When the Cold War ended and people started tearing down the Berlin Wall in 1989, it wasn’t just the end of a war, it was the end of a way of life. And those of us who were born near its beginning were cut adrift in a world that no longer made sense.
In my day, we knew who the enemy was—it was the United Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR, the place that is known today as about ten different countries, including Russia, Poland, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia (or whatever, and however many, new countries Czechoslovakia is now), and most of Eastern Europe. We thought of them as the Commies.
Boy, did we hate the Commies! They outlawed religion. They kept the few Jews that survived WWII from leaving the Soviet Union, so they couldn’t go live in the new Israel. (Or NYC, which had a larger Jewish population than Israel—and still does, for all I know.). They outlawed any literature and music from the West (we used to be ‘the West’—that is, the NATO countries and their satellite nations). Trade with ‘The Free World’ was prohibited. Free speech and free assembly were prohibited. The only reason we went to the Moon was because the Russkies (another word for Commies) put a satellite in Earth orbit first—and scared us to death with visions of them raining nuclear missiles down from the sky. Then VP Lyndon Johnson was quoted saying ‘we cannot allow the communists to take the high ground of space’.
We had our favorite Soviet artists, like Solzhenitsyn the writer and Shostakovich the composer—and we admired them not just for their talents or artistry, but for the harassment they endured under the Soviet’s cultural restrictions. We ridiculed the Russkies in our media—Boris and Natasha (of ‘The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show’ fame) were generic caricatures of inept Soviet spies who couldn’t even catch “moose and squirrel”. As a child, I also went through atom bomb defense drills at school—they had all us kids go into the hallway, huddle down facing the walls and cover our heads with our hands. I remember also being informed that I should never look directly at an atomic blast because it would cause permanent blindness. No one said anything about how blindness would be the least of a person’s problems if they were close enough to look directly at a nuclear explosion.
But, there were upsides to the Cold War, too. Companies’ employment practices couldn’t be made too draconian without being accused of the same kind of autocratic invasion of human rights that the Commies were guilty of. Our freedoms of speech and of assembly were more jealously guarded because it was one of the things that made us the ‘good guys’.
Religion was kept in perspective as well—we could see that no hand of God was destroying the Godless Commies, so we couldn’t say religion was fact, as some evangelists try to do today—but we also recognized it as an important personal freedom. It was relegated to the background in practical terms—no one took seriously the fission between science and the Bible—science was science and religion was religion.
And civil rights got a huge boost from the Cold War—as soon as the Commies began to deride our ‘Free Country’ for being racist and quite unequal, the civil rights groups, the feminist groups, they all had to be taken seriously—they had become part of the Cold War, not as an enemy but as a necessity.
Information was free then—as it had always been. Scientists took collaboration to be such a serious mandate for scientific progress that the idea of owning information had a Commie feel to it. And that was leading edge scientific research—nowadays we can accept the idea of information ownership because our ‘information’ consists of reality-show-videos, music-videos, online gaming shortcuts—and other such frippery. The sharing of information between two scientists, in today’s terms, would be up against a mountain of Non-Disclosure Agreements and a mob of lawyers. The people who own things have gathered information unto themselves—and now the great scientific minds of the World are kept locked away by these Fat Cats so that they may profit from whatever genius those thinkers possess.
I admit, it was a simpler time. Back then, the idea of riding in a jumbo jet was new and modern—steering them into the WTC Towers wasn’t something anyone thought about until much later—and even then, in 2001, most of us were shocked by that particular idea. I read the “Tom Swift, Jr.” adventure series when I was little—that was science fiction about jumbo planes and undersea construction, all dumbed down to the level of grade school reading. But I loved them.
Later on, I began to read the late Tom Clancy—along with several million other people—his novels were very satisfying. The only evil in the world was the Communist Bloc—and U.S. soldiers never did anything wrong. As long as Jack Ryan defused the bomb in time, the world remained free from the threat of Soviet Dominion! In Clancy’s last real best-selling thriller, “Executive Orders”, he has cobbled together enough serendipity to land Jack Ryan in the White House (Someone steers a jetliner into the Capitol Building during a State of the Union address.) yet still leaves his character enough running room to fight bad guys hand-to-hand before it’s all over. And when it was over, it was over—that book was published in 1996.
Clancy would write several other popular novels that would concentrate on the technology of modern warfare, mostly starring the sons (and daughters) of the main characters used throughout the books of his glory days. Many movies were made of his books–and his later post-Cold War writings were almost as prodigious, inspiring the TV series “Tom Clancy’s Net Force” and video-games from “Red Storm Entertainment”. He died in October of this year, 2013.
Not only had we become used to the two-dimensional configuration of our civilization, us vs. them, but at its farthest, most extreme remnants, it became codified in entertainments, from “The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming” (1966) until the movie version of “The Hunt for Red October” (1990)—we enjoyed the melancholy status quo of two peoples separated by ideologies, who were always seen by each other as far too human when encountered face-to-face.
We had yet to encounter a world in which terrorism was the new paradigm—I’ve always been very upset about our country’s reaction to 9/11—the fear that we allowed into our life-styles and our laws—was by far the greater attack—and we fell before it. Nowadays I could start a riot simply by walking away from a backpack in a crowded place. And yet we have more fatalities accounted for by random shootings this past decade, not to mention the home-grown terrorist Americans that bombed Oklahoma City. We have more fatalities accounted for by soldiers’ suicides than those who have fallen in action!
Clearly, something’s amiss. We must put away our fear. And we must put away our pride. We have to take stock of ourselves, individually, and as a society, and we have to start figuring out sensible plans for moving forward.
The biggest storm in recorded history hit the Philippines a few days ago—and the consensus is that climate change is about as ‘real’ as it gets. The lying bastards who have knowingly obfuscated this issue for decades to get their almighty, god-damned dollar are not pooh-poohing Global Warming anymore—the smart ones are investing in the ocean-walling business—every big city in the world is near the shore of some ocean, and that’s a lot of massive berms and boundary wetlands.
The Chinese are learning what we learned—go overboard on the cheap, dirty energy, and the cities become murky fogbanks of lung-glue, and cancers break out all over. The Chinese will be easier to reason with—their advisors need only point out their windows, or at American newspaper headlines—the results of fifty years of greedy, sloppy energy-production are manifesting globally, in historically bad weather and bad crops. The planet is physically changing—and not in a good way. Between resource-rape and over-population, we’re headed for a bumpy ride these next ten, twenty years.
Tea-partiers trumpeting their petulant ignorance are not to be blamed—no journalist with any wits would waste time on Sarah Palin and that bunch. It is the Koch brothers, a notably personal aberration comprised of twin nut-jobs, who deserve the blame for inciting the stupidest demographic we have, and more than them—it is the cold, shark-like predations of all corporations, in their present configuration. The laws governing corporations in the USA read like an instruction manual for destroying the human race—and they must be changed.
We can never go back to the fairy-tale of “Moose and Squirrel” vs. “Boris and Natasha”—we know all too well now that our greatest dangers lie within ourselves and within our society. As a people, we don’t take enough responsibility—we don’t have more than a quarter of eligible voters voting in any election—and you can imagine how many informed voters that comes to. Not a lot. You know who comes out—the yahoos. They may be dumb, but they’re smart enough to win elections—simply by showing up.
I don’t know—I’m not expecting to see too many more decades—I ain’t dying, but I ain’t young, neither. My only concern is the kids, trying to make a good life for themselves in this junk-heap of a civilization we’ve become. Whenever I try to imagine a lifetime starting from now, I just get very tired. Can you imagine? It was hard enough starting in the 1950s—starting in the twenty-first century seems like something I wouldn’t enjoy—luckily, my opinion isn’t what matters.
There are some things I’m sure of. Money is a problem. Ignorance is a problem. Fertility is a problem. And, of course, Peace is a problem. There are organizations which, no matter how fine someone slices it, exist for the sole purpose of keeping the truth from being shared. Likewise, there are PR firms and propaganda departments that exist for the sole purpose of telling us lies, or at least, well-spun truths. Education will never work well until we recognize it as an ongoing thing—most especially now, when technology changes the marketplace, and the jobs market, so quickly.
Public schools that don’t graduate literate students are not acceptable—how is that even possible? It’s possible because even very good, dedicated people are powerless against politics—and politics is rife in public education now. Maybe that’s because parents started trying to get their kids educated ‘with conditions’. The differently-abled are well-deserving of any assistance that can be devised. But the differently-‘faithed’ are a different story—we need to tell those parents to cowboy up and teach that junk at home, where it belongs.
We can see the way the debate is formed by the media—what’s important is pre-decided—all that’s left is the arguing, which the media facilitate the best they can. And we all have fun, arguing over stuff, discussing stuff, criticizing stuff. We can see that many important things are left out of modern news reporting—things that don’t have high visibility yet have immense importance—these issues are ignored entirely. Think to yourself—aren’t there things you think about, that you never hear about in the news? And aren’t some of those things kinda important?
Ahh, like The Beatles, I miss being “Back In The USSR”.