Scott Graber

Once upon a time, grown-ups excised the outrageous, the destructive 


It is Saturday, early, and this morning it is cold. As I sit in our well-lit, well-heated dining room I have my Eight O’Clock coffee in a heavy mug reminiscent of day-old grease, onions and roadside diners of the 1950s. This morning there is no newspaper, meaning I have to rely upon National Public Radio. 

Those who listen to NPR on Saturday know that the People’s Pharmacy is the first program that most of us hear as we fight to regain our consciousness. Although the People’s Pharmacy sounds vaguely Soviet, we know it is relentlessly receptive to far ranging discussion dealing with heart disease, cancer, hypertension and hysterectomy. 

Joe and Terry Graydon always have a doctor who is eager to describe symptoms — nausea, vomiting, loss of peripheral vision — that leave you wondering whether or not you yourself have that particular pathology. 

When I was growing up there was a television series called “Medic” that starred Richard Boone. Boone, who would go on to other roles including Mike Sweeney in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, played Dr. Konrad Styner. 

Dr. Styner would host a show that would usually center around a disease like leukemia or spinal meningitis — serious stuff where the outcome was always in question. To this very day I remember the leukemia show and also remember a show that featured a nuclear attack complete with burns, radiation sickness and death. 

In 1954 (when this episode was aired), the possibility of nuclear war was periodically reinforced by drills where children, like myself, climbed under our desks awaiting the blinding flash that would precede our deaths. 

In those days, the U.S. Army assumed nuclear war was in its future and that battlefield burns would constitute the majority of its casualties. The Army built a burn center in San Antonio, Texas, and my father was assigned to its research unit. 

The Army invested millions, maybe billions, of dollars in its burn research and treated thousands of burn victims from around the country at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston. I got to watch some of this work — from a distance — and sometimes my father sneaked me into films that showed what happens when a tactical nuclear device is detonated in the vicinity of animals. Usually this involved pigs placed in M4 Sherman Tanks. 

After San Antonio, we were transferred to Germany where it was assumed an invasion, from the East, was inevitable. Furthermore, the invading Russians, East Germans, Poles and Czechoslovakians would be preceded by nuclear warheads aimed at Munich and Mannheim. Our soldier-fathers would not defeat these invading armies, but would slow them down so that the reinforced allies, mostly from the United States, would eventually win. 

Nuclear war did not, however, occur in the 50s or the 60s, and I, myself, was astounded that somehow, someway our leaders had averted the horror and sorrow of nuclear war. And all the while we were proud of the men, and the women, who flew the B-52s, who patrolled the Fulda Gap, and those who made the fundamental, foundational decisions regarding our reaction to Russian provocations. 

If a B-52 (or B-47) and Dwight David Eisenhower had the ability to protect us from nuclear destruction we were not going to criticize that airborne crew, or that President and his State Department. That war, whether one called it hot or cold, meant loyalty to our leaders and those who actually carried the World War II-era weapons. 

But in the late 60s, the notion of inevitability began to wane. Notwithstanding huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons, neither side had used them and there was a growing belief that they never would be used. At the same time, there was the parallel notion that our President (Lyndon Johnson) and our Vietnam-era military were flawed. 

Filling-up this fading fear (of war) were other problems — problems like racial prejudice, income inequality, abortion and class warfare. When these issues raised their heads, our fear, once reserved for the Soviet Union was replaced by resentment, anger and pointing fingers at each other. 

This time of criticizing of our leaders, and each other, was modulated by the fact that newspapers and television networks edited out the irresponsible, libelous and erroneous criticism. One got opinion, but there were grown-ups who excised the outrageous and the destructive. 

Need I end this essay by saying that this editing and these editors are gone? 

These days we live in a free fire-zone. 

Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at cscottgraber@gmail.com. 

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