Gen X was born into a world where the real threat of nuclear war was just a fact of life. This isn’t to say we lived in a constant state of fear. Indeed, we generally lived normal lives. But the knowledge that utter annihilation could realistically occur was always there, somewhere, even if in the farthest reaches of our minds. Compared to life now, it was an extraordinary way of living.
Gen X was not the first generation to have lived with the real threat of nuclear war. But we were the last one—the last one where all of our members got to experience it. (Some Millennials experienced it but not all of them). And it was during our formative years that we witnessed the end of this constant threat. Thus, unlike entertainment from the 1980s, we can rightfully consider this to be a defining element of our generation.
So what was living that way like? It meant we lived with fallout shelters, lived through several close calls to nuclear war actually starting, lived with the knowledge about mutually assured destruction, lived with the concept of doomsday devices, and lived with a consciousness so saturated with the threat of such horrific destruction that it regularly found its way into pop culture. Again, the idea that nuclear war and utter annihilation might happen was simply a fact of life for us from our birth throughout our formative years.
That way of life seems quite foreign now. Yes, we still face many threats. It would be foolish to pretend otherwise. Many of these threats are gravely dangerous, and many are unique to this time. On top of this, nuclear war remains a possibility. Yet it is not the constant and heightened threat that it was when the Soviet Union existed.
And that is a massive difference between now and then; between the old and the current ways of living.
Perhaps this will change in the future. With China beginning to dominate the world, what once was might be again. Time will tell. But for now, Gen X is the last generation that has fully experienced such massively different eras. We are the last generation to have lived in two entirely different worlds.
Top Image: Excerpt of photo from “Doomsday device” entry on Infogalactic.