Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Crisis Remembered

This month marks the 48th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. For anyone with a memory of those tense days in October 1962, it was a terrifying time.

In today's world, it is difficult to describe the fear generated by the threat of nuclear annihilation. Personally, I have never been more frightened in my entire life than in October 1962--and that's saying something. Older baby boomers such as myself can recall in vivid detail the drills at school, when we were taught what to do in case the Soviets launched a nuclear missile attack on the U.S.A. My teachers didn't fuss around with under-the-desk routines; students in my school were marched downstairs into the dark and dingy basement of my middle school. Quadrants of this yawning cavern were marked with huge chalk numbers on the concrete walls, showing where each corresponding class would hunker down to wait out the nuclear storm.

Many of my classmates started to cry, a few of them hysterically, calling for their mothers during this "safety drill." (I sometimes wonder what the ACLU might have done with this situation in our modern times.)

I suffered my life's worst nightmare during this period, and I can remember it as though it occurred last night. In this awful dream, my younger siblings and I lay huddled in my parent's basement. A radio announcer was screaming for everyone to take cover. Just as the missiles fell, lighting up my home's basement with a blast of heat and fire, I awoke with a gasp and a start, heart racing and face burning.

For anyone who has ever wondered "What's her problem?"--well, there you go.

During my recent visit to Boston, my daughter and I visited the JFK Library, where there is an extensive exhibit on those 13 days of international crisis. I recommend the tour to anyone, but especially to those Americans who can remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. The fact that JFK brought us safely through it is a hallmark of courage and leadership in our history.

We could do with a bit more of that today.