Can the US head off a new Cold War?

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Students of history might argue successfully that the Cold War between the former Soviet Union and the United States actually got underway when the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The success of those two detonations resulted in a case of extreme paranoia on Joseph Stalin’s part and began the protracted competition involving the two surviving major world powers.

A mere child when the Cold War started, there are a few snippets of it that remain fixed in my memory.  There were the “duck and cover” drills in school that were purely show-time as an atomic bomb in close proximity means vaporization of human bodies, no matter how large the desk, while further away simply means a slower death by radiation poisoning.  My parents and their friends spoke in whispers about our fate, wondering if the current year’s Christmas would be the last one for us.  The Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 resulted in a 13-day migraine headache for me.

Whatever the case, the former Soviet Union conducted its first weapons test of a nuclear device on Aug. 29, 1949.  Thereafter, although it was officially called the Cold War, it got people in the U.S. sweaty-hot, producing a daily nightmare until President Ronald Ragean and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev held several summit conferences in the late 1980s which contributed to the end of the Cold War and the ultimate dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

During the ensuing years there were some things scary and others humorous.  The World War III theme was common in American movies where the villains sported Russian accents.  Then, too, who could forget the 1964 British-American black comedy, Dr. Strangelove, which satirized the nuclear scare.  Meanwhile, the color red, bears, sickles, hammers, big coats and furry hats were culturally banned here.

After Reagan and Gorbachev shook hands many Americans were able to breathe deeply for the first time in years.  The “strategic defense initiative” or “Star Wars” was a fiction of the U.S. government to throw the Russians into apoplexy over the cost of the technology to compete and they backed down with the U.S. standing alone as the only superpower.

Thereby, World War III became only a Hollywood fixation.  But, just wait one minute here! That was until the Winter Games finished in Sochi and Russia’s re-elected President Vladimir Putin decided it was time to throw his gauntlet down in what appears to be a rather direct effort to reclaim the lands and people of the former Soviet Union. He already made some moves against the independent nation of Georgia. Now, it’s the Ukraine’s Crimea that Putin has placed under Russia’s control.

The U.S. has warned Russia about its interference in Ukraine, a highly provocative action whose follow-up to taking Crimea could be the precursor to an invasion of Ukraine itself.   The U.S. has imposed some sanctions as has Russia on us.  President Obama stated last week that the U.S. will not proceed with military interventions but that position could change should Putin send the Russian army into Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the beat goes on as officials in Ukraine have made statements such as, “Does Russia not understand that this is the beginning of World War III?.”  And Russian state television has remarked that “Russia is the only country in the world that is realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash.”   Behind the Russian TV guy was a green-screen backdrop of a nuclear mushroom cloud from which it’s credibly imagined that whenever Putin hears a reference to “the West,” he starts fingering a Molotov Cocktail and it is 1950s deja vu all over again.

Truly, it’s hoped that cooler heads will prevail as it requires hardly any imagination at all to realize that a World War III scenario would end up rather badly for everyone in Russia, the U.S., and the whole world.  Maybe this is just big talk and headline-making bluster.  In the meantime, it’s popularly speculated that Putin wants to establish the Russian empire much more than he seeks the opportunity to make money in the world’s marketplaces or help to establish “one world.”  As for me, there may soon be a second-in-a-lifetime migraine, but it could be the least of my worries.

(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)

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