Friday, May 26, 2017

The Cold War Blues

Life during the Cold War was surprisingly normal. Although discussions of Soviet activity was frequent in the newspapers, on the radio, and in television newscasts, most other aspects of life were not noticeably affected.

Popular music introduced Elvis Presley and the Beatles. Mature music offered Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. Hollywood produced a variety of westerns, love stories, comedies, and other typical film genres. Education and employment proceeded largely along their normal lines.

Some narratives portray widespread anxiety, depicting ordinary citizens as constantly fretting about annihilation in a nuclear war. The reality, instead, was that people enjoyed sports and picnics, children watched the premiere season of ‘Scooby Doo’ on TV, and people fell in love, got married, and started families as they always have done.

Schools did not widely engage in ‘duck and cover’ drills. Although bomb shelters, or fallout shelters, were constructed in many communities, they were not conspicuous, nor were they often present in the everyday consciousness of ordinary people.

The famous ‘duck and cover’ films were, in fact, never widely adopted or shown by schools. The same is true of the related pamphlets. While such media were produced, they were also ignored.

Life was so normal, in fact, that some scholars were concerned that the public wasn’t taking the Cold War seriously enough. In 1964, historian John Stormer wrote:

The Cold War is real war. It has already claimed more lives, enslaved more people, and cost more money than any “hot” war in history. Yet, most Americans refuse to admit that we are at war. That is why we are rapidly losing - why America has yet to win its first real victory in 18 years of “cold” war.

The nature of the Cold War made it difficult to discern who was winning, who was losing, and how it was going. To be sure, at the end, in 1990, there was no doubt that the United States and its western European allies had won, and that the Soviet Union had lost.

Was the American public calmly confident, correctly reckoning that there was a very low probability of a Soviet attack on the American homeland? Or were they, as John Stormer suggests, oblivious or in denial about the danger?

Within the framework of the “cold” war there have been “hot” wars in China, Malaya, Indonesia, Algeria, the Congo, Cuba, fraq, the Gaza Strip, Hungary, Korea, Angola, Burma, Tibet, and Egypt. In 1963, there was fighting in Laos, Viet Nam, and on the Indian-Chinese border, renewed skirmishing along the 38th parallel in Korea, and terrorist activity in Africa.

The name ‘Viet Nam’ would later become ‘Vietnam,’ and Burma is sometimes called Myanmar.

In hindsight, the military threat remained potential instead of actual, vis-a-vis the American homeland. As the Cold War developed, the greater threat was not directly military, but rather the extensive espionage network which the international communist conspiracy installed and operated inside the United States.