Getting Ready for War: Reach Out, Don’t Withdraw

By Amy Hirshberg Lederman
The Arizona Daily Star, March 2, 2003

When I was growing up, my father had a number of businesses he ran on the side. One of my favorites was “Sink or Swim,” a company that sold and installed underground swimming pools. In the fall of 1962 he ingeniously expanded the concept in response to the impending missile crisis in Cuba and developed a line of Fall-Out Shelters that used his pool model as the design.

These shelters were made of corrugated steel and resembled a subterranean Quonset hut. The entrance was baffled to divert air current and a hand operated generator was included along with a gas driven one to provide the power supply. Each kit was equipped with assemblage instructions and recommendations for properly excavating one’s back yard. The cost of an average shelter for a family of four, including ample cans of MPF (Multi-Purpose Food) was approximately $5,000.

I was only nine years old at the time but I thought our shelter was the coolest thing in the world. I was not aware of the anxiety that accompanied my parents’ fervor to build a shelter that would ultimately protect our family in the event of nuclear war. To my unsophisticated mind, the idea of living underground, eating canned fruit and listening to the radio all day instead of going to school seemed like an ideal way to spend time.

I think a lot about the Fall Out Shelters my father sold over forty years ago as I push my own shopping cart down the aisle in search of the three day supply of food and water that we are to have ready in case of an emergency. I remember my father explaining that he had prepared individual emergency kits for each of us with flashlights, batteries, sterno cans and water purification tablets as I discuss with my own children where we should meet in the event we are separated at the time of an attack. They do not see the fear I hold deep inside or understand that I am looking back into my life as I try to forge ahead, seeking some sort of guidance from history, family and faith.

It has been said that to be always ready for war is the surest way to avoid war, but is taping up my windows and doors really getting ready for war? Is giving my children cell phones and an evacuation plan preparing us for anything?
Our attempts to externally shore up our homes and pantries alone cannot adequately prepare us for what lies ahead because we can’t possibly know what the results of a war with Iraq, North Korea or any other country that is bent on destroying our democratic society will be. It may be a necessary start and one that gives us a sense of empowerment but without more, it will never be enough.

We can however, build up our own reserves by using this time as an opportunity to prepare ourselves internally. We can replenish our spiritual cupboards by focusing on whatever models of faith and comfort we seek in times of crisis and duress. We can build up our moral awareness through living by the ideals that we hold sacred in this country – in the ways we act, work, speak to and treat one another. Rather than choose to withdraw and isolate ourselves out of fear and self-concern, we can consciously reach out and talk to one other and vow to remain involved in our communities as we face this most difficult time together.

We can use this time to remind ourselves what freedom and justice for all really means. For if democracy and the right for all men to live freely loses its hold on us, then no war, however great or necessary, will be needed to overcome us. We will have done it to ourselves.