Saturday, November 12, 2011

What are Stories of the Cold War?

by Phil Gardocki

This feature has its roots one evening at a COLD WARS HMGS Miniatures Convention. It is best described as a very late evening bull session where Jeff Billings, an old shipmate, and I traded stories before what appeared to be an enraptured audience. Of course, it was late, there was beer and maybe the audience was not as enthralled as I thought. By strict definitions of the word, Jeff and I are both "veterans." But, I do not think of myself as a veteran when compared to real combat soldiers. But, as we were in the post-Vietnam War Navy and armed conflicts were rare, we were very rarely endangered and then, usually only by the incompetence of our own armed forces.

When I had enlisted in 1975, the morale of the armed services had been crushed. It was not the crisp professional force we have seen performing since 1990. It was an organization despised by the general populace, manned with the lower crust of society, given no purpose and treated by the management as incompetent. The morale problems are better described by General Fred Franks book, "Into The Storm"*, which I highly recommend.

Throw into the mix a force pool from the public education system that had, for "school assemblies", apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic movies like Failsafe, Dr Strangelove, Planet of the Apes, On the Beach and the message was clear: "You are going to be dead in 5 years, so what does it matter?" It is no wonder so many of my generation turned to drugs. As a historian, I know my generation did not have it rough, and in fact, it was the most privileged, educated, and wealthy generation ever, but it is the nature of every generation to think it had it rough. I will say, in our defense, the "Baby Boomers" were the first generation that grew up with the constant reminder that they could be annihilated in a few hours.

Into this environment is placed "Stories of the Cold War." These are not stories I just "heard" but either happened to me or I can actually put a face on the participants.

*I know Tom Clancy's name dominates the landscape of the cover, but the book was still written by General Franks.

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