It was always said that the TV series MASH lasted longer than the war it depicted. Not so, because in actuality the Korean War never ended. Ever since the ceasefire in 1953 there has existed a deep hostility and suspicion between the North, South and the United States. So in case you (like me) thought that we said goodbye to the “cold war” with the collapse of the Soviet Union, it appears we were both deluded. offically relations between America and the old USSR defrosted in 1991, drawing to a close a chapter in history that had lasted 46 years.
There had been many times during that period when the war stood on the precipice of nucleor annihilation, notably the cuban missile crisis in 1962. We are only now just beginning to understand how close we came to doomsday during this stand off between President Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev, the then Soviet Leader. From my perspective though I was never more acutley aware of the threat of nuclear war than during the 80’s. This was a period when I became deeply politicised. There was so much going on locally, nationally and internationally that it would have been almost odd if I hadn’t turned into an angry young man.
But it was war or the threat of it that occupied my mind most back then. In the early part of the 80’s we had Reagan in the Whitehouse, Thatcher in Downing Street and a Breshnev (soon to be followed by Andropov and Chernenko – Soviet leaders were dropping like flies back then) in the kremlyn. Now this lot could hardly be described as a bunch of peace loving hippies. Thatcher was only too willing to flex her muscles over the Falklands, Reagan had his misadventure in Grenada and the Soviets were still deeply entangled in Afghanistan. Our only comfort was M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction) This was a doctrine that “guarenteed” peace between East and West on the basis that any side launching a strike on the other faced certain death, as each side was armed to the teeth. So began an arms race that ultimately brough the soviet union to its knees. They called it M.A.D. and it was.
So it was against this backdrop of fear that my political views were formed, and I hold many of the same views today. I hadn’t realised just how pervasive this fear was though until last night. As is often the case on a Saturday night with kids in bed, I open a bottle of wine and after a few glugs on goes the music channels. There is usually some show playing retro music, and true to form last night there was and “ulimate 80’s show” or something like that. As I sat back and watched through blurry eyes I was struck by how many songs were influenced by that fear of nuclear holocaust.
the 80’s was the decade of the pop video, and one after the other they trooped out, each one a reflection of the times they were made. Let’s list them Ultravox “Dancing with tears in my eyes”. The video is a man, Midge Ure racing home to be with his missus before the bomb drops. Then there was Blondie’s “Atomic”, OMD “Enola Gay”, Nena “99 Red Balloons”, and of course Frankie’s “Two Tribes”. In fact I was sure there were more so I did a quick google search and found this:
Yes there is actually a web page devoted to listing them all. It wasn’t just music though. It was also in school with “protect and survive” lesson in Social Studies. We got leaflets through the door to the same effect. We had programmes on telly such as “Threads”, “The Day After” and “Z for Zacharia”. In the movies was “War Games”, the story of a boy who nearly triggers a nuclear war with his home computer.
We have been told all that is behind us now. The cold war is over, the threat of nuclear war between superpowers has faded away to be replaced with the more unpredictable and insidious threat of terrorism. well apparently not so, like a bad penny the threat has returned again to haunt us. In recent years we’ve had the fear of firstly Iraq developing weapons of mass destruction (this turned out to be rubbish) then Iran and now we know North Korea has joined the club. For me I was never happy with anyone possessing weapons that could destroy entire countries, and that included the US and Britain. The arguement that they are unsafe in the hands of tyrants but perfectly safe in the hands of democratically elected governments never washed with me. Remind me who are the only nation to drop not one but two Atomic Bombs?
The increasing tension and rhetoric over North korea is all depressingly familiar to those of us of a certain vintage. We can only hope that neither of these two tribes is “MAD” enough to take this situation beyond mere sabre rattling. As the great philosopher, Holly Johnson said “When two tribes go to war, a point is all that you can score.” You know what I’ve only just realised how deep that was.