I can recall duck and cover drills from my childhood. In those days there was the ever present Red threat, and from what I can remember, it seemed oh so real and oh so likely to happen. There was Red Dawn, which in my memory happened right after Footloose (don’t ask me why I equate these movies) which epitomized the anxiety that characterized much of my youth. Those damn Cubans where sure to start falling out of the setting sun any day if there weren’t ICBMs already on their way to obliterate the little Western Colorado town I grew up in.
I can also recall Ronald Reagan’s candidacy in 1980. I wore a Republican button on my news paper bag because I thought he represented some sort of relief from this pervasive fear that I felt and which seemed to be everywhere around me at the time. Funnily enough I wore this button on my bag and got up every weekend morning bright and early to deliver papers with my younger brother with a complete liberty that my children don’t seem to have.
Lately I have been reading and hearing friends and strangers alike saying things which more or less epitomize that fear; the difference being that today that fear seems to be focused inwards. Americans no longer fear Soviet expansionism. And really that’s too bad, because instead we find reasons to fear each other and to fear the government which we make up. We vilify our government actually, to a point that seems ludicrous in my mind.
Yes, governments make mistakes. Sometimes our government doesn’t represent my interests specifically and while this situation is unfortunate to be sure, I’m not sure that today I can invest the same amount of anxiety I once felt toward the almost completely metaphysical threat the Soviets once represented to develop a similar loathing for the country of which I am a citizen.
And for this reason I lament the loss of the Cold War days. I believe that at its best this time in our history allowed for what amounts to pent up tribalism within the confines of a modern state to be expressed, if not in a healthy manner, at least in a non-self destructive way. That fear when focused on people you’re unlikely never to meet just sort of dissipated over time. When its focus becomes your government, your community, your neighbors it becomes a corrosive element that accumulates. It becomes more poisonous over time.