Monday, 20 June 2011

Does anyone under 30 know what NATO is?

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. 

10 comments:

Nick Drew said...

Ah, Radio Tirana ...

I used to enjoy their reporting of the Troubles, when they would refer to the Republicans as "the patriotic peasants of N.Ireland". Good night, dear listeners, as they would sign off.

On your more serious theme, I think it might be even worse than just a reprehensible dodging of European responsibilities

right_writes said...

I remember NATO Raedwald...

But a fat lot of good it did... does!

The Russians (theroetical idealists... ismists) left Russia and are amongst us now, as we speak, and not a shot fired.

Demetrius said...

Personally, I stuck to Radio Luxembourg, now around me where I live there are a lot of distinctly East Europeans accents and car numbers and when in London, even more. Tovarich!

Jublet said...

Strange, I remember the sign-off on Radio Tirana "Good night, dear listener, good night" as well, years after they went off air. She had a nice voice, as well.

djy said...

We still get the odd low-level training flight or two, which is a world away from when the Falklands blew up, if you'll forgive the pun. That was awesome.

And then there are those black clad specialists with their Chinooks, Sea Kings, Pumas and Hercules, again at low level (and I'm sure I once spied a Longbow Apache).

As for your recollections of the A10, the god-awful row it made (as does the Eurofighter Typhoon) would give it away every time.

Anonymous said...

I remember one letter about the miners strike that said the police were going around shooting miners in the streets.
John Gibson

TheRagingTory said...

Know? Yes
Care? No

Gordon the Fence Post Tortoise said...

As per Nick.... Radio Tirana, ah... fond memories, I remember being quite incensed that Alexi Sayle had made a complete comedy career out of aping the station's output.

It was sort of aural Marxist Magritte. I recall they had some attempts at humour - which had obviously been translated/produced by a team, one for English to Albanian, Kommissar to ascertain political rectitude to the present policy positioning of the dear leader and one to translate return to the English as it is spoke. Much like the present BBC in fact.

Made up for the absence of intoxicants in my little cabin in the desert in the early 80's....

OTAN? comme on dit en France... RN readers please note.

Edward Spalton said...

Yes, back in the Fifties I was learning German and building radios (which stopped being nearly so much fun when glowing valves went out and transistors came in). I used to listen to the East German radio which, when it stopped saying how marvellous things were in the People's Paradise, told us all about the Nazis who were running West Germany. It was interesting to compare the English and German language output.

One thing to remember though - NATO was founded as a purely DEFENSIVE ALLIANCE and never fired a shot in anger. As a deterrent, it was pretty successful.

A while after the Berlin Wall came down, it became an aggressive, open-ended, unlimited, go-anywhere, biff anyone, aggressive set-up.("Humanitarian Interventions Are Us"). As the Yanks said "We have to go out of area or out of business". Hardly anybody seemed to grasp this profound change, largely engineered by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair and first tried out on Yugoslavia.

Anthony Harrison said...

What a bunch of nerds you are, Radio Tirana indeed... At boarding school it was Radio Luxembourg under the bedclothes with the miniature "transistor radio" plus earphone, for my lot...