Back in the days when we only had three TV channels in the UK and they all went to bed at 11.30, when the telephone was wired to the coldest part of the hall, weighed 4kg and cost £100 a second to use, and way before the internet, if you wanted midnight entertainment out in the countryside your only option was short-wave radio. I recall turning the tuning knob on the old valve set in my bedroom by increments of a fraction of a millimetre, listening and hoping to catch the elusive and haunting 'Moscow Nights' station ident of Radio Moscow. Whilst listening to Communist radio wasn't actually an offence, one nonetheless kept the volume down. It was sort of private. Tirana Radio, from Albania, was another English-language favourite of mine. As far as I know, not a single English person ever wrote to the stations, which didn't prevent them making letters up. "Mrs Armitage Shanks writes from Nuneaton, near Plymouth, to ask us to play again the Chairman's speech to the 31st Delegate Plenary of the Tractor Praesidium" the announcer would intone, in Belgian-accented English. You see, they were the Enemy. Crouched over the glowing thermionic valves, one felt a little like those listening to Alvar Lidell in Nazi occupied France.
There was no shooting, but it was a real war. In Suffolk the sky was full of screaming F4 Phantoms flying at 250ft. A walk down the lane would leave one's coat smelling of aviation kerosene. We became expert at aircraft identification and I could recognise an A10 Warthog hidden from sight by sound alone. My neighbours would sneak off in their Observer Corps uniforms to do duty in the secret observation bunker, the location of which we all knew intimately. The purpose of NATO, as far as we were concerned, was to sacrifice itself bravely and slow down the Soviet advance to the English Channel for long enough to allow Bridget Bardot to be evacuated to London. We were also, as far as we were aware, just four minutes away from being vapourised in a nuclear Armageddon. Of course, it all gave the central State the perfect excuse to govern the country on a wartime basis. Just about everything was an Official Secret in those days.
The 'Economist' has published the following illuminating graphic;
The failure of NATO less the US in 2011 to be able even to successfully wage a minor colonial campaign against a poorly armed and organised enemy in Libya has been remarked upon by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates. In truth, for many years much of Europe has been happy to allow the US taxpayer to shoulder the burden of defence whilst it diverted tax income to social programmes. Well, those in the US under 30, and the growing Hispanic population there, cannot be relied upon to continue this largesse. Those under 30 here will be similarly ignorant of NATO's former importance. If the US reduced defence expenditure to 2.4% of GDP it would still be spending as much as the world's next five most powerful military powers together.
It's really time we planned to stand on our own feet again.