Anyone who grew up during the 1960s remembers “duck and cover.” At an alert, crawl under your desk and put your arms over your head, and hope the nuclear bomb lobbed by “the Russians,” as we called what was once the Soviet Union, would miss and hit elsewhere.
There was a time my boomer friends and I laughed at that memory. Today, watching the 24-hour coverage of the Ukraine crisis, we are not laughing. We’re back to fearing the Russians again.
Those of us who study history, or in my case is married to someone who does, see a strong parallel between Vladimir Putin sending Russian troops into Crimea to “protect” the ethnic Russians there, with Adolph Hitler sending German troops into the nascent nation of Czechoslovakia to protect the ethnic Germans in 1938.
You might remember what happened a year later when Hitler’s troops went from “protecting” to invading, this time Poland.
In today’s world, we have instant and constant bombardment. You can watch an invasion as it happens, not wait as our parents did to read about it in the newspapers. There are tweets, blogs and Facebook posts.
I find it overwhelming on a normal day, and these are not normal times.
Back in the 1960s, I did not understand the implications of what we were doing when we went through the “civil defense” drills and hid under our desks. But there was a real fear in the adult world the “Russians” would lob missiles at major cities, as the Cuban missile crisis showed.
My parents and their generation were finally feeling some economic security after growing up with immigrant parents trying to “make it” in the new world. They feared another world war, only this time with nuclear bombs.
“The living will envy the dead,” the Communist USSR’s Nikita Khrushchev supposedly said, perhaps mocking as he quoted from Revelations in the Bible.
Boomers, until recently, have had it easy. We grew up comfortable, and took it for granted we’d go to college and live better lives than our parents because that is what they wanted. The USSR disappeared. The US “won.” We spent our money, and buoyed the economy.
We’re older now, and times have changed.
Wages are stagnant, unemployment is high (particularly for us over 50), and those who can’t afford to retire keep working. There is fear of another economic recession. Now, like our parents, we might fear a nuclear war with the Russians.
Perhaps we can ignore the crises in the Middle East, Africa and Afghanistan (unless we have a personal connection, of course.) But for me and perhaps you, Ukraine puts us face to face with the Russians again, the “Evil Empire.” At a time of economic instability, that only heightens the tension.
We’re beyond “duck and cover.”
Remember, it wasn’t Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal that ended the Great Depression, it was World War II. If Ukraine escalates, that economic “lift” could happen again.
We boomers won’t pay that price. My nephew and his generation will.