In 1982, I was an eight-year-old kid sitting in a third-grade classroom when an emergency siren went off. We're used to that sort of thing in the Midwest, because we get tornadoes the way Martin Sheen gets handcuff chafing. But this siren was different. Shriller. Ominous. The sound of a possessed dolphin, screaming out a Skid Row song. It definitely wasn't warning us about a tornado. This was something else ... something dark. I started to panic.
The teacher instructed us all to get under our desks and cover our heads, and I remember wondering how that was going to help if the floor dropped out from under us. We stayed in that position for five minutes, and then a voice came over the intercom, telling us the test was a success, and we could go back to our regular classroom activities ... which I assumed involved a whole lot of "not shitting myself."
When we settled back into our seats, the teacher explained that the siren was a bomb warning. If the Russians ever attacked, that siren would go off, and we'd all have to get in that position. Because I guess desks are the one thing a nuclear detonation cannot penetrate. We all had questions. Why would the Russians attack us? Why would they bomb a random school in the middle of Bumfuck, Illinois? Why did they hate us so much? The teacher told us that all of this would be explained over the next few weeks, because we were now old enough to learn about the Cold War. Then she broke out the dreaded film projector and pulled down a large white canvas.
For the next few weeks, we were treated to a plague of terrifying videos, teaching us how immoral the Russians were. We were told that at any second, they could hit a big red button, and that would be the end of the world. They explained how communism was the ultimate evil in the world. That if you're a citizen in Russia and you wanted a cheeseburger, you had to get permission from the government before going out to order it. That's not a joke -- that's an actual thing we were taught as a legitimate fact. That was scary all by itself, because at eight years old, the only things you're passionate about are cartoons, farting, and McDonald's. We could instantly relate to the Russian cheeseburger crisis.
We were told that there was a huge wall in Berlin, and that if you got anywhere near it, the Russian and German military would shoot you on sight. That wall was the greatest symbol of governmental oppression on the planet, and America's number-one goal was to tear it down. We were told that Russian police would regularly execute its citizens in the street in broad daylight. That if you protested anything for any reason, you risked death, serious injury, or spending years in prison. We pretty quickly got the picture that Russia wasn't a country -- it was a murder factory.
We were taught that there were many people in Russia who didn't agree with their government, but if they spoke up about it, they would be beaten or killed. Even if the police didn't do it, other citizens who supported the government would. We were taught that there were cameras on every street corner, documenting everything you did, and there was no escaping the eye of the police and military. And if Russia ever did start a war with the U.S., and they happened to win ... well, this is what we could all expect our country to become. For the next 10 years, I feared wearing white underwear.
So why am I bringing this up 34 years after that classroom incident? 25 years after the Cold War ended? Because I can't even do something simple like log onto Twitter without getting that same feeling of dread that I got as an ignorant third-grader way back in 1982. Everything we were warned about is happening, without a single Russian soldier policing our streets.
CCTV is a standard in pretty much every major city. Every week, I see another story about citizens being shot and killed by our own police. We're legitimately talking about the funding of a wall before one of the parties who supports it is even elected. People are being attacked at political rallies so frequently that I've lost track of the total. We have a presidential candidate opening insinuating that the other candidate should be assassinated. Twice. We're saturated with warnings of imminent terrorist attacks, even at our tiny schools in Bumfuck, Illinois. And every one of these stories were exactly what we were warned about in that third-grade Cold War "education." The only difference is that we were taught that we'd be forced into it ... not that we'd voluntarily dive in and drink that shit like spiked prom punch.
It scares me. Hell, even pointing this stuff out in a column on a comedy site puts me at risk for harassment, death threats, and retaliation. And that's not just speculation -- I've gotten death threats for saying I don't like puns. I don't know an editor here who hasn't had their life threatened for having the gall to express a simple opinion. If I was anything other than a white, heterosexual male, I wouldn't dare make the Cold War comparison to modern-day America. I'd just do an article about boners and farting ... which I might still do anyway, because that never stops being funny.
I don't have solutions here; just observations. When my class was warned about this stuff, the cause wasn't "American citizens going way too far." It was "an outside source will force us to be this way." It makes me wonder what other countries are teaching their own classrooms. Are we the new "Russia will destroy us all" in their eyes? When they see these news reports on all the violence, do they tell their kids, "If the U.S. decides to take us over, this is what we'll become"? Are there groups of kids shitting themselves under their desks right now in preparation of a U.S. missile enema?
I don't want us to be a horror story, because this country made me what I am today. The idea that an impoverished, heavily addicted fuckup could fix his shit and become a success isn't even an option in some countries. I love the fact that the U.S. gives us that opportunity. I love that we have the ability to stand up and point out injustice on a global scale. I love that if we decide this isn't the place for us, we can pack up and leave without the government calling for our execution. I love that for every violent asshole, there are a thousand peaceful people who stand up and say, "This isn't right. This needs to be fixed. Who has the duct tape?"
I believe we're a good country at heart. I really do. I just wish more people would step back and take a distanced look, so that we don't end up being a scare tactic for the rest of the world. This is the place you come to when you want to be heard and respected, and I don't want anyone to have to put an asterisk on that statement.
John is a columnist and editor right here on Cracked. Follow him on Twitter, and check back every two weeks for another John Cheese article!
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