Throwback Thursday | The Ruse of the Halcyon Fifties: Or, How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bong

I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do. So, I leave it up to you. That line from Ten Years After’s song, “I’d Love to Change the World,” haunts me. How many times have you or I thought this? That all the crescendoing chaos of our world is out of our hands, there’s nothing we can do. The truth is, it isn’t out of our hands. We only think it is, so we leave it up to others—more insane than us—to deal with it. But hey, stop worrying and learn to love the bong.

B-52 Stratofortresses and Global Warming

I grew up in the fifties at the height of the cold war, living under the proverbial nuclear umbrella. At that time, the USA and the Soviet Union didn’t have missiles that could shoot down other missiles, or missiles to carry nuclear warheads to either shore. We had bombers, B-52 Stratofortresses, carrying their giant payloads all over the world. The Soviets had the Tupolev Tu-95. There were always crews manning these ships of the sky, 24 hours a day. What we had was nuclear proliferation. Like a field of hay gone to seed, the world became a nuclear stockpile that grew and grew until no one wanted to test it. The more bombs we added to our arsenal, the more Russia added to theirs. That was deterrence—back then. Keep amping it up by building more and more. Like the song “Eve of Destruction” said, well, we were on the Eve of Destruction. You weren’t supposed to use these agents of extermination, otherwise it would be mutual suicide. Still, I’m surprised we didn’t annihilate ourselves. After all, we’re just children dressed as grownups. One false move and life as we knew it would have been over. Quickly. But nowadays we do it slowly, and with even more deadly precision. Pumping the atmosphere with carbon. Human-induced Global Warming.

The Doomsday Machine

But back to bombs. In our modern backward world, we still have the bomb. Just not as many (or so we’re led to believe), but bombs nonetheless, bombs far more destructive than those antediluvian weapons we worried about in the fifties. If it took 100 bombs to destroy the world back then, now it takes only one or two from either side. In the film Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb, it was a Doomsday Machine the Soviets developed that supposedly had the power to obliterate all life on Earth. Who’s to say there isn’t one of these doomsday machines out there somewhere. Like most things in politics, we don’t hear about the truth until the bitter end, and by then it’s too late.

Fifties Soviet Union Missile
Soviet Union

The Eve of Destruction

But for now, forget the Doomsday Machine. Add a rogue state into the mix and the world today becomes even more unstable. Back then, the umbrella of proliferation was supposed to protect us. At least, that was the thought, and it held up—barely. Witness the seven days in May, 1961, the incident with Cuba, the United States and the Soviet Union. Kennedy calling Khrushchev’s bluff on the Eve of Destruction. But as a ten-year-old kid, listening to my Dad explain the whole sorry mess to me, I thought of the umbrella as more of a bomb, a mushroom explosion opening up and expanding outward, sending us all gloriously to kingdom come. How insane was that? How insane were the fifties? Everyone tells us the fifties were calm and normal, that we should go back to those halcyon days. If only they knew.

We Stopped Worrying

We had Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob. We had Babes in Toyland. Peter Pan (played by Mary Martin), Roy Rodgers and Trigger. Shows like I Love Lucy and The Twilight Zone. Leave It to Beaver, Amos ‘n’ Andy, The Jackie Gleason Show, Three Stooges reruns. Captain Kangaroo, Sergeant Bilko and, of course, American Bandstand. We watched, all of us, entranced from the serene environment of our very own bomb shelters, these shows pablum to our wasted little souls, hunched over on the floor, eyes glued to a tiny screen the size of a basketball, black and white and sometimes filled with snow. The reception was terrible most of the time. If we weren’t playing with the rabbit ears, trying to bring one of these characters into focus, we were, as kids, fighting for the best seats to watch the inanity that continues unabated today, although in a more surreptitious way. The eyes have you. They are watching. You better believe it. 1984 has come and gone, and we’re in something more sinister with the minister of the tweet.

The Magic Lantern

Of course, we didn’t know it—no one knew it—but were being groomed by these wacky shows for the upheaval that would come in the late fifties, early sixties. We were ripe for it, watching this stuff. These shows helped form us. Almost more than our parents. Television was the magic lantern, Aladdin’s lamp. Dreams that came to us every day, seemed real enough to reach out and touch. The screen was three feet away. We could step inside it if we wanted. The ultimate bong. The ‘teevee’ didn’t lead us astray, as some have said. I think it had something to do with leading us straight into the wonderful bonged world of cannabis. Some of us discovered the magic in our early teens, at the beginning of the sixties. No wonder so many of us became potheads, became alcoholics, became counterculture, growing up in the fifties. We were braindead before and even more braindead after. Nuclear annihilation and Howdy Doody. What better combination, Buffalo Bill manipulating the puppet of power while we watched, transfixed, stuffing ourselves with the black and white eye candy of lunacy. We were ripe for the bong, just waiting for it to come into our lives.

Fifties Soviet Union John Lennon
John Lennon Memorial

We Can Change the World

But hey, we did go on to change the world. We didn’t leave it up to someone else. We revolted in the sixties and helped bring about great change, even though too much of it is slowly being eroded by the morons in power today. I’ll not name names, you know of who I speak. And it’s not Sauron or his evil eye. Something worse. We feel like we’re not able to change the world; it seems an impossible task to overcome. But we shall overcome. Even when the weight of life and death is firmly planted on our skulls, we can change the trajectory for the better. If we don’t leave it up to someone else more insane than us. Stop worrying and learn to love the bong.

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