by Pete Mazzaccaro

Because I did most of my growing up in the 80s, from 6 to 16, I am intimately familiar with the Cold War.

Although the decade would see the gradual demise of the fear of mutually assured destruction, children of the 80s were very much conscious of the fact that we could conceivably die in one big nuclear blast. It would happen in a moment, and there was nothing we could do.

As a child, I’m pretty sure I was never instructed on the proper way to hide under my school desk. But each year, my class would line up and take a walk to my school’s old bomb shelter in the basement. It wasn’t that we expected a nuclear attack, but just in case we did …

In addition to school drills, the narrative of the Cold War was everywhere, particularly in the movies I watched as a kid, from “Red Dawn” to “War Games” and even to the silly “Spies Like Us.” The most feared bad guy in the 80s was the evil Russian, a villain embodied by Ivan Drago in “Rocky 4.”

Those were the days.

Last week, my kids were telling me about the drills they began to have at their elementary school. My 5-year-old proudly told me that his whole class knew that they could hide in their classroom’s bathroom. The exercises are called “lock down drills” at the school. Fortunately, my kids are not yet aware of the gruesome story that has renewed their school’s enthusiasm for security.

It struck me then that we have come to a point in our society where we are fighting a cold war against ourselves. No longer is our fear about a Soviet spy or a Russian boxer. Now, any young man in our neighborhood is subject to suspicion. Any one of our neighbors might arm himself for war against us in public places. Even against children in our schools.

If only the war were indeed “cold.” In 2012, 80 people were killed in public during a mass shooting for simply going to school or to the movies – just being out in public. For comparison’s sake, according to the Israel Ministry of Foreign affairs, there are only three years in the last decade in which more Israeli’s were killed by suicide bombers, and those years were during the Intifada conflicts between 2001 and 2003.

This week, President Obama is scheduled to make public his plans for tightening federal gun control regulations. A fairly strict set of new laws was just this week ratified in New York state, championed by Governor Andrew Cuomo. A tipping point has certainly been reached in the discussion about gun control, no matter how hard the National Rifle Association tries to deny it.

As much as I am in favor of rational gun laws – better background checks, waiting periods and bans on high capacity magazines – I’m not entirely confident that we’ll see a real change. Mass shootings are not more common now than they were 20 years ago, but the number of fatalities has gradually been rising. The Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 did not curb this trend. Any new law is going to have to not only fix those gaps but find a better way to enforce laws.

I hope I’m wrong, and we begin to enjoy a deescalation. It’s one thing to live in fear of foreign invaders and another thing entirely to fear that a deadly attack might now be in the planning stage in the basement of a house two blocks away. No gun control rules will stop that, though they may help keep really deadly weapons out of the hands of such plotters.

All I can say is this: Given the choice, I’d gladly go back to the days in which I was more afraid of a nuclear attack. I’m pretty sure most of us would prefer the Cold War to what we have now.

  • Tracy

    I am about the same age but the best movies of the cold war 1980’s were “White Nights” and “Firefox”….

    • Pete Mazzaccaro

      Firefox was awesome.

  • dweller

    You grew up in the ’80s, and you’re “intimately familiar with the Cold War”, are you?

    Speak with people who were around in October, 1962, and you might change your self-assessment.

    Anyone who says they’d prefer living under the threat of nuclear annihilation to dealing with the danger of random school or theater shootings is not thinking clearly.

    • Pete Mazzaccaro

      Quick question, Dweller,
      How many Americans have been killed in nuclear attacks? And what was the likelihood of getting killed by a Nuclear attack? How do you think that compares to the likelihood of getting gunned down in public? I’m no economist, but I’m going to guess my chances at the latter are now, and always have been, greater.

      • dweller

        No, Pete, you’re clearly not an “economist”, but did you mean “statistician”?

        Unless you count the unknown number of American POWs who lost their lives in the Hiroshima attack, the number of US citizens killed in nuclear war would be zero, which of course, proves nothing.

        The fact that one may look back and say “see, nothing happened” does not mean that the danger wasn’t there. My original reference to 10/62 wasn’t in passing – Americans were justifiably concerned that their days were numbered, and with subsequent material becoming available from the former USSR and American intelligence sources over the past couple of decades, it may be seen that their feelings were very well-founded.

        The point, Pete, is that ANY nuclear attack on a large American city will kill millions, and that was a very real possibilty for US citizens for the 30 years or so before you became self-aware, and “intimately familiar” with the Cold War.

        Yes, you’re more likely to be gunned down on G-Town Avenue than killed by an H-bomb, but that doesn’t make living with the strong possibility of nuclear war preferable – losing a Pete here or there is still better than losing 315 million Petes all at once.

        • Pete Mazzaccaro


          Was thinking of the Freakonomics guys, but you’er right. Strictly speaking, I was thinking more in statistical likelihoods.

          My opinion is still that I think it’s better to be afraid of a foreign enemy than to believe your neighbor might lead a one-man assault on your local school. My intent was not to measure a nuclear blast against a schools shooting. I think it’s pretty easy to weigh those two events against each other.

          • dweller

            Well, that’s a relief…when you wrote that you’d gladly go back to the days in which you were more afraid of a nuclear attack, I thought you’d meant it.
            Relax, you’re MUCH more likely to be run down by a texting Kennedy and Heidi, than plugged at the MultiPlex!