Absolutely terrifying or no big deal? Readers respond to Laura Miller's essay "Generation Bomb."

Published April 29, 2005 3:58PM (EDT)

[Read "Generation Bomb," by Laura Miller.]

Thank you, Laura Miller, for a great article. You're right, it is easy to forget the specter that we all grew up with, and that thankfully my own children don't know about.

I had an interesting experience last summer. Though I couldn't attend my 20-year high school reunion (I graduated in 1984), someone unearthed cassette tapes of interviews from my class, done at our "Grad Night" party by a few parent volunteers, and put them on the Web. Those interviews are priceless, funny, naive, hopeful. Yet nearly every one of us, when asked "What is the biggest problem facing the world today," answered, "Nuclear war." I'd forgotten, honestly, until I heard those interviews again. I remember watching "The Day After." I remember following the politics of the Soviet Union from the hallways of a small-town high school -- and not in social studies class but as a regular topic of conversation.

And you're absolutely right. We should not forget. When I make my mind go to the brink and think of the lunacy on a global scale that was taking place, and the high probability for error that thankfully never happened, I am amazed and saddened. It is by a hairtrigger accident that we are all here today.

-- Kristina Ricks

"For most Americans under 40, the dread that saturated the 1980s is indelible. It was part of the fabric of their childhood."

I'm 39. The 1980s were my high school, college and military years. I was certainly aware of the possibility of nuclear war, but I never had any dread about it, and I remember little dread among my friends as well. The Cold War was something that we grew up with. It was always there and it seemed that it always would be there. An actual nuclear exchange, though certainly a possibility, seemed remote.

Much more frightening to me is today's environmental degradation and global warming. They are much more visible and real than nuclear war ever was. But, growing up with it as they are, will today's youth feel dread, or will it be something that is just a fact of life?

-- Rod Brown

Thanks so much for your article "Generation Bomb." I am 34, and "The Day After" still burns and resonates in my memory. I remember at least three specific recurring nuclear war dreams, and I got shivers reading your description of "War Games" (which is funny, as earlier in the week I'd read a nostalgic blog laughing at Matthew Broderick's foot-wide floppy discs featured in the film). We children of the '80s were left with so many scars, but the Reagan-induced dread of nuclear annihilation is especially unique for us.

As I grow older, I am even more frustrated to stumble across historical footnotes such as the fact that the "missile gap" was grossly exaggerated to Eisenhower (massaged intelligence -- sound familiar?). I have no doubt that the Soviets could have buried us. But I am beginning to suspect we could have buried them on an exponentially larger scale. It turns my stomach thinking of the billionaires born of such madness, sucking the riches of kings from the fear of a nation.

One last comment: It is ironic that today's tales of global destruction do not live in the poems and stories of second graders, but in the poems and stories of adults. Isn't it bizarre that, in a time truly free of the threat of full-scale nuclear war, people feel the need to invent and revive apocalypse? There's just no pleasing some people.

-- Eric Kreidler

I believe Laura Miller presents a much more dark and depressing '80s than I remember.

I was born in 1971, and was actually pretty politically conscious even by my early teens, but I never had any real fear or dread over the prospects of nuclear war. As far as I know, neither did any of my friends.

I remember watching "The Day After," and discussing it in school the next day -- most of the kids thought it was interesting, but that it didn't live up to all the hype. By the way -- the author doesn't mention "Threads," a vastly superior movie depicting the aftermath of a nuclear war, not with burned-out cities, but with radiation sickness slowly affecting everyone.

Perhaps the baby boomers who recall the Cuban missile crisis had more profound thoughts on the Cold War -- but for most of my generation (at least in my neck of the woods), the prospect of WWIII was barely a blip on our radar screen.

-- Scott Lieberman

Laura Miller's throwaway reference to the author of "The Bomb" living in Scotland, plus other parts of the text, imply that only Americans lived under crippling nuclear paranoia in the 1980s. This was a good article, but let me assure that this feeling was universal in Europe as well. A question I like to put (after a few drinks) to people my age is: When you were a teenager, did you think there would be a nuclear war before you turned 18? All of them did, because back then we all really did think there would be. TV documentaries and current affairs programs in Britain in the 1980s were full of details of nuclear war, down to calculating how much radiation each town would receive if the expected attack happened during normal weather conditions. Plus dramas such as "Threads" -- which made "The Day After" look like a Disney movie -- we watched, taped and watched again.

This was a very generational fear -- people only five years younger than me say that they didn't have the same level of concern. But it was there, it was felt in every part of our lives, and it was a lot more universal than your article implies.

-- Toby Scott

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