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Sunday, 17 August 2008

Cold War reprised

I grew up in the front line of the Cold War and it was no picnic.

I wonder sometimes how I could explain to my Godson the claustrophobic helplessness of those days. The skies of Suffolk were constantly crowded with hectic warplanes all seemingly flying at 250'; the scream of jet engines overhead barely merited a glance, just a corner-of-the-eye confirmation of the V-tail of a Phantom, or the stubby A10. The Hercs were unmistakeable. The stink of burnt Kerosene lay like a heavy fug in the valleys. It was, I suppose, like living at the end of the Heathrow flight path, but without the quiet, fuel-efficient engines and double glazing. Great convoys of heavy drab-green trucks trundled through the B roads in the still of night, carrying, we presumed, nuclear ordnance. Airfields, fuel and munitions dumps, chain link and barbed wire compounds covered the County, and tens of thousands of strange but unexotic Americans walked our village streets in uniforms as familiar as a plod's Serge tunic.

Behind the impenetrable Iron Curtain, we were told, lay slave camps and a brutalised and cowed people barely kept from starvation by Canadian wheat. There was no internet, just the papers and magazines. Sometimes late at night, in the dark safety of bed, I'd tune the shortwave transistor to Radio Moscow and I remember perfectly the beautiful and haunting 'Moscow Nights' station ident; my head may have marched to the BBC's Lili Bolero, but my heart ached to Moscow Nights and for a rapprochement with those strange soulful people.

The annihilation we faced then was not the slow and distant uncertainty of climate change or bird flu, but the sudden disruption of a massive nuclear strike. Each minor escalation in tension could have been the one. Changes in politburo membership were such times of uncertainty that even schoolboys knew and recognised the 'ghastly old waxworks' that lined Lenin's tomb for the May Day Parade.

It was no picnic, and I wouldn't for anything wish a repeat of it on the generation that came after, yet I'm no fuddled disarmer or unilateralist. I wish I could say the same for Labour; the shadow of Michael Foot and Bruce Kent hangs still over ZNL, and part-time Defence Secretary Des Browne does nothing to reassure me that he has the slightest concept of preparedness. There's still something deeply rotten in Labour's core; even at the height of the Cold War when the nation was uniquely vulnerable we never had 42 day detention, ID cards or the repressive State that ZNL have constructed around themselves. They fear the threat from within. The real threat, as it has always done, still lays without.

1 comment:

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Funny thing. I grew up in Lincolnshire and rather liked the activity in the air. Our boys would fly so low you could wave to them, and usually they would wave back by tipping their wings. I love the smell of aviation fuel too.

What I don't like is the idea of the American war machine on my front doorstep. A country that will act unilaterally to protect its interests. That is fine, except that the interests of the United Kingdom do not necessarily coincide and if push came to shove, they represent a target (WE represent a target) to those they are in conflict with.

The cold war was about bluffing and brinkmanship. It won't happen again despite the current beligerence of the Russians. Today's wars are fought on the stock markets and for very pragmatic reasons. Ideologies are no longer at stake and neither particularly is territory. The shifting of boundaries in the Caucasus is part of the ebb and flow of global hegemony, not a threat to world peace. It is the movement of tectonic plates, which causes local, but not global difficulty.

To some extent, Russia and America subscribe to the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction, and this is where I think you are fundamentally wrong in your final assertion. The threat from within, i.e, from Islam is predicated upon Martyrdom, and if they got the bomb, then Heaven help us.