Perhaps the most vivid memories of nursery tales were not of bunnies or bantering fairies…but of War and its aftermath. We here in the United States did not suffer the horrors that children in other countries did, the bombings and air raids and worse. But such accounts were very much vicariously present. And directly following the Hot War followed the Cold War, with its insidious psychological terror.
I was eleven when World War II ended in 1945. What I write here are my impressions as a child.
Here in the Cleveland, Ohio area we had three major daily newspapers in Cleveland,
in the 1940s-1950s. Subtlety was not a virtue to our dueling newspapers, bent on gathering new and worse predictions and statistics to entertain and scare the heck out of the readership. Everyone read the papers…there was no television in the vast majority of our homes, and except for newsreel productions in the movie theaters, the newspapers were the major source for information about the “doomsday bullseye” which so impressed us as kids! We lay on the floor with the front page of the paper spread out before us, especially the issues with the giant bulleye dominating the front page…we traced the maps and figured out the implications for us personally…we lived roughly 30 miles from the epicenter, which was presumeably down-town Cleveland. In those days the Cleveland area was a major producer of steel and—I was very proud to say—the twelfth largest city in the United States.
…tales of missile silos that later became parks
where ducks paddled in glistening ponds
surrounded by Lilies and Begonias
casting their colors in pinwheel flashes
This was all a grim and grotesque point of pride for me (for many of us kids) in the knowledge of having—within our own perimeter—huge metal monsters capable of unspeakable destruction. This perverse, but prevailing situation had the effect of providing bragging points in discussing the relative extent of our living areas from the Bullseye Center at the heart of the city. The really spooky thing is that my peers and I understood (mostly) the implications. We discussed it in school, and excitedly and conspiratorially mapped our own possible destruction and theoretical survival rather matter-of-factly, if not with particular sophistication.
The encouraging news—such as it was— lay in the conjecture that relative safety
existed outside of a radius of thirty miles… outside of the “immediate blast” area.
After that was a series of concentric rings, inside of which various stages of non-annihilation “might” exist. This included various degrees of exposure to radiation,
and theoretical projected life-expectancy.
But comfort came in the form of experts’ advice on preparing our underground shelters and keeping them stocked with water and food… supplies sufficient for about two years. Then came the horror of realization of implications that under the category of “supplies” would have to come stores of ammunition to arm the guns that would be necessary to guard our family stores against neighbors and friends—and planning for continued survival AFTER the theoretical “all-clear” sirens sounded and we could come out of our shelters and return to — What?
Even us children understood that if the GOOD news was that survival from an atomic blast would (or might) be possible—this was also the BAD news.