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General News    H4'ed 11/7/22

Tomgram: Frida Berrigan, Living in a Tipping-Point World

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

In her piece today, TomDispatchregular Frida Berrigan brings up a past I remember all too well. Indeed, I can still recall my teacher putting a radio on her desk when I was a schoolboy in the 1950s so we could hear what must have been CONELRAD broadcasting a nuclear alert "- it was a test, of course "- and we students, well trained, promptly "ducked and covered" (as the phrase went) by diving under our desks, hands over heads. As you might imagine, it wasn't exactly a position that left you with a deep sense of confidence, should Russian nuclear weapons actually strike New York City, where I grew up.

Still, in some way, it certainly did focus my young mind on the apocalyptic dangers of our world. It made the "Cold War" seem both all too real and all too potentially overheated, even though I had never seen a nuclear weapon or met someone from the Soviet Union. What I wonder these days is: in a world where nuclear arsenals are far more terrifying than in the 1950s but none of us duck and cover anymore (despite the recent much-ridiculed New York City nuclear warning that Berrigan mentions), do most of us even think about such futures, much less try to protect ourselves from them? I doubt it.

And as for that other apocalyptic way our world could end "- the one none of us knew about in my childhood (though a select few were already aware of it) "- there are no duck-and-cover drills for it. I'm thinking, of course, about climate change.

Unfortunately, that second nightmare, unlike the first, isn't just a future possibility. It's already happening right before our eyes, whether we care to recognize it or not. You shouldn't be able to miss it if you're living beside the drying up Colorado or Mississippi rivers, or your California town burned to the ground in a devastating wildfire, or your home was wiped out by a hurricane beyond measure or disappeared in a flood of previously unknown magnitude.

Of course, once the heat drops for the winter, the fire season ends, or the latest round of flooding finally dries up, denial sets in again as we duck and cover not to protect ourselves, but to ignore what's actually happening on this planet. Sadly, in a world in which the apocalyptic is becoming an everyday affair, all too many of us seem to be ducking and covering in just that fashion and it doesn't matter whether, for instance, I'm talking about climate-denying Republican politicians or the voters far too willing to put them in office.

With all of that in mind, take a little time out in the open with Frida Berrigan. For at least a brief moment, no ducking and covering allowed. Tom

How to Survive Us
Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow on a Broiling Planet


When I was growing up, there was a parody of an old-fashioned public announcement tacked to the wall of our kitchen that I vividly remember. It had step-by-step instructions for what to do "in case of a nuclear bomb attack." Step 6 was "bend over and place your head firmly between your legs"; step 7, "kiss your ass goodbye."

That shouldn't be surprising, since my parents, Philip Berrigan and Elizabeth McAlister, once-upon-a-time priest and nun, were well-known antinuclear activists. I was too young to be a part of the "duck-and-cover generation" who, at school, practiced hiding from a nuclear attack beneath their desks or heading for local bomb shelters in the basements of churches and town halls.

Born in 1974, I think of myself as a member of The Day After generation, who were instructed to watch that remarkably popular made-for-TV movie in 1983 and report on our observations and feelings. Dramatizing the life of people in a small town in Kansas after a full-scale nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States, it made a strong (if perhaps unintentional) case that dying in the initial blast would have been better than surviving and facing the nuclear winter and over-armed chaos that followed.

In this Ukraine War era, maybe we could label today's kids as the Generation Fed Up With Grown Ups (Gen Fed Up). The members of Gen Z are "digital natives," born with smartphones in their hands and instantly able to spot all the messy seams in, and agendas behind, poorly produced, un-informative Public Service Announcements like the New York City Emergency Management department's much pilloried recent PSA about what to do in case of "- yep, you guessed it! "- a nuclear attack: get inside, stay inside, and stay tuned. (Sounds pretty close to the poster on my wall growing up, doesn't it?)

Young people need real information and analysis, survival skills and resources. Generation Z and the younger Generation Alpha (I have some of both in my family) are growing up in a world torn apart by the selfishness and shortsightedness of earlier generations, including the impact of the never-ending production and "modernization" of nuclear weapons, not to speak of the climate upheaval gripping this planet and all the horrors that go with it, including sea level rise, megadrought, flooding, mass migration, starvation, and on and on and on"

Jornado del Muerto

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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