One of my favorite musical albums is the Bruce Springsteen Live set that covers his early years. One of the things that I love about it is his occasional introductions to his songs. They are almost funny sometimes in their self-absorption. But one of the ones that I always remember is his introduction to the song War, which made it into a video of that same song. Here is the important part:
“If you grew up in the Sixties, you grew up with war on your television every night.”
I did not grow up in the Sixties, I was born in them. But growing up in the Seventies and Eighties I had the same effect, the thought of war was an ever-present part of my life. Because I grew up in Colorado Springs, home to multiple military bases.
My father worked in NORAD. We drove to school past Fort Carson army base. My homes and schools were at the base of Cheyenne Mountain, where NORAD was located. I remember the air raid sirens that were tested every Friday afternoon. I was old enough that we did not do duck and cover drills. But still, the threat of war, specifically nuclear war, was always there.
Over the past couple of years I have been watching, and really enjoying the television show The Americans. This is just a fantastic show. It is about 2 Soviet sleeper agents who have a family and seemingly normal life as travel agents. Living in Washington DC during the early 1980’s. The show at face value has been fantastic. The characters are great and very well developed.
Having grown up reading spy novels the spy stories and tradecraft is also awesome. The plots are grade A stuff, with intricacies and planning.
But the parts that really stick out for me are the cultural references and the history. As a child of the Eighties, they have done an extraordinary job of getting things right. The musical references are perfect. From the father learning about Yaz Band from his daughter to the purchase of a home computer that the young son uses almost exclusively for video games. There is even an episode where an adult teaches one of the kids to play Strat 0 Matic baseball, which is a very Eighties moment (I remember playing that with my brother in law.)
And the history, specifically the political history is even more fascinating. Because this is the height of the Cold War, with Reagan in office. And I remember how scary those years felt to those of us living where I grew up.
One episode covered the Reagan assassination attempt. And from the perspective of the Societ Agents how scary that moment really was. Because no one knew if that was intentional, or who John Hinckley was. And how close everyone was to the point of no return when that happened. I remember that vividly. For some reason, I was off school that day. And I was with my Dad when Al Haig came on TV and announced he was in charge. And while we joked about it, in retrospect that was incredibly scary.
Which gets to my real point. Living in those times, growing up where I did, with a near constant sense that we had a giant target on our heads. We developed a real sense of fatalism. That since we lived at Ground Zero everything became a kind of joke. The air raid siren testing was just a lark. I kind of knew that if it was all going to happen, if the war happened, I would be dead so fast that it would not matter.
Living that way makes for a different approach to a lot of things. And last week’s episode of the Americans reminded me of how my outlook on things like nuclear war was changed from growing up in this fashion. Because last week’s episode centered around the characters watching the television movie The Day After. I remember when that show was aired. I was in high school, it was my Junior year if I recall. My most vivid memory of it was speaking to a girl who had watched it, about how horrible it was and how bad nuclear war was.
Now by that point, I had become pretty hawkish in my views. Which was understandable considering where I grew up and what I was surrounded by. So I never watched the movie. Because I considered it just another form of blatant propaganda. In retrospect, it was a form of propaganda, but in my current view, it was more from the twisted perspective that anyone would survive a nuclear war.
The funny thing is how all of this affected people differently. The school I went to had a number of boarding students from other places. So those people were not from my home and had not grown up in the shadow of Ground Zero. They were far more affected and scared by that movie.
And one of my current friends was in the Air Force in Germany during the early Eighties. He remembers staring across the line at the Fulda Gap at the massed Warsaw Pact forces. And how scared and irritated they were at Reagan’s saber rattling. And later Reagan taking credit for the fall of the Soviet Union and East Germany.