Almost everyone of my generation whom I’ve asked can recall nightmares about atom bombs during our elementary-school years. Was there a plan out of Washington for early political indoctrination? A scheme to create neurotics? Or just insensitivity? I remember one summer night when a close flash of lightning and its boom of thunder woke me and had me running through the house yelling, “Air raid! Air raid!”
The school district’s physical education lady, who usually came to make us play dodge ball—a subtle training tactic in group dynamics, now that I think of it—or dance in circles to “Skip to My Lou,” taught us a survival method to save our lives in a nuclear attack. “Duck and Cover” meant lying on the floor under our desks with our arms wrapped around our heads. She showed us a film in which wholesome American kids saw that intense flash of light through their classroom windows and gracefully Ducked and Covered. It also showed that if you were outside on the street when you saw the bright flash, you could Duck and Cover in the gutter.
In one TV show, a young girl in the Soviet Union was encouraged to rat on her parents for saying un-Soviet things about their government. After the parents were dragged away by the police, the girl hanged herself. No wonder they wanted to kill us—what if their own people wanted to have the freedoms we could take for granted!
A famous episode of Richard Boone’s Medic series showed how doctors would respond to a nuclear attack on their city. A title kept flashing saying it was a dramatization, to forestall an “Invasion from Mars” panic that the show’s graphic depiction of destruction and death might cause. It was bad enough for an 11-year-old.
A series I always watched—so did the young Lee Harvey Oswald, according to several mentions on the Internet—was I Led 3 Lives, based on a book by an advertising man named Herb Philbrick, who told of his career in Boston as both a Communist Party member and an informant for the FBI. One of the party cells he belonged to met in the town next to the suburb I grew up in.
The Commies in the series were always planning terrible things, like eliminating cell members who defected or poisoning an upstate reservoir. Richard Carlson’s depiction of Philbrick’s heroic struggles was very compelling. How exciting—and dangerous—to lead more than one life at a time—especially if you were defeating Commie plots every week!
There’s a debate online about whether the shows would be laughable if viewed today. But I have also found articulate statements on websites that Philbrick’s book can illuminate for us how Obama has become a captive of today’s Communist Party. (No, I’m not making that up.)
Years later I was driving on Route 1 toward Maine when I saw a gigantic sign advertising that a store by the road belonged to “Herb Philbrick, Author of I Led Three Lives.” I also met someone in college whose father, a friend told me, was mentioned in the book. The father was a quiet, genial man whose small house was so filled with books that one room had the kind of stacks of bookshelves you would find in a public library.
I finally read the book. The man and Philbrick had worked together on Party activities, mostly concerned with labor and civil rights causes. And what were the actions that these underminers of Americanism carried out?
Mostly, they handed out leaflets.