Red Dawn Syndrome and The Cold War Kids / by Joseph Palumbo

Red Dawn Syndrome: An irrational fear of nuclear war or similar act of agression made towards the United States made rational by the 1984 movie about a Soviet Union invasion of the United States. 

Cold War Kids: A generation of children raised under the imminent threat of nuclear apocalypse in the name of economic doctrine and characterized by persistent anxiety, political indifference, social unrest and nihilistic consumerism. 

Even at a young age I knew that I had a problem with anxiety, but it was still juvenile and lacked the symptomatic structure that would earn it the legitmacy of clinical diagnosis. It was a neurotic mist that followed me around like my own little black rain cloud. It was a generalized fear of being alone, or more accurately abandoned, but mental illnesses tend to be over achievers and mine was looking to branch out into other venues as well. 

My life changed when I saw the movie Red Dawn.  Watching that movie, or more accurately the first 15 minutes, gave the alloy of my growing anxiety a point of magnetism that it latched onto. Yes, I was reassured that  I was living in era known as the Cold War. Yes, there were bad people living in an evil country that practiced something called "communism" that wanted to destroy my way of life. And as per the plot of the movie, they were poised and capable to launch an invasion on all of the Mayberry-esque towns across the country at any moment, forcing Americans to take up arms and retreat into the outer-wilderness of our metropolitan bubbles. 

"Could this really happen?" I remember asking my myself, silently mouthing the words as the thought traversed my frontal lobe. "Of course, this could happen," I concluded, emphasizing the word "could" as though it were a coin flip capable of dictating the future. 

"...could happen..." 

I watched the rest of the movie as though it were a handbook on how to fight off the enemy, making mental note of the supplies needed and strategies involved and what group dynamics to avoid. And finally seeing that despite the valiant and patriotic efforts of the movie's protagonists, it all ends with a monument to the futile efforts of young Americans to save thier country - a symbol that would resonate through my life and help define a number of political and social perspectives. 

There was a time when it was cool to be nostalgic for the 80s, remembering the music, fasion, television and even politics with fondness. I find it hard not to acknowledge that it was inspired, subconscious or otherwise, by the greed and indulgence of a doomed future. We were a generation on trial for a crime we didn't commit, for a doctrine we didn't choose, but was chosen for us. A jury of angry,  war-mongering politcians sat between us and a veridic that could bring about the apocalypse. 

I don't remember how long it took me to officialy began to stop worrying and accept the bomb, although I'm sure it was a gradual, almost imperceptable, change, like most of life's changes tend to be. I think it was around the time I discovered music that shaped the tinnitus of depression into lyrical commiseration, making depression more permissible and even vogue.  

I thought this was a singluar burden that I carried throughout my youth and into adulthood until a friend posted on Facebook about the juvenile anxiety she felt from being inundated with Cold War rhetoric and justificaiton. A string of comments followed with people sharing similar fears and phobias, at least one other person making mention of Red Dawn's depiction of the Cold War's worse case scenario as a catalyst of fear.

Red Dawn did to our future what Jaws did to the beach. 

I'm a member of the fraternity of Cold War Kids. A group of people who came of age in a disposable world that only existed because somebody, out of benevolence, apathy or mutual fear, chose not to push that mythical button. It was a surreal existence that established life long traits of anxiety, apathy and deep-seated distrust of doctrines within a generation of kids.  A time that taught me to be comfortable with chaos becuase control is an illusion. 

And a time I'd rather forget.