On Fridays at noon they tested the air raid sirens. We were oblivious, the rising and falling howl just so much background noise as we memorized our multiplication tables and practiced our penmanship in long, carefully controlled loops. But when the banshee’s wail interrupted us at any other time of the week, we rushed headlong for cover beneath our desks and tables, forty pairs of eyes squeezed shut in terror, forty little minds fearfully wondering if this was just another drill or if this was it: the Russians were about to turn us into a cloud of radioactive cinders.
We had all seen pictures of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, stark, grainy black-and-white images of children with horrific burns and deadened eyes. Any expression of empathy for their pain was countered by the adults who had suffered through The War.
“They started The War.”
“They bombed Pearl Harbor.”
“They sent suicide planes to kill American sailors.”
“They deserved it.”
But we were children, as were those stoically suffering burn victims. Did someone in Russia believe we “deserved it,” too? Was our geography more important than our humanity? I was seven years old, in the third grade, and I feared for both my life and my future.