WI4 - WITS Episode 4, John Roderick and War Horse

This week, John Moe and John talk about:

  • Nuclear War and 1980s movies

Producer: Lorissa Andersson

While John was making breakfast, he was listening to some great Frankie Goes to Hollywood jams and the more he listened to them, the more he noticed that they overtly were songs about the cold war, like Two Tribes. It reminded him of the paranoia he felt about the Soviets when he was a child in the 1970s and 1980s. It got him thinking that all the pop music of the 1980s was infused by this cold war fatalism. He tweeted about it and got replies from all around the world about the cold war and 1980s pop culture. People were recording dance songs about nuclear annihilation. We would dance our way into the mushroom cloud, because we were so impotent to have any effect over whether it was going to happen or not.

Because the threat of the Soviet Union existed before John was born, being in an arms race with these godless communists across the water was kind of a fait accompli that permeated our culture during the time he was growing up. They had enough warheads to destroy every American city 1000 times over and we had enough warheads to destroy every Soviet city 1000 times over. These warheads and the decision when to launch them was in the hands of our elected officials who we routinely accuse of corruption and of being not smart enough to handle small matters of the local economy. We don’t hold president Ford in high esteem and yet he was the only thing between us and the decision to push what was characterized as a solitary button on a desk. If something like this would depend on computers, the young people of today will picture the faultiest computer you have ever dealt with, having a 7” floppy disc, and then they imagine it ten times more unreliable. That is what our defense infrastructure was hanging on. It was going to happen and it had to happen, so it was only a matter of when it happens. The suggestion was throughout that it was meant to be a surprise when it would happen and there wouldn’t be a lot of warning.

You walked through every day hoping that you will kiss a girl and hoping that when the bombs go off you will be able to hide under your desk and survive long enough to become part of a rag tag group of hardy survivors who will rebuild human civilization. Maybe if that happens you would have multiple wives because you would have to be repopulating the Earth. Also, picking the right road warrior gang was very important. Those were the considerations of a teenage boy during the time. It more and more occurs to John now that his band name The Long Winters might be a coded reference to a nuclear winter. He has no idea how much of the Grunge music scene that he grew up in and how much of fatalistic no-future, no-hope, we-are-losers mentality that that Grunge scene embodied was a leftover residue of people having grown up during the cold war.

They had been told in everything they did that it probably won’t matter what college they would go to when they would all get vaporized in the holocaust, but anyway, hope you do well in the SAT! There was never a period of acknowledgement of our loss of innocence. Their parents worry about their kids because they overheard them fighting and they might be scarred for life, or their kids ate a piece of packaged food that was not sufficiently artisanal and that might give them pancreatic disease at some point, but nobody ever said that their kids spent 20 years thinking that their death was imminent and that they would be powerless to do anything about it because an Asian horde had missiles was pointed at them personally because they lived in the wrong town.

John retweeted a lot of people from all over the US who were convinced that their exact town was the first town that the bomb would hit. John Moe grew up in Seattle and of course they would hit Seattle first because Boeing was there. Everybody in the country seems to have felt that way, no matter where they live! John learned two amazing things from this experience on Twitter: Parents and teachers around America universally told their children that their town was in the Top 3 sites that the Soviets were going to bomb. But the craziest thing he learned was that his followers from East Europe did not grow up thinking that nuclear annihilation was just on the horizon. They saw Americans as some friendly people who maybe would bring them blue jeans. John cannot emphasize this contrast enough and it ignited the understanding in him that not only was the Soviet threat a fantasy and not only were we raised to think that every time somebody slammed a door, maybe it was a 40 Megaton warhead going off, but the Soviets weren’t even scared of the Americans! They were just hoping they would see that American movie one day. It is infuriating! Our current culture of zombie movies made by people in their 40s is a memory of feeling like one day you are going to come out of a hole in the ground and everybody was going to be a mutant and you would just be looking for the last cucumber on Earth that wasn’t poisoned.

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