Only 80s Military Brats Will Remember

(Content advisory: This post briefly discusses depression and resurrected childhood anxieties about nuclear war.)

As of today, the Berlin Wall has now been gone longer than it had stood. It’s weird to remember when its destruction felt like a harbinger of a future rather than a historical event that some of my coworkers weren’t yet alive to witness.

Watching the live news footage of Berliners joyfully  wielding sledgehammers, I’d been unusually enthusiastic for an American kid. Because of my father being in the military and constantly on maneuvers to prepare to fight the Eastern Bloc when I was a kid, the Cold War had always felt more like a Lukewarm War. I remember this years-long childhood angst over the prospect of seeing the world annihilated in a nuclear war slowly start to lift that night. My Dad had by then retired from the Army, but we lived near the base at Fort Huachuca, and I remember feeling that angst further dissipate as the soldiers’ BDUs transitioned from forest green to desert tan. (It was the early 90s, so I had no idea what was to come a decade later.)

And then I never, ever had any reason to fear a nuclear holocaust ever again.
Ha, ha. 
Ha.
Hee.
Heh.
Huh. 
Enh.  


Oh well, I suppose my childhood trained me well so that I could easily get back in the groove. 

When I was seven, someone thought it would be okay if I saw the TV movie The Day After. The movie’s overall theme was that, if the US and USSR engaged in a nuclear war, humanity would be finished. One afternoon in 1999, Dad and I had rewatched The Day After. A couple days later, we’d expressed our shared regrets over that decision. The Day After is not a recommended movie if you’re prone to vivid nightmares or a neurochemical tendency to stop wanting to be alive.

I haven’t felt clinically depressed in months, but my existential dread, the glum inner voice that asks, “What’s the point of doing anything if some volatile jackass in an poorly-fitted suit has the power to reduce us all to molecules?” is alive and well, although I can’t credit the 2016 presidential election for resurrecting that dread. Earlier that year, I'd read Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control, about the history of nuclear weaponry and near-accidents, including one in Damascus, Arkansas in 1980. We don’t need an unstable elected official with access to a candy-red button to wipe humanity out; a clerical error or minor industrial accident could easily bring us to the brink. 

What makes me persist at doing anything, regardless of what could happen, is that I know I'm terrible at predicting the future and should err on the side of accomplishing things in the event civilization doesn't destroy itself during my lifetime. 

Among my more specific childhood fears of nuclear annihilation was that we’d all be wiped out before George Lucas finished and released the Star Wars prequels in 1999. In 1983, that year was much too far away to rest assured I’d live to see the day. Among the many reasons I dislike the prequel trilogy is that the fear of not living to see them provoked such a powerful, premature existential crisis that those movies could never have justified, even if they hadn’t been crappy. 

I probably shouldn’t write journal entries while listening to the Koyaanisqatsi score. Next time I’ll write about Batman instead.