OPINION: A return to the Cold War

I’m finding it difficult to think for very long of anything other than the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It’s one of those dominating events that instantly dwarf other concerns, and you can be overcome with a sense of dread. What point is there to the day-to-day going about of life when the fate of the world has been so perilously placed at the edge of uncertainty?

An editorial cartoon that ran Friday depicted a child asking his grandfather, “what was the Cold War like?” and the grandfather responding, “you’re about to find out.” As much as I appreciate the commentary, it also hit a raw nerve. I grew up during the Cold War. I didn’t learn to “duck and cover,” which youngsters were taught to do under their desks at school, but I remember heading down to the basement of our elementary school for air raid drills.

I don’t recall being super afraid, even though we knew hiding under desks or heading to basements wasn’t going to be much help against the Atom Bomb, but I had a child’s sense of security about the destiny of the world, not particularly well defined, but a general sense that things were going to turn out OK.

My colleague Glenn Richter, who died in August and was for many years a regular Record-Journal columnist, was a little older and wrote about the Cold War experience, including this observation in 2012: “I’d like to say we all immediately grasped the gravity of the situation and felt reassured that the president had things well in hand, but that’s not true. Oh, maybe we kids felt reassured, or maybe we simply didn’t get it, but our parents must have been scared out of their gourds.”

Glenn was writing about President John F. Kennedy’s televised address to the nation on Oct. 22, 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He noted that it took place just 17 days before his 14th birthday.

Glenn had a special interest in the Soviet Union. He’d visited there in 1990, which, as he put it in a 2011 column “was the last full year before the Soviet Union finally fizzled out,” and he’d write about the trip now and then.

In that 2012 column, Glenn talked about the pressures both Kennedy and his counterpart. Nikita Khrushchev, were under, with Kennedy pressured by his generals to launch an invasion. “Meanwhile, back in the Kremlin,” wrote Glenn, “it seems that Mr. Khrushchev was under similar pressure from his own hawks.” Though level heads prevailed, “it could easily have gone very wrong.”

“Since that time, the Cuban Missile Crisis has been studied eight ways to sundown, by scholars from hither and yon, as an exercise in crisis management,” he wrote.

The current crisis is not of Glenn’s world, though I can imagine he’d have insight. To me, it seems like a giant step backward, one that got me thinking of air raid shelters again. It’s an attempt to bring us all back to a world in which you had to think about the Soviet Union pretty much all the time — not a world I’m happy to return to.

The 2012 column ends with an observation from Sergei N. Khrushchev, son of Nikita S.: “We were very lucky that the two leaders were balanced and reasonable and their policy was not to shoot first then think, but first think, then, second time, think and maybe don’t shoot at all.”

We could use a lot of that right now, even at this point, don’t you think?

Reach Jeffery Kurz at jkurz@record-journal.com.


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