Practically everybody I know has been suffering from nuclear anxiety recently, but thank goodness, we don't have to worry anymore. Or rather, 80 percent of us don't have to worry anymore. It seems that the Reagan administration has decided that the Reds aren't going to pull a sneak attack on us. Instead, the nuclear war will come after a period of "heightened international tensions" that will give us time to move out of "high-risk areas" into "host areas," also known as "the countryside."
I must confess that I had a little trouble when I read this story on the front page of Tuesday's paper. I am married to someone who was at Nagasaki 40 days after the atomic bombing there, and I made the mistake of watching the CBS "Defense" series and its simulated attack on Omaha (the city was vaporized in less than two minutes), and I've read that a group of physicians believes there is no way the medical community can cope with nuclear catastrophe.
Putting it all together, I have to confess that I've developed misgivings about nuclear war.
Wednesday morning James Holton, the public affairs officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (hereinafter known as FEMA, although I would humbly suggest a catchier name) was on a WRC talk show assuring me over the car radio that we'd be able to sustain life and start over after the attack. I nearly drove into a bus.
I am sure, however, that I am merely overreacting and that the more we talk about surviving nuclear war, the more I'll get used to the idea. I'm the type that argues that the more you talk about the unthinkable, the more dangerously thinkable it becomes and that there's a certain craziness about a plan predicated on the notion that 80 percent of us will be saved. But I certainly don't want to sound anti-civil defense and I certainly don't want to be left behind or stuck in the traffic jam on the way to the "countryside."
The Defense Department, it should be noted, is less optimistic about how many of us will make it, but if we must have nuclear war, I'd rather go with FEMA's odds. Already, I'm beginning to make plans.
According to Holton, we're supposed to pack up the food in our refrigerators and take it along to the "host areas." A lot of us in the Washington area are going to be assigned to 10 counties in southern Virginia and it seems Virginia is supposed to plan for shelters, food distribution and medical provisions. This all sounds nice, sort of like we're all going on a giant camp-out, but I'm still a little concerned.
Given the ages of my children, there's every likelihood that there will be a teen-ager in my house, which means no food in the refrigerator and no gas in the car. Clearly, in order to be ready for the war, we'll have to have a secret stockpile of canned goods and a manual can opener which we can hide behind the encyclopedias. Also, we probably ought to get a barrel of gasoline, which we can hide behind the compost and pray that the younger children don't play with matches near it.
Fortunately, we opted for a large rather than medium-size station wagon when we bought our last car. This was done to keep peace on trips to the beach, but the happy byproduct is that we will have a car large enough to drive to the war. It has automatic windows we control from the front, so we don't have to worry about one of the children opening the windows on the way to the "countryside" and letting the radiation in.
I plan to allow each child to take five sets of clothing, more than is usually allowed for the beach, since we may not have ready access to a washer/dryer when we first get to the "host area." I'm going to encourage them to take only their very best toys. In case things don't quite work out the way President Reagan thinks it will, and the countryside gets vaporized, too, then it might be nice to leave a book and some really decent toys behind as artifacts of our civilization. I'll take "Where's the Rest of Me?" And I'm going to splurge and buy a battery-operated color television set for us to take along to the "countryside." There will be lots of things to keep us busy when we first get settled into our shelter, but after a while, the kids will probably get bored. We can turn on the television and watch the war until the world is once again safe for democracy.