When I was little history was yesterday. Five minutes ago new became obsolete. I was born in the 60's. Because we travelled frequently up and down the West Coasts of both America and Canada I gained a unique perspective on the era and the people shaping it.
Never in my wildest imagination did I consider how 40 years later I'd be sharing with my great-nephew and his friends how the 60's was a heck of a lot more than hippies and protestors; sex, drugs and rock and roll. Suddenly I was "the old folk" recounting memories of childhood. More than that I began wondering just what the kids today are being taught.
Three weeks ago I embarked on a 2,000 miles trip from southeastern North Carolina heading west to New Mexico. Although I had carefully plotted my route at the time it did not occur to me what significant locations lay along my path. Then as I approached the North Carolina - Tennessee border road signs began stirring memories of stories heard in my youth. Ah yes, back in the days when I was either trying to stay awake or covertly flirt with a cute boy during history class.
Meaning no disrespect to those who lost their lives but battlefields don't interest me. Think about it, in my lifetime we've always been fighting somewhere. So many places in fact I'm not sure I can list them all. And for that matter, many have undergone one if not several name changes.
What did catch my attention was a simple road sign stating the miles to Oakridge Tennessee.
History. More precisly, a significant neon marker on the timeline of events that has directly impacted every single person on planet Earth - and still does.
I had to take the exit. I had to pull over and stop and reflect on events that transpired in that place nearly 20 years before my birth. This was bigger than the 60's. Sitting there along side the road it occurred to me, if not for Oakridge we would not have the prosperity of the 40's and 50's. There would not be a generation known as Baby Boomers. Oakridge is directly responsible altering our language and social structure.
When I got to the hotel that night I posted a question on Facebook - and recieved very surprising responses. The question: "the federal government built the town of Oakridge to provide housing and services for workers of what project?" Bonus question: "name Oakridge's western counterpart where the project was completed and tested".
The following day I posted the same questions on Twitter. Save for a few history buffs, the replies were so embarrassingly wrong I removed the questions and responses. Lordy, if this isn't a sad commentary on what is not getting taught in school. I can't imagine that many kids slept through history class. Come on people, there are several movies about this "project". The key word being - project.
Oakridge along with it's western counterpart Los Alamos developed the atomic bomb. Overnight America and the rest of the world learned new terms. Words are powerful. Saying the words changed our thinking, and thusly our way of life.
Atomic Era. Nuke. Might, as in the Mightiest Nation on Earth. We had the Power!
Cold War. Bay of Pigs. Fallout shelter. Descriptions like "Downwinder" crept into our vocabulary. Schools had bomb drills. Everyone knew about the red telephone and the button. Communists, and Socialists were the enemy.
There was the promise of cheap electrical power. Designers and Advertisers jumped on the bandwagon. Harnessing the atom opened the door to a bright and shining future. Jobs and prosperity; new fields of science, engineering, medicine - if they could dream it, it was within their grasp. Sure there were naysayers even among those responsible for the era but very, very few listened. America was riding high.
For the first time in history a nation's status was determined by it's ability to blast another country "back to the Stone Age." Those of you old enough will remember that was the most often heard opinion regarding how we should approach Vietnam. Ironically at the same time we feared our enemies would do precisely that to us.
I would now like to point out a few ultra important facts. The American people were not asked if we wished to develop the atomic bomb. No citizen went to the polls and cast a vote for the allocation of funds for the Manhattan Project, building of two cities or amassing of manpower and resources. No citizen was given the opportunity to say "yes we should nuke Japan" or "no, the mere threat to nuke them is enough". Likewise no citizen was given an opportunity to say "I really don't wish to be a part of nuclear cloud dispersal / distribution testing." (Google - Pacific Northwest radioactive fallout tests 50's and 60's)
Stop. Go back and read the above paragraph again.
Our government made a decision that affected the lives of every person on this planet, not just then but for generations to come. And did so WITHOUT the knowledge and / or approval of American citizens.
Looking back I wonder how people might have voted. Would they have realized the atomic bomb was more than a means of swifly ending World War II? I doubt anyone back then could have imagined how a few short decades later America would apologize for nuking Japan, and that we would be indebt to Japan and China.
Because of the discussions with my great-nephew (born in 1995), I firmly believe the 1960's was the last time the average American citizen did anything that altered the course of this country. People of every race and religion came together to say "enough is enough; we don't like what's going on". We are the People. This is our country, our home and our lives. We will have a say!
Apparently they did not say enough. Apparently we got complacent. Sometime between Nixon's resignation and Obama's election it seems the American voters became selfish, self-gratification seeking assholes. Is it any wonder ads for mood / performance enhancing drugs run back to back with commercials declaring our entitlement to money, to vacations, to whatever. How is it we have multiple generations asking the same question - what's in it for me?
The DEA and multi-agency task forces cannot fix America's drug problem because the drug(s) are legal. Turn on the television and watch the commercials if you don't believe me. Stay tuned long enough and there will be notice of a class action "bad drug" lawsuit. We are entitled to compensation for failing to take responsibility for our actions or lack thereof.
As you are getting ready to vote next month there is something else I'd like you to consider about Oakridge. Picture yourself moving into a brand new house. Your spouse is raking in overtime wages at the Lab. You've got a job clerking at the grocery store. Your son is an usher at the movie theater is the envy of his friends. He gets to watch movies for free. Technically you are living the American dream: job, home and money in your pocket. No one within your earshot better say anything derogatory about America or her government. Ok, so there's some stuff going on that doesn't seem right but hey, you've got more than you dreamed.
How did it feel years later when your sons and daughters protested the same government? Were you embarrassed or did you support them? Did you defend their right to speak their mind and challenge authority?
See, I'm guessing in the 60's you were still unaware the the primary construction material used at Oakridge was a mixture of concrete and asbestos. Third Law of Physics applies: every good is measured by an equal portion of bad. Simply put - what's in it for me is also the entitlement to be homeless, unemployed, hoodwinked and dead.
We have made the government our parent. We have charged them with supplying our every need. We have our hands out like children demanding an allowance.
Guess what folks, our govenment is no different than us. It's all about "what's in it for me?" Just as private citizens overspend themselves into bankrupcy and homelessness, we have given our government the power to do the same thing. Sadly anymore it seems we only wish to hold them accountable for not meeting our whiney demands. Gimme, gimme, gimme.
I was born in the 60's. I'm a huge fan of the freedom of speech. From time to time I still hum the song Signs - there's something happening here and what it is ain't exactly clear. Personally I don't like the direction America is heading. Equalization reduces everyone to mediocraty. It stiffles dreamers and kills aspirations and denounces achievements.
Personally I feel America needs a bit of revolution about now. Come Election Day - STAY HOME. DO NOT VOTE. (Oregonians, do not mail in your ballots.) If you really want your opinion to matter send the message "none of the candidates are suitable!"