The Mast-Head: Tragedy Envisioned

For people of my generation, there were fears as well

On the way to school on Tuesday morning, one of the kids announced that she and a classmate had a plan if a shooter ever turned up. They would stash some food and water in a tree in the woods behind the school, which they would grab as they fled for the power lines. From there, they would work their way toward East Hampton Airport, where, they figured, they would be safe.

It is obvious to remark here about the unfortunate things kids today have to think about. Gun violence continues at a tragic rate in the United States, with school shootings now commonplace. But it is also true that for people of my generation, there were fears as well. 

I remember clearly the nuclear attack drills we had when I was attending East Hampton Middle School in the 1970s. Teachers would lead us from our classrooms into the basement, where we were told to sit in rows with our backs against the hallway walls. At the end of the drills, the school would serve us ice cream from five-gallon pails, both as a reward and a way of dispelling any lingering fear.

It was the height of the Cold War at the time, and for us kids, the thought of dying in an atomic attack seemed real enough. As giggle-inducing as sheltering in a school hallway might have been, we could not escape the back-of-the-mind notion and would confess to each other that there was at least a small chance our town could be swept into a nuclear blast as the Russians took aim at the submarine base across Long Island Sound in Connecticut, There would be no running for safety in the scenarios we envisioned.

The Russians never came, of course. Not so, school shooters. For children today, horrors are frequent enough that they must appear much more of a possibility. What a tragedy to hear kids talking among themselves about what it would be like to have to leave slower friends behind as they sprinted for their lives into the woods.