30 March 2010

The Three World Wars

I was born in 1966. By the time I knew what was going on Nixon was caught up in Watergate. I remember one time when I faked brushing my teeth and my mom busted me, saying "That's why the President is in all this mess. He lied." She hasn't changed much. Before this I was vaguely aware of a world outside of my own. I remember wondering what POWs were and why we had to bring them home. My uncle George wore a POW button. He fought with the U.S. Army in the Korean War. He was referring, of course, to the prisoners of the Vietnam War.

North Vietnam and North Korea were the only countries standing between the U.S. and China, geographically, when we fought these wars. In both cases the U.S. operated from the southern half of a once united nation and, in both cases, the enemy nation bordered China. I'm sure China didn't think much of us having our troops so close to their border, which is why we fought to the 38th paralell of the Korean peninsula and no further. At the time there was serious concern that Communism would sweep through Asia, spreading from nation to nation, like a cold, and it could only be caught border to border apparently. This is referred to as the Domino Theory, the cornerstone of any good Cold War philosophy, which seems kind of silly to me. But I saw the Berlin Wall fall when I was barely in my twenties, so maybe I don't have an idea of how real the threat of Communism or nuclear war was. The Berlin Airlift of 1961 and the Cuban Missle Crisis of 1962 were both episodes of direct or almost-direct U.S.-Soviet conflict. When the 1980's arrived the U.S. hockey team defeated the Soviets at the Olympics, the Afghans defeated them in Afghanistan, and Rambo, Rocky and Bill Murray had faced off against them in the movies. Before I turned twenty the real life Soviets had become cartoon villains. Of course, by this time, Ronald Reagan had ridden into office and started to move us beyond detente.

I had a professor who argued that the reason for the Sixties, the reason that people became dirty hippies, is the failure of the U.S. and Soviet Union to blow each other up during the Cuban Missle Crisis. I guess he figured they figured that if it didn't happen then, it would never happen and it was time to be self-indulgent and self-centered; the professor was kind of a dick. I don't think that's why the Sixties happened. The Fifties were repressed and the Sixties just brought the pendulum the other way. Guys and girls that had to suffer through heavy petting in the Fifties got to have Free Love in the Sixties, if they weren't married to whoever they were petting. And if they were they could just get divorced. The Free Love-rs had to worry about being drafted and here begins distrust of the government in a whole new way, a distrust that Nixon would hammer into the public consciousness so deeply that it is still being felt today.

I wonder if all of the Cold War actions, the proxy wars, the Space Race and all the economic and political competitions will eventually be referred to as the Third World War. It has definitely been a different world since the Soviet Union collapsed. It's messier and not as well-defined. Our enemy now is not a nation, but a loose network. How do we define them? They aren't within specific borders, even borders as lazy as Vietnam's. And a "war on terror" does not make sense either. We are fighting a war against a tactic? Because that's what terrorism is: a tactic of war. Like I have said before, I miss the old days when Reagan was president and the Russians were clearly the guys in the black hats.

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