five minutes to midnight?

Warning: this post may not be appropriate for a beautiful spring Friday afternoon. Proceed with caution.

In addition to Generation X, the other book I've been reading recently is Stud's Terkel's The Great Divide: Second Thoughts on the American Dream, an oral history he did in the '80s about the growing divide between the rich and the poor, which I picked up in a second-hand bookstore recently. So much immersion in '80s thinking has me wondering: is terrorism the nuclear war of the 21st century?

When I was about 12, my local paper did a story on the possible fallout from a nuclear strike on Philadelphia in their Sunday magazine. I remember looking at the map on the front page, which showed how long it would take the blast wave to radiate out from Center City, and realizing that my family and I would have about 5 minutes to get to a bomb shelter. Throughout high school and college, the idea that we were five minutes from midnight on the clock of human history was a fairly prevalent one. Movies like the Terminator and The Day After saturated us with images of the pending nuclear apocalypse. Many people went to bed every night convinced that having Ronald Reagan's finger on the button would lead to a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, and spent time organizing huge rallies and small street corner demonstrations for peace.

And there was glasnost. And humanity collectively breathed a sigh of relief, as we slowly began to wind the clock backwards.

I'm not sure exactly what o'clock we're at right now. But what I'm wondering is, has the threat of terrorism become as pervasive as the threat of nuclear war was, in the Cold War era? For myself, I'd say no. While the spread of terrorism does concern me, I'm not convinced that the extinction of the species is imminent, the way I was in the early- and mid-'80s. But I wonder, for those who are younger than me, those who didn't grow up under the shadow of the bomb, if terrorism occupies the same mental space that the concept of nuclear winter once did for me.

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April 21, 2006. random other things. 9 comments.