This I Believe

Andrew - San Francisco, California
Entered on February 7, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: question, war
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Like most Americans, on Sept. 11th, 2001 I was in shock. After all, we’d just watched the deaths of 2,973 people in real time on television. Following the shock, came a deep desire for revenge. I am ashamed to say that in those early moments, I would have been deeply gratified if America had nuked Afghanistan.

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if the Taliban and al Qaeda were nuked into oblivion?

Then I realized I was comfortable with The Bomb.

I grew up under the threat of nuclear annihilation. I remember the “duck and cover” drills. I was 16 when President Kennedy played nuclear chicken with the Soviets over Cuba. I knew about fallout shelters. I had seen Dr. Strangelove.

So for years, death by nukes was simply another way to die.

I’m “anti-war” after a tour in Vietnam. I watched as napalm and high-explosive ordinance was dropped on real people in real time. Somehow in that nightmare I still regarded nuclear weapons in abstract.

The abstraction was reinforced by my lunch on a nuke.

A US Navy aircraft carrier is an extremely dangerous place to work. There are dozens of ways of getting killed on a ship crammed with bombers, fighters, fuel, and men.

I was an enlisted man aboard an aging aircraft carrier for two years. We trained constantly for every possible way to avoid blowing up ourselves or sinking the ship.

I learned a lot. I was good fireman. I was a better “phone-talker”.

During an emergency, I was a phone-talker in Repair Locker One. My job was to communicate. I had to learn frame numbers, special fire code language and, above all, how to talk without screaming in terror.

One of the training drills was called “Condition George”.

It was secret training because our ship carried nuclear weapons.

“Condition George” was based a scenario that had a nuke accidentally dropped inside the ship. It wouldn’t explode, but hit hard enough the casing could release the nuclear goop which makes a nuke … well … a nuke. Without quick action, the entire ship could be contaminated killing 5-thousand men … eventually.

To make the drills realistic we used real nuclear weapons.

Aboard ship, nukes were protected by armed Marines. During these drills, the Marines loved to tell me that if I got near a nuke they would kill me.

I believed them.

But drill after drill built a familiarity between myself and the guardians.

One day our training was delayed for God knows what reason. We were ordered to stand-down … military-speak for taking a break.

The Marines had parked the nuke near me.

I was hungry. I had a box of C-rations.

The nuke was inches away. The Marines ignored me as I carefully set my cans of canned ham and cheese on top of the nuke … where I had lunch.

I sat with headphones on, eating my ham and my cheese. I truly … honest to God … truly understood the irony.

And I have to wonder … 40 years later … have our leaders accepted The Bomb?