Monday, November 15, 2010

The Cold War – A Proud Cold Warrior’s Perspective

The entire world’s future was at stake for over 40 years. Two superpowers stood eye to eye daring each other to blink. Even though my part in the gamesmanship was very small, I firmly believe that my efforts and the efforts of millions of men and women like me, on both sides of the conflict, saved the world from nuclear annihilation. Vast amounts of resources, national treasures and individual effort were put into this conflict that dominated the world for so many years. A succession of United States Presidents and Soviet Chairmen played with our lives, sometimes they performed very well and sometimes they did not. There were instances where the Cold War teetered on the brink of getting hot and the respective leaders did very well cooling things down. At other times a leader faltered and his country ventured into a shooting war which cost them dearly. It happened to both sides.
But the Cold War wasn’t considered a real war, right? The United States of America (USA) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) never engaged in battle.  That is to say, not the traditional type of battle we think of when we hear the word war. From 1945 to 1991, the USA and the USSR engaged in a different type of battle; a battle of wills, wits, determination and the expenditure of financial resources that eventually caused one country to call an end to the madness. Proxy wars were fought but the two main parties never fully engaged. The USA and the USSR participated in various conflicts during the Cold War where they fought through other countries, hence the term proxy wars. There were many proxy engagements with the most known conflicts being the Korean, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Angolan wars. The Korean War became the first major trial of the United Nations Organization’s ability to pull together and stop aggression. The Vietnam War became President Lyndon Johnson’s nightmare and caused him to not seek re-election. The Afghanistan War in the 1980s became the USSR’s version of the Vietnam War with the USA supporting the Mujahedeen fighters against the Soviets just like the Soviets backed the North Vietnamese against the USA a decade earlier. Angola in 1975 is a good example of a proxy war because multiple nations from both sides interjected themselves into a civil war through resident factions.
Thus you may ask why I call myself a proud cold warrior. I am very proud of the time I served our country as a U. S. Navy Petty Officer protecting our nation from this threat. Most citizens never knew what was happening but threats did occur. Initially, being in the Navy was just a job for me. Subsequently, I realized that I was doing something worthwhile and recognized that my part in the Cold War was important. One worthwhile activity was important and thrilling at the same time. It was when we “picked up” a contact and recognized it as a Soviet submarine. We then played a game of hide and seek; it could be a deadly game if circumstances were such that we engaged the target too strongly, or if the submarine commander were inexperienced and overreacted. Accidents did happen – both USA and USSR submarines were lost at sea, some through collisions with surface ships and some collided with each other. (For a wonderful Hollywood version of what I am writing about, view the movie, The Bedford Incident. It is fiction but a great example of a Cold War storyline).
Inevitably, the Cold War ended as all wars end. Numerous factors caused the end to come at that time but in my opinion, the main reason for the end of the Cold War was the unending expense. Both countries’ economies could not sustain the military expenditure one-upmanship any longer. I think Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev recognized that fact and in their own ways put the idea of peace into motion. My thoughts are that President Reagan wanted to win (peace through strength doctrine) and Chairman Gorbachev wanted to give his citizens a better life than the ones they had endured for over 70 years (Perestroika). It took a while, but the end started as the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and was finally over in 1991 when the USSR dissolved.  Here is an excerpt that addresses the end of the Cold War from the book The Cold War, A New History by John Lewis Gaddis – “And so the Cold War ended, much more abruptly than it began. As Gorbachev had told Bush at Malta, it was “ordinary people” who made that happen….” (First page of Epilogue). This quote really resonated with me for I consider myself just an ordinary guy who did his job during those years. The USA won and I am proud that I was able to participate in winning the Cold War. Therefore, I am a proud cold warrior.



Works Cited
Gaddis, John Lewis, The Cold War, A New History, New York: The Penguin Press, 2005, Print
Sontag, Sherry and Drew, Christopher, with Annette Lawrence Drew,
Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage,
New York, Harper Collins, 1998, Print
Submarine Collisions, < http://everything2.com/?node_id=944314>, Everything2.com posting
by SkiBum5 based on Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine
 Espionage
The Bedford Incident, <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058962/>, DVD on Sony Pictures
Home Entertainment
Weir, Gary E. and Boyne, Walter J., Rising Tide: The Untold Story of the Russian Submarines that
Fought the Cold War, New York, Basic Books, 2003, Print

SHARE YOUR COLD WAR STORY !

Where did you serve? Military or Civilian? Stateside or Overseas. Fulda Gap? Berlin? NATO? CIA? State Department? The Dew Line? On a Missile Battery? Down in a Silo? At Sea? Under the Sea? In the Air? According to the VA over 26 million Vets are still alive. I'd bet that most served in the 1945-1991 time frame and I'd like to share your story on this blog. As long as it isn't still classified, email me with your story and I will post it here. proudcoldwarrior@gmail.com