I grew up as a child of the 80’s, and apart from big hair, REM, The Cure, and leg warmers, the 1980s were also marked as a time of fear about the Cold War. The Cold War was unlike any other conflict in history as the U.S.S.R. and the United States engaged in a global stalemate with the constant threat of nuclear annihilation hanging over all of our heads. As a child this was actually a very frightening time to live. I think many would ponder if the weird rebellious nature of 80’s culture was a reaction of youth living with this underlying fear in their lives.
Unlike a ground war such as Vietnam, there were no daily body counts in the nightly news, or stories of advancement through enemy lines. Instead there were reports of small conflicts in backwater areas of the world, and news headlines about the latest in Star Wars Defense Systems to keep us safe. Every child became familiar with the term “Mutually Assured Destruction”, which both terrified us, and kept us assuaged that no one would ever launch a first strike, because it would mean the end of life on earth.
The world has changed, and the Cold War appeared to end with the fall of the Soviet Union in the 90s. However, there was one last holdout of the era of Cold War politics right in our backyard: Cuba. This weekend Fidel Castro passed away, and the end of the Cold War era truly passed into history. Despite many years of reform and softening relations between the U.S. and Cuba, it really wasn’t until Castro’s passing this weekend that it drove home the point to me that it really was truly, and finally over.
That’s not to say that we don’t face threats today. Extremist terrorism is the new global threat, and our children are growing up with a fear that is different that mine, but still fear. Instead of looking to the sky to see if missiles are going to rain down on you, our kids are looking at the people around them in a crowd and wondering if they are a terrorist who wants to do them harm. My hope is that when my kids are my age, that we have moved beyond this scary time and that they can also ‘look back’ at the fear of their youth and feel confident that it has passed.
For now I will feel a final sense of peace that the fear of my youth is no more, and look to helping make the world a better place for my children, so that perhaps future generations can grow up without a sense of fear.