By Kevin Stoda
It had been said, “Explaining a metaphor to someone is like chewing someone else’s food for them”. Nonetheless, when I claim to see May 8th and May 9th as bookends of important events in my life and of important events in modern world history, I do have to take time to explain.
By the way, May 9th is my birth day and May 8th is the birthday of my one and only child.
History—in the broad, abstract meaning of the term, as well as in the sense of personal history—looms large in my life (and should loom large in all our lives as we are part of a humongous narration dating back to before the creation of the stars). I felt impelled at an early age to view history as important while at the same time I was living constantly under the shadow of post-WWII nuclear annihilation that always swung like a the universe’s largest dagger over my planet Earth, i.e. through the end of the Cold War. In short, the End of History that the planet Earth faced in those years when the West and the East were at each others throats colored most of my living years, i.e. as our humanity was expected to be destroyed at the hands of a global winter created by both my homeland, the USA, and the Soviet Union.
I was born in 1962—the year of the infamous October Nuclear Showdown between the USAand the Soviet Union over the position of nuclear missiles inCuba. As noted above, I was born on May 9, which was and remains the day when the Russians and many inEastern Europecelebrate the end of the continents bloodiest conflict.
MAY 8TH IN RECENT GLOBAL HISTORY
In short, the West celebrated VE-Day or Victory in Europe Day on May 8 and saw the war end on the European continent as ending at midnight on May 8, 1945 (Berlin Time), but since then the East has always celebrated it as occurring a day later—as the Moscow time zone is several hours ahead of Berlin’s. Hence, technically, the war against the Soviet Motherland had ended a day later in the East than in the West.
Such is the relativity of history. Like two ying and yang bedfellows—or bookends–, a divided continent could not agree on the exact date for celebrating or recognizing the end of a catastrophe that had led to the death of 50 million peoples or more.
It has now been well over half a century since the clocks in war-torn Europeticked down for Victory in Europe Day (VE-Day). That was May 8th 1945. I should also note that Harry S. Truman, the then serving 33rd President of the United States (1945-1953), was born near Lamar, Missouri in Jasper County (only a few miles from where my own mother lives) on May 8, 1884. On his birthday in 1945, President Truman announced in a radio address that World War II had ended inEurope. Marshal Wilhelm Keitel surrendered to Marshal Zhukov.Germany surrendered and Victory inEurope was achieved by the allies.
The May-8th-born Truman would permit the dropping of atomic bombs onJapan three months later.
Those events would discolor the end-of-war celebrations for the next decades as a Cold-War Curtain of Distrust divided not onlyEurope—but the World for the next four and a half decades. Albert Einstein rightly complained that nuclear weapons—which should have ended all wars but failed to, in fact bring any lasting peace to our planet. Einstein stated, “The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking…the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind.”
Soon the nuclear arms race was on and people were having nightmares of global annihilation. This fear-fascination would create endless-war mobilization for my homeland and its people—theUSA.
For example, by May 8, 1950, the US Government had become officially convinced that neither national independence nor democratic evolution existed in any area dominated by Soviet imperialism. They considered the situation to be such as to warrant sending “economic aid and military equipment to the Associated State of Indochina and toFrancein order to assist them in restoring stability and permitting these states to pursue their peaceful and democratic development.” This decision and a series of decisions there-after would lead to what Americans came to know in the 1960s as the Vietnam War. By the way, on May 8, 1967, Boxer Muhammad Ali (b.1942) was indicted for refusing induction in US Army. He (and thousands of other Americans) refused to fight in the Vietnam War out of conscience.
I should also add that on May 8, 1952, allied fighter-bombers staged the largest raid of the war on North Korea.) Then six years later, on May 8, 1958, Vice President Richard Nixon of the USAwas shoved, stoned, booed and spat upon by anti-American protesters in Lima, Peru. This latter event demonstrated that American politics in the Cold War had lost the hearts and minds of many in the world—kind of like in our present decade—by using the CIA and other forces to overthrow elected leaders and manipulate other country’s politics around the world in the name of fighting an Endless War on Communism. Incidentally, twelve years later, on May 8, 1970, massive anti-war protests again took place across the United States and around the world—i.e. in the wake of the shooting of a number of unarmed protesting students at Kent State university a few days earlier.
MAY 9TH and 1962
The ending of WWII in Europe on May 8th and 9th 1945 meant thatGermany (and Europe) had been spared the dropping of Atomic bombs that were soon destined forJapan.
In the states where I was to grow up (Missouri, Kansas, and Illinois) , the message was made clear. Winston S. Churchill arrived at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, 1946. There he stated, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Triest in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of central and eastern Europe.”
In reply, the Missourian, President Harry S. Truman, responded in 1947, “I believe that it must be the policy of the United Statesto support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures. I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.” This Truman Doctrine would be expanded endlessly over the next half century—leading to entangling alliances and wars in almost every corner of the globe.
One piece of good news for the word was the rise of rock n roll in the 1950s and other cultural revolutions in the 1960s. Later, on May 9, 1960, the world saw another earth-changing event. That was the day that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approve the pill Enovid as being safe for birth control use. The pill was made by G.D. Searle and Company of Chicago. “The Pill” created not only a sexual revolution across the globe but also changed the destiny’s of men, women and children alike forever. One woman has noted, “[B]esides the technology [of the Pill], it is[was] also a conceptual leap larger than the fall of communism, larger than the advances in communication that we hold so vital. Women were hitherto enslaved by biology; and suddenly we weren’t.”
Luckily, despite the presence in theUSAof “the Pill”, I was born on May 9, 1962– two years later—about 60 miles fromChicagoand the location of the already famous and wealthy G.D. Searle company.
1962 was a turning point year for the world, too. “ The Cold War continued to worsen when the Russians placed Ballistic Missiles on Cuban land just 90 miles away from the coast of Florida in and JFK called the bluff by threatening war unless they were removed which they were but for a short time the world was on the brink of nuclear war and self destruction. The president then set a goal of landing a man on the moon before the end of the decade and became more involved in politics in Southeast Asia by training South Vietnamese pilots.”
1962 became the first year that both the Soviet Union and theUnited Statesdecided that M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction) or brinkmanship was not necessarily the best strategy for the Cold War Arch Enemies in either the short or the long-term. May 8 and May 9 of 1945 had seen an end to war in western and central Europe, but theUSSRand theUSAwould continually bring the shadow of nuclear holocaust back to that continent—while sharing the possibility of global destruction to others over the next thirty years.
In many ways, the Cold War and the on-and-off nuclear arms race is simple to comprehend for the children of 2012. Th pre-1990 period in modern history saw the rise of a “Balance of Terror”—with nuclear weapons and destruction as the promised future for several generations.
Things were so bad for me mentally as a child of the 1960s that I really thought or felt that with the simultaneous existence of the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the interracial war at my home-front and the post-colonial wars everywhere, I really thought by my 3rd and 4th grade school years that the planet was in the midst of WWIII. Growing up, many adults had to explain to me that WWIII did not, in fact, already exist.
Finally, in the early 1970s theUSAbailed out ofVietnamand several African wars while signing détente with theSoviet Union. This provided my generation and I a breather before the massive Carter-Reagan-Brezhnev Arms build-ups of the late 1970s and early 1980s reversed the positive trends of my early teenage years. By 1983, I would join the Menschenkette and anti-Missile marches inGermany. My friends would march in massive demonstrations inNew Yorkand elsewhere. Similar to the ill-fated antiwar marches and protesters of 2003 in the run-up to George W. Bush’sIraqinvasion, many generations of peace-seekers were ignored by the politicians in early and mid-1980s in Europe andLatin America. TheUSAbecame once again the supreme global arms merchant and went after the heartland of the Soviet Union by gambling on its ability to outspend the Communists and bleed them to death inAfghanistan.
Finally, people power began to win out in the late 1980s as many of the East European anti-nuke activists aligned themselves with democratic forces and toppled regimes across the region.
Only starting in early 1990 could I—for the first time in my life—look forward to a future that would not be overshadowed full-time by nuclear winter. Interestingly, despite the rise of terrorism and the growing militarization of my homeland, the USA, I can look forward to a long future, which I am again celebrating this May 9, 2012 (for the 50th time).
I was married four years ago and now have a daughter, who was born on May 8, 2010. I celebrate her birthday today with my lovely wife. My daughter and I are the bookends with my wife in the middle. We still have hope for the future—despite possible rise of nuclear attacks fromIsrael,Iran, Saudi, theUSAor anywhere. I encourage you to get to know history and teach your children well the narration of their lives and how we—humanity—all fit into each others stories.
Factoids are collected from this website for May 8
and May 9
More on history and fallout from the Atomic Bomb Decision is here: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB162/index.htm