This past June, a relic of the cold war was discovered under a high school in Auburn, California. During a remodel project at Placer High School, 30 miles outside of Sacramento, a perfectly preserved bomb shelter was found behind a low, wire mesh door.
It was common practice when building a school in the early 1960s to include a basement refuge where students could retreat if the worst happened. Tensions were very high between the United States and the Soviet Union and crescendoed in 1962 when Nikita Khrushchev attempted to transform the island of Cuba into a battery of nuclear weapons aimed at American cities (see Cuban Missile Crisis).
I also remember a bomb shelter under Westbury High School in Houston, Texas. My buddies and I lived a Tom Sawyer existence in our pre-teens, seeking adventure wherever we could find it. Our mischief was usually harmless, like swimming in the local water tower. But we noticed one day that a missing vent on the side of the school building revealed a deep crawl space.
Lane, Chris and I scrambled under the utility pipes and vents looking for anything interesting. And we found it. A broad hallway stretched the length of that wing of the school and ended in a ramp up to a bank of doors at the first floor of the school. Lining the sides of the basement hallway were thousands of barrels marked as civil defense survival rations.
While none of us were old enough to attend high school at the time, we did have a secret that we occasionally shared with our older friends who had no idea that the shelter existed beneath the classrooms they attended. While we were certainly aware of the looming nuclear threat, our young insolence took us to sampling the canned crackers and imagining which cheerleaders would be most suitable to work with in our personal duty of restoring the population.
I marvel at the rapid transformation of an entire nation, from knowing so clearly who its enemy is to the point of struggling to recognize the enemy all.
Our military has been so superior for so long that the foreign enemy no longer provides a daily fear in America. It seems that this comfort has given us the time to relax our domestic defenses.