Re-kindling the Cold War

Posted by Ian
Do you feel less safe as a citizen of the world than you did 48 hours ago?
As I write there’s talk of North Korea, rather than backing down in the wake of its first ever nuclear test, carrying out a second controlled explosion as a means of thumbing its nose at the rest of the planet. Its actions have undoubtedly rocked the world community, regardless of whether a true nuclear detonation actually took place. As discussed on the MSN UK site yesterday, the crisis will prove particularly potent for Tony Blair, representing as it does probably his last great international "incident" before retirement.
Yet have the events of these last couple of days had any real resonance with people on an individual, human level? Have you felt the globe shifting on its axis since Monday, and our very existence imperilled in a manner it wasn’t before?
Earlier this year I read an excellent book by Peter Hennessy, ‘The Prime Minister – The Office And Its Holders Since 1945’, which included details of how the UK once planned to respond if attacked by a nuclear weapon. Among other memorable information, he revealed that the way Britain’s submarine fleet would "test" to see if the country had been destroyed by a hydrogen bomb would be to see if the Today programme was still being broadcast on Radio 4. If there was no sign of it for a few days, then armageddon had most definitely arrived.
I’m not sure if this procedure still stands, but I’d hazard a guess the world’s armed forces are on a higher state of alert this minute than on Sunday night.
For me, a Cold War-esque chill is definitely in the air. But then, I was always beset by nuclear paranoia when I was a child, so much so that I even went to the trouble of drawing a map of how our family could build a bunker in our back garden.
This was in the early 1980s, I was still at primary school and through what I’d picked up on the teatime news and idle talk in the playground it was obvious to me the world was teetering on the edge of complete destruction. Fierce-sounding rhetoric emanating from America and the USSR portended a showdown sooner or later, I reckoned; I’d proudly drawn the route of the Iron Curtain on the tatty map of the world that was pinned to my bedroom wall. Well, if we were all going to go sometime soon, it was best to appear knowledgeable about from which direction the bombs would be launched. Besides, although we lived in a moderately-sized town, there was a university on our doorstep: an obvious target.
It took me most of a weekend to complete the plan, which I painstakingly drew to scale after going out and pacing around our small garden measuring out dimensions and distances. The shelter would naturally just be for the four of us. The neighbours could fend for themselves; they should’ve built their own bunker, like I’d done. Besides calculating just how deep I reckoned we’d have to dig before we were safe, I made sure there were rooms allocated to store provisions, house the generator, and above all somewhere to put the piano which dad had inherited from some distant relation and which at the time I was learning to play.
Then, once the drawings were all finished, I pointedly put them up on my bedroom wall where someone passing the door might be able to see them.
Inevitably nobody took the blind bit of notice, and I was, to be honest, too timid to parade my achievements in front of their faces, or anybody at school. Nonetheless I drew succour from the fact that when the balloon went up, I’d been the one who’d thought beyond simply propping a few doors up against a wall and grabbing the nearest can of beans.
I lost the drawings a long time ago. I most likely threw them away when I got older and decided what a naïve and stupid kid I’d been. Besides, I later discovered there was too much clay in the soil of my parents’ garden to barely dig a big enough hole to bury my sister’s guinea pigs. Yet I can’t help dwelling on the legacy of those years, in particular the way Cold War culture almost unknowingly seeped into every pore of your existence, and how it was taken as red (ho ho) that a clash of sorts with the Communist Bloc was on the cards.
Now the same words, phrases, signs and symbols are doing the rounds again. States are talking of "robust" actions and "irresponsible" behaviour. Neither side wants to back down. Who knows what step North Korea will take next, except that it will assuredly fly in the face of conventional wisdom (which is how the country has survived intact as a Stalinist dictatorship for so long).
So do you feel the nip of a Cold War comeback in the wind? Do you feel any concern for events in the Far East, or is North Korea merely a far away country of which we know little? Send in your thoughts and comments.
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