So I came home the other night, and one of my daughters was doing her homework and asked me to remind her which were the good guys: the North Koreans or the South Koreans? That triggered a dinner table discussion of the Cold War and the Cuban missile crisis. I explained that I vividly remember listening to the radio during the Cuba crisis and that our school had regular drills where we had to hide in the basement during a simulated nuclear attack.
Oh, my daughters said to me, we have those kinds of drills, too. When I asked them to explain, it quickly became apparent that the threat they were practicing for was not a nuclear attack and not just a bad storm, but an attack by an armed student or intruder shooting up their public schools. We have ``code red' and ``code blue,' my daughters, ages 12 and 15, said. Code blue means all students must remain in their classroom or go immediately there. Code red means a total ``lockdown' - all students must remain in their classroom or rush to the nearest classroom. Teachers must lock their classroom doors, move students into the safest corner, keep them silent and cover the window of their classroom door with paper, so no gunman can see if students are inside.There you have it: My kids aren't quite sure whether North Korea or South Korea is on our side, but they know the difference between code red and code blue. I grew up terrified of another superpower with a nuclear missile. They grow up terrified of a super-empowered angry person with an automatic weapon. I knew the threat to my life came from Moscow. They have no idea which student might be carrying a gun or a knife.
Which brings me to the latest news: What is it that we and the Russians are actually spying on each other about? This whole espionage affair seems straight out of Mad magazine's ``Spy vs. Spy' cartoon. The Russians are spying on us to try to find out why we are spying on them. I mean, be honest, is there anything about the Russians today you want to know?
Their navy is rusting in port. Their latest nuclear submarine is resting on the bottom of the ocean. We know they're selling weapons to Iran and Iraq because they told us. And their current political system, unlike communism, is not exactly exportable - unless you think corruption, chaos and KGB rule amount to an ideology. Khrushchev threatened to bury us. Putin threatens to corrupt us.
I was friendly with one of the Russian diplomats who was sent home for spying. He was very smart, very likable and never asked me for anything except to pick up the bill for lunch. He spent most of our meetings complaining about how stupid his government was. Maybe it was all an act, but it was sure delivered with enthusiasm.
Which brings me back to my daughters' schools. While what threatened me when I was their age - the Soviet Union - is different from what threatens them - a troubled student - they have one big feature in common: they have no simple cures. When authority is lost at the state level, or at the home level, it's not easy to recover. Such nations, and such families, become ungovernable and threaten us by their weakness, not their strength. Children or countries without a sense of direction, but with easy access to weapons, are dangerous.
How you pull a country like Russia away from becoming an angry, failed state, acting out on the world stage, and make it a responsible member of the world community has no easy formula. And how you pull a lost young person away from becoming an angry assassin and make him instead a responsible member of the local community has no easy formula.
Kids now grow up in diverse and fractured homes, and dealing with the most disturbed ones requires multiple approaches. Head Start alone, or midnight basketball alone, or more testing alone, won't do it. So it is with countries. How a country like Russia builds the rule of law, an honest civil service and the habits of a modern democratic society is so much more complex a task than simply importing textbooks, holding elections or bringing Russia into the G-7.
Which brings me back to my dinner table. About the only thing we do know for sure is where the cure has to start. It has to start in the home, the basic building block for any community or country. Nothing good will happen in your state house or in your school house if it does not start, and is not sustained, in your own house.
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