CONFESSIONS OF A COLD WAR WARRIOR
I never quite know where these memories come from. They seem to just appear, usually in the early morning when I am awake by myself. This one came to me yesterday morning and I sort of chewed on it for a day before starting this story. As I considered it, I thought, this is too big for a Memory of the Day. Then I thought what if I start a series of stories that I can post as I go along, but maintain a thread through them. That is something I have not tried yet. So here it goes.
I was born in 1946, the bow wave of the Baby Boom Generation. World War II ended in August 1945 and coincidentally my parents were married in August 1945. I came along in June 1946. You can do the math, I made it on time. Of course, at the time I had no idea what the world was about to go through.
The Cold War began in 1947. Basically the Soviet Union had succeeded in installing Communist governments in the Eastern Bloc countries they liberated during WW II. The dividing line passed between the East and West portions of Germany and so East Germany was part of what became known as the Warsaw Pact, the Communist version of our NATO. The Cold War was not about national enemies, though it seemed to be. It was a war between two ideologies, Communism and Capitalism. Until the Cold War ended in 1991 with the breakup of the Warsaw Pact, and eventual breakup of the Soviet Union nearly every conflict in which we engaged was a war of ideologies. We had to stem the spread of Communism at all cost.
Well this is not intended to be a history lesson, but rather my memories relating to the Cold War. I think I have established that I was a child of the Cold War. Born a year before it began and served in the US Army until a year before it ended. Pretty soon after the end of the Second World War and after the beginning of the Cold War, the US found itself supporting the United Nations in a war on the Korean Peninsula. After the Japanese were defeated and Korea was no longer under their control the country of Korea was divided with the North coming under Communist influence and the South leaning toward Capitalism. We, of course, along with other United Nations countries became embroiled in the conflict to keep the two sides separate. The North was supported by the Communist countries of China and the Soviet Union, but mostly by the Chinese. Again, this is not a story about the Korean War, but just a scene setter. We were fully engaged in trying to put a stop to Communism and they were fully engaged in trying to overcome Capitalism. We faced the same situation in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, but more on that one in a bit.
In 1950s many of the schools in the US practiced Air Raid Warning drills. If we did at Oak Grove, I do not remember it well. Maybe once or twice we practiced hiding under our desks in case of an attack, but if we did, I don’t remember itl.
We knew what had gone on in Korea and we knew that Communism was “bad.” Most of us figured that if Oak Grove were hit it would have been because of a grievous aiming error. There wasn’t anything within a hundred miles of us that would have been of any strategic interest. The closest things I can think of are the ordnance depots in Camden, AR and in Ruston, LA. In school we studied the differences between Communism and Capitalism in Civics class. Well, we learned our side of things. Life in school was mostly not ideological. We were a lot more concerned with football games and basketball games. On weekends and after school when we were not helping plant, care for, or harvest crops, we were hunting deer, rabbits, squirrels, dove and quail. Some went duck hunting. I went duck hunting once and decided the ducks could have it. I just got wet and cold.
In the late 1950s we all followed the Cuban revolution on TV. They talked about it on the Ed Sullivan show. They interviewed Fidel Castro on the evening news. We sort of thought that this was a noble cause until we learned that Fidel was a Communist then we were convinced that we could not have a Communist country 90 miles from the US. I remember Fidel coming to New York to attend a UN meeting after the revolution. He got in trouble for killing a live chicken in his hotel room. I am pretty sure that was a stunt to draw attention, but what can you expect from a Communist? And, since we are talking about the UN, who remembers Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Premier, pounding his shoe on the desk at the UN? What a guy.
In the early 1950s the news was all about Senator McCarthy’s attempt to purge the country of Communists and Communist sympathizers. It was a time of every bush hiding a “Commie.” By the 1960s we were watching movies about the Armageddon that would ensue if there were any mistakes on either side. There was the movie “Fail Safe” that depicted what might ensue if the nuclear Fail Safe provisions did not work. Then, of course, there was “Dr. Strangelove” that was a spoof on the same topic.
In 1960 I started high school and as I said we studied Communism vs Capitalism in Civics class. Still didn’t think too much about it as a practical matter. Then in October 1962, after learning that the Soviet Union was stockpiling operational ballistic missiles in Cuba , President John Kennedy ordered a naval blockade around the island and any ships from the Soviet Union were refused passage. The crisis lasted just 13 days until the Soviets blinked and started removing missiles from Cuba, but the long term effect would impact me 8 years later (more on that later).
About this same time, things were getting hot in Southeast Asia. Well, to be accurate, President Eisenhower began sending advisory military to the Republic of Vietnam in the mid 1950s but their role was strictly advisory. That began to change in the early 1960s. This would impact me in another 10 years (more on that later too).
Well this sets the stage for Cold War memories to come. I’ll close this installment for now.
Coming up… “Becoming a Cold War Warrior.”