2007-01-11 / Sam Bari

You can't beat a system you can't understand

Cold war - the sequel
By Sam Bari

The staggering losses suffered during World War II had a sobering effect on the way people perceived war. Two world wars in less than three decades had more than taken its toll on the world population, and rebuilding to bring life back to normal in many countries appeared to be an insurmountable task.

Nonetheless, war was good for the economy, it kept people working, vigilant, and in many cases, inventive. The problem was, finding a way to enjoy all the benefits of war without paying the price in lives.

Leave it to the Americans to find a solution to such a delicate problem. In 1947, the term "Cold War" was introduced by Bernard Baruch, a financier and presidential adviser, and Walter Lippman, an influential writer and adviser to President Woodrow Wilson.

Baruch and Lippmann used "Cold War" to describe emerging tensions between two former wartime allies, the United States and the Soviet Union. Although a direct military engagement between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. never happened, there was a half-century of hurled invectives, military buildup, and political battles for support around the globe.

Apparently, the two sides differed on how to reconstruct the postwar world even before the end of the Second World War. Over the following decades, they engaged in the Cold War, which was like a war, but without actual shots being fired.

Many believed that the Cold War didn't really exist as a threat because neither country had the personnel nor the means to attack and occupy the other. Both suffered heavy losses during W.W. II and were in no shape to engage in such folly. However, the politicians on both sides used the pos- sibility of impending doom to give them good reason to build up nuclear arsenals, rattle sabers, keep the arms factories producing and the military at the ready.

The Korean conflict of the early '50s and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 added fuel to the fire, giving the impression that another global altercation was a real possibility. Never let it be said that governments do not use scare tactics to manipulate their constituents.

When I was a kid, these scare tactics were in their heyday. We watched people building air raid shelters in their back yards. Civil Defense warning sirens were tested regularly, and we were constantly required to endure classes and drills on what to do in case of nuclear attack. That's where they fell short of the mark. Even 8- year-old kids could figure out that the drills were bogus.

First we went to a class and saw a black-and-white movie of an atomic bomb being tested on some remote island in the South Pacific, destroying everything in its path, and then they told us what to do if one was dropped on us. We were to get under our desks until a teacher signaled the "all clear," at which time we could go back to studying.

Were they kidding? I certainly hope so. Did they really think that we believed that hiding under our desk was going to make us safe from an atomic bomb? Were we expected to believe that the bomb wouldn't see us if we stayed under a little wooden desk that was open on all sides? If we asked about the illogic of this insane drill, we were reprimanded for not doing as we were told. To this day, I feel insulted over this issue.

Adults scared the daylights out of a bunch of little kids, making them think that an atomic bomb was going to drop on them, and all they offered for protection was a wooden desk. Were we expected to feel warm and fuzzy and safe all over? Unfortunately, I think so.

I think everybody has seen enough war to last a lifetime. Maybe our governments can resort to calling each other names for a while and stop the shooting. You know, reinvent the Cold War. Bring all the soldiers home and offer them jobs in arms plants so there won't be massive unemployment, and everybody can take some time off to rebuild what's left of their various destroyed countries. But whatever they do, I hope they don't scare the daylights out of little kids and make them think that their life could end at any second because a bomb is going to drop on their school desk. That's part of a system that I will never understand.

Return to top