Fall in the Cold War

I saw a flock of geese Friday evening. The geese were flying in formation, heading for an open field presumably to eat and rest. That's the first flock I've noticed this year, and it's an obvious sign of the change of seasons in this and many parts of the world. And because I can't help myself (perhaps it's an obsession?), my mind turned to the significance of the fall in the Cold War. Three events in particular jumped out at me as they often do this time of year.

The first of those events happened well before my time: the Soviet Union came into existence in the fall of 1917, a key event in what would become the Cold War. And even though that Revolution occurred 40 years before I was born, it never fails to pop back into focus this time of year. I think it may be because of the unusual circumstances of its timing. As you probably know, the Bolshevik Revolution took place in October in Russia, which was still using the Julian or old style calendar. The same events occurred in November in much of the rest of the world, which was by then using the Georgian or new style calendar. I studied Russia and Russian for many years, and the fact that its October Revolution took place in November has always struck me as symbolic of the chronic lack of synchronicity between Russia and the rest of the world. Even now, with Putin rattling his saber and seemingly intent on restoring Russia's Stalinist borders, the country seems out of touch with the preferences of modern geopolitics.

The second of the three events is the Cuban Missile Crisis which took place in October of 1962. One of my first memories is a visit my family paid to the family of my mother's brother Pete during that crisis. I did not fully appreciate the gravity of the moment, but even at the age of 5 I knew that something of tremendous significance was happening, something that gripped the worried attention of the adults in my life. I've often pondered the effect of that early memory on the turn my life took given its long-standing relationship to the tense apex of the Cold War. One of the constant themes of the years on either side of that crisis was the real threat of thermonuclear annihilation. It's a theme that predictably had an effect on the long-term outlook of those, including me, raised under the specter of that threat.

The third event is the fall (there's that word again) of the Berlin Wall in 1989. I'd completed law school in the spring of '89, and by the fall I was contemplating returning to the Army, this time as a member of the JAG corps. My goal was to return to duty in Berlin where I'd happily spent the bulk of my enlistment in the early 1980s. When the Berlin Wall came down it was immediately evident that the American presence in Berlin would be dwindling as were my chances of actually being stationed there were I to sign up for another stint. As I watched Berliners celebrate the destruction of that odious symbol of oppression, I decided to remain a civilian, that being an Army lawyer for 3 years at Foot Hood, Texas, or some similar garden spot, was a risk I was not willing to take.

So it is that with the approach of another fall my thoughts are drawn to falls past while I also ponder what the fall of 2014 might mean to the future.