A Cold War story: "They are people just like us!"

The article, the name and author of which I have long since forgotten, started out with a typical family scene, kids at the breakfast table waiting to be fed, Dad getting ready to go to work, that type thing. All of a sudden, the sirens began to sound in the background and the long dreaded attack was on the way.

At this point the family began to head for their shelter. The attack had come; these people were now in mortal fear for their lives and getting ready to do whatever they possibly could to survive.

The reader was obviously encouraged to identify as strongly as possible with the family, because, after all, this could happen at any time. We were rapidly learning to live with fear on a regular basis.

Now the author sprang the trap and revealed what to my young mind was a lesson never to be forgotten: this was in fact a Russian family, and the long dreaded attack, the missiles which were headed to destroy them and all that they lived for, were coming from the good old United States of America.

This just blew my young mind! The point was not to demonize either side -- it was that the roles were completely interchangeable, and it really didn't matter which side of the fence you were on when the missiles started to fly. Life was life, death was death, and the great equalizer was in play.

All through the story, as the family was becoming more and more anxious about the impending attack, my young mind was visualizing someone… maybe someone like… me! And my Mom and Dad! — being terrified by those evil Soviets who had initiated this crisis and were seemingly on the verge of wiping us out. This was a frightening time for the grownups; for the little kids it was terrifying.

The story drove home a crucial point: the people on the other side of your situation, whether it is a negotiation, an argument about roommate duties, or even a nuclear war -- these people are real, and their lives are every bit as important to them as yours is to you. If some unknown force was to suddenly transpose your situations, you would be just as passionately committed to their side of the story as you are to yours.

My lifelong habit of questioning the "official" narratives and coming to my own conclusions -- open to further revision, certainly, but they had to be mine -- had begun.