Thursday, August 22, 2013

“Histories of families cannot be separated from the histories of nations”

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“We are not used to associating our private lives with public events,” writes Susan Griffin. “Yet the histories of families cannot be separated from the histories of nations.…

“There are so many strands to the story.… I begin to suspect each strand goes out infinitely and touches everything, everyone. I am reminded that nothing stands alone. Everything has something standing beside it. And the two are really one.” (A Chorus of Stones)

Yes, you and I have observed history-in-the-making—sometimes as bystanders and other times as the movers and shakers—and our personal histories are intertwined with our world’s history.

When we include the historical settings of our stories, we place ourselves into a bigger story, a story that includes our city, school, religion, nation, ethnic culture, gender, industry, or profession.

When we link ourselves with the history that surrounded our lives, we anchor our stories in time and place.

Our stories can make history come alive—they can make history personal—for our readers.

Below is a module I wrote about the Cuban Missile Crisis. (Do you remember what a module is? It’s a short account—in contrast to a stand-alone story that has a beginning, a plot, and a conclusion. A module is only part of a story. Read more at Modules Add Zing to Your Memoir.)

This module is still in rough draft form. I welcome your feedback. Feel free to leave your response in the comments section below.

Cuban Missile Crisis

Against a black velvet autumn sky, the American Flag glowed brilliant, like diamonds and rubies in the spotlight, but my tears blurred its radiance.

Our high school band played The Star Spangled Banner while my friends and I stood, singing along, in our football stadium. But I was choking on the words:

“O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

It was Friday evening, October 26, 1962. All I had ever known of being an American—and even of being alive—hung in jeopardy.

Our nation trembled at the forefront of the most dangerous point in recorded history: America was engaged in a nuclear face-off with the Soviet Union.

From my earliest childhood memories, our nation’s people had been gripped in fear over a potential nuclear attack. Fallout shelters, and stocking them with survival supplies, were common topics of discussion. Weekly, usually Wednesdays, every community and school conducted air raid drills. When the siren screamed, we students practiced hiding under our school desks until we got an all-clear signal.

So now, in October, 1962, it had come to this: On Sunday, October 14, US reconnaissance flights revealed that Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had installed nuclear warheads in Cuba, just off the Florida coast.

From there, Hiroshima-sized bombs could destroy American cities up to 1,550 miles away—virtually all of the US’s southeast states and beyond—beyond Chicago, beyond Kansas City, beyond Dallas.

Soviet missiles could deliver three-megaton bombs to Washington, DC, within five minutes.

Not only America, but the entire world, stood on the brink of nuclear war and, no doubt, World War III. It would be annihilation. Armageddon.

By Wednesday, October 17, the US had begun Operation ORTSAC (Cuban dictator Castro’s name spelled backwards), with a mock invasion of Cuba carried out in nearby Puerto Rico.

The next day, US forces started mobilizing for an invasion of Cuba.

Friday, October 19, news agencies reported military activities in Florida. The 81st and 101st Airborne were placed on alert.

In response, on Monday, October 22, Nikita Khrushchev said he’d use nuclear weapons to thwart a US invasion of Cuba, and he put Soviet forces in Cuba on alert in readiness for a US paratrooper drop.

That same day, President John F. Kennedy announced a naval blockade of Cuba.

The next day, Tuesday, October 23, American F-8 Crusaders flew low-level reconnaissance flights over Cuba and took close-up photos of Soviet missile sites.

Wednesday, Adlai Stevenson, US Ambassador to the United Nations, put forward evidence of those missiles.

US military forces were ordered to the highest state of military readiness.

Friday, October 26, the day of our high school football game, US intelligence discovered evidence of short-range nuclear missiles ready to target US forces invading Cuba. Khrushchev was following through on the threat he had made a few days earlier.

As children, we’d been educated about the effects of a nuclear attack, but it was my junior high science teacher, Mr. Serwald, who drove home raw truths in the event that we never got that all-clear signal. As I recall, he said if our town came under nuclear attack that within a certain radius, humans would be vaporized. A little farther away from the blast, bodies would have all flesh burned off. A little farther away, bodies would be covered with blisters. Any remaining vegetation and water would be contaminated. The list of horrors went on and on.

Those images filled my thoughts that night at the football field while I sobbed through The Star Spangled Banner, eyes glued to the American Flag sparkling against the night sky.

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1 comment:

  1. Frederick Buechner's post on Facebook today relates nicely to this blog post. Agree?

    Frederick Beuchner's Quote of the Day: Our Own Story

    THE WORDS INSCRIBED on the Statue of Liberty where it stands on Bedloe's Island in New York harbor are familiar to all of us:

    Give me your tired, your poor,

    Your huddled masses yearning to be free,

    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me;

    I lift my torch beside the golden door.

    It is not great poetry, perhaps, and many a cynical word could be spoken about how the golden door that the goddess of liberty lights with her torch turned out for many to be the door to a wretchedness greater than any they had left behind on the teeming shores of their homelands. But nevertheless I think the old words have power in them still, if we let them, to move us, to touch us close to where we live. And the reason they have such power, I believe, is that one way or another they are words about us. Whether we're rich or poor, whether our forebears came to this country on the Mayflower or a New England slave ship or a nineteenth-century clipper or in a twentieth-century jet, those huddled masses are part of who all of us are, both as individuals and as a people. They are our fathers and mothers. They are our common past. Yet it goes farther and deeper than that. They are our past, and yet they are also ourselves. In countless ways, both hidden and not so hidden, it is you and I who are the homeless and tempest-tossed, waiting on our own Ellis Islands for the great promise to be kept of a new world, a new life, which we haven't yet found. We are the ones who yearn to breathe free. We stand not merely like them but in a sense with them beside the golden door. To read the story of our immigrant forebears as it is summarized on the base of the old statue is to read our own story, and maybe it is only when we see that it is our own story that we can really understand either it or ourselves.

    -Originally published in A Room Called Remember