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The Only Winning Move is to Watch This
March 27, 2012 6:36 PM   Subscribe

Most of us reading on the blue lived through at least a portion of it. Forty-plus years of tension between the world's two superpowers and their allies. That's right: The Cold War. Then, they made a documentary. Aired on CNN in 1998, and never released on DVD, the 24 episode, 20 hour series features tons of archival footage, along with many interviews with individuals directly involved at some of the highest levels. You might not be able to see it on DVD, but you can watch the full series on Youtube, starting with Part 1: Comrades (1917-1945).
posted by symbioid (78 comments total) 81 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh neat. I'm surprised CNN didn't dig this up to license out to Netflix or something.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:41 PM on March 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


When the tide turned.
posted by Trurl at 6:48 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Man. The constant treat of nuclear annihilation in 30 minutes or your next MIRV is free...

Good times.

Terrorism? That's just like ordinary crime, is that a Thing?
posted by mikelieman at 6:50 PM on March 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


I can't even put into words what it was like coming of age convinced that senile old Reagan was probably going to get us all killed. I just hoped to get vaporized in the first wave so I wouldn't have to die slowly later.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 6:52 PM on March 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


It really is a well-executed documentary series. The high school I teach at has had these DVDs for at least a few years now (I guess CNN did a past printing as educational materials for teachers), and when I cover the Cold War in my class, it works as a great companion for my students who are reading The Cold War: A New History by John Lewis Gaddis, and America, Russia and the Cold War by Walter LaFeber. I would definitely recommend both of these books (and the CNN documentary too, of course) for anyone wanting to read up on the Cold War.
posted by Groundhog Week at 6:56 PM on March 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


Most of us reading on the blue lived through at least a portion of it. -- Kids who were born after Kurt Cobain died will be voting this year. Cobain died 3 years after the cold war ended.
posted by crunchland at 6:56 PM on March 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


A guy I knew was taking a Soviet Studies class in 1989. The prof very dramatically ripped up his lecture notes for the semester on the first day of class.

My cohort had been raised to believe that we would never see the reunification of Germany, much less the fall of the USSR, in our lifetimes. And then it happened so fast, just incredible.
posted by thelonius at 6:56 PM on March 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


As a child in the late fifties, I remember laying awake at night
listening for the whistling sound of a falling A-bomb. I was sure
it would happen any day. On a few occasions I would hear it,
covering my face with my pillow waiting to be vaporized.
posted by quazichimp at 7:02 PM on March 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'll never forget turning on the TV just as the newscaster said "...Mr. Reagan followed that up with 'we begin bombing in five minutes.'"

I nearly shit my pants. I was fourteen. Like everyone my age I was brought up convinced that there would be a nuclear war one day and I thought I turned the TV on just as they were about to start it.

But ol' Ronnie was only joking! Oh, we just laughed and laughed.
posted by bondcliff at 7:02 PM on March 27, 2012 [12 favorites]


All those years under threat of near-total annihilation, and somehow we managed not to forfeit our civil rights. But you get one terrorist attack...
posted by LordSludge at 7:15 PM on March 27, 2012 [33 favorites]


I remember the first time I saw a Target Store in the early '80s, and thinking "the Soviet Union is pointing nukes at us and these fools put a big bulls-eye on the side of their buildings?!?"

Still applies today for Terrorists.

My cohort had been raised to believe that we would never see the reunification of Germany, much less the fall of the USSR, in our lifetimes. And then it happened so fast, just incredible.

The current powers-that-be have made sure that mistake will never happen again.
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:19 PM on March 27, 2012


To add on a little bit to my previous comment... if you are too young to remember the Cold War as it happened like me (yes, I'm too young to remember the Cold War, even though I teach it now... I imagine that will blow someone's mind in this thread) The Cold War: A New History by Gaddis is a great introduction to the topic. It's organized thematically, instead of strictly chronologically, and it reads easy.

I won't say exactly how old I am, but I will say this: The Clinton-Lewinsky scandal was my introduction to oral sex.
posted by Groundhog Week at 7:21 PM on March 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


I was a latchkey kid in the '80s. I got off the bus every afternoon, let myself in with my key, and called my mom (or rather, I usually just spoke to Olga the switchboard operator at the medical office where my mom worked as a nurse--she'd chat with me for a few minutes, and then let my mom know I'd gotten home safely).

I vividly remember one day asking to speak to my mom directly, and crying to her because everyone at school had been talking about how the world was going to end because of nuclear war, pretty much NOW, and I was scared to be home all by myself when it happened. It turns out a lot of kids had been allowed to watch The Day After.

Still though, I also remember figuring out on my own why my parents did atomic bomb drills when they were kids but we didn't do nuclear bomb drills or watch preparation films on the matter--hiding under your desk wasn't going to help you in the event of nuclear fallout. Putting that together was like...oh, SHIT.
posted by padraigin at 7:22 PM on March 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yes, as a teen in the 70s and eighties, AIDS and nuclear war were a hell of a reason to look forward to the future.
posted by mattoxic at 7:25 PM on March 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


All those years under threat of near-total annihilation, and somehow we managed not to forfeit our civil rights. But you get one terrorist attack...
posted by LordSludge at 9:15 PM on March 27 [+] [!]


really?

posted by lester's sock puppet at 7:26 PM on March 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Finally, a documentary about my war! Seriously, the undercurrent of suppressed terror feeling like you might only be 30 minutes away from those "awful mushrooms" left a mark on many, if not most of us.

As a one-time resident of divided Berlin, I also thought that the Wall was forever. I remember seeing the news reports of the wall coming down, all the kids dancing on sections as they were being pulled down, and feeling like my certainty about the world had been destroyed. I sat there and cried like a baby, tears of unbelieving joy.

The Terrorist Bogeyman has taken the place of the Communist Bogeyman in our public discourse. The thing is, the Communists weren't that much of a threat in real terms, and the terrorists are even less. Even in a society as controlled as East Germany's was (where one in 63 people were state informers, compared to 1 in 2300 in Nazi Germany and 1 in 3000 in Stalin's Russia!) the vast majority of the people were just as afraid of us as we were of them, while the saddest truth of all is that there really was no one to fear but our leaders, themselves.
posted by pjern at 7:29 PM on March 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


I LOVED coming of age during the omnipresent threat of imminent nuclear annihilation. It was a great excuse to be a hedonistic nihilist.

"Ivan's got a bomb, we could all die any day..."

Good times, man. Good times.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:31 PM on March 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


while the saddest truth of all is that there really was no one to fear but our leaders, themselves
Perhaps there is, buried deep in there, is a lesson to be learned.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:38 PM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


It turns out a lot of kids had been allowed to watch The Day After.

We were lucky. We were *very* lucky.

Kids in the UK? They were allowed to watch Threads, which makes The Day After look like a special episode of Phineas and Ferb.

I saw Threads when I was 37. I still, on occasion, have nightmares about that movie.
posted by eriko at 7:46 PM on March 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'll never forget turning on the TV just as the newscaster said "...Mr. Reagan followed that up with 'we begin bombing in five minutes.'"

Yes, but have you heard the remix?
posted by Aquaman at 7:52 PM on March 27, 2012


It's really cool that this is available for online viewing. Thanks SOOO much for this post. The year I spent in Germany in 1986-87 gave me an appreciation for what the whole Cold War meant for people not separated from everywhere by two oceans, and it affected me deeply. I'll be watching every hour over the next while.
posted by hippybear at 7:54 PM on March 27, 2012


Fair Use upload.

I don't really care, but a 1% or 2% clip would be FU. It's damaging when FU is abused, just gives Disney and Co ammo. There is Copyfraud (people who claim PD to be Copyright), there is Pirate (those who claim Copyright to be PD), and then there is FUfraud.
posted by stbalbach at 8:07 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The permanence of the Soviet Union and the inevitability of mutually assured destruction was drilled into our heads so much during the Cold War (at least the last 18 years of it that I lived through) that I sometimes feel like the 90's weren't "real" or don't count in the march of history somehow. It's like we had a decade long hangover waiting for the new paradigm of fear to emerge.
posted by KingEdRa at 8:13 PM on March 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


I don't really care, but a 1% or 2% clip would be FU. It's damaging when FU is abused, just gives Disney and Co ammo. There is Copyfraud (people who claim PD to be Copyright), there is Pirate (those who claim Copyright to be PD), and then there is FUfraud.

YouTube makes it really easy to report copyright violation and Time Warner is very familiar with the process. If it's still up there, you can safely assume it is okay I think.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:14 PM on March 27, 2012


you can safely assume it is okay I think.

It may be ok with someone(s), but it sure ain't Fair Use! An abuse of the very concept. My guess is the film has a few thousand copyright agreements needed for all the clips, and they didn't have rights to make DVD in the original contract, and re-negotiating would be too difficult/costly. The Wikipedia page says a DVD is in the works, but unsourced. Could be Time Warner can't republish it due to copyright entanglements, but wants to see it out there, so has abandoned it to pirates.
posted by stbalbach at 8:25 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remember reading an article that summed up the end of the Cold war in one sentence something like: "The USA and the Soviet Union were in a tug-of-war and the Soviet Union let go the rope."
posted by storybored at 8:26 PM on March 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


storybored: "I remember reading an article that summed up the end of the Cold war in one sentence something like: "The USA and the Soviet Union were in a tug-of-war and the Soviet Union let go the rope.""

It's funny you mention that. I actually got the link for this in a thread for the board game Twilight Struggle. In fact, I think someone may have mentioned the book that groundhog mentions, as well... Anyways, in the boardgame (currently number 1 on the rankings, for good reason), the score track is a "tug-of-war" model, with the soviets have -20 points, the center being 0 points and the US being 20 points. Throughout the game, players slowly move a token indicating the current score, playing tug of war in points. I haven't really seen the mechanic in any other games...

-------

The fall of the wall, and that feeling... Right Here Right Now, cheesy as it was, I remember when that came out... There was the feeling of a new era. I was quite young, and didn't get to see a lot of movies as a kid, so a lot of the cultural references I missed out on (Red Dawn, Rocky, etc...) but it still affected me. I only got to experience the tail-end (Reagan), and seeing a lot of the earlier stuff is fascinating to me.

And yeah - the 90s were like some strange interlude. *sigh* I miss the 90s (or at least, the late 90s).
posted by symbioid at 9:08 PM on March 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


padraigin ... we didn't do nuclear bomb drills or watch preparation films on the matter--hiding under your desk wasn't going to help you in the event of nuclear fallout. Putting that together was like...oh, SHIT.

IN CASE OF NUCLEAR ATTACK: Get under a desk or table, put your head between your knees...and kiss your ass goodbye.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:20 PM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Crazy days back then! It was worth it spending all of that blood and treasure to defeat global Communism, though. Back then, Russia could just invade a country and all we could really do was politely ask them not to.

Oh, wait.
posted by XMLicious at 9:42 PM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I saw this when
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:00 PM on March 27, 2012


I remember watching them standing on the Berlin Wall on CNN, a few months before my first planned trip to Europe. I was in such a strange state, aware that this was the most important thing that would ever happen and amazed it was happening... I tried to pull in my father and my brother to watch with me, and felt sort of affronted that they were "meh"... THE FUCKING COLD WAR IS OVER and you are "meh"?
posted by Meatbomb at 10:01 PM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


And then, 6 months later, I found myself completely blitzed and stumbling home from an all night in Kruezberg, passing through ex checkpoint charlie to get to the FoaF we were staying with in East Berlin... what a time to be alive.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:06 PM on March 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


I remember our fifth grade class had to write an essay on how watching The Day After affected us. I distinctly remember writing that I wasn't worried, because we'd disappear in a flash and probably never know. Totally bravado and ignorance at the time, but I was young and in my defense, we were always told that because the Rockwell Collins plant was a prime military target, the midwestern town I grew up near was high up on the list.

I do wonder how many kids never believed in Social Security being there for them because we all thought we'd be dead by now.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:19 PM on March 27, 2012


we were always told that because the Rockwell Collins plant was a prime military target, the midwestern town I grew up near was high up on the list.

I have a feeling every midwestern town had their version of a Rockwell Collins plant. Ours was the Dow Chemical plant a little further north of us.

Wouldn't want anybody to feel left out I guess. We're all important enough to be a target.

A strange form of narcissism.
posted by formless at 10:28 PM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Anyone else in this thread hate Groundhog Week?

....just me?
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:37 PM on March 27, 2012


Groundhog Week?

In the original concept for Groundhog Day, the Bill Murray character is stuck in his repeating day for the equivalent of 10,000 years, or something.
posted by hippybear at 10:44 PM on March 27, 2012


Naw Im just kidding about the user Groundhog Week upthread making me feel ancient :P
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:48 PM on March 27, 2012


Oh, jeez. I missed that username completely.

Color me redfaced. I thought you were commenting on the beginning of Spring which happened recently, or something. Either that or on the recurring nature of reality, how even when things seem to have ended they resurface as 20-hour-long CNN documentaries on YouTube.

I'm a dork. Ignore me.
posted by hippybear at 10:51 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I saw Threads when I was 37. I still, on occasion, have nightmares about that movie.

Yeah, I know, just seeing a few clips on one of those eighties nostalgia programmes was enough to do the same for me. Mind, for much of the early eighties I did have recurring nuclear nightmares

When the Wind Blows -- the Raymond Briggs comic, not the movie made out of that-- helped a lot with those nightmares as well. Elderly couple live through the onset of WWIII, think it will be like WWII and the Blitz all over again, slowly die of radiation poisoning at the end.

It still feels like a miracle we all didn't get vaporised sometime in 1983 or so: if the Soviet high leadership had taken Able Archer even slightly more serious than they already did, or Reagan had been a mite more aggressive and stupid...
posted by MartinWisse at 10:53 PM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


BTW I hate to derail us, but I think that for the sake of understanding the feeling of that era (and how it clearly does NOT translate in scale to our modern fear of terrorism) I have a link that may give younger MeFites a kind of insight.

Immediately following the 1983 broadcast of The Day After on ABC, a lot of local affiliate stations aired special discussion shows to help viewers come to terms with what they had just seen. ABC itself ran a special Nightline ViewPoint episode featuring Robert MacNamara, Kissinger, Sagan and others debating MAD, nuclear winter and more.

But what this is is a local Kansas City station's response, featuring local area residents (remember that The Day After took place in and around Kansas City) "decompressing" after the film's prime time airing.

I have to take issue with the idea that terrorism could fill the space with the existential dread that we all lived with back then. I understand where that comes from, but it simply isn't accurate. The end of the world and the end of the building are two very, very different things.

Here is part one of the Kansas City affiliate's special report
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:56 PM on March 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


I remember not only watching the movie when it was first broadcast, but also that Nightline special.

Yeah, it was a different time altogether. Hard to even comprehend from this point, even with all the terrorism stuff going on.

We may have fears about some random terrorist incident, even a nuclear one. But the idea that basically every major population point in the northern hemisphere could be obliterated within a few hours... that simply doesn't exist anymore. And that was something I grew up with as a basic fact of life.
posted by hippybear at 11:09 PM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


To put it another way, the atmosphere of fear and dread was so palpable that pop artists occasionally wrote songs about it, like Sting did with Russians.
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:13 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Even on 9/11 there weren't (as I recall) major network suicide hotlines staffed to deal with the trauma, which there were on the night of The Day After.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:13 PM on March 27, 2012


And you didn't have random, unsolved biological weapons attacks. Our hysteria was better!
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:25 PM on March 27, 2012


Baby boomer military brat here. Anybody grow up in the end-of-the-world biz?
posted by bonefish at 11:29 PM on March 27, 2012


Our hysteria was better!

No, not better. But certainly different and more encompassing.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:29 PM on March 27, 2012


I graduated high school in 1985 and honestly never spared a thought about nuclear bombs raining down. To me it was in the same category as meteors or a volcanic eruption; not something I could do much about, so why worry.

I never got a OMG vibe from any of my friends, and we were a fairly talkative bunch about world issues and the like. Dunno, I have exactly the same attitude towards terrorism. If I'm in a building someone wants to blow up, not much I can do about it.
posted by maxwelton at 11:48 PM on March 27, 2012


I distinctly remember writing that I wasn't worried, because we'd disappear in a flash and probably never know. Totally bravado and ignorance at the time

This may not make any sense nowadays, but the thought of inevitable nuclear war could be incredibly comforting for a kid back in the '80s. We will all disappear painlessly in a flash at the same time. No need to fear what I will do when Mommy and Daddy pass away, no anxiety about having to leave childhood and support myself for the rest of my life in some unimaginable "career." It's nice to know I know I wasn't alone in this irrational bravado.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 11:50 PM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


As a child in the 70s in the middle of Fucking Nowhere, Canada, I grew up aware and scared of nuclear annihilation. I couldn't imagine the terror of growing up in a targeted area.

By the time the 80s rolled around I understood it'd be better to be under the flash than trying to survive. Lucky bastards.

And then the big threat dissipated. What a relief!
posted by five fresh fish at 12:09 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


We will all disappear painlessly in a flash at the same time. No need to fear what I will do when Mommy and Daddy pass away, no anxiety about having to leave childhood and support myself for the rest of my life in some unimaginable "career." It's nice to know I know I wasn't alone in this irrational bravado.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 12:21 AM on March 28, 2012


I never quite figured why everyone tought we'd disappear in a flash. Sure, those very close to the impact zone would, but those not quite so near would have to deal with massive burns, concussions and the like, and the severity of wounds would drop off as you got further out from the impact. Most people would actually "just" have to deal with minor wounds, the aftermath and environmental effects. "Just"...

Anyways, I spent most of my energy thinking about how to survive in a Mad Max-type aftermath.

I did my national service in the Norwegian Army in 1993. The reserve Army at that time still comprised 12 brigades and 100.000 soldiers or something, but was seriously lacking a direction (still is, actually...) We tried to muster some enthusiasm about the Russians, but they were clearly busy sinking into the current cleptocracy, and were not especially interested in invading us.
posted by Harald74 at 12:22 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I never quite figured why everyone tought we'd disappear in a flash.

Cursory googling around isn't finding the information I was looking for, but if my memory isn't totally shot, the number of Soviet nuclear warheads aimed at the US were enough that first, second, third, and much lower level targets in the US would have all been hit if they USSR were to launch a full-wave strike at the US, meaning that yes, MOST of the population centers of 50,000 or larger would have been destroyed, and anyone living within a certain radius of those location (a large portion of everyone else) would suffer from the ensuing radiation and die shortly thereafter.

That was the philosophy of Mutually Assured Destruction. We could do the same to the Soviets, and the rest of the world would suffer the consequences of the economic and other destruction of these two giant countries, aside from any targets they themselves might have contained.

Existence as we know it would cease. All the basic services we assume as given in modern society would disappear. Any survivors would be far and few between, would have to rebuild in a world full of poison and uninhabitable zones, and subsequent generations would possibly be crippled in their survival due to radiation corrupting the development of newly born and unborn humans.

My friends and I used to regularly play Nuclear War (with expansion sets) as a sardonic way to diffuse the latent background horror about the state of threat we lived in. It was instructive; very rarely were there actually any winners. Most of the time, everyone lost because everyone had their population wiped out.
posted by hippybear at 12:37 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just finished the first episode, really great quality and detail. I wish the History Channel would do this kind of thing instead of Ice Truck UFO Wrestling.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:41 AM on March 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


My dad once said (about the Cuban Missile Crisis), "You kids. You don't know how close we came."
posted by tgyg at 1:14 AM on March 28, 2012


I went on a school trip to the Soviet Union in 1982 (Leningrad and Moscow), and was very struck by the fact that much of the propaganda was eagerly proclaiming the importance of peace (this was at the exact same time that the task force was sailing out to the Falklands, so war was on my 17-year-old mind) and when our History teacher blagged a visit to a Leningrad school that wasn't part of the official itinerary (we essentially just dropped in. No, really, I have no idea how he got away with it), they had a whole section set up as a permanent museum about the siege. The itinerary was very careful to take us the the cemetery where there were mass graves for the millions of citizens who had died during the siege, listed by month. The ghost of the Second World War was still discernible in British life at that time, but seemed to be a constant presence in Leningrad, particularly.

I was convinced then, and have remained convinced, that it was the U.S., who had not suffered the full effect of war in their country for over a hundred years, that we really had to worry about.
posted by Grangousier at 1:16 AM on March 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Hippybear, it would be interesting to see a simulation of of i.e. a 1983 full nuclear exchange with what we know today. I suspect a couple things, one being that the reliability of both warheads and delivery systems were not all that great. I also suspect a small, but not insignificant, defection rate.

I tried to get Wolfram Alpha to do some magic, but failed.

BTW, here is a small toy that lets you overlay nuclear weapons effects on Google Maps. Fun!
posted by Harald74 at 1:18 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remember thinking the canned tomato soup was radiated because of how it shines under certain lights. I remember being told to run home zig-zagging during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Like THAT would save us! Right! I remember serious discussions of bomb-shelters. Even those times we lived in houses, we rented. My mother educated a door-to-door salesman about what radiation does to canned goods.
Later, I heard how certain Christian
sects set aside food for crisis they
believe will accompany The End Times. Which given the era,were presumed to be a result of nuclear war.
I learned that doomsday fears corrupt people in subtle ways. It's really bad to dwell on such things. People who think they don't have very long are liable to do ANYTHING !
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 1:23 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is an excellent thread and discussion, on a topic that is always-already relevant to every one of us. Those of us who were audience to the "cold" ideological war - with its ever-present threat of global apocalypse - cannot fail to suspect that ideological conflict has and always will be a feature of human society. The dynamic/constant of ideological war has been the cause of death and destruction throughout modern civilization - in the West, we think of the religious, nationalist and imperialist conflicts of the past 500 years - and the modern terrorist/anti-terrorist myth of the "clash of civilizations" is but the latest mutation of an ever-present virus of civilization. But, only in recent times has technology armed the supra-human ideology/violence pathogen with the means to destroy all human life.

But, we find ourselves imprisoned within the power-space of ideology, where even an attempt to reject (and force others to reject) ideology is itself an ideological position! Even the (false) prophecy of the "anarchist," claiming that existing political power structures should be dismantled, is simply an attempt to force others to accept a rival ideology – which, paradoxically, continues the very existence of ideological conflict, the true enemy of humankind. And MetaFilter itself - a site that claims to promote rational discussion - is merely another arena for rival ideologies to fester in their human hosts and choreograph their continual, murderous dance!

It's obvious that the TRUE cause of ideological conflict is the false god of "rationality" and the binary [true/false] limitation on thought, which attempts to infect every human activity. To be free of ideological conflict we MUST reject the rational discourse paradigm in ALL its forms, STOP making sense, and relocate ourselves beyond the self-imposed prison of "RATIONALITY"!

And that's why I'm supporting Newt Gingrich, clearly the least rational person ever to run for President of the United States. Give rationality the ol' heave-ho with Newt, for all our sakes. Thank you and God bless you all.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 1:50 AM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


People who think they don't have very long are liable to do ANYTHING!

Yes, but mostly good or mostly bad things? I think it can swing both ways.
posted by Harald74 at 1:59 AM on March 28, 2012


But the idea that basically every major population point in the northern hemisphere could be obliterated within a few hours... that simply doesn't exist anymore.

the bombs still exist
posted by pyramid termite at 2:31 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Perversely, it was also a time when people (at least here in the rust belt) would declare that "the Russians have missiles pointed right at this town" as a point of pride. Usually to point out how important to the nation the local factory was.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:11 AM on March 28, 2012


I wish the History Channel would do this kind of thing instead of Ice Truck UFO Wrestling.

Amen. I remember when it was the All Hitler Channel, and the sad thing is that is was better then than it is now.
posted by eriko at 5:13 AM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks so much for posting this. I teach undergrads (born in the early to mid 90s) about the Cold War, an event which they find utterly remote and removed from their own experience. The past- even the relatively recent past- really is a foreign country, and I'm glad to have another resource to recommend to help my students make sense of it.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 5:36 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


My dad was in the Strategic Air Command (SAC). I spent most of my life living in places that were on the USSR Top 100 target list, or at least the CIA's best guess at the list. I did got under my desk and put a book over my head to protect myself when we practiced what to do if we heard the sirens. The thing was, I don't remember ever really worrying about it. Maybe the threat was such an omnipresent factor in my life that we just managed to compartmentalize it and not worry about it. I was living overseas when The Day After was broadcast. Armed Forces TV may have even broadcast in conjunction with the ABC broadcast, but again, we sort of laughed it off and went on with the important stuff in our lives, school, girls, how we were going to get beer that weekend, etc. Maybe because we were right in the middle of it we missed the forest for the trees, or however that goes. But I simply don't have any memory of me or anybody I grew up with really being stressed by the fact that the world could end tomorrow.
posted by COD at 6:18 AM on March 28, 2012


Perversely, it was also a time when people (at least here in the rust belt) would declare that "the Russians have missiles pointed right at this town" as a point of pride. Usually to point out how important to the nation the local factory was.

I'm pretty sure this was not just limited to the rust belt or midwest. In fact, I think there may have even been an AskMe about it. My Boston suburban town, home to an army research lab, was "like, number two or three on the list" because when the bombs are flying it's important that the Soviets first take out our ability to design new tents and chocolate with a high melting point.

Most people I've discussed this with have a similar story about some "high-level" target in their town.

It sure was fun being a kid back then!
posted by bondcliff at 6:20 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's the AskMe. Fun reading!
posted by bondcliff at 6:27 AM on March 28, 2012


I'm always struck how the end of the Cold War removed so much of the context from the art and entertainment of that era. Think of all the things that observers from a post- Cold War era would need a history book to even understand: Dr. Strangelove, John Le Carre's George Smiley novels. Moscow on The Hudson. The appeal of No Nukes concerts. The end of "Beneath The Planet of The Apes" The humor of Yakov Smirnoff. And most tragically (for me, anyway), the signifigance of the no man's land between East & West Berlin where Danniel transforms from angel to human in "Wings of Desire."
posted by KingEdRa at 7:28 AM on March 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't really care, but a 1% or 2% clip would be FU. It's damaging when FU is abused, just gives Disney and Co ammo. There is Copyfraud (people who claim PD to be Copyright), there is Pirate (those who claim Copyright to be PD), and then there is FUfraud.

Of a documentary not on DVD or generally available

I always wonder if back around the campfires, neolithic humans sang songs to each other. And then there'd be the one guy who said "no, you can't sing that song, that's my song." Bit of a jerk, but you can understand, I suppose. Then there's the guy who says, "no, you can't sign that song, that's URGH's song. Sure URGH isn't here right now, being perhaps away on vacation, off singing his song to others, or dead. But you can't sing that song"
posted by crayz at 7:30 AM on March 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm always struck how the end of the Cold War removed so much of the context from the art and entertainment of that era.

Not to mention turning the excellent yet difficult musical Chess from a symbol-filled examination of global politics into a historical relic.
posted by hippybear at 7:36 AM on March 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm always struck how the end of the Cold War removed so much of the context from the art and entertainment of that era.

Some day I will attempt to explain to my son the significance of 99 Luft Balloons. I expect it will be slightly less painful than explaining why the original Star Wars films are better than the prequels.
posted by bondcliff at 8:05 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


A guy I knew was taking a Soviet Studies class in 1989. The prof very dramatically ripped up his lecture notes for the semester on the first day of class.

My college class in Modern Soviet Foreign Policy began about 6 weeks before Glasnost did. We all spent the semester watching the professor get slowly and progressively more confused; there were a couple times when he got to the end of a complicated lecture, then shrugged and said, "however, Gorbachev's press conference last night has made everything I've just told you completely moot." Finally, one month before the end of the term, the professor just threw up his hands and declared the whole thing a pass/fail course because "fuck it, even I don't know what's happening any more" and turned it into a current-events discussion thing.

--

I remember staying up late to watch TV during a family vacation when I was nine; my parents fell asleep and I siezed the chance to watch Johnny Carson. But there was a special news report on the SALT talks after that, and I watched that too. I didn't really grasp much; but I do remember what felt like an endless series of charts and graphs laying out just how many missles we had vs. how many the Soviets had, and how many times over a single one of each of those missles could blow up pretty much the entire world. I didn't really get the politics of the situation, all I was hearing was that there were these really big bombs somewhere that could kill everyone in the whole world and they could go off at any minute. That fucks with you when you're nine.

Then my best friend and I made an anti-nukes movie at our high school for her video project. Today it just feels painfully earnest, full of "We are teenagers who think about important things" import, but holy God did it feel like we were on the edge of death. We all watched both Threads and The Day After for research, and it fucked with all of us.

All through my teens and about 5 years into my 20's, I would have these recurring nightmares about nuclear war breaking out - vivid, detailed ones. Sometimes they would be something as big as standing in my front lawn watching the missles soaring overhead, sometimes they'd be as simple as dreaming I was watching TV and seeing Jane Pauley suddenly come in with a special report that nuclear war had broken out -- and then seeing her tear up and struggle to regain control before going on. Every single time I'd wake up from one of those dreams, heart racing, literally too afraid to fall back to sleep. (I saw Terminator II around this time and that scene showing the dream Linda Hamilton has, the one where she's watching Skynet nuke Los Angeles, made me have the one and only panic attack I've ever had because I was watching my dream.) It took until 1998, I think, before I finally stopped having those dreams.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:26 AM on March 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


I grew up in Florida and went to high school in the 80s. We had to read Alas Babylon in addition to watching The Day After and reading On the Beach, because Alas Babylon was set in Florida. I remember there was one scene in the book where a greedy character died of radiation poisoning because she looted jewelry from all dead people, and the radiation was absorbed into the metal and killed her. I spent the two years I had braces absolutely terrified that there would be a nuclear war and my braces would absorb all the radiation and kill me.

When I think back on this, I wonder what kind of sadistic, irresponsible adults force kids to read "we're all going to die" crap like this as part of a school curriculum. Why would you do this to a bunch of kids (rhetorical question; I know full well why).

Then in 1991 I was a college student majoring in Russian and just happened to be in Moscow on August 19, when the ultimately unsuccessful coup to defeat Gorbachev began. I stood there next to people climbing on tanks and watched as the Soviet Union collapsed. It was amazing to get to witness all that childhood terror resolving itself like that. No one I knew ever assumed it would happen, but it did.
posted by staggering termagant at 8:37 AM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I also remember my parents, both products of 1950's NYC Catholic School educations, joking about the collapse of the Soviet Union saying "Guess all those rosaries the nuns used to make us say for the conversion of Russia worked after all."
posted by KingEdRa at 8:58 AM on March 28, 2012


Ah yes, the ol' "We're a target city" thing.

I didn't hear that until the mid-90s, actually, even though my dad worked at Bay Shipbuilding, and there was Peterson Builders just down the road. Both were shipbuilding companies that at some points built war vessels... So that was the logic of that one.

Amazing how much that did a number on people's psyches. Even during the cold-war there were so many people supported by the war machine.

What does this mean for empires switching from a war economy to something else? Can it happen? Does it happen?

I loved watching this and seeing the US folks talk about what they thought of the way the Soviets thought, and I'm in the head of the Commies and thinking "Stupid Americans..." To the Commies the US were aggressors, not the innocent victims they acted like.

I watch the Marshall Plan and think where that kind of willpower would be today.

I can see how there was a "Cold War Concensus" -- Fascinating stuff... And for some reason I didn't realize that N. Korea was a thing that happened because Korea was divided by WW2 victors over Japan, and then Kim Il Sung wanted to invade and Stalin told him to hold on during the Berlin Crisis.

And Kim Il Sung was once a handsome guy! I can't wait to watch the rest of it!
posted by symbioid at 10:35 AM on March 28, 2012


Surprising to me that no one has linked 1966 Academy Award winning documentary The War Game (wikipedia) (streaming online), a swell BBC film that was NOT shown on TV because the BBC decided "the effect of the film has been judged by the BBC to be too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting" I've read here and there that the fix was in, also, that when people in govt saw it they pretty much said (in English accents no doubt) "Hey hey hey, we can't be showing people the truth here, lets run a soccer game or some such instead."

I've watched Threads, The Day After, and The War Game, and of the three, The War Game has the biggest emotional punch. It's really gritty, it's black and white, which really works perfectly for this horrific subject, this docu shows with absolute clarity the naiveté of people with regards to what their government was up to, and what the power of those weapons meant, and exactly what it was that was coming their way should things get out of hand, which is what happens in the docu; the bit about the wedding rings, I found that cute, really swell, but there's just a million little touches in this movie that drive home it's message.

Check it out, well worth watching.
posted by dancestoblue at 1:54 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


this docu shows with absolute clarity the naiveté of people with regards to what their government was up to, and what the power of those weapons meant,

Just took a peek again, the whole film is shot through with it but look at minutes 6:25 through 7:30 to see these people depicted, shown being interviewed as to what they know about these weapons -- heartbreaking, really...
posted by dancestoblue at 2:04 PM on March 28, 2012


pyramid termite: "the bombs still exist"

Not nearly as many. And I believe that both the Russians and the US claim to no longer have multiple warheads per missile, so the risk of total annihilation (if not a near-fatal blow) is lessened. Not that we (or they) couldn't re-MIRV many of our missiles and begin assembling currently dismantled bombs in a matter of weeks.

At least in the US' case, I believe restarting the from-scratch supply chain would be difficult, not that that really matters when we have a thousand or more bombs ready to go and at least 10,000 more in some stage of disassembly.
posted by wierdo at 2:06 AM on March 29, 2012


MartinWisse: "When the Wind Blows -- the Raymond Briggs comic, not the movie made out of that-- helped a lot with those nightmares as well."



THANKS FOR REMINDING ME, jerk
posted by subbes at 7:55 PM on March 30, 2012


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