I remember when America was cool. We were the good guys. We beat the Nazis. We beat the Japs. And if the Commies weren’t careful, we’d beat them too. I was eight years old. 1961. We had a super cool President. Kennedy. Not everyone thought he was cool. My parents didn’t like his pro-civil rights position. My parents weren’t cool, at least when it came to that. And Kennedy was Catholic. I didn’t understand much about that, except that apparently, Catholics worshiped the Pope instead of God. But Kennedy won and nothing awful happened except the Bay of Pigs and his own assassination. I never heard the end of it regarding both. Of course none of this was directed towards me, I overheard it, amidst cigarette smoke, model cars, and Playboys I could never sneak a look at. Things changed with the assassination. America didn’t seem cool anymore, just dangerous.
But I can recall the thrill of the space program. I bought the models of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo spacecraft. It was fun to imagine being an astronaut. And we had to beat the Russians!! I remember vividly the ominous charts in Time magazine showing how many nukes the Russians had and how many we had. The Missile Gap. It made me nervous, because I knew even at that young age that if the missiles flew, we’d all die. It didn’t really matter about fall out shelters and all that. And even if you did manage to survive, what would there be to survive in? A contaminated landscape, all in black & white, like the twilight zone. But still there was something kinda cool about atomic weapons. It was fun to draw the mushroom clouds. Even my most innocent drawings managed to show a mushroom cloud in the distance.
I lived in my imagination a lot when I was a kid. I would go to the little grocery store way way way out on the edge of Warrensburg. Mo. They had the best comics there, often times the big annuals of Batman, Superman, Justice League. When they ran out of those, I’d settle for a Flash, Wonder Woman, or Green Lantern. I think it was the TGA grocery. I’m not sure. I would buy a whole dollar’s worth of candy, which in 1961 bought a huge amount of candy. Snickers, Almond Joy, Mounds, Hersheys almond, etc. and two or three comics. I was kind of aware of Marvel Comics too, but that meant a whole other set of characters to get familiar with, and that felt like a lot of work. So I stuck with DC Comics. Also, DC was like America, Marvel was the other guy. It all got mixed together in my head. I’d imagine Superman flying through space and intercepting Russian missiles. I liked Batman the best because he had the coolest costume, and he cast really cool shadows over everything. It did puzzle me why he never got killed. I mean, all anybody needed to do was shoot him. But it didn’t happen. I realized very early that there was no way that his utility belt could hold all that crap. But he was human, and that was cool,
I felt secure, knowing we had missile silos all over, even close to where I lived, at Whiteman AFB. That was cool. I knew my country was tough because I had read about WWII. We beat the Nazis, and the Nazis were awesome. I thought Hitler was the perfect bad guy when I was a kid. He was ugly with that little mustache, but also kind of mysterious. The swastika was a super cool evil symbol, and the Nazi soldiers had skulls on their uniforms, and lightning bolts. They were Satan’s legions. So cool. But we beat them. At that time, I had no consciousness of the Russians or the English playing a role in that victory. To a little kid, WWII seemed like a load of fun. Flying a Superfortress over Germany dropping bombs at night as the searchlights tried to catch you. Thrilling! No thought given to the deaths of innocent civilians. I never thought about civilians. When they sold plastic soldiers they should have included civilians so kids would realize…..nah! it would never have worked.
In my imagination, in those days, it got all mixed together. I loved dinosaurs too, and had some really cool multi-colored plastic ones, which got to fight the Nazis along with the American tanks, and Batman in his batmobile. The Nazis didn’t stand a chance. Hitler jumped up and down in a rage. ‘How dare they use dinosaurs against me!’. I never questioned for a moment that America was right, always won, and was totally cool. After the death of Kennedy, it felt like something was dreadfully wrong with America. Then as I became aware of how we treated blacks, how wrong my parents were, and when things started going badly in Vietnam, I remember the shock of realizing ‘ We are going to lose this war!’. I will save my observations about what went wrong, in greater detail, in later posts.