Lawrence Krauss Everything has changed, save the way we think

October 17, 2012

It is hard for those born after the mid-1950s to relate to the memories those of us older folk have of 1962. Even growing up in Canada, I was not insulated from the ever-present fear of nuclear annihilation. We regularly had exercises in school, absolutely silly in retrospect, in which we would hide under our desks in case of nuclear attack. I remember families of friends of mine who were building fallout shelters. At the time, it seemed inevitable — not if, but when — that nuclear weapons would be used.

I was too young in 1962 to remember many of the details of those tense days in October when the world came closest to the brink of nuclear war, but I vividly remember the tenseness with which my parents watched the news. I knew of President Kennedy — even in Canada he seemed a heroic young leader at the time, compared to our older, and at the time scarier Prime Minister John Diefenbaker (who would soon be replaced by Lester Pearson, a Nobel Peace Prize winner) — and I remember seeing him on the news; it was clear to even an 8 year old that something was desperately wrong.

The world has changed in many ways, and the immediate threat of total annihilation by a war between the superpowers has subsided. But I wonder whether children growing up today will remember the rhetoric of the current presidential campaign in the United States, and the fear that an unstable country like Iran or Pakistan might actually use a nuclear weapon against a civilian population — and the concern about what might follow.

Every time a milestone like this passes, I think of Albert Einstein's words in 1946 that everything has changed, save the way we think.  Until we truly develop a world free of the threat of nuclear weapons, children are likely to grow up with at least one nuclear memory which, like mine, they would rather forget.