Questions of a second grader

I grew up during the cold war days of the 1950’s and was part of the multitude of school children who were taught to fear an invasion by our archenemy, the Soviets.

We watched newsreels of the Soviet army preparing to take over America—tanks rumbling down Soviet streets and rows of soldiers marching in lockstep. I could picture their tanks creeping down our streets (an image that became a reality during the 1967 Detroit riots, only they were our tanks and not the Soviet’s).

We also saw newsreels of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the mushroom cloud rising up to the sky, leaving total devastation below.

Regularly, we were marched down to our school basement, a designated bomb shelter, where we would be safe if and when the Soviets attacked.

As we prepared for war with the Soviets, I wondered if our counterparts in the Soviet Union were also watching the newsreels of our bombs falling on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—and being told we were the enemy. I wondered if they, too, were being marched down to the cellars of their schools.

One day, I asked my second grade teacher where my mother and little brother would go if we were attacked by the Soviets. “They will come here,” she said with certainty. Unsatisfactory answer. I knew it would take my mother at least fifteen minutes to walk to our school, and by my calculation, the bombs would have hit the ground by then.

“Why can’t they just go down to our basement?” I asked. Unsatisfactory question, which my teacher clearly did not appreciate. She was the authority and I was to accept her answer as final, whether it made sense to me or not.

How could the school basement be any safer than my home basement? I wondered. Did we only need a fallout shelter sign?

At that early age, I realized that there was more than one way to view a situation and a variety of ways to spin facts.

I made a decision: I neither wanted to live in perpetual fear nor did I want to climb out of the school basement after an atomic bomb had fallen—destroying my home and killing the rest of my family. What was the point in that? Why be kept alive and safe when everything else would be gone?

“I’d rather live under the Soviets,” I told my teacher.

“You don’t know what you are saying,” she replied sharply, as if I had uttered a blasphemy. “They have no food, not even bread.” The thought clearly terrified her.

I didn’t care; I would rather be hungry and have my family than live in constant fear of a Soviet attack. At some place deep within, I already knew that fear was not the answer.

I don’t remember when I first heard the scripture that fear is useless; what is needed is trust (Luke 8:50), but I know I heard it as a confirmation of what I already believed.

2 thoughts on “Questions of a second grader

  1. Pat

    Love this post, Madeline! I so wish it could have a nation-wide distribution. I’m so grateful that you remain in touch with the wisdom that children all over the world share and that we sometimes
    forget through distractions and pressures of everyday life.


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