Growing up in Las Vegas in the 1980s, Glynn Walker always knew he could die in a nuclear attack.
The 43-year-old engineer remembers “duck and cover” drills in elementary school, where you dive under your desk in the event of an air raid, and basement fallout shelters in churches and gymnasiums with radiation-warning signs on their doors.
“We had the nuclear test sites, Nellis Air Force Base, the Hoover Dam,” he said, referring to Nevada landmarks that likely were in the crosshairs of Soviet military strategists. “We knew we’d be a target,” he said.
The prospect of nuclear war also permeated popular culture at the time, as it had done during the initial nuclear era of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Movies like “War Games,” “Red Dawn” and “The Day After” played on TV. Pro-wrestling hero Hulk Hogan battled the villainous Russian Nikloai Volkoff right after Saturday morning cartoons. “99 Luftballoons,” a pop song about an accidentally triggered Armageddon, by the German New Wave band Nena, was a radio hit in the early 1980s.
“I can remember riding my bike through the desert as a kid and thinking one day this whole valley will be a radioactive hole,” Walker said. “I didn’t panic about it. It was just the way it was.”
As the years passed, Walker stopped worrying about nuclear bombs as other threats emerged: terrorism, the war in Iraq, climate change. But the old anxieties came flooding back last week as Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a massive military invasion of Ukraine, while warning potential foes who intervened of “consequences greater than any you have ever faced in history,” and putting his nuclear forces on high alert.
Walker doesn’t think nuclear war over Ukraine is likely. “My hope is there are some guardrails or he’s playing chicken,” he said of Russia’s pugilist-in-chief.
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