Because of the usual subject matter and the historical distance typically involved, it’s rare that the arrival of a new wargame here at the Swamp Bunker gives me pause for a personal stroll down memory lane. Recently, though, I’ve had one of the games from Strategy and Tactics 263 — Wurzburg Pentomic — on the Big Table and it’s sent me mentally wandering back to the days of the Mushroom Cloud Menace.
When I was a kid growing up in Clermont, one of our next-door neighbors had a fallout shelter on his property. This was circa 1969 and a lot of the nuke scare had passed, so the thing may well have been stuffed full of empty beer bottles — but still, there it was right in his front yard: A little reminder of the Great Game that was playing out on the global field between ourselves and our Soviet buddies sitting just on the far side of the polar ice cap.
These days it’s hard to imagine growing up in a world that was so sanguine about the probability of nuclear warfare. Clermont was dotted with family-sized fallout shelters. Some of the local public facilities like the library, city auditorium and the high school gym were still labelled with the appropriate Civil Defense signage. Most of the adults I grew up around clearly remembered that Florida wasn’t exactly Fun Central during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
We were beyond the era of “duck and cover” drills in school, but not by much. The high schools still taught a (mandatory) class called “Americanism Versus Communism”. Leonid Brezhnev was the bogeyman on the nightly news; less entertaining than Nikita Kruschev but also somewhat more stable, albeit in an under-handed, bogeyman sort of way.
The Cold War was in full swing and by my understanding at the time, the Soviets made great antagonists. Their alphabet was indecipherable and their spoken language sounded just plain weird. They had Siberia, T-62 tanks, borscht and advisors helping shoot down American aircraft in Vietnam. Bad. Guys.
Being a kid, of course, it’s not exactly like I walked around all day scanning the skies for the tell-tale contrails of approaching atomic doom. Nuclear devastation was a fairly remote concept. During a visit with one of my uncles who was a missile silo commander at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, I remember tooling around with him in one of their training simulators — completely oblivious to what I was ‘simulating’ when I turned my launch key at the end of our countdown. For me, it was just a very cool way to play at launching rockets.
Hmmm. Now that I think about it, I’m really happy that my uncle wasted all of those taxpayer dollars and never had to do his job outside of a simulator.