NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — ‘We Will Bury You’

It was 1956, and the world seemed simple. Our big, boxy Emerson TV, with its puny convex picture tube, streamed all kinds of benign pleasures into our little house on the prairie: “Make Room for Daddy,” “The Milton Berle Show,” “Hopalong Cassidy” and — the high point of that entire year for me — the moment when Captain Jim Rohn displayed my crayon drawing on his kids’ show on Channel 4.

My parents watched “The Huntley-Brinkley Report” every night. It was a sacred civic duty. That’s where we heard the words that would shadow my generation’s childhood: “We will bury you.”

I was 6. Russia — in those days, the U.S.S.R. — was the monster that mumbled beneath our beds in the darkest hours of night. Nikita Khrushchev’s ominous words peeled back the veneer that separated our safe and low-key world from the black-and-white TV newscasts our parents turned on at suppertime. Just think: One lumpy little man in Moscow on the other side of the planet could shake his fist and create reverberations we’d feel for the rest of our lives.

When the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party made that portentous vow to visiting Western ambassadors, many of them walked out in protest. The flamboyant Khrushchev’s famous pronouncement was, of course, far from the first shell lobbed in the verbal battles of the Cold War. But for me and my peers so long ago, it marked one of our earliest encounters with the face of terror (thanks to the miracle of television) … the ominous threat that, in modern terms, “went viral” … and delivered us all onto the field of lasting panic.

Far beyond the Red River, American leaders were quaking before the Red Menace. Joe McCarthy’s paranoid pursuit of Commies under every bed was finally on the ebb, but preparations were well on their way to preserve us from Armageddon.

Mine was the generation inoculated against Russian influence in the primary grades. We started every day of first grade with the Pledge of Allegiance, unaware that Congress had amended it just that year — 1954 — with the new addition of “under God.” The revision was said to set us apart from the “godless Communists,” as well as imply heaven’s approval of our capitalist system.

We gathered in the gym to watch civil defense movies that advised us on how to survive a nuclear attack by crouching beneath our desks with our arms over our heads. I can’t recall whether we practiced “duck and cover” together back in our classroom, but I know I tried it a time or two myself when I got to school early and no one was around to see. Like a fire drill, it seemed like a good idea.

We were especially aware of the threat of “atom bombs,” perhaps, because of defense measures here in North Dakota. Grand Forks Air Force Base opened for business when I was a first-grader, with Minot following in third. Signs along budding Interstate 94 constantly reminded us it was a “national defense highway,” initiated in part for quick evacuations during atomic attack. By the time my class graduated from high school, our peaceful prairie was punctuated with underground missile silos, and jets from Minot occasionally screamed overhead, scaring the gophers and the cattle.

My first transistor radio, like every one manufactured until 1963, had two tiny triangles embossed on the AM dial at 640 and 1240. That’s where, when the Russians attacked, you could tune in emergency information from the federal government via CONELRAD, the precursor to the Emergency Broadcast System.

In south-central North Dakota, where I went to high school, the ever-present Soviet threat led to some cultural challenges. By the time my family lived there in the 1960s, our neighbors — Germans from Russia, who’d endured 50 years of suspicion as we fought Germans in two world wars — were targeted for being “Rooshian.”

No one who knows North Dakota, though, could ever wonder about their loyalty. Anti-communist fervor was in full flower. The John Birch Society had impassioned loyalists, though it flew somewhat under the radar. I remember Birch propaganda on every desk in our eighth-grade classroom, delivered without explanation or discussion. It was mimeographed on pulpy pink paper and featured a photo of President Kennedy gleefully hugging Khrushchev — obviously doctored, even to an eighth-grader’s unsophisticated eyes. There were occasional glimpses, too, of Birch Society founder Robert Welch’s little blue book, the bible of the far-right tribe, in bib overall pockets or on the dashboards of Chevys parked behind the church.

The Farm Bureau’s Citizenship Academy at the Peace Garden was steeped in anti-communist training. Back-road signs and the sides of barns proclaimed “Impeach Earl Warren” and “Get U.S. out of U.N.”

“We will bury you” — not on our watch, buddy!

Fast forward 50 years … and Russians still lead every newscast. We’re still fighting the Russian menace. TV anchors still share dire news daily about the Russians — not troops, but terabytes of purloined digital data, nefarious business loans and shady dealing that slides under, around and through official U.S. sanctions. Democracy has been compromised, doubt cast on our votes. The oil-slicked fingerprints of Russian billionaires, bankers and mobsters seem to be turning up all over Washington, D.C.

The mind-boggling web of connections between the White House and Nikita’s smoother successor Putin defies the odds to a degree that’s next to mathematically impossible. Has Russia been playing the longest game in modern history?

Back in 1956, Nikita Khrushchev predicted this. Here’s the rest of that quote that gave little kids nightmares: “If you don’t like us, don’t accept our invitations, and don’t invite us to come to see you. Whether you like it or not, history is on our side.”

He elaborated a week later: “We will take America without firing a shot. We do not have to invade the U.S. We will destroy you from within.”

The Russians’ wiliest weapon is in play right now: Big bucks, not bullets. Yet lots of the same folks who feared them in their youth seem to be giving it a pass.

One thought on “NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — ‘We Will Bury You’”

  • Mary Ann July 27, 2017 at 1:53 pm

    Yes I remember there was a bomb shelter at the Catholic school I attended in elementary school. Also when I was a military spouse(20 years), we were stationed in northern Germany and they had the spouses and children do drills on what we had to do if attacked by Russia!!! Really enjoyed reading this article. survivor972002@midco.net


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