I was born in 1958, at the end of the baby boom generation. Krushchev became Premier of the Soviet Union that year. Egypt and Syria merged into the United Arab Republic. General Charles de Gaulle became the French premier on June 1, and on my birthday, December 21st, he was elected the president of the 5th Republic.
1958 was also the year when the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Little Rock, Arkansas schools must integrate. America fired its first US satellite, Explorer 1, into orbit. Elvis Presley was inducted into the Army that year, Ricky Nelson's song "Poor Little Fool" was the first number one record, and the biggest movies were Vertigo, Gigi, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, and The Defiant Ones.
Though I was born in Nashville, my dad was an enlisted man in the Navy, and we were transferred to Charleston, SC, where I spent the first ten years of my life in a quiet neighborhood not too far from the Navy base, surrounded by trees draped in the elegant lace of Spanish Moss, and magnolias scented the air with their jurassic age blooms.
In my childhood, we had no video games, those were decades away. Instead, we played Cowboys and Indians, as had generations before us. We climbed trees, raced our bikes around the block, told tall tales, caught lizards by their tails and laughed when their tails broke off and they scurried away, while the remnant of that tail flipped around on the pavement. PETA wasn't around to sue us for such actions, no one killed the lizards, we were just kids finding amusement in one of the oddities of nature.
Sometimes we'd go to the beach, a real treat, except for running barefoot across sand so hot I expected my feet to catch fire. The ride home was nearly as bad, with sand stuck in every crevice of your body. Folly Beach was our favorite spot, and walking on the boardwalk around the Atlantic House Restaurant was a thrill, watching the waves crashing to shore at high tide under the boardwalk, as sea gulls danced on the ocean breeze overhead.
The Atlantic House Restaurant is gone now, erased from existence by the wrath of Hurricane Hugo. But in my mind, it stands there still, braving the onslaught of the Atlantic ocean shooting seaspray over the rails of the boardwalk. To this day, whenever I hear the song "Under The Boardwalk", that's what I think of.
Life was idyllic for those brief few years of my childhood, with the exception of one dark time, a time I can barely remember, but it's there. A memory that stayed with me all my life. It made an impression on me, even as young as I was, barely beyond babyhood. I had to grow up to be able to understand what the memory meant, but when I did, the memory made sense.
I can recall looking out of the window, trying to figure out what the incredibly loud sound was that seemed to be pressing down on the house where we lived. Mama had the tv on, and she looked like she was going to cry, which scared me. I had never seen my mother cry. Daddy had to go away, very fast, and all I knew in my child's understanding was that I missed my Daddy.
There was a man on tv, looking very serious. I didn't know what he was saying, or what he was talking about. How could I? But I could see the skies over our home, and they were full of planes.
I'd never seen so many planes, huge "V" shapes of them filled the sky as far as I could see. The roar was deafening, and absolutely terrifying to a child, yet I stood there, mesmerized by a fantastic vision that I couldn't comprehend.
What I didn't know then, that I know now, was that I was witnessing first hand the activation of our military to face the most imminent threat of destruction this country had seen since the nuclear age began. And the man on the tv was a president who didn't hide everything from the American people because of 'national security', he didn't demand we surrender our liberty or give unto him the powers of a unitary president. He told us what was going on, what he had to do to stand agains this dire threat, and kept us informed, knowing that all of us faced the almost certain possibility that nuclear war might be only a heartbeat away.
This was the Cuban Missile Crisis, and we were hours away from the possible end of everything we loved and held dear. Schools shut down, sent the children home. Businesses closed, and the workers went home to be with their families, and everyone was glued to the television set, the new wonder that brought the world right into our living rooms. Only this time, what it brought in of the world was the possibility of our worst fears coming true.
President Kennedy took a firm stand, the Soviet Union blinked, and we won the standoff. The missile silos in Cuba were dismantled, and with a huge sigh of relief, we went back to living our lives, catastrophe averted by some miracle of common sense.
But things were never really the same for us afterwards. The underlying fear that had existed since the U.S. dropped the bombs on Japan took on a new reality. We really had come close to 'the big one', and with the Cold War in full swing, the awareness was always there that 'the big one' could happen at any time, any moment, with no warning. I can still remember the bomb drills we had to do in school, and when we were transferred up north, the signs designating a building as a bomb shelter left their images imprinted on my mind. The threat was always there, reminders such as the bomb shelter signs and occasional tests of the air raid sirens keeping that threat alive and well in the minds of all of us.
So we lived our lives in the nuclear age, always aware through the Cold War years that, at any moment, it could all be over, for all of us. Mutually Assured Destruction was the phrase I came to know, and that phrase embodied the times we lived in. Through the Civil Rights protests, the JFK assassination, Martin Luther King Jr's assassination, Robert Kennedy's assassination, and the Vietnam War, which we were told we fought to oppose the 'red threat' on a battlefield far away, we lived our lives.
The funny thing is, as I look back, we never really gave in to that fear. It was certainly there, but we were Americans, proud and strong and brave. We were free, free to dissent, free to protest, free to speak our minds. When it was learned that certain members of our government had violated our liberty through wiretaps, we spoke out, demanded that it be fixed, and it actually was fixed. When we learned that Nixon was, indeed, a crook, we demanded he be held accountable, and he was. Not by democrats, not by republicans, but by Americans holding political office. All the party labels fell to the wayside, rent asunder by the dire threat to our Constitution such actions posed. They did what they had to do, and when justice had been served, we went on, still free Americans, our idealism shattered, our attitudes a bit older and wiser, but we went on.
As I've watched the events that have unfolded over the past six years, it always bothered me to see this administration using fear to manipulate my fellow Americans. But it wasn't just using fear that bothered me, and I didn't know exactly what it was until Al Gore's speech on Sunday made it click in my head.
Now I know.
I've lived through the nuclear age, through the long years of the Cold War, and so did millions of other Americans. We lived with fear every day of our lives. It wasn't a paralyzing fear, but it was there nonetheless. Yet, we never surrendered our liberty, never gave in to the fear, never lost sight of what it is that makes us Americans, that deep and abiding love of liberty that would choose death rather than servitude.
And we were never, never told we were expected to surrender our liberties, or to give overreaching powers to the executive branch of government, in the name of national security.
Now it seems we're expected to surrender the very thing that makes us Americans, our liberty, and to give Bush unrestrained power, a power that will, in effect, make null and void our Constitution. All in the name of 'security'. You cannot be free when your government is monitoring every thing you do. You cannot be free when your government manipulates false evidence to garner support for war. You cannot be free when your government cuts deals behind closed doors with lobbyists, or exposes it's own CIA agents in reprisal, or operates with such secrecy that no one knows what is going on.
This is not the America we inherited. But it seems to be what we're evolving into.
Those who surrender their liberty for a false promise of security will have neither, and do not deserve liberty. And those who turn a blind eye to any president seeking to usurp total power unto himself will pay a very high price, indeed. As will the rest of us.
Consider again the words of Al Gore, consider them very seriously.....
....."One of the other ways the Administration has tried to control the flow of information has been by consistently resorting to the language and politics of fear in order to short-circuit the debate and drive its agenda forward without regard to the evidence or the public interest. President Eisenhower said this: "Any who act as if freedom's defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America."
Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction. Justice Brandeis once wrote: "Men feared witches and burnt women."
The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors. The very existence of our country was at risk.
Yet, in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the full Bill of Rights.
Is our Congress today in more danger than were their predecessors when the British army was marching on the Capitol? Is the world more dangerous than when we faced an ideological enemy with tens of thousands of nuclear missiles ready to be launched on a moment's notice to completely annihilate the country? Is America in more danger now than when we faced worldwide fascism on the march-when the last generation had to fight and win two World Wars simultaneously? ".....