Surviving the Cold War Was Easy

Compared to the mess the world is in today, surviving the Cold War seems, from the retrospective comfort of 25 years later, to have been relatively easy. The threat of massive annihilation during a nuclear holocaust was real enough during the Cold War to keep the Superpowers from ever actually engaging in nuclear combat. The USSR and the USA both seemed to understand on some important level the all or nothing nature of nuclear combat. In spite of many moments of high, geopolitical tension, or brinksmanship as it was known, we always pulled back from the brink of man-made Armageddon. Today is the 53rd anniversary of one of those tense moments, the day the Soviets and their puppets in East Germany erected the Berlin Wall. That remarkable event miraculously did not spark armed conflict between the two Superpowers (believe me, you’d have heard about it), and neither did the Cuban Missile Crisis a little more than a year later. Indeed, the end of the crisis in Cuba marked the faint beginning of a long process of trying to extricate ourselves from the existential threat posed by the nuclear arms race. And, at least temporarily, extricate ourselves we did. Of course, so long as such weapons exist, their use is always a possibility. But today’s world is much different from that of August, 1961, as are today’s threats to human existence. Regional political forces have been unleashed since then that no one or two countries can contain, even if they so desired; multilateral political solutions to the accelerating degradation of our environment seem impossible to achieve; and the proliferation and unrestrained use of conventional weapons pose a real, rather than abstract threat to the security of millions on a daily basis. The end of the Cold War meant we’d decided to step back from the brink of annihilation. It remains an open question whether we can do so once again.

The Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall