Yet part of that pain in my stomach was fear. I remember being afraid because the teacher seemed afraid and when the principal had come in the room he must have seemed afraid. In 1963 we were still very much in the Cold War. One of Kennedy’s main themes in his election was that there was a “missile gap” — that is the Soviets had more missiles than we did. I have no idea if this was true and I only know it in retrospect. But Americans were afraid of the Soviet Union. It was an impenetrable society about which we knew very little, or at least little of what we really knew was ever made public.
It’s hard to describe what the Cold War felt like. Many times one rarely thought of it and everyone ignored it as much as they could but it was always in your mind somewhere. From time to time there were reminders. Emergency talks. Emergency meetings of the UN Security Council. Emergency was the word always used. Everything was an emergency. And a classic line on the news was always something like:
Summits were a huge deal and these I remember because they occurred through the 1970s and early 1980s. They were a huge deal with massive press coverage and every little thing examined like which Soviet was standing next to another Soviet and how did that compare to last time? And was there any significance that the General Secretary of the Communist Party (the guy in charge) was wearing a blue tie instead of a red tie. Stuff like that. And what would happen? Very little as far as I can remember. Usually we would sell them wheat at a cheap price and they would stop behaving badly for six months in some God forsaken country where they were behaving badly.