Friday, August 15, 2008

Cold War Heats Up

Mrs. Newton taught our 7th grade Social Studies class. She was a petite woman with short gray hair that was kept styled with slight curls and a bit of teasing. She always had her make-up just right though she did have more than her share of wrinkles and deep furrows along her brow - probably from teaching hormonal tweens. Her lips were accentuated with lipstick and she usually had them drawn tight. I honestly don't ever remember her smiling.

It was the early 70s and my generation was aware of the Vietnam War and heard about the horrors of POW camps. Metal bracelets were worn that bore the name of a soldier missing in action or known to be captured, probably a precursor to today's colored bands for various causes.

Early in the semester, Mrs. Newton was showing a film strip in class. As the record played the narration, there was a "ding" to tell the student media assistant when to advance the frame. As the voice droned on about government issues, eyelids got heavier. "COMMUNISIM!" Mrs. Newton screeched and heads popped up, some slower than others. Mrs. Newton was walking to the front of the class pointing to the image on the screen. "Ding" The man continued narrating and the kid at the projector didn't know what to do but like Pavlov's dog, turned the knob for the next image. "No, no, no! Turn it back," the teacher flapped her arms, furrowed her brow more and had her lips pierced together. Even at the time, I thought she looked like an angry parrot. "Communism is everywhere (ding!) and turn that record off!" Most of us stared blankly wondering if she'd flipped and a few snickered. "It's not funny! You think you are safe here in America? They could come anytime, they live among us! Communists want to take over the world!"

By now, her eyes were shooting daggers and she moved them across the room. Thirty 12-year-olds sat in silence. It's hard to know what to do when you think your teacher is having a nervous breakdown. The bell rang. As we gathered our books and started to leave the room, she raised one arm with her finger pointed in the air. "We must fight communism! They will take over if we let them!"

Word spread quickly about the incident and someone learned from an upper class member that Mrs. Newton was well-known for her speeches on communism. We relaxed a bit, glad that she was at least consistent. As the semester went on, she would jolt us with a reminder of the red scare that was knocking on our shores and we would smile or nod to appease her. At home, I admit, her words would resonate and I would keep a watchful eye on the news wondering if there was an imminent threat.

As the Cold War ended and agreements of nuclear disarmament were created, Americans did become complacent. The actions on 9/11 jolted us into the reality that we did not live in a plastic bubble. Our soldiers have gone to battle, fought the bad guys, then moved and fought the other bad guys. We stand in lines at the airport hoping we are safer, wondering if confiscated shampoo is just a facade for the ineptitude of the entire Homeland Security system. Even the name sounds like something out of a television ad for home alarm systems.

As we go on day to day, a bit more cautious but again relaxed, we now have Russia bombing Georgia. I admit, I did a double take the first time I heard the news on television, envisioning the scene in "Red Dawn" when Russian soldiers parachute onto the mid-western school yard. I realized that we were not being attacked on our own southern coast and then wondered why Russia was being aggressive.

Americans are still battling Al Qaeda, now the Russians are causing a senseless stir, the Chinese are none to happy with us, and Korea keeps playing hide and seek with their nukes.

Mrs. Newton is probably long gone, but her words are clearer now than ever before - Communists want to take over the world. So, little lambs, we must be aware of what the baaaaaaad men are doing or we will be skewered and hanging over the fire pit. Knowledge is the real power.

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