Stressed Out Millennials?
3 Oct 2019
It's easy for millennials to compare their bad with baby boomers' good and conclude that the latter had an easier ride.
But Britain’s baby boomers came of age as a bankrupt and devastated nation rebuilt itself after the war. Not just that, for two weeks in 1962, they ate breakfast while two world megapowers pointed enough nukes at one another to wipe out humanity.
Enough time has passed that the Cuban Missile Crisis is dismissed as some giant urinating contest. But just 17 years removed from WWII, a heated ideological battle between nations with nukes made for a pretty tense Monday.
The bombing and air raids might have stopped 20 years prior, but Britain was back in the crosshairs of conflict. Only this time there'd be little warning before lights-out.
East vs West
The USSR and the West, had been, sort of, on the same team during WWII. But when peace was signed in 1945 a different kind of tension began. This fight even reached outer space, and it didn't officially conclude until 1991.
So the 60s weren't all about peace, love and free dental care. Youngsters of the day weren’t even able to binge-watch or Bumble their way to distraction. In a very real sense, Britain was one itchy-trigger-finger move away from catastrophe.
Just how realistic was that possibility? Well, a handful of years prior a new precedent was set. When the US sent a plane called Enola Gay into the skies above Hiroshima to drop an atomic bomb, nuclear war stopped being a theory and became a devastatingly real, tried and tested possibility.
How did it unfold - a potted history
During WWII, the Soviet Union had suffered more losses than any other ally. It was their soldiers who first stormed Berlin in the war's dying moments so, like the other allies, they had a solid claim on the spoils of war.
In Europe, everything east of the new West Germany would be gifted to the Soviet Union. The one exception was an island in the middle of East Germany called Berlin. The former German capital was carved into four pieces, with the USA, Britain and France each taking slices in the city’s west, and the USSR taking ownership of the city’s east.
The war was over, yet Berlin was still the epicentre of global conflict: East and West, communism and capitalism, were face-to-face in an increasingly uncomfortable stalemate.
Why is this relevant? This 1958 quote by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev sums it up: “Berlin is the testicle of the West. When I want the West to scream, I squeeze on Berlin.”
And he did. Khrushchev and co toyed with Berlin (and the West), putting tanks on the front line, crushing any popular uprisings and blocking food and supplies from getting in. Of course, later a wall was built.
Meanwhile in the Caribbean
Hostilities escalating, the US sent scores of spy planes into Soviet airspace through the 1950s. And the USSR enjoyed shooting them down. But war games in the clouds were about to evolve into a clear and present danger less than 500 miles off the coast of Florida.
In 1960 the US had stopped all aid to nearby Cuba. They later stopped all trade with Cuba. Why? New Cuban leader Fidel Castro and his ideology aligned a little too closely with the USSR. With the US within easy striking distance of Cuba, it was all a little too close for comfort for new President, John F. Kennedy.
But in 1961, the CIA botched a covert invasion at The Bay of Pigs in Cuba. American had tried and failed to tackle Castro (there would be many other blunders) and the writing was on the wall …
Sure enough, the Soviet Union secretly moved its nuclear arsenal to Cuba. Sure enough, nukes pointed straight at the US. Sure enough, a US spy mission worked it all out.
And sure enough, the West hit the panic button: Britain got its best bombs game-ready, and the US pointed its own warheads straight at Moscow. Nearly two dozen nuke-bearing planes were sent to within striking distance of major Soviet targets. The orders were to stand-by.
It was a standoff, two powerful forces, each with a big button and megatonnes of shizzle. If one side struck, the other would too - and huge portions of the world would be liquified. For 13 excruciating days in 1962, all helpless citizens could do was tune in to hear their fate: live or die, nuclear apocalypse or no nuclear apocalypse.
A tangible doomsday-feeling permeated UK society. As America’s closest ally, nuclear annihilation was a genuine possibility for us too. The boomers lived through it all; the thought that there may not be a tomorrow.
Millennials are within their rights to gripe about the hand they've been dealt. They came of age through a global financial meltdown; were first to pay for further education; have been priced out of property and they're statistically the first cohort who won't have it better than the last. All this while society expects and promotes perfection.
Yes, with climate change, perhaps even Brexit, Millennials are vulnerable to pay the tab for crimes committed by an older generation.
But the boomers lived through food and energy shortages, soaring taxes and civil unrest. And they came face to face with armageddon.
We can't pretend it was a stress-free ride.
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