L. Neil Smith's
Number 193, October 7, 2002


The Shelter
by Patrick K Martin

Exclusive to TLE

I saw a favorite old T.V. show of mine today. An original Twilight Zone episode called "The Shelter". For those of you who have never seen it, this story is about neighbors who, during a dinner party, discover that a nuclear attack is occurring. The main character, a doctor, moves his family to their fallout shelter, the rest scatter to their homes in panic, only to return and demand a place for themselves and their families, because they have no shelters of their own. The Doctor explains that there is only room for three people, and that they should have listened when he urged them to build their own shelters. The neighbors beg, they plead, they offer to draw lots to see which family should use the shelter, then they threaten and eventually batter down the door. In the end the war never happens, the attack was a false alarm, and the lesson was "To remain a civilization, we must remain civilized."

I have always liked this story, but watching it today I realized how it displayed our culture in microcosm. Confronted by a danger long known to exist, too many of us ignore it, we reject its reality in the apparent hope that ignoring it will make it go away. Whether the threat is nuclear war, economic collapse, natural disaster, or an emerging police state, people (especially Americans) reject the admission if it's reality to their consciousness. When reality asserts itself however, the impulse to survive drive's them to any extremity.

The mythological doctor in the story said as much "No, you didn't listen when I told you. I told you to give up some of your cocktail parties and baseball games for a few afternoons, but you wouldn't listen. It would have been admitting the age we live in, and you couldn't do that." The response? To transfer the blame for their own inaction, into blame on the doctor for refusing to commit suicide on their behalf. Sound familiar? Look at the examples of social security, welfare, public education, and a thousand other programs, all of them predicated on the belief that because people choose not to provide certain things for themselves, they have a right to demand that others supply them when needed.

The threat of terrorism was ignored in this country for more than thirty years. Highjackings, bombings, shootings, these things failed to excite any desire to defend ourselves, people just went on with their lives oblivious to any threat to themselves. After all these were just isolated events that happened to other people in other places. Of course when the twin towers fell this changed, suddenly everybody looked around and realized that trained, organized killers had all of us in their sights. The response was to leap into the arms of the statist's who proclaimed a willingness to protect them, if they just give up a few of those silly constitutional rights.

In the story, the neighbors offered to draw lots, to decide by random chance who will benefit from the doctor's preparations. Of course in our society many people seem to think that this would be perfectly acceptable. Do they not refer to the producers, the achievers in our country as "The winners of life's lottery"? All around us there are those who believe that good fortune falls from heaven, landing on the head of any random stumble-bum who happens to be passing by. And why shouldn't they? Do the teachers in our 'Schools' tell them of the blood, sweat, and tears shed by men like Thomas Edison (or at least the poor bastards who worked for him), Nikola Tesla, and John Moses Browning? Hell, searching "Yahoo" for MY name will get more hits than Tesla. The great men of industry are all just lucky, right? They were just greedy, self-centered, egotistical, robber-barons. So it is only right that we allow the universe to amend its error in choosing them as winners instead of us, right?

The story is fiction, and was not meant as a reflection on society as a whole, but it turns out to be a pretty good one. The best example of that fact was not the voice of Rod Serling, reminding us of the need to act as civilized beings, but rather before that, in the scene of the neighbors bashing down the door of the shelter, preparing to drive out the doctor and his family. Why is that so significant? Because by breaking down the door they destroyed the very protection they sought. Ironic, don't you think?



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