When I was four years old, someone told me that Russia was going to bomb the United States some day. There would be sirens before the world ended in fire.
They test the emergency alert sirens every Wednesday in my town. A few days after getting this thumb-nail version of global brinkmanship, they all went off to mark the start of noon. I sat down on the curb outside of my house, and wept bitter tears while waiting to be swept away in the flash and shockwave.
That is the best way I can describe what it was like to grow up during The Cold War. We went through life knowing that most of us were going to be smashed flat under the nuclear hammer. I can’t convey how overjoyed I am that we were all wrong.
The stakes during that unofficial conflict were of the very highest, nothing less than the future history of mankind. One side was going to see their culture prevail, while the other would be forced to mould their own values and beliefs into something that was pretty close. Either that, or be swept into Trotsky’s dustbin of history.
There are actual adults living their lives right this instant, people raising their families and voting in elections, who weren’t even alive when The Cold War sputtered to a close. They see the world in a markedly different light than I do, as they cannot imagine what it is like for the childish mental image of airplanes overhead piloted by men wearing fur hats and eating borscht to bring paralyzing terror. To my mind, that is all to the best.
Our current global conflict isn’t as dramatic. Billions dying in a blaze of light is, to put it mildly, extremely unlikely. But the stakes are pretty similar, as it is once again a struggle between civilizations. One side is going to prevail, and the other will have to adapt or perish. Call me chauvinistic if you will, but I want my side to come out on top this time around as well.
I said above that it is not credible to think of billions of innocent people perishing in an afternoon due to this struggle. But don’t forget that innocent people are still getting killed. It is worth fighting the good fight if for no other reason than they would demand it, if they could but speak.
(Cross posted at Hell in a Handbasket.)
5 thoughts on “Nine Years On”
The thing about the Soviet threat is that it was blatant, immediate, and easily understood. Everyone understood the conflict between the Communist bloc and the West. And everyone understood that all it would take is the leaders of one or another side making the decision and giving the orders, resulting in unimaginable destruction unfolding in blooms of nuclear powered light all across the globe as tens of millions of lives winked out over the course of a day and the foundations of modern civilization were torn asunder.
Today such threats are much less immediate and obvious. But they are no less serious. People by and large fail to realize that al qaeda, and even violent extremist Islam, is only a symptom of a much more serious and much more widespread phenomenon (in short: the rejection of modernism). This phenomenon spans a hugely diverse set of cultural and political developments that don’t fit a succinct ideology using the most popular models we use today. Nevertheless, it’s the gravest threat to our modern world of relative personal and business liberty, we may well see the end of al qaeda and even of extremist Islam and still fall victim to it.
James, my family moved to a new town south of Chicago when I was in high school. I was stretched out in my bed after school one afternoon and a loud explosion shook the bed I was in and rattled the house. I thought it was war and was quite rattled myself. Turns out we moved about half a mile from a huge quarry and they were blasting.
The current cultural conflict appears to be a successful western culture that is in decline (because of it’s success widespread judgmental behavior – religiosity, if you will, is missing) and a heretofore loser culture that, while it boasts no material contribution to science or technology, does offer directionless and low (and high) functioning people a framework on which to base their lives without regard to intelligence or ability.
The tattooed drug addict, for ex, is offered a disciplined regime, a quick way to turn around his life and gain status in a large group. The western model, conversely, will offer less discipline and won’t offer much status unless the individual actually accomplishes something more than simply “getting straight”.
The Cold War and the threat of annihilation were brought to reality for me by Neville Shute’s novel “On the Beach.” He had previously written prophetic novels that I knew of (and had read one), called “Ordeal,” which predicted the Blitz and “No Highway,” which told a story of a new airliner that began to crash because of an unsuspected metallurgic failure. Less than a year after “No Highway” came out, the Comets, the first jet airliner, began to crash. When the cause was finally discovered, it was metal fatigue. Then “On the Beach” came out. It scared the wits out of me. I was a college sophomore and I nearly dropped out of school. I did have a difficult year, some of which was having too much fun but some of which was probably loss of motivation because I feared it would all end soon and violently.
Nobody who lived through that period as a young adult can forget the effect.
I still cannot reread “On the Beach.” He is my favorite author but I cannot read that book.
The present struggle is a bit like the Roman Empire about 300 AD. The barbarians are organizing but, unless we lose our will, we will prevail.
As an example of the fecklessness of youth right now, this cannot be improved upon.
“is only a symptom of a much more serious and much more widespread phenomenon (in short: the rejection of modernism)”
Don’t know about the literary depth or lack thereof of Tom Clancy, but he has had a few good ideas. Actually, all of this novels start out with a thought-provoking premise before they go off into “Jack Ryan, humantities-major Intelligence-Analyst Former-Marine Superhero” land.
The prologue and premise to “Sum of All Fears” is some of his better writing.
That premise is that it really is a “small world” in that the various radicals, terrorists, malcontents, and your general type of person engaged in “direct action” against modernism, that this motley collection of people all know each other and on many projects work together, even though they come from very different histories and ideologies and grievances.
So when President George W Bush declared a “War on Terror”, no, he was not ignorantly declaring a war on a battle tactic, that of irregular or insurgent or guerilla war. He was really declaring war “on terror”, that is this worldwide network of non-state bad actors who do in fact work together in a kind of ad-hoc confederation.
This theme is also explored in Clancy’s non-fiction book “Special Forces”, where he provides the “behind the scenes” on the Achille Lauro attack, and what happened after President Reagan sent Navy F-14’s to force the jet transporting the terrorists, presumably to “freedom” in a “deal” negotiated with them, to force that jet to land at a NATO base in Sicily.
What happened next is describe on Wikipedia as “disagreement between American and Italian authorities.” Clancy describes it as an armed standoff between two C-141 loads of Navy SEALs and Italian “air police” at the NATO base.
Clancy describes a foursome as the planes passengers who had been granted a “safe passage” by Egyptian authorities, consisting of two of the “muscle” in the Achille Lauro hijacking, a “rough looking character” later identified as Abu Abbas, and a “redhead who didn’t seem particularly concerned about being surrounded by the Navy SEALs.”
The US commander of the Special Forces unit was essentially told to “do what you think best”, in one sense giving him discretion as commander on the ground, in another sense, not supporting him with orders the folks in D.C. were willing to back up and leaving him “out to dry.” The commander negotiated with the Italians to take the two “muscle guys” in to stand trial in Italy for murder (of Leon Klinghoffer — this was a huge concession from the Italians as the standard European response was to cave to terrorist demands and the Americans were acting as complete cowboys). Abu Abbas was sprung, where he ended up in Iraq until he died in 2003 “helping the Americans with their inquiries” in the immediate aftermath of the Iraq War. Who the redhead was and where he went is anyones guess. An Iranian? (they have some redheads in that culture and others who look quite Caucasian — the Caucusus is in that general part of the world). IRA? Who knows?
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