Cold War
Poster for a CNN series on the Cold War

Not really, but it does makes a good headline

| The world is going to Hell in a handbasket, and the good old days of the Cold War look better and better.

Back then, the world was divided up by the two super powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, into "spheres of influence," and the both operated under the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). That is, if either attacked the other both would be utterly destroyed in the nuclear Armageddon that would follow.

Mushroom cloud
Mushroom cloud

The threat of nuclear annihilation was real, or at least perceived as real. Both sides were armed to the teeth with nuclear warheads on intercontinental missiles. The leaders of both sides made a point of trying to convince the other that they were just crazy enough to push the button.

Everyone else went about their worldly affairs walking on eggshells lest they do something that would provoke the confrontation that would end civilization as we know it. There were occasional flare-ups like the attempt by the Soviet Union to install missiles in Cuba, but John Kennedy faced them down and the missiles were withdrawn. Everyone heaved a huge sigh of relief. But the point is that although the threats were real enough, actual hostilities rarely broke out. The super powers did a good job of keeping their client states in line, and the client states in turn did a good job of suppressing miscreants and evil doers within their own borders.

To be sure, life was not all wine and roses. When my parents would pack everyone into the family Chevrolet and go to the outdoor movies shown in the village of Welch, the evening program began, not with previews of coming attractions or ads for popcorn, but with newsreels and aircraft identification drills in which airplane silhouettes were flashed on the screen and we had to determine which were friend and which were foe. And in school, we regularly practiced duck-and-cover drills in which we would all take refuge under our desks. (As if that would do any good!)

duck and cover drill
A duck and cover drill. I remember them well, and yes, we did sit in desks exactly like these "back in the day."

Many were inspired to build their own bomb shelters and stock them with canned goods, water, and other supplies. My own parents figured that the cellar under the house would probably do just as well, since it was already stocked with jars of canned fruits and vegetables as well as a big bin of potatoes.

But now things have changed. The Cold War is over, or so they say. On the other hand, rebel and dissident groups foment trouble everywhere. Stateless terrorist groups keep metastisizing. Al-Qaeda just announced a "branch" in India (who do they think they are, a bank?), and one of their off-shoots, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, now calls itself Islamic State of Something (ISIS or ISIL) and goes about sawing off the heads of captive journalists.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin is trying to restore the Soviet empire and recently annexed Crimea and obviously would like to do the same to Ukraine.

As I said, the world is going to Hell in a handbasket, and it's very unnerving. I can't foresee how it's all going to end. I do know I am frightened terribly by the warmongering hotheads in Washington. (Lindsay Graham and John McCain, I'm talking about you!) These don't-just-stand-there-do-something-anything people scare the bejeesus out of me.

 

Last updated on Apr 13, 2018

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