Before HUAC and the lunch counter it-ins, before the Civil Rights Movement, before LSD and the Anti-War Movement, before Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes, there was The Bomb.
The mushroom cloud overshadowed everything. We had drop drills in school, as if ducking properly under your desk could prevent you from being turned to ash in an instant. There were back-yard bombshelters prepared for life in the twilight of nuclear radiation. There was the omnipresence of instant annihilation.
Look at the photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the atomic bombing. Look at the photos of the mushroom cloud, the symbol of universal death. I grew up in its shadow. In junior high I read John Hersey's "Hiroshima," and watched as nuclear annihilation poisoned the far Australian skies to the tune of "Waltzing Matilda" in "On the Beach."
I vividly remember a dream I had at the age of 10 or 11. My family huddled under the dining room table. For some reason, if we touched wood, we would be safe. We gripped the legs of the table and watched the world map on the dining room wall as the red buttons of the bombed cities lit up, wondering if we would see Los Angeles light up before we were incinerated.
Before The Bomb, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were cities; after The Bomb they were charred, skeletal remains. We should never forget the world-destroying power we possess and remember, always, that we are perched precariously on the brink of the abyss, and we have only ourselves to credit and to blame. Anything is possible; but that means everything.
What we do with that information is a matter of individual choice. But it is best not forgotten. We are still clutching the wood, waiting. Whatever you do, make it count. The only thing we truly have is the present moment. Make it good.