During the Cold War, the sounds of sirens were common as part of the civil defense system, filling young people with an unforgettable sense of dread. Across Hawaii on Jan. 13, the ballistic missile false alarm ignited the same sense of dread for some Americans.
“My son, who is only 26, has a darker view of American politics than I do,” Swartz says. “He’s a kid, he’s hyperbolic, but even in our political conversations I hear this sense of doom that I never had at his age.”
Swartz says that, as part of the post Civil Rights era, her generation thought they could change the world. For her son, though, she says, “I don’t think he believes he can change much at all.”
She says it’s possible that living through the Cold War has given her a broader perspective.
“I was terrified as a child and then nothing happened,” she says. “I felt like, okay, we’ll find a way out of this.”
Her son works in healthcare and serves a population that stands to lose a lot if there are cuts made to the Affordable Care Act, which she says contributes to his pessimism.
“We’re on the same page politically but he’s darker,” she says. “When I argue with him I have to test where my optimism comes from.”
She wants to show him that things can improve – that maybe the night is always darkest before dawn – but she finds it hard in the current news cycle.
“I was just reading about how there’s a plan now to broaden our use of nuclear weapons,” she says. “I’m less comfortable now than I was two months ago.”
The news that North and South Korean athletes will march under one flag at the Winter Olympics is one example of how tensions surrounding nuclear conflict are always subject to change. News like this may help change her son’s perspective.
“He’ll have to grow up,” she says. “He’ll have to go through the kinds of changes I’ve gone through. But when I was his age, I just wasn’t as negative as he is. It makes me sad for the country.”
Written by Jeremy Steen.