Lately I’ve been feeling warmly nostalgic for that comfy old Cold War.
As war goes, it seemed so much more manageable than what we’ve got on our plate today. The moral issues were more easily navigated and actually dying seemed like a pretty vague abstraction. Well, it seemed that way to me at least, but I might have been naïve. After all, I was only 11 years old when President Reagan joked that he’d just outlawed Russia and that the bombing would begin in five minutes.
On second thought, can you even be naïve when you’re 11? Or is mindless bumbling ignorance just where you ought to be at that developmental stage?
I was old enough not to have been taught that cowering under my desk would save me from the nuke, but still too young to be allowed to watch The Day After. The night it came on I played cards in the bedroom with my mom and tried to catch the little snippets of dramatized Armageddon that were floating up through the heat grate from the TV downstairs.
The problem with the current state of affairs is that I can actually imagine dying from terrorism.
I grew up in the age of AIDS and crack cocaine, so biological and chemical warfare don’t seem so far-fetched. And suicide bombings? Please. Who among us hasn’t joked about which of our colleagues might “go postal?” We’re already primed and ready to expect suicide attacks at our schools and workplaces. Death by nuclear bomb, on the other hand, is too much of an abstraction to scare me. It’s the kind of fire and brimstone fairy tale that us secular seventies children were taught to firmly ignore.
I much prefer total human annihilation via nuclear vaporization to the current state of piecemeal terrorism and the war against it. Much better to go out in a bang alongside the entire human race than to wait around for the bombings, lose your mother one day, maybe your internal organs the next. I remember thinking that if I did happen to survive the nuclear winter at least I wouldn’t ever be picked last for the dodgeball game again. Plus I’d get to kill squirrels with slingshots.
The trouble is that when George Bush and Osama bin Laden say “God is on my side,” I think they really believe their own rhetoric. By contrast the old Soviet/American animosity felt a little contrived. I’m sure the average Russian and the average American disagreed over who would get the upper hand if Lincoln and Lenin came up on each other in a dark alley, but that was fairly tame jingoism. The Sputnik thing was a bummer, but nobody was willing to kill or die for it. Instead, we just started taking more science classes.
Mostly I imagine the Russian and American military planners of the day trying to say the right things so that they could hang on to their mid-level bureaucratic jobs and go home in the evening to a vodka or a Bud. It was kind of like the A’s and the Yankees: sure, we hated each other, but nobody had to actually be Satan. I guess the Russians loved their children too. Nowadays I can imagine Osama bin Laden murdering his favorite just because he thinks it would confuse the heck out of us.
The Cold War was also nice because it reined us in. I’m sure that there was a Middle Eastern country or two that we wouldn’t have minded invading in the eighties, but it simply wasn’t done. Would have upset the whole balance of power. I know, I know—we did lots of secret nasty stuff all over the world. But that’s just it: It was secret and I didn’t have to feel guilty that the taxes coming out of my paper route were funding an occupying army. Now it’s all out in the open and even though I try to pretend I’m Canadian whenever Paul Wolfowitz comes on TV, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m tainted by association.
So I guess the bottom line is: Up with the Wall! Man your missile silos! It was a kinder time, a gentler age, when the world was dominated by two essentially sane superpowers, neither of whom wanted to be the first to push the button that would bomb us back to the swamp age.
Back then bin Laden would have been small time. What’s that you say? You’ve got some airplanes and an inter-office envelope full of white powder? I’m shaking in my lead-lined boots. Back in the day we would have given a creep like him a few million dollars, or the Soviets would have, and he would have gone back to his palace and slaughtered a couple hundred of his closest friends.
Ah, the good old days.