A Family History of the Futility of Preparing for Nuclear WarBreaking News
tags: Cold War, nuclear weapons, books, memoir
Do we ever really understand our parents? Certainly not when we’re children. If we’re lucky, we begin to understand them later. We might one day realize, for example, that they carried burdens we couldn’t see. Sometimes I wonder if I might have learned something important about what was to come in adulthood had I been paying closer attention when I was little, but no, I couldn’t have related then. It is only in recent years, when the most maddening, haunting fact of parenting has become clear to me, that I’ve realized my mom and dad must have known it all along: What parents want most of all—to keep our children safe forever––is the one thing that’s absolutely impossible.
I had a revelation along these lines after a phone call from my father on a Saturday afternoon a few years ago. I was making lunch in my kitchen for myself, my husband, and our adolescent son and daughter. We were in the phase of life where our children were beginning to turn into adults, time ticking by as one teenager prepared to leave the nest after the other. As their lives grew busier with each passing year, I saw less and less of them. They were moving further out from under my wing, and I felt proud of them at the same time that I had a primal urge to swallow them whole, absorb them right back into my body.
As I sliced cabbage into ribbons for slaw, Dad told me about my mother’s garden project and a sci-fi movie he wanted to go see. Just as I was about to say goodbye, he asked if I’d heard about a new book by Garrett M. Graff. “It’s called Raven Rock.”
I had indeed heard some buzz about the book. It was the true story of the secret underground bunkers the U.S. maintained for decades starting in the 20th century, intended to house and protect high-ranking government officials in the event of a nuclear attack. The book’s subtitle says it all: “The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself—While the Rest of Us Die.”
My dad’s bedside table is typically stacked with paperback novels about what the world would be like if the planet were ruled by Russian robots or if America had been taken over by zombies. So when he asked if I’d order him this book about hidden subterranean government control centers, I said, “Sure, Dad. Sounds right up your alley.”
“It reminds me of when I worked there,” he replied.
“Yeah, at Site R—at Raven Rock.”
Oh, of course. There. The secret underground bunker he had never mentioned to me once in my life.