My biggest fear as a kid was always the idea of World War III and nuclear annihilation. I remember sitting on the floor in the living room when my parents were watching the news. I heard about “nuclear missiles,” and I asked what that was.
Mom hesitated, but I persisted and she finally told me that they were bombs that could destroy the whole world.
I was perhaps 8 years old. I envisioned something like the explosion of Alderaan in Star Wars. I began to cry. I was afraid someone would launch a missile and it would land in my bedroom. Mom laughed and said, “if it does, it will kill all of us, too.” Strangely, this did not make me feel better.
This was my first memory of having anxiety.
We were living in Germany. Every month, they would test the emergency alert systems. An air raid siren. I would plug my ears and hum loudly. I’d do the same when the show “Baa Baa Black Sheep” began, as it started with the same siren. I would also plug my ears when 60 minutes began, because the ticking made me think of time bombs.
As I got older, I avoided the news because any mention of Russia or the USSR would cause an overwhelming sense of dread that I kept to myself because it seemed safer to do so.
I remember working in the cafeteria at my school in San Angelo, TX, and discussing a Nostrodamus special that had been on TV the night before. I was in 5th grade, I think.
Miguel, the boy assigned to work with me scraping trays, began to talk about World War III. I told him that I hoped I was dead when it came. He told me that I was a coward.
When I was about 15, I began having full blown panic attacks. A lot of things had changed in my life, and I felt like I had no control. I went to bed every night absolutely convinced that I would not live through the night. I remember waking up in the middle of the night to a news story about the US invading Libya. I was convinced that this was the start of WWIII.
In history, we didn’t just learn of men, money, and war, we learned about the effects of nuclear warfare. We learned about radiation, fallout shelters, nuclear winters. We were prepared for the likelihood that even if we had a well-stocked bomb shelter, we would have to turn hungry people away for the sake of our own survival. I can’t stand the thought of hungry people.
We were supposed to take comfort in the idea of mutually assured destruction: countries with nuclear weapons know that if they attack another country in possession of nuclear weapons, both countries would end up annihilated.
In the mid 2000s, I sought counseling after a bad break up. I still deal with anxiety, but not to the extent that it is debilitating. Recent events between Russia and Ukraine have certainly aroused those old fears.
Sadly, however, I now know that the planet will not blow up like Alderaan. Instead, it will remain, along with a few unfortunate humans, to suffer nuclear winter, radiation poisoning, starvation, disease, and worse.
Now I realize that it isn’t nuclear missiles that I should have feared, it was men. Humans with penises. As long as our world is run by men who would destroy humanity to prove they have the biggest “missile,” I’m not sure we can hope for much more. The acronym for mutually assured destruction is “M.A.D.,” and that’s exactly what it is. It’s mad to think that men, who have “loved” their wives and children so much that they would destroy them rather than let someone else have them, would be deterred by the idea of annihilation. Nuclear war is just murder-suicide on a much larger scale. We’ve all heard of that.