I picked up a new book from the library this weekend called “The Cold War” by John Lewis Gaddis. I’ve always been a history buff but rarely do I read historical books – I rely on documentaries more than book for my history lessons.
After convincing my kids that I wasn’t reading a book about Star Wars “Clone Wars” they took a bit of an interest in what a Cold War was. At first I wasn’t sure if they were just humouring me but as I told them bits and pieces about it they kept asking questions. John Lewis Gaddis makes a comment in his introduction that the reason he wrote this most recent book (as he has written many books and lectures about the Cold War) was because some students tactfully mentioned that they wouldn’t mind a concise historical survey of the Cold War.
Secondly though, he realized that the students he was beginning to see in his Yale history classes had no concept that their was a Cold War – as they were born after 1990. They had no concept that The Cold War was a recent conflict that radically effected political and social policies and that nearly every person born before 1985 (roughly) was deeply impacted by this conflict. They couldn’t connect with the Cold War any more than they could the Peloponessian War or the 100 Years War.
I remember being very aware in school, media and culture about the Cold War. I remember watching the Berlin Wall come down as a child. I have this vivid memory of the first time I visited a major city and thinking to myself “all these small building along the freeway must be bomb shelters since we’re near the military base” (they were utility stations). I have a faint memory of even doing a bomb drill in elementary. Of course, every bad guy in action movies were Soviets and “Red Dawn” is still my classic late night movie.
After I shared a bit about the Cold War my older daughter said, “Wow Dad. This is really interesting. I never really thought that something like that could happen. I bet it was scary.” I was very impressed by her interest in something so complex and grand. I’ve also prepared my wife by letting her know to expect me to share random facts about the Cold War that I didn’t know before but that I find captivating like: Did you know that WWII (in which the roots of the Cold War were found) was incredibly disportionate in national death tolls. Americans and British lost about 300,000 people each while the Soviet Union lost nearly 27,000,000 people (civilians and soldiers)…nearly 14% of their entire population and just under half of all WWII related deaths (pegged at about 60,000,000 people total). This imbalance and perceived lack of concern for the Soviet people catalyzed much of the distrust in the Grand Alliance. Yes…I’m a history dork.