In the early 1960s, we faced a terrible enemy here in Florida. The enemy was communism and it resided just 90 miles south of Key West.
The enemy had a face, too, in the persona of Fidel Castro. Everything we knew was evil lived just off shore south of our homes. Through the first years of the 60s, school children learned of the evils of socialism and communism. Worse, Florida children and their parents were first-hand eye witnesses to the crimes of Cuba’s communist government and the tragedies of the island’s peace-loving people.
Many were the plots to overthrow, oust, or outright kill Castro and his illegitimate government. In April 1961, President Kennedy would make a poor decision abandoning Cuban fighters at the Bay of Pigs. The mistake would eventually lead to America and Russia staring eye to eye with one another with fingers poised on nuclear triggers—each, waiting for the other to blink.
With Kennedy in the White House on the red phone with Khrushchev in the Kremlin, the people of the world held their collective breath for 10 days in October 1962. At the time, we did not know how close we came to nuclear annihilation of all mankind. In schools throughout Florida, children were taught to “duck and cover” underneath their desks in the event of a nuclear attack. Many Floridians built backyard bomb shelters as fast as they could dig, construct, and stock. Many correctly assessed the homemade bomb shelters and refuge underneath student desks would be an exercise in futility if the nuclear attack happened.
In the fall of ’62, tens of thousands airmen, soldiers, sailors, and Marines stood ready in staging areas throughout Florida waiting for orders to go to war. The warriors were tense, as were their leaders. There was no joking, no good-natured bantering, no light moments at all. Each of the men and women sensed this would be a different war, should it happen. Everyone waited, waited for the signal to go, or for the message to stand down. The two heads of state fiercely took each other on—neither was giving an increment of an inch on his position.
They continued to stare down the other… Until Khrushchev blinked.
And it was over.
The nuclear weapons, the bombers and fighters, the troops—all stood down. The world would wait a while longer before the start of the next war.
Today, we have forgotten how close we came to the extinction of the human race. We exist in a world with people capable of destroying every living thing on the planet, and yet we raise our children as if those people do not really exist. The children of the World War II generation were perhaps the last American children taught socialism and communism were evil forms of rule. Since then, the idea of teaching our youngest citizens the difference between a free government and socialist and communist governments is something that has simply disappeared from the “politically correct” school systems.
The children in school now, along with the young adults entering the workforce today, simply have never faced adversity in their lives. No one, no event, no worldwide threat, has ever tested their generation. For them, life has been good—for a long time. For all of their lives. Since they never learned the difference between good government and evil government, they have no idea. They also have no sense of history with which to ground themselves should adversity come their way.
And that is what makes this world a little scarier.