Tuesday, February 04, 2003

As I Went Out One Morning

Nothing says Minnesota more than Snow Emergency. Emergency. I always thought that word was somewhat extreme to describe the necessity of removing snow from the streets. You wouldn't expect to hear a Snow Emergency test announced then stay tuned to hear instructions on what you should do in the event of an actual Snow Emergency. But, I suppose it's better than calling it a Snow Crisis or Snow Urgency.

Those tests of the Emergency Broadcasting System always freaked me out as a kid. They would play that squawking brah brah brah brrrrrrrrr and then there would be silence. If you were in the bathroom, or the kettle was boiling or your doorbell rang you might miss the part that said "This is only a test", hearing only the brah'ing that the bombing would commence shortly. I always wondered what the announcement that followed an actual emergency broadcast would sound like.

By googling, I found that the EBS was initiated by President Kennedy as a way for him to address the nation in the event of a nuclear attack. It was also apparently used by some local stations to broadcast severe weather warnings, although I don’t believe that ever happened in Minnesota.

Hearing those warnings growing up in the 70’s and 80’s served as a reminder that we were in a war and that at any time one of the alerts could be real. We didn’t grow up in fear, the way the left of the time would have us believe, but we somehow knew it was possible--even at a young age--that Bad Stuff could happen.

I was thinking about emergencies and alerts when I tuned into the History Channel for a fascinating show on the B-52 and it’s role in the Cold War. Up until 1968 there were 12 B-52’s in the air continuously patrolling the world. 24-7. 365. Called Operation Chrome Dome, its purpose was to ensure the US could adequately respond to a first-strike attack by the Soviet Union without having to scramble plans on the ground (that might not even exist anymore). Each of the 12 bombers had up to 4 nukes on board and the pilots had specific, preset targets they would hit if they got the word to do so.

Strategic Air Command, who ran the entire nuclear defense program, had a great motto: “War is our profession - Peace is our product”, later changed to “Peace is our product”.

In one of the interviews on the program, a commander described the mission of SAC: (I’m paraphrasing) “We imagined a Soviet General speaking to the Premier on a daily basis. The Premier would ask him if the US was prone to an attack that day. Each and every day we wanted that answer to be no.”

What a debt we owe to the men who spent countless tense hours in long shifts ensuring our safety. Although I had no way of knowing, as a sleeping baby, my life was bliss thanks to these men and the families that supported them.

So as I went out this morning I didn’t curse having to move my car from one side of the street to the other in this “emergency”, I thought of the long way we have come from the fear of a real emergency.

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