Missing the good old days of the Cold War

Things were simpler during the Cold War, Susan Reimer says

April 04, 2011|Susan Reimer

I don't know about you, but I miss the Cold War.

Life was simpler when Russia was all in one piece and our only serious enemy. When the Chinese kept themselves behind locked doors and didn't deal with anybody. When there was an Iron Curtain and you were either behind it or not.

True, we spent the Cold War always on the cusp of Armageddon. Nuclear annihilation was possible at any moment, and that can be stressful. But there was comfort in knowing that if you crawled under your desk at school, you'd be fine.

Personally, I liked it better when wars were started by the assassination of archdukes or tanks rolling into France. That made things so much clearer. There is no talk about "time-limited, scope-limited military action" when bombs are dropped on your entire Pacific fleet.

And logistically, it was easier to conjure a mental picture of war back in the day. France, Italy, Germany, Russia. Pretty basic stuff. Today's conflicts would test the geography knowledge of a Jeopardy champion.

Egypt, sure. But Yemen? Bahrain? Syria? It's like what we used to say about Vietnam. We couldn't find it on a map — until our soldiers started coming back from there in coffins.

Life is complicated enough without having Russia blow up into a dozen or more unpronounceable pieces, each with its own complicated ax to grind and perhaps willing to buy the odd nuclear weapon purloined from an old Soviet stockpile.

And we just had to award an Olympic stage to the Chinese. We thought we could coax them to join the international community, but then we found out they want to own it. That genie is never going back into the bottle.

Things are so different now.

One crazy nomad gets lucky with a couple of planes, and we start a years-long war in a country he never lived in, eventually returning our focus to another war in a country he has undoubtedly left.

And it seems none of the martyrs we are fighting ever saw the movie "Patton," in which the famous general explained that war does not mean that you die for your cause — you make sure the other guy dies for his. Do the math! If your whole side blows itself up, who is left to ride in the motorcade down Main Street on V-Day?

Life is busy imitating art in this brave new world. Johnny Depp owns his own island, thanks to a series of movies about pirates who capture innocent maidens and ships laden with trade; meanwhile, nobody can figure out how to stop real pirates, who are making the seas unsafe for innocent pleasure boaters and ships laden with trade.

Now the lid has blown off the entire Arab world thanks to, in equal parts, tyranny, rising food prices, unemployed youth and Facebook. It all makes sense only if you believe that American blue jeans were the reason the Berlin Wall had to come down.

Our answer is a "no-fly zone," which is a bit of a misnomer if the first thing you do is to destroy the entire air force in the zone. If there is nothing left to fly, it seems like the perfect opportunity to declare victory and go home.

And how can it be possible that the Middle East is in such turmoil and it isn't the Israelis and the Palestinians at each other's throats? Even those old combatants must be confused.

I don't know. The world has changed. It was simpler when wars were cold and nobody died but the spies.

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays. Her email is susan.reimer@baltsun.com.

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