-clear sounded, we stood and silently marched back to our classrooms. Instruction resumed as if nothing untoward had happened.
At the time I knew nothing about the effects of nuclear war for I didn’t pay attention to the news and had never had an interest in historical events. You would have thought that simply hearing about the events of World War II would have inspired me to read about it, but it didn’t.
Several months later a jet bound for Wright Patterson Air Force Base fell from the sky. The pilot knew he was going to crash and so ejected himself from the plane, not knowing where the jet would go down. By some huge stroke of luck, it fell into the U-shaped enclosure of our school, not hitting a single bit of brick. We were evacuated into the gym, the building furthest from the accident, and kept there until our parents rescued us.
On the news that evening they showed pictures. My belief in God was strongly reinforced, for how could a jet fit so tidily inside the three walls of the school and not a single person be injured?
When school ended for the year we packed up and moved to California. Our first residence was in Rancho Cordova, near Sacramento. McClellan Air Force Base was nearby, but I didn’t know that until I became aware of the bombers. One afternoon I was sitting on my mattress on the floor of my bedroom. First the floor vibrated, then the walls. Next came a drone that grew louder and louder by the minute. I went outside to look and saw several huge planes flying in V formation overhead. I stood agape as they passed, relieved when the noise finally ended.
Later I learned that these bombers were practicing for war. Night and day planes flew overhead. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t concentrate and I lived in a constant state of fear. I started paying attention to the news and everything I saw contributed to my concerns. I was convinced that I would not live to see my next birthday, let alone begin school in my new state.
And then one day the planes flew no more. I got up one morning and could hear birds singing for the first time since we had arrived. It filled my heart with joy!
Years passed before the Vietnam War loomed over the heads of my classmates. By now I was away at USC, which turned out to be a hotbed of protest. I joined the marches and sat in the rallies. I made signs and attended meetings, but I never skipped a class for fear of losing my scholarship, the only means that allowed me to be there.
The effects of the war filled the air waves. Every day images of injured soldiers and civilians distressed me terribly. We learned about napalm, snipers, poisoned sticks, the enemy hiding in rice paddies and women and children bearing bombs who approached our soldiers only to blow everyone to smithereens.
My nightmares returned. I truly believed that the world would erupt in a nuclear war so devastating that nothing would be left. There seemed to be no hope, no future, nothing to dream for and nothing to do but wait to die.
When the war ended without world annihilation, I hoped that America had learned a lesson. That we would act more cautiously, think before intervening, and never push us to the brink of war again.
Years passed. Life was good. I married, had children, became a teacher and loved every single day that God had given me.
And then 9/11 happened and my world was rocked again. Watching those planes careen into the twin towers was so shocking, so unexpected, so devastating that I was left bereft of words. What could you say to make it go away? Nothing.
But even after we invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, I still felt safe at home. I did not fear nuclear war as I believed that sane fingers were on the button and that no one in his right mind would ever resort to using our arsenal to destroy another country.
Until now. Now I worry. Every night I have trouble falling asleep, my mind analyzing, in a continuous loop, what’s going on in our country. The troubling decisions being made that will hurt middle and low income Americans. I worry about backlash. About someone with a grudge walking into Target and shooting at random anyone caught in their crosshairs. Sitting in a theater, I think about how trapped we are, how hard it would be to escape, how easy it would be to slaughter innocent people.
My fears are not of foreign-born terrorists committing these horrendous acts, but of home-grown people who have no regard for life, who only live to hate, who are so filled with bigotry that they see only the color of the skin or the clothes worn and begin killing anyone who fulfills their narrow-minded vision of difference.
As a child I was taught to fear the Russians. Now I fear Americans. And with the hatred spewing out of politician’s mouths, it will only get worse. Other like-minded bigots hear the call to action. They arm themselves in preparation for the cleansing of our soil, for the removal of anyone who does not look, think or act like themselves, and not one elected official is doing anything to disenfranchise them of this notion.
What’s going to hurt us is ourselves. And that’s what’s sad. That’s what makes me anxious. It should keep you awake as well.