Living the Cold War

NATO, Russia & Ukraine

“Those awful Russians!” That was in the late 1940s, just after WW II, and I was a little kid then. As I got older, I was told that Russia was Communist, and Communism was bad in every way. Above all, it was a police state, spying on people and watching their every move. Most of the details went over my head; what I understood was that Russia was bad. Russians were bad. Russians were the enemy.

The Cold War, from its very beginning, was all within my lifetime and that of the people around me. We didn’t just live through it, we lived it. In one way or another it affected all of us, physically, economically and psychologically. Who can ever forget the witch hunts of the McCarthy Era? People were afraid. I remember my father, who was not an activist or political, was afraid.

There were the nuclear bomb tests with the attendant and subsequent radiation poisoning which killed a lot of people here in the U.S., the “Down-Winders.” American Indian tribes and farmers from southern Utah and Nevada were especially aware of the sudden deadly effects, but the stuff drifted all over the country. To make bombs they needed uranium, which fueled a uranium prospecting and mining boom, and like many people, I was involved in that, helping to stake mining claims. I was 16 or 17 then.

And there was the draft. Guys had to plan their lives around the possibility of being drafted into the army. Most people accepted the inconvenience, however grudgingly. We had to defend our freedom. Everyone seemed to believe that, and I believed it. I find it painful to admit, but the truth is, I saw it all as a glorious adventure. I joined the Marine Corps. It was an educational experience.

I remember the Bay of Pigs invasion. I was then stationed at Camp Lejeune, and it looked like my unit was going to be sent to Cuba. A year later came the Cuban Missile Crisis, and finally, in 1963, the assassination of JFK, and the assassination cover-up that followed and continues to this day. So who killed President Kennedy? There is abundant evidence pointing to the national security state, which refused to tolerate a strong president who did not fit into their pocket.

There followed the ever-increasing demands of the military-industrial complex with an escalating war in Vietnam, and the formation of an anti-war movement. I began to see the insanity, the criminality. I joined an antiwar veterans group and also wrote for “underground” newspapers of that era.

Eventually, the Soviet Union fell apart, and the Cold War was over, or so it seemed. But U.S. military spending raged on. NATO seemed to have outlived its function, and the U.S. promised Gorbachev that NATO would not expand one inch to the east. But it did. One country after another was incorporated into NATO, in blatant violation of U.S. promises. Before making any deals with the U.S., Gorbachev should have done some research on how the U.S. honors its treaties and commitments, or fails to.

Meanwhile, our country was slipping under the domination of neoliberals and neocons, who openly said we needed “another Pearl Harbor.” But we lacked a major enemy, at least till 9/11 — that godsend to warmongers. The neocons seemed to have a symbiotic relationship with al-Qaeda, which was invoked to justify wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places, too many to count. I would sum up the Afghanistan adventure as two decades of slaughter and profiteering ending in a massive bank robbery.

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been seeing (though not at the time understanding) an ongoing policy of regime change. Sometimes the U.S. replaced democracies with brutal dictatorships as in Guatemala, Iran and Chile; other times they replaced brutal dictatorships with something even worse, as in Iraq. All of this in the name of promoting democracy and human rights.

Prior to the war, half a million Iraqi children reportedly died as a result of sanctions. In May 1996, then U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Madeline Albright was asked about that on 60 Minutes. Albright replied, “We think the price is worth it.”

Our attention was focused elsewhere. There has been a lot to focus on: the above mentioned wars in the Middle East, the economic disaster of 2008, and the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, climate change, racism, police shootings, journalists under attack, the pandemic, increasing censorship, and much, much more. So we may not have noticed that step by step, our warlords were leading us into a new Cold War with China and Russia.

In 2014 Victoria Nuland, an Assistant Secretary of State under Obama, was the point person for crafting a coup in the Ukraine, installing a pro-U.S. regime. This opened up the Ukraine for looting by U.S. corporations. The Ukraine was also considered for membership in NATO. The stranglehold on Russia was tightening.

Russia was no longer a superpower, but it still had a military, and let’s not forget, a huge nuclear arsenal. How far could Russia be pushed?

Slowly, very slowly, we woke up to this reality, that we were waist-deep in a new Cold War. This is like going back to my childhood years all over again. Russia is no longer Communist, but nothing else seems to have changed. Socialist, capitalist, or whatever, Russia is the enemy, and since Vladimir Putin is the head of the Russian Federation, he is the arch enemy, the arch demon. Putin can do no good.

Last summer I turned eighty. Having lived through so many decades of this, you’d think that might be enough, but it goes on, and it enters our dreams, taking us to the edge of the confrontation. About a week ago I dreamed I was somewhere around the Donbas. All around me were Russian tanks, about to roll out and attack. I was interviewing a Russian official, and at the same time trying to make coffee. But all I could find was a jar of instant; before I could get hot water going, I woke up. I grabbed my computer and looked online for news reports. No, it hadn’t happened. No war as of yet anyway.

Then, a couple nights later it happened. We were about to watch a movie when a friend phoned and told us the news. At first we didn’t believe it. “Look online!” he said. We looked, and yes, the Russian bear had finally put its paw down. Or was it bear-baited into a trap?

Daniel Borgström is a member of KPFA's Local Station Board. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. He can be reached at: danielfortyone@gmail.com. Read other articles by Daniel, or visit Daniel's website.