Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, and in a jiffy, the Americans were made aware of the fate of cities such as Mariupol, Kharkiv and Kyiv. As the Russian offensive stopped, and Vladimir Putin made his nuclear threat, another city came to my mind, marking me as a true child of the Cold War.
Hiroshima. August 6, 1945. One bomb, one city.
During the 1960s and 1970s, “On the Beach,” “Fail-Safe” and of course, “Dr. Strangelove” had made their way from movie screens to television screens whenever they were scheduled. I used to watch them. Despite my youth, I was fascinated by them – yet terrified.
During those early years, I was also a newspaper junkie, and I followed headlines as closely as I did Sunday Comics. Nuclear weapons talks, tensions and treaties competed with Snoopy, Blondie and Smokey Stover.
In grammar school, we participated in the required “disaster exercise.” As the intercom blurred its Klaxon warning, we marched from our desks in the hallway to stand in rows facing our lockers, but we knew the score.
We lived in the shadow of the steel mills on the southeast side of Chicago. If war broke out, the mills would be on target, and we would be gone in a jiffy.
It’s no surprise that during those years, I started having nuclear nightmares regularly: bright flashes, mushroom clouds, and worlds on fire. They continued during the 70s and 80s, especially during the presidency of Ronald Reagan.
By the 90s, I found myself worried about leadership positions at home and abroad. Will there come a time when we will have a generation of leaders for whom names like Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Bikini Atoll (where the first hydrogen bomb was tested) will be as trivial as the Sunday comics?
If so, would a world leader decide, “Why not, it’s just another weapon,” and issue an order that will change the world, if not wipe it out? Enter Putin’s name here (and don’t forget Kim Jung Un).
A cautionary tale from history
Although it is August 2022, I would like to return briefly to April 16, 1953. Recently elected President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered his “Cross of Iron Address” to the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
In that solemn speech, Ike outlined the post-war world for Americans. We can either spend money on schools, hospitals and infrastructure, Eisenhower argued, or we can continue to spend on weapons, and by doing so, eventually stumble on the road to war. And because Russia (then the Soviet Union) also had an A-bomb, it would be a nuclear war, and Icke knew that civilization could not survive such a conflict.
In an ideal world, there would be no nuclear or nuclear weapons. However, our world is less than a perfect world. We have enemies, and under Donald Trump’s whining, we have turned away from previous allies. If anything positive has happened as a result of Mr. Putin’s imperial ambitions, it is hopefully the new resolve of our European and NATO allies.
Unfortunately, I often find myself looking at the world with the pessimism of a cold war. While nearly seven decades have passed since Ike’s famous address, I don’t think the world has changed much.
We are still standing at the same crossroads as we were after Hiroshima. Do we walk the path of peace, economic prosperity and mutual respect among nations, or do we stumble on the path of a nuclear nightmare? Or will we let ourselves be pushed?
If that happens, who will be left to hear the Hiroshima peace bell ring?
John Vukmirovich is a Chicago-area author and book critic.
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