Duck under your desks, cover your head and wait a minute before coming out. That’s what my second-grade teacher told us we had to do to survive the atom bomb that could be coming our way at that moment. My class didn’t have a clue what was going on, but we followed orders no matter how strange it all seemed.
It was 1962 and the Cuban Missile Crisis had the entire country freaked out, especially kids. In addition to the desk drills, I remember my mother packing everything she could fit into our suitcases. She offered no explanation, saying only that because my father was in the Air Force we had to be ready to leave our home at a moment’s notice — for where I never knew.
It’s no wonder so many in my Baby Boomer generation are so screwed up.
Those were scary days, and created an experience that no kid should have to endure. But at least when my parents told me that President Kennedy said we didn’t need to worry anymore, I trusted him.
Today the threat of nuclear war has reemerged. This time no one in their right mind can trust the president.
In fact, President Trump is our nation’s top worry. He tweets insults and provocations with juvenile abandon — mocking North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s nuclear capability and calling him “Rocket Man” — apparently unconcerned that “the button” which launches armageddon could well be the “tweet” icon on a social media app.
When Trump addressed the United Nations in September and blustered that the United States will “totally destroy” North Korea if it doesn’t end its nuclear tests and threats, he looked like a madman or cartoon heavy in a “B” movie. It was the most frightening presidential speech I’ve heard in my lifetime, especially since it came on the heels of his threat, from a golf course, via tweet, that Jong Un “will face fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
At least that bit of reckless bravado provided a great book title.
People have told me they are so afraid Trump will attack North Korea — who would, of course, counter-attack with nukes of their own — that they can’t sleep through the night. Based on his past behavior, we have no assurance that our president won’t just wake up on the wrong side of the bed some morning and launch the strike, or the tweet, that kicks off the big one.
So I was heartened to learn that not everyone in Wyoming is sitting silent and waiting for the worst to come. Last week a half-dozen former nuclear launch control officers who had served at F.E. Warren Air Force Base near Cheyenne sent a letter to Congress reminding the legislative branch that it has a duty to serve as a check to presidential power. They diplomatically pointed out that any leader who brags to an enemy that his nuclear button is bigger, and works better, requires adult supervision. The former missileers’ letter warns, “There is no act of greater consequence, and it should not rest in the hands of any one person.”
But Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) told the Casper Star-Tribune that Trump’s tough talk is totally justified and maybe even a little weak. “Frankly, I don’t think that the statements have been over the top,” Cheney said. “If we are forced to respond … Kim Jung Un will face the kind of response he can’t even contemplate.”
It’s no wonder she’d have a different perspective. The congresswoman and her two top military advisers — Trump and former vice president Dick Cheney — have a combined 10 military deferments and zero years of uniformed service between them. Call me nuts but I’d rather heed the warnings of six former Wyoming officers who served on the U.S. nuclear defense team.
The other expert I’ll cite is Daniel Ellsberg, who famously leaked the Pentagon Papers that helped put an end to the Vietnam War. Ellsberg spent much of his career as a U.S. military analyst, and he has a new book, “The Doomsday Machine,” detailing that little-known part of his life.
“We are talking openly about assassination teams, about full-scale invasion exercises, about the decapitation of North Korea’s leadership,” Ellsberg writes. “This is insanity. [Trump’s national security adviser] H.R. McMaster says we’re moving closer to nuclear war every day. It’s crazy.”
As kids we were taught to “duck and cover,” as though schoolhouse desks might save us — to bury our heads in the sand in other words. As responsible citizens of the world’s most powerful democracy, we don’t have that luxury. We can not hide, we can not cover and we can not wait any longer while a reality TV game show host and a cable propaganda bloviator gamble with billions of lives.
Cheney and the other lackies who parrot the president’s schoolyard bullying must be made to understand such behavior will not be tolerated. And as voters we need to understand that if we allow them to play that game, it’s on us.