The Nuclear Threat

Just before the Cold War thawed, it got very cold indeed. An article appeared in the paper about what parts of southern California were likely targets for a nuclear attack. The accompanying map showed an intersection less than five miles from our house.  After that, I could not stop thinking about my sons dying in a nuclear attack and finally, to deal with my obsession, I became involved with a group planning to protest the production of Cruise Missiles in a General Dynamics plant.  This was also not far from our home.

From this beginning I became a middle class mother and wife jailbird. With more than twenty others, I sat down on the parking lot at GD and refused to budge. The police appeared as we knew they would, we were handcuffed and herded into the paddy wagon, a term which, now that I look at it in print, is a racial slur.

My friends and I were booked and spent most of the day in the lock up at Las Colinas, the women’s lockup in Santee, a suburb of San Diego. The women sharing our space were mostly hookers who were unanimously in favor of banning the bomb but convinced, every one of them, that we were crazy for getting ourselves locked up no matter what the cause. I was prepared to spend the night behind bars but my good husband got me bailed out. My son, Rocky, seemed a little disappointed to see me. He’d told his fellow second graders at Mission Bay Montessori that his mother was going to jail and apparently I pulled his punch line when I came home and fixed dinner.

In good time, I and eighteen others – a Roman Catholic nun, teachers, a baker, civil servants — were tried in the misdemeanor court of Judge E Mack Amos. Our attorney was Art Campbell who put up a spirited necessity defense. We lost, however, and most of us took the option of public service as punishment. For six weeks I worked at a food distribution center called Share, sorting big brown skinned onions and carrots the size of billy clubs. Is that another racial slur? Against men named Billy?

After this, I joined a group and handed out pamphlets to employees at shift changes at the General Dynamics Cruise Missile plant. We did not set foot on the parking lot upon threat of arrest if we did so. The employees always took our pamphlets which were sometimes accompanied by balloons or chocolates, and they were almost always polite. One woman told me, “Okay, you convinced me. I quit today.” Not long after that, Gorbachev and Reagan began talking to each other and within four or five years the GD plant had closed down. I slept better and believed my sons were safer.

But now I am again having nightmares about nuclear fallout, this time from what someone used to call Atoms for Peace.  But I can only watch news from Japan for a little while at a time. The wreckage is so immense that I’m quickly into overload, numbed by the magnitude of the destruction from earthquake, flood and fire.  I keep thinking how, one moment before the earthquake, the people felt perfectly normal. Happy, sad, hungry, horny: it was just another day until it wasn’t.

It all makes me realize that there is nothing we can do to guarantee our safety or that of our loved ones. We can minimize human-made risks, but in the end, it must be said that living itself is a dangerous activity.  As awful as the news from Japan is, in a strange way it confirms my appreciation of life. This minute here at my desk with one of the dogs beside me, is all I have. Across the street my neighbor is replanting his hillside with his five year old son helping.  Another neighbor’s cat just made it across the street in front of yet another neighbor’s speeding car. And all the cat and the neighbors and I truly possess is this moment’s breath in our lungs. It’s no less true for being a cliché. Art is getting me a coke. I cannot be positive that I will get to drink it but I am grateful for his offer.

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2 Responses to “The Nuclear Threat”

  1. Art Campbell says:

    Even Charlie Sheen says you’re my winning goddess, Dru. Speaking truth to power, living with integrity, every breath as if it were your last, you’re the one for me. We don’t have many more but the forty-two years I’ve lived with you have made my crazy life worth living. Love and hugs, your attorney, bed-mate, and husband, Art

  2. Kelli says:

    You consistently remind me why I like you. 🙂
    And I hope the name E Mack Amos has appeared in at least one of your stories.