Last night, I was watching a show on the International History Channel about the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. It is likely that the world has never been closer to nuclear war than at that point in history.
One of the things I found particularly interesting were the commercials the government continually broadcast about what to do in the event of a nuclear explosion. These played on the radio and the television and were geared toward many different audiences. Here are brief descriptions of some of the ads shown last night:
The first is geared toward children, with a cartoon turtle walking on his hind legs past a tree. A monkey is dangling from the tree with a stick of dynamite hanging from a stick. The turtle is singing a cute little jingle about how he knows what to do--take cover and hide--if there's a nuclear explosion. The dynamite explodes, the turtle disappears into his shell, and the tree is now empty and blackened with broken branches.
The next commercial is geared toward families. A happy Leave it to Beaver-type family is having a picnic on a blanket. The father is cooking hot dogs on a fire (in a suit, no less!) Everyone is laughing and talking, when suddenly there's a flash of white and the family quickly dives under their little picnic blanket. The whole time there is a cheerful jingle about remembering to "duck and cover."
The third commercial is for older kids. It features a high-school-aged girl walking on the street when the air raid sirens go off. She is looking for signs pointing to the nearest fallout shelter and the commercial advises kids to "ask an older adult" for help.
My boyfriend's mother remembers the frequent drills they had in school about "ducking and covering" in the event of nuclear war, and ordinary families spent thousands of dollars building heavily promoted fallout shelters.
And who were the enemies advertised as the ones likely to cause this destruction? The communists, of course.
Although decades have passed and the Cold War has ended (or had ended), many recall McCarthyism and the fearful propaganda of that era. I suspect that, in some fashion, the fear borne then persists today and certainly the hostility toward communism remains.
How often do you hear Freeper types attack their opponents with "COMMIE!"
But they are not really talking about communism; few then understood communism, and it is likely that even fewer now understand what communism really is. In fact, today people often confuse it with socialism.
What they really mean when they scream "Commie" is "I am afraid!"
With communism less of a threat these days and generations who did not grow up steeped in that fear-generating propaganda, Republicans, the Bush administration, and the McCain campaign had to find a new word, and the one they settled on was "terrorist." All their enemies--even political ones--are now "terrorists."
Nowhere was it more clear what they were trying to do than the Republican National Convention, when they used the footage of the planes hitting the World Trade Center and people jumping out the windows as a backdrop to launch John McCain's campaign.
That is why the rhetoric they continue to push against Obama with terms like "domestic terrorist" (McCain used it again this weekend) remains so dangerous. The loathing, anger, and fear that word gins up is not unlike the reaction people had to "Communist!" in the 50s and 60s (and some people still cling to) after being programmed to feel that way.
If these people really understood communism and socialism, they would not be spitting the words out like a curse. They are simply political philosophies worth discussing but not the equivalent of satanism, which is how these people treat them. Atrocious things have been done in the name of communism, but atrocious things have also been done in the name of democracy (in our country's history), and yet Americans have not turned against its ideals.
Terrorism is obviously a different beast, but it, too, deserves to be examined and discussed. Frankly, I even get disappointed when I hear Barack Obama say that the central front in the war on terrorism is Afghanistan.
For once, I would like to hear our political leaders acknowledge the truth: There is no geographical place that serves as the central front in the war on terrorism. It is an ideology borne of many different experiences, and it cannot be defeated with bombs and guns, just as communism was not defeated with nuclear weapons.
The only way to defuse these terms so that they lose the power to instill uncontrollable fear in people and provoke such virulent responses just by uttering the word alone is to understand them.
Unfortunately, I don't see that happening in my future, because--as was the case with communism during McCarthyism--trying to understand the roots of terrorism is equated with sympathizing with terrorism. And nobody wants to be depicted as a terrorist sympathizer.
This attitude is one reason Obama has been attacked--even by some on our side--for wanting to sit down with "terrorist" leaders and open dialogue. Obama's approach is the only one that ever has any chance of producing positive results, as Reagan realized when he engaged in dialogue with Mikhail Gorbachev. Sadly, too many Americans feel as Trent Lott expressed: bomb them all and let God sort them out in the end.