Friday, March 28, 2014

Cold War Nuclear Nightmares Versus Facebook Generation Anxieties and Fears

New research details how even a "limited" nuclear exchange would be a catastrophic event that would radically alter the Earth's weather for decades. One can only imagine what would happen to the planet in a full scale nuclear war such as the one shown in the British government's 1965 propaganda/educational film War Game.

The hip hop generation was the last cohort to come of age in the shadow of the Cold War--and what seemed at the time--to be an inevitable nuclear apocalypse.

I was talking to some of my students this week about generational change and political attitudes.

In that discussion I used an example from my childhood. To my surprise, none of them could relate to the idea of "World War 3" as something other than the background context for video games or movies like The Terminator.

I shared with the seminar how I had several recurring nightmares as a young person coming of age in the 1980's.

They were (in no particular order):

1. Nuclear war;
2. A "Red Dawn" style Russian invasion;
3. A zombie outbreak in the spirit of George Romero's vision;
4. Alien invasion;
5. Finally getting my shot as a professional wrestler and forgetting all of my moves in the main event...yes, I am an unapologetic ghetto nerd.

The idea of a nuclear war is terrifying as a general premise. What has come to public light in the years following the end of the Cold War makes the "known known" (to play off of Donald Rumsfeld's phrase) even more disturbing.

The American and world public has learned over the last decade about how:

1. NATO deployed nuclear landmines in Europe for the purpose of delaying a Warsaw Pact Invasion and making the European heartland uninhabitable;
2. American soldiers practiced parachuting behind Soviet lines with man portable nuclear bombs, the "secret" code for the release of United States' ICBM's was "00000000";
3. The Soviets had planned to mix biological weapons in their strike package along with their nukes;
4. The Soviets were rumored to have hidden nuclear weapons in their embassies;
5. A Doctor Stangelove like doomsday machine was in use by the Soviets;
6. And the Cuban Missile Crisis was not the only moment when the world came perilously close to nuclear destruction.

There are many other secrets about the Cold War, secrets which remain archived and locked away from the American people, only to be revealed in 40 or 50 years once all the principal agents are dead and gone.

What are the nightmares of Millennials, Generation Y, and the Facebook generation? Are they having bad dreams about the Internet not working or losing faux friends on Social Media? Or is this generation, at least the smart and engaged young people among it, having nightmares about global warming, unemployment, debt, and food shortages?


George Smith said...

Coincidentally, Jonathan Schell died this week. His best work, the one for which he is most known, was "The Fate of the Earth," perhaps the only bestseller non-fiction on the result of nuclear war. It influenced the making of The Day After, a made for tv movie on all out thermonuclear war in 1983. And we have Carl Sagan, now long dead, and one of his colleagues for the first published research on nuclear winter The Day After wasn't the only movie on nuclear war although it was the most successful. "By Dawn's Early Light," based on a book by a NY Times journalist who ventured into fiction, showed a dramatization of a catastrophic "limited" nuclear war, was aired on HBO in 1990 or so. And there was Testament, a movie shown the same year or thereabouts as The Day After, of the effects of a thermonuclear exchange on a small town not directly hit. They're all profoundly depressing and frightening, as anyone who at least saw The Day After must attest. I believe most of these were motivated by the idea many people got that Ronald Reagan, with all his talk about the Evil Empire, was actually someone who could get the US into an all out nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. As for what frightens young people now, I'm not fit to guess.

RPM said...

My Opa believed Russia would win the cold war. He moved his family to the U.S. a year before the Cuban missile crisis. After that, he bought property in Canada in case Russia invaded and America would be destroyed. Canada, the whole planet, would be screwed but that was the best he could do. It seems funny now in retrospect. Most millennials laugh when I tell them that story. They don't laugh about any of the fears you mentioned Chauncey. Add in fresh water resource wars, China and Japan dragging us into World War 3 due to a worthless island dispute(along with centuries of war and conflict driving the hardliners), and a privatization fever sweeping across nearly every nations government and we have plenty to keep us up at night. Even the most stereotypical, ageist concerns you alluded to is not what freaks out young people. Even the uniformed and conceited are concerned about the environment. Global warming will kill us. Previous generations have fucked up the planet almost beyond repair and they don't give a shit since they will be dead in 20 years. Right before the shit hits the fan. Thanks assholes! Of course the coming generations will blame Millennials for not stopping it themselves.
When I was 12 an Old Man who lived across the street saw me walking happily down the block. I had just finished my last year at a crap school and was in a great mood for the first time in a year. He never spoke to me before that day. He asked me why I was happy and I told him. He preceded to tell me how the environment was fucked and my generation was going to suffer the most horrific dystopian hell imaginable. Than he said he was glad he was 80 and going to die soon. Old people are pricks. Just screw up everything and than cash out before the collectors come a knocking. Outside of global revolution I don't see anything ever improving. Everyone is just trying to survive instead of trying to live. As long as people support and maintain a system that will destroy all life as we know it that old man's grim prediction will come true. I hope you are teaching your students to reject this backwards consumption/slavery/war model we live in. It's the only way you can do your part. Any old person who sheepishly or gleefully tells the young that life will suck because of them deserves a swift kick to the balls. Alas, I was taught at that impressionable age to respect the elders. More b.s.

chauncey devega said...

I will read the book you recommended. One of my and many other's favorites in that dystopian category is Earth Abides. Have you read it?

Funny thing, I own By Dawn's Early Light. I found it at Target for 2 dollars. James Earl Jones is great in the movie. The tacmo operators who had to wear the eye patch were tough sob's, as were the SAC pilots. Imagine knowing that you had no home to go home to and would be shot down or ditch the plane and die.

I do not recall where I read it, but SAC actually thought they could get multiple sorties and that the nuclear exchange would escalate from military to population targets and there could be deescalation. If there is any evidence for that model and the thinking that led to it I hope someone will share it. I am very curious as to if such policies were just smoke and mirrors.

chauncey devega said...

You need to write down those stories. You have encountered some interesting and troubled folks in your time...and you have a great voice for recounting what transpired. As for my teaching, a good many students don't give a damn about the "real world" they just want paper and would buy it if they could. There are some really smart outliers. There are are also some angry, hostile Right-wing types who are racially resentful and do not even realize it...or are too cowardly to own it. Just like society as a whole.

chauncey devega said...

Great comment. Always nice and good for folks to comment who have not done before. Could it be the nature of the problem makes for different fears? I remember many folks who quite literally would pray that the world wasn't nuked while they slept. As though we/us can speak for a whole cohort, but are you and your cohort having such nightmares about climate change? Climate change is the rising water and getting cooked a few degrees at a time, our fears of nuclear war were like being thrown in the fire or deep fryer.

I am legitimately curious. You need to copyright or trademark "Team Millenial". Great turn of phrase.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

I have an idea for a post-industrial, post-civilization epic saga that details how humans fared in the immediate aftermath of a global collapse as well as the next two to three thousand years.

I think the nightmare scenario, civilization collapse fear and paranoia exchanges with social anxieties throughout our lives, perhaps they are even fused together. We know various things cause many social and environmental problems, but we are generally unwilling to forgo them for their convenience and how the relieve our anxieties daily.

Are liberal nightmares different from conservative nightmares and in what ways?

Myshkin the Idiot said...

"The problem is that ignorance is bliss when the truth means knowing that you and all of your friends are staring down the barrel of fate. If nothing can be done, then it seems better to just live our lives as we always have: networking, hobnobbing, chitchatting until the sun goes black and the birds start to fall out of the sky.

"Apathy is surely the defining emotion of our times. Politically, culturally, everything-ly. So much so that we can't even seem to get worked up when NASA suggests we're merely decades from total social collapse, and just about every other scientific agency suggests it's our own geography that will get us first.

"It's fine, though. Chill out. We've got Flappy Bird. We've got Drake and Rihanna. There's a Five Guys opening near us soon. We all die. There's nothing we can do about it, right?"

jemand2 said...

Another Millenial here... and yes, these are the types of things that keep me up, but more actually, make me question whether I, personally, will ever have a child.

I don't really imagine a near term extinction event, like logical_hare, but I do see the future being an unending and increasingly disruptive series of financial bubbles, oil shocks, wealth and infrastructure destruction, rebounding to a new bubble which hides the underlying decline for a few more years, etc. All the while a fair cry that "technology will save us!" but the goalposts on that continually being pushed away and the reprieves a new technology provides becoming more and more bubble like and shorter and shorter to the next crisis.

Repercussions from the energy sector will cycle through food structures too, and water structures, particularly since the buildings and cities we've decided to build are often in places which don't actually have all the resources cities need, and the structure of buildings and farms isn't very stable to long term maintenance disruptions.

Also, antibiotic resistance is troubling, and growing, and with everything else going on, I doubt we will have enough resources to build new ones or fix this problem, which will render vast, vast areas of modern medicine utterly useless, without the ability of prescribing prophylactic antibiotics for a procedure.

The debt of my generation, too, though personally I've avoided it... talking to others, we generally don't expect ever to feel comfortable enough to have children, we never expect to have enough to own property, we never expect to have enough to retire, we expect things will just get harder and worse, the fantastic rate of new versions of smart phones notwithstanding, the actual important achievements, such as relative stability in the face of natural disasters, relatively easy access to energy, food, will be increasingly difficult in our generation and we will die younger and poorer and harder than our parents.

logical_hare said...

Thank you very much! It's great to engage in dialogue with you rather than just absorb your many insights from afar.

I apologize if my post seemed aggressive in tone; I really was trying to capture how climate change makes me 'feel' as part of the generation for whom it's the looming apocalypse of the times. And I obviously don't want to conflate the two types of fear we're talking about: existential despair over climate change is one thing, but I certainly don't have to deal with the fear that it may kill me and everyone I know in my sleep, or during my morning dump tomorrow.

Then again, Jemand2 really hits it on the head when he talks about having children. It's not so much me and my children I'd worry about, but if you feel as I do, the whole thing seems moot when you can count the number of generations we've got left on one hand.

Have you ever seen

George Smith said...

No, never read Earth Abides but, as usual, you've made me curious. If you liked the movie you'd probably also greatly enjoy the book it was based on, Trinity's Child. The author's position, obviously, and it seemed very informed to me, that there was no way to control nuclear war once it was unleashed. Chains of command and communications would be immediately crippled no matter how redundant and hardened they'd been made, people would be gripped by fear and very bad intelligence about what was happening, there would be no pauses or re-evaluations, just spasms of attack, counter-attack, and unstoppable escalation. At least that was my take. I found it very plausible. Remember the thing about the "neutron bomb" during the Reagan years. Somehow, it was supposed to be better to use in Europe because it left more buildings standing and emitted more neutrons which killed people but not structures? Many years ago I attended a weekend long seminar on nuclear proliferation issues and one of the speakers was one of the old Manhattan Project scientists who became a director at Los Alamos and someone asked him about what the difference was between it and a standard atomic weapon. His reply was "only the general's care." He continued that for everyone else, there was really no distinction worth anything.

joe manning said...

We acquiesce to rule by a pathological power elite that divides humanity into warring tribes, ethnicities, and classes. A universalistic perspective is essential to survival. The civil rights movement and Occupy serve as models of grass roots inclusion that inform our world view.

RPM said...

That's the main reason I stopped teaching. When discussing world systems theories with this horrible class I taught, I got universal agreement from them on 1st world domination. They said that they didn't care about slavery overseas as long as they got their electronics and cloths at cheaper prices. To say I was gobsmacked would be underselling it. Perhaps you have a higher tolerence for horrific world views in an acedemic setting than I did when I was younger. Even though they were my age or older(in several cases old enough to be my parent) I wouldn't make any excuses for them based on their age. Now that i'm older I tolerate young people's ignorance a bit more. Coming across past writings from when I was 18 through 21 and thought I knew all the answers. Some ideas I had about increasing comic security were quite good in their common sense approach, but man, I can't believe how fucking conservative I was. Back when I called myself a socialist or even a liberal capitalist(no such thing) some of the ideas I had were so backwards and sadistic. When I was 20 i thought minimum wage should be $10. That's pathetic and makes me quite disappointed in younger me. I could tell from conversations I had with people back than what they were going to be like in 10 or 20 years. Little things that they would let slip that they thought no one would notice. Time has proven my intuition right time and time again. Fortunately sometimes that was correctly predicting who would become more progressive and justice orientated. Hopefully you can suss out who among your students fall into the good camp and try and encourage it. It doesn't always work, and that is depressing to know someone is gifted but refuses to hear it still we try. You never know what will stick with people. Maybe the knobs that only care about their toys that you and i taught will improve with age. Sometimes in all the maddness that humans must endure optimisism is all we have. I like it because no matter how unwarranted it may seem, it is still a revolutionary act. The world wants you to despair. Hope is rebellion. I believe the problems the planet faces can be fixed. Thinking otherwise let's the bastards win.

chauncey devega said...

Don't apologize. You didn't sound aggressive, just smart w. something really good to say. Children of Men is a great film. We felt that nuclear war was inevitable and why bother with thinking about tomorrow. Then guess what the threat changed--in some ways maybe got worse but at least on the surface is different. Could there be hope, some magic bullet, or game changer on global warming and environment change?

chauncey devega said...

There is also lots of self-selection going on too. Folks who to tend to be critical thinkers and aware of those issues find one another. That was true for every generation across time.

Do you think most of your peers are thinking about these serious matters or just self-medicating and distracting themselves like many of my peers did...although your generation has many more things to do that with.

chauncey devega said...

I will need to track down that book. Ah the Neutron Bomb. What grognard fantasies. I also remember the compelling idea that somehow the war would be confined to Europe only and then there would be a pause.

chauncey devega said...

I have students who hate and can't stand me because I too have asked them about slavery in the present, consumerism, and their own values. I asked someone who is much more experienced and successful in higher ed than I am what is going on and why I am encountering such anger and outright wicked comments on my evaluations--a whole convo there--and he said when you make people, esp. young narcissists reflect on their own values and behavior they get pissed...and then they go about with their lives and don't care either way.

chauncey devega said...

The conservatives are worried about the dirty hippies. The liberals are obsessed about evil Colbert and micro-aggressions. Had to make the joke.

jemand2 said...

Like you said, there is a lot of self selection, so it is very difficult for me to actually say. Certainly my cousins, my age, my generation, super fundamentalist rural white folk but with middle class background just go about spouting religious and republican slogans and I have trouble finding any serious thought behind them.... The thing THEY worry about is Armageddon and end of the world eschatology timeline stuff.

But others, even others who look like they are just distracting and self medicating, if I *ask* them about it, bring up the question, yes, they are extremely worried about climate change, about debt burdens, about energy / food security, etc. Again, not sure if this is just because these are the circles I move in, or if this is what you get when you scratch the surface for most.

jemand2 said...

I have a memory of high school, a discussion with a Bible teacher (religious school) where, in a last gasp of my fundamentalism and conservative acculturation, I had an out-loud discussion towards the end of class and then after school on marriage equality.

Thinking back, it was incredibly embarrassing a few things I said, not good, I think I was working through what I believed myself, by saying things out loud, but, damn, I wish I never was like that. It was actually pretty impressive, though, that a Bible teacher in my former denomination, would stand up (just partly, don't go all in or anything) for gay rights.

I would *hope* some of this discussion would be trying to verbally express ideas in order to work through them, to figure out which are bigotries to discard, and what one's values are.... But. There's a limit beyond which it isn't just exploration, it's work to entrench personal privileges and unearned entitlements, recognizing the unfairness... a decision already made to trade on those privileges to get ahead at the expense of others.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

Maybe Colbert can hire Amy Chua to go on record with how he is definitely not a (gasp) racist.

When I saw that sketch I thought it could land him in some hot water. The tweet, though, out of context... that was pretty bad.

joe manning said...

I think a good teacher confronts his/her students with the proposition that we have to decide how many concessions we're willing to make to morality in order to be "part of the deal." Is "the good life" worth killing a million Iraqis?

joe manning said...

Global warming hastens nuclear holocaust and vice versa.

DanF said...

I remember watching "The Day After" in high school and thinking, "Damn. They really undersold the aftermath of nuclear war. Too many survivors..."