These days, it’s hard to find any common ground between baby boomers and later generations. They have pensions and houses. We have avocado toast and debt. Yet, in one area we are very much in sync: the institutionalized fear of the apocalypse.
Whereas baby boomers had the Cold War and the simmering dread of nuclear war, we have climate change and the epidemic of mass shootings. I can’t deny that I occasionally Google “how to survive a nuclear apocalypse” when Donald Trump tweets something incendiary toward Iran or North Korea; however, my anxieties now lie much more with the possibility of gun violence in the public spaces that I occupy every day.
Duck-and-cover drills became common in American schools in the early 1950s. With the help of delightful mascot Bert the Turtle, students were instructed to hide under their desks in the event of atomic war. Duck-and-cover drills and a 1951 film inventively titled “Duck and Cover” helped to prepare students for this apocalyptic threat and ease their subsequent anxieties.
Or they were supposed to, at least. Rather, children of that era now discuss the terror these drills instilled in them, exposing the dangerous realities of life from a very young age. It’s hard not to think of today’s children who, in between learning the alphabet and recess, are subjected to hyper-realistic active shooter drills.
These drills are extreme, with police officers at Franklin High School in Ohio firing dozens of shotgun and rifle blanks during a drill and deputies in Indiana shooting teachers with plastic pellets as part of their active shooter training.
Much like the duck-and-cover drills of the past, these active shooter drills are questionably effective and certainly traumatizing. The National Association of School Psychologists found that these lockdowns can produce anxiety, stress and traumatic symptoms in students and staff.
Despite sensational headlines, school shootings are actually extraordinarily rare. In fact, the likelihood of a public school student being killed by a gun in school is approximately 1 in 614 million. That’s less than a one-in-a-million chance, yet millions of students intensely fear this possibility.
I often wonder how a generation of children that have been raised to fear for their lives in the most sacred places will grow up. Schools, places of worship, movie theaters, parks — what does it do to the psyche to feel such an intense mortal threat in the most ordinary of life’s places? How will the kids who grew up watching their elected officials promise thoughts and prayers but never action vote?
Retroactively examining the major political ideas of baby boomers can help us to understand how future generations, terrorized by threats of gun violence, might think.
A 2015, and notably pre-Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, YouGov poll found that 70% of those aged 65 and older viewed socialism unfavorably, compared to 31% of those ages 18 to 29. It’s unsurprising that the older age group would look so unfavorably on socialism, considering its early experiences relying on thin pieces of wood to protect it from communism-induced nuclear Armageddon and the ubiquitousness between these two terms.
A comprehensive study examining the effects of the Cold War on baby boomers’ formative years and their subsequent voting habits does not exist, but it should. Childhood trauma has long-lasting impacts on attachments and relationships, physical health, emotional responses, behavior, cognition, self-concept and future orientation and an annual cost of $103.8 billion.
Maybe today’s kids will grow up to fulfill the paradigm of the Parkland students, becoming passionate activists who fight for change. Or maybe the political inaction they witness in the wake of so much destruction will breed apathy, and we’ll watch already low voting rates drop in the future.
Today’s kids certainly have something past generations didn’t: iPhones in their hands that constantly remind them of all of the threats that they face, exacerbating the development of trauma in a group that is already acutely susceptible.
The issues our society faces currently are intractable. Progress is glacial. Solutions are hard to come by and even harder to agree on. But looking to the past reminds us of how trauma molds our youngest and most at-risk members of society when we allow fear to consume them instead of taking action and protecting them.
Ellen Murray is a senior writing about being a millennial. Her column, “’90s Kid Unleashed,” runs every other Monday.