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The spirit of '79

I haven't mentioned my age recently, so I'll repeat it. I'm 38. In fact, I'm about halfway to 39.

Why do I mention that? Because I first became aware of the world, and world events, in the 1970s. And I'm starting to get a lot of that old sense of deja vu.

(Author's note: I am writing this piece strictly from memory, not bothering to fact-check particular years and sequences. This is more about impressions than accuracy, perception over reality. Because in the end we react to events as we see them, not as they really are.)

I remember a couple of gas crises in the 70's. We always had big cars, and I recall seeing long lines at gas stations. Signs reading "odd/even" indicating whether or not you could even be allowed to buy gas. Signs saying "Sold Out." And the cheapest gas I remember was $0.57 -- and my father was outraged at that.

I remember the news that we might allow the Shah of Iran to come to the US for treatment for his cancer. The Shah, we were told, had been a long-time friend of ours. At the same time, we were told, he had been a very bad man to his own people, and they were glad to get rid of him. But his people were so mad, they might take it out on us if we helped him when he was sick. We did, and they responded by invading and seizing our embassy, taking our people hostage. They paraded them before the world, blindfolded and stumbling, and threatened them with dire fates if we did not expel the Shah from his sickbed, unfreeze their money, and confess to a laundry list of "crimes" against the Iranian people. President Carter, in response, did... well, a whole lot of nothing. He mainly seemed to spend a lot of time on TV getting older and older before our eyes. 66 Americans were initially taken, but 14 were gradually freed, leaving 52 Americans to be held hostage for over a year. We knew this because every night on the news, we were treated to a logo that read "AMERICA HELD HOSTAGE, DAY X."

I remember a brief surge of pride when I heard about the attempted hostage rescue -- our president WAS doing something besides fretting. It failed, tragically, and eight American soldiers died in the Iranian desert.

I remember the jubilation when it came out how Canada, that nation we all too often take for granted, or treat as a punchline for jokes ("Blame Canada!," anyone?), had put its own people at great risk by issuing forged Canadian passports to six Americans so they could escape to Switzerland. And that wasn't the action of a Raoul Wallenberg of the Great White North -- the Canadian parliament met in secret and wrote law ordering it to happen. Our neighbor to the north showed it had a heart as big as its landscape, and six eagles found sanctuary in the maple.

I remember hearing news about the economy, and how bad it was. I was too young to see any effect of it directly (my parents kept that from me), but I remember everyone on TV was terribly worried about the "triple doubles." Unemployment, interest rates, and inflation were all over 10%. People talked "recession," and that meant nothing to me. But they said that a recession that goes on too long becomes a "depression," and I knew that was very bad.

I remember the Cold War. To many people today, the Soviet Union is an artifact of history, something to be referred to in the past tense. But in that past, we were all tense. The Soviet empire was a real thing, a real threat. We saw time and time again how it wanted to expand -- and did. Eastern Europe was still enslaved. In Africa and Central America, we saw Soviet-trained and backed forces overthrowing governments and turning nation after nation into Soviet "client states." Communism, we were told, was on the march -- and looking at the map, it was a hard argument to refute.

And looming above it all, the threat of nuclear war.

"Overkill" was the big word then. Everyone knew just how many nuclear warheads the USSR had, and how many we and our allies had. Someone added them up, and figured out there were enough of them to destroy the whole world three times over. Or five. Or eight. I don't remember the exact number, but it was enough to scare the hell out of everyone. Some fled to the "no nukes" disarmament movement, saying that if we just got rid of ours, the Soviets would get rid of theirs, too, and we'd all join hands and sing kumbayah and all would be happy and flowery and peaceful. Others said that the "destroy the world X times over" was a stupid argument, because they weren't aimed to do that. They also said that disarming ourselves and trusting the Soviets to do the same was stupid and suicidal.

But we all lived with the knowledge that at any moment, the nukes could fly and we could all die. Even in New Hampshire, we were not safe. Pease Air Force Base in Newington, New Hampshire was a prime target -- it flew FB-111 attack aircraft, and KC-135 tankers to refuel the big bombers. We were also along the likely flight path for attacks on Boston. Other Strategic Air Command bases in the neighborhood were Loring in Maine and Plattsburgh in New York, right across Lake Champlain from Burlington, VT. I'd been to Burlington and Plattsburgh, so they were very real to me.

Maybe I'm just biased by my past, my perceptions are colored by history. But I'm getting flashbacks, almost.

Iran is threatening the United States again, our people and our interests.

After an attack on American soil, Canada stepped forward and gave sanctuary to Americans. I think every single resident of Gander, Newfoundland and everyone who helped in Operation Yellow Ribbon is owed a huge debt of gratitude by the United States, and we must never forget what they did in our time of need. Many nations made great symbolic gestures after 9/11, but Canada took the most meaningful action. That might have been a quirk of geography -- no other nation could have done what Canada did -- but that does not diminish that they did open their arms to countless Americans and other travelers in their (and our) time of need. Thank you again, Canada.

Iran, while threatening the US, is also working on developing nuclear weapons. Iran has repeated declared that its two greatest enemies are the United States and Israel, especially Israel. It has repeatedly declared its intention to "wipe Israel off the map," and has been fighting a proxy war against Israel for years through its Hizbollah puppets in Lebanon. Should Iran get nuclear weapons, what will keep them from using them against Israel? Some quiet diplomacy and an outbreak of sanity (a rare occurrence in that region of the world) kept India and Pakistan from coming to blows after they both became public nuclear powers, but I can't see any signs that the Iranian regime is susceptible to reason.

In fact, just the contrary. They almost seem to wear their madness as a source of pride, embracing the reputation as dangerous fanatics.

For decades, the theories of nuclear warfare have been debated, but never put to the test. MAD -- Mutual Assured Destruction -- was the motto: no nuclear power would dare attack another nuclear power, out of fear that it, too, would be destroyed. It was well named: it was a form of madness to even consider such an option, but it was the kind of madness that worked, because it depended on both sides sharing a fundamental belief.

Iran doesn't seem to have that same belief. From their public statements, it is quite clear that they do not believe Israel has the means or will to retaliate -- or they simply don't care. Like the Aztecs who didn't believe that the "blunt spears" the conquistadors carried were any match for real spears and bows, the Iranian regime seems to think that the basic rules of physics and politics don't apply to them, especially when they're doing Allah's will and striking at the evil Zionist oppressors. Allah will protect the faithful who do his work, and only the truly sinful will suffer.

During the 70s and 80s, we were repeatedly told the horrors of what a nuclear blast -- or a full nuclear exchange -- could inflict. Television was especially good at it -- they brought us The Day After, World War III, and Special Bulletin, just to name three. And apart from the sheer human horror of such an event, the effects could quite possibly be worse than one of the same magnitude between the US and the USSR. The Middle East sits near the equator, where far more of the world's people live, and the economic consequences of such an exchange could easily trigger other wars and a worldwide recession -- if not another Depression.

So forgive me if I sound alarmist about Iran and nuclear weapons. Perhaps that's just a result of it managing to combine so many of my childhood nightmares. But I think that they are fears that are firmly grounded in reality.

At least I can still find a smidgen of humor in the situation, though. Any such catastrophe in the Middle East would definitely put a hurting on the world's petroleum supply, and petroleum is a key ingredient in vinyl and synthetic fabrics. Which means that there would be no resurgence in records and polyester -- which ought to keep that OTHER great scourge of the 70s, disco music, from making a comeback.


Comments (29)

Comparing the USSR and Iran... (Below threshold)

Comparing the USSR and Iran is hardly apples to apples. I am also a child of the seventies. I am also European. I also realise that "public statements" don't mean squat, else everyone would be jumping on the USA and its PNAC stuff, no?

I'm 37, and your post just ... (Below threshold)

I'm 37, and your post just brought it all back. Man, the 70s sucked. The thing that perplexes me the most is, when a large group of people publicly say they want to destroy your society, enslave you or kill you, why would you not want to take them at their word? That's not alarmist. That's common sense. Islamists have been saying this for years. And by "large group" I'm including the hands-on terrorists and the "chickenhawk" terrorists who support them with money, and the lack of protest.

<a href="http://www.opinion... (Below threshold)

Mark Steyn in WSJ - "Twenty-seven years ago, because Islam didn't fit into the old cold war template, analysts mostly discounted it. We looked at the map like that Broadway marquee: West and East, the old double act. As with most of the down-page turf, Iran's significance lay in which half of the act she'd sign on with. To the Left, the shah was a high-profile example of an unsavory U.S. client propped up on traditional he-may-be-a-sonofabitch-but-he's-our-sonofabitch grounds: in those heady days SAVAK, his secret police, were a household name among Western progressives, and insofar as they took the stern-faced man in the turban seriously, they assured themselves he was a kind of novelty front for the urbane Paris émigré socialists who accompanied him back to Tehran. To the realpolitik Right, the issue was Soviet containment: the shah may be our sonofabitch, but he'd outlived his usefulness, and a weak Iran could prove too tempting an invitation to Moscow to fulfill the oldest of czarist dreams--a warm-water port, not to mention control of the Straits of Hormuz. Very few of us considered the strategic implications of an Islamist victory on its own terms--the notion that Iran was checking the neither-of-the-above box and that that box would prove a far greater threat to the Freeish World than Communism.

[...]Anyone who spends half an hour looking at Iranian foreign policy over the last 27 years sees five things:

1. contempt for the most basic international conventions;
2. long-reach extraterritoriality;
3. effective promotion of radical Pan-Islamism;
4. a willingness to go the extra mile for Jew-killing (unlike, say, Osama);
5. an all-but-total synchronization between rhetoric and action. "

Wow, for a kid of around 8 ... (Below threshold)
older than dirt:

Wow, for a kid of around 8 or 9 yrs (at that time) of age you have one heck of a memory for detail.

The price of gas (you menti... (Below threshold)
olderthandirt:

The price of gas (you mentioned) was circa 1973-74. That puts you at about age 6 for that time frame. So, while most kids were playing with their action figures and legos you were following the events surrounding the Shah of Iran? Truly amazing!

Or perhaps simply precociou... (Below threshold)
Lurking Observer:

Or perhaps simply precocious.

I'm not sure everyone among my friends when I was 8-10 year old knew what "Watergate" was, but plenty of us kids, having heard stuff from our parents, thought Richard Nixon should resign, whatever it was he had done.

He's got the details right,... (Below threshold)

He's got the details right, though. I'm pushing 50, and remember it as he's telling it. The gas crisis hit as I was learning to drive, inflation REALLY took hold - and it was a whole lot of not much fun at all.

J.


I remember all of that and ... (Below threshold)
stan25:

I remember all of that and more during the 1970s. The reason that I do is, because I was in high school and beyond in those years. I guess that you all can call me much older than dirt. The best thing that happened to all of us, is when Jimmy (peanut head) Carter was defeated by Ronald Reagan.

A young person with an inte... (Below threshold)

A young person with an interest in recent history can build up a "memory" of events based on reading contemporary accounts after the fact. That's how I acquainted myself with much of what went on during my formative years, simply because I needed background on what was going on while I was paying attention. And that background led to reading up on what happened before I was born.

Watching the establishment media these days I'm not sure subsequent generations will be as well-served as I was (such as it was).

I recall those days vividly... (Below threshold)

I recall those days vividly as well; I'm 37, and grew up just north of Omaha, NE -- home of Strategic Air Command in those days, Stratcom today. Growing up, it was widely assumed we'd all be dead if war broke out between the superpowers -- there is a civilian nuclear plant just down the road from my hometown, and it was thought to be a secondary target worth a warhead of its own in addition to the 10-12 everyone thought the airbase would get.

In fact, in high school, I was so concerned about what could happen I decided that I needed to do something about it. After taking "The Soviet Union and the Communist World" (my teacher was surprisingly not a liberal) I joined the National Guard, in my junior year of high school, at age 17 (needed Mom to allow it, and she did, reluctantly -- she vetoed my first choice of the Marines ). Signed on the line the week before Reagan (God bless him!) bombed the crap out of Libya. My liberal friends (I had many at that time) never understood, and probably never will. Most people assumed it was just to pay for college as my family was poor; while it was a reason, it wasn't nearly the most important.

I'm older than older than d... (Below threshold)
Charles Bannerman:

I'm older than older than dirt and the seventies were the worst times of my life. Forget about the early seventies when we still in Viet Nam. The worst part was the Carter years.
Jimmy Carter destroyed the morale of this country with his economic and social policies but the most long lasting damage he did was to destroy our confidence that we could win a fight with our enemies.
That destruction of confidence is readily visible in the way our congress and the media are handling the Iraq war.
You can thank Jimmy for making us subservient to despots.
Chuck

Hmmmm.The... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmmm.

The price of gas (you mentioned) was circa 1973-74. That puts you at about age 6 for that time frame. So, while most kids were playing with their action figures and legos you were following the events surrounding the Shah of Iran? Truly amazing!

Why is this amazing?

I was born in 1964 and was around 10 during this time period. And I can assure you I was fully imformed about world events because of the friends I had at that time who were heavily into paper wargaming.

And yes I definitely enjoyed playing with my Legos along with War in Europe, War in the Pacific and the occasional game of Waterloo.

I had two paper routes duri... (Below threshold)
virgo:

I had two paper routes during this time period and even the price of newspapers (paper) spiked up severely shortly after the "gas crisis"struck. i can remember gas being .24 cents a gallon and doubling during one summer! my memorys not that clear what year this was? but i remember the "Misery Index" was a nightly topic on all of the 3 news channels at that time NBC,CBullS,ABC, much like the bushs poll numbers are a nightly news story now..

1964 is my birth year as we... (Below threshold)

1964 is my birth year as well. I remember the gas crisis vividly. My earliest (traumatic) political memory is of riots in Chicago.

Something that may not be obvious to some of you young'uns is that, at that time, after school we had one half hour of Hogan's Heros or Gilligan's Island or CPO Sharky, etc., one half hour of cartoons, and then the news, half an hour for the local station and one half hour for the national network news.

That was it.

Watching the news at age 10 or so wasn't, perhaps, *normal* but there wasn't anything else on television. Changing the channel didn't help, and there was no such thing as a VCR.

I remember the gasoline shortage, the Iranian hostage crisis. What had the biggest impression, though, was the unemployment numbers when I entered high school. The bone deep belief that there was *nothing* in the future... no correct choice for college... no jobs... no hope... was devistating. 14% unemployment. Recession was the fact of life and "trickle down" economics a way to stick it to the little guy even more.

Reagan's second term was my first presidential vote.

Now people whine because unemployment is %5 or so and gas prices are high.

"(Author's note: I am writi... (Below threshold)
olderthandirt:

"(Author's note: I am writing this piece strictly from memory, not bothering to fact-check particular years and sequences. This is more about impressions than accuracy, perception over reality. Because in the end we react to events as we see them, not as they really are.)"

"Maybe I'm just biased by my past, my perceptions are colored by history. But I'm getting flashbacks, almost."


I am 47 yrs old. I remember gas lines and people trading in their big Chryslers for Datsuns, the Watergate hearings on TV all summer long, the hostage crisis, etc. But not in the detail YOU recall. Exact numbers of how and when the hostages were released, exact cost of gas per gallon, and your "recall" of the Cold War read like Cliff notes. Flashbacks? To what age 8? You were either a child genius with a photographic memory or simply a poser who claims to remember "back in the day". Read your statement (above) in quotes in this post. Do you really expect people to believe that at the ripe ages between 6-9 yrs, you have such vivid recall (your "memory") of such accounts and detail right down to the exact numbers? Gimme a break. I may have been on this earth during the Cuban missle crisis, but in no way would I ever try to be as presumptious to say I remembered it, then write about it publicly in a forum quoting exact figures and phrases expecting readers to believe the facts are all filed away in my incredulous memory bank. Most people would at least have the decency to post links backing up their figures they post instead trying have us all believe a typical 6 yr old knew the exact price of gas all on his own as well as all the other facts you posted about.

I must be the senior citize... (Below threshold)

I must be the senior citizen here. I remember drills to hide under your desk when the noon siren went off. We used to kid it was about bending over to kiss our ass goodbye. 5 bucks would fill your tank and get you a few snacks. Hot Shoppes drive ins.

I'm a hell of a lot more scared of a crazy Iranian who scoffs at the UN than a Russian banging his shoe on a desk at the UN.

> Which means that there wo... (Below threshold)
P.J. Hinton:

> Which means that there would be no
> resurgence in records and polyester --
> which ought to keep that OTHER great
> scourge of the 70s, disco music, from
> making a comeback.

Perhaps it is time for history to rhyme with the rise of a Death to Hip Hop movement?

Olderthandirt, you got me. ... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Olderthandirt, you got me. I actually went back and did check two details: the number of Americans released by the Iranians early, and the number of Americans the Canadians had rescued. I knew that they had let go some beforehand, and I knew that the Canadians had rescued about half a dozen folks. Everything else I pried from my memory. But I'll never forget two key numbers: 52 hostages held the entire time, and 444 days of captivity, released on the day Ronald Reagan was sworn into office. In fact, at the very instant, seemingly as one final insult to Jimmy Carter.

I remember seeing the gas price on the sign, while my father cursed it out. I remember seeing the lines at the gas pumps, and the "ODD/EVEN" note, and asking what it was all about. And I remember the "OUT OF GAS" sign. It was all at the same place, the gas station at the corner of Hanover Street and Route 120 in Lebanon, New Hampshire, because that was where we bought our gas -- it was, I think, the closest station to our home, maybe half a mile or so. It was my father's impotent fury that make the details so vivid.

I remember the news anchors announcing "AMERICA HELD HOSTAGE" every night, while the numbers rose higher and higher. I remember ABC announcing that they would have a new special program on every weeknight to discuss the developments, hosted by Ted Koppel, and called "Nightline." I don't remember ever staying up to watch it, but I remember it being plugged over and over again.

I remember my older siblings being furious that the US was boycotting the 1980 Olympics, because the Russians had invaded Afghanistan. It was yet another reason to be mad at Jimmy Carter.

Oh, and Old: I have no clue how old I was when I saw all that stuff at the gas station, but I said I was about 38.5 years old. In fact, this week I exactly passed the halfway mark, as I was born in October of 1967. I was 9 when Jimmy Carter was elected. I had just turned 12 when the Iranians took our embassy. I missed being able to vote for Ronald Reagan in 1984 by a smidgen less than a year.

As for the rest, what you believe or don't believe... that's entirely up to you. I have said my piece, and I quite frankly don't give a damn what you think any more.

J.

Like I said you either have... (Below threshold)
olderthandirt:

Like I said you either have an incredible memory for numbers and facts at the age or 9 or younger, or you are good at quoting Cliff notes. Either way, I find your memory recall a little bit beyond credible. Thanks for digging into the history books however. Here's a clue....the term "flashbacks" usually implied to those of the 60's who experienced LSD and had delusions of what they experienced while "tripping". Care to enlighten us on that thought? At age 5, can you tell us what your thoughts were on Timothy Leary? LOL

Television was especial... (Below threshold)
James Cloninger:

Television was especially good at it -- they brought us The Day After, World War III, and Special Bulletin, just to name three.

Don't forget "Threads", the grand-daddy of Nuclear Holocaust films.

can you tell us what yo... (Below threshold)
James Cloninger:

can you tell us what your thoughts were on Timothy Leary?

"Dude, just fucking OD already."

Recent years have been redo... (Below threshold)
Semanticleo:

Recent years have been redolent with the memoirs
of sagacious gen-Xers who are wise beyond their
years. Smugness drips from the recently clear
pores of yet another who 'remembers' the '60's
and the universal anxiety which the threat of
nuclear holocaust brought.

He conflates the atomic 'rhetoric' of Iran's
moolahs with the race between the USSR and US
for nuclear supremacy. Uh Jay, we have nuclear
supremacy. Iran just thinks we won't use it and
thereby talks tough. You don't seem to think
Bush is afraid to use it. We hope he is afraid,
but he seems to have the same MESSIANIC VISION
as the diminuitve little tweakers who are grabbing
hold of the dragon's tail, but haven't got the
knack yet. That is not moral equivilency.
But it is intellectual insolvency to fail the
recognition of BUSH's relgious view of the end
times and the dark side of the Christian New Age.

Hence my besmirched comments (while I was out of
town) lacked the benefit of context when you
failed to include a key point out of your belated
AdHom.
"P.S.

The imminent danger is our own trigger happy
wanderers who are only gun-shy about bad
intel from intelligence services they see as
WH enemies."

Oh, phew, Leo. I feel SO mu... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Oh, phew, Leo. I feel SO much better. Instead of the world ending in a nuclear holocaust, we only have to worry about a few million Middle Easterners getting vaporized. They're just foreigners so who gives a damn about them? Oh, and a few Americans, but they're just the running-dog lackeys of the military-industrial complex and babykillers, so they deserve it anyway.

PARALLELS, Leo. SIMILARITIES. Not a direct one-for-one correlation.

Leo, in all seriousness, I hope you're right and there isn't a looming nuclear exchange in the Middle East. But I fear that -- as usual -- you're talking out of your ass.

J.

From my ass to your lips</p... (Below threshold)
Semanticleo:

From my ass to your lips

Hmmmm.Som... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmmm.

Something that may not be obvious to some of you young'uns is that, at that time, after school we had one half hour of Hogan's Heros or Gilligan's Island or CPO Sharky, etc., one half hour of cartoons, and then the news, half an hour for the local station and one half hour for the national network news.

Where I was there were only two channels and I had about a 1/2 hour to watch what I wanted before my father came home. After that it was a combination of news, Red Sox, Schlitz and Hee Haw.

Which frankly rounded out my education rather nicely as I got to experience current events, unmitigated horror and untrammelled misery.

And Schlitz. :):)

Hmmm.Rece... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmm.

Recent years have been redolent with the memoirs of sagacious gen-Xers who are wise beyond their years.

Frankly this reads like some computer concatenated bullshit assembled by a program written by a freshman.

Hmmm.From... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmm.

From my ass to your lips

From your lips to my ass ....

With tongue!

Oh, yes. Hee Haw. <p... (Below threshold)

Oh, yes. Hee Haw.

Can you still sing all the songs... you know... Where oh, where are you tonight, why did you leave me here all alone? I searched the world over and thought I found true love, you met another and PPPTTTbbbb you was gone.

:-P

Gloom despair and agony on ... (Below threshold)

Gloom despair and agony on me. Deep dark depression excessive misery. If it weren't for bad luck I'd have no luck at all. Gloom despair and agony on me.

(I hope you check back, ed, because now I've got this stuck in my head and wanted to *thank you* for that!)




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