Thursday, May 30, 2019

A look back at the Cold War, 30 years after it ended

My daughter just interviewed me about growing up during the Cold War for a school project. The way I described it: It was constantly in the background and a source of great concern, kind of like Global Warming is now.

As a young kid in the 70s, awareness of the Cold War was driven by some types of activities, such as drills in our elementary school to file down to the school basement which was supposedly a fallout shelter. I was also aware of news events driven by Cold War conflicts, such as the Boat People crisis, defectors or athletes crossing over or seeking asylum, the 1980 Summer Olympics being cut short, and concern when Brezhnev died or stepped down - would someone even more grim take over the USSR?

As a teen in the 80s, we knew about the risk of a full-on nuclear war breaking out and M.A.D. ("mutually assured destruction" IIRC). And there were the hot wars and conflicts popping up, usually in hot places. Grenada, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Angola ...

We were the good guys and they were the bad guys, as evidenced by our value on freedom and the fact that they kept their people in line with fences, minefields, and cruelty. Hollywood played up this good guy/bad guy thing too, from Rambo to Rocky to Red Dawn.

But there were some questions in the backs of our young minds when it came to things about the Cold War that didn't quite make sense. Like: the leaders in client states we backed and gave free reign to oppress and kill in the name of "freedom." Were our strongmen morally superior to their strongmen? Were their policies and goals all bad?

And what about the people who lived under these regimes? The media was good at concentrating our loathing on the evil leaders, military forces, and the extensive police-state apparatus. We didn't know much about the ordinary people, except that some went to great lengths to get out. But most of them didn't. Was it because they were incapable, didn't want to go, or didn't care?

Sometimes media made us ponder the divide. The ending to the movie "Wargames" was kind of corny, but it made a point. And that Sting lyric: "Do the Russians love their children too?" I had issues with Sting breaking up his fun pop band and turning into a pretentious artiste, but nevertheless that particular line struck a chord, and made me think.

What are your Cold War memories or stories?

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