Three Things: Cold War Redux

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Things continue to heat up between Russia and the West. While it’s not yet at Cold War era levels, the rhetoric and actions between the East and West are creating tensions that could quickly lead us there. The Cold War was a terrifying period of history. The prospect of nuclear annihilation lay just over the horizon. And, the amount of times that the world almost ended because of malfunctions, misunderstandings, and human error, is unthinkable. There are some great lessons to be learned from the history of the cold war, and, like Dan Carlin says, context is key to understanding. Here are some of my favorite places to learn some Cold War context, which will hopefully help you to be more informed about current events.

Ghosts of the Osfront

 

World War Two turned the United States into a global power. But, it also turned the USSR into a global power with nearly the same reach. Understanding why the USSR was able to gain so much territory and authority in post-WWII Europe takes an understanding of its role in World War Two. Dan Carlin, host of the podcasts Hardcore History and Common Sense, gives a great overview of the war that the Third Reich and USSR fought on the Eastern Front.

The USSR lost much in blood and treasure in the war, but it also gained a great deal in power and influence across the globe. Really, the ramifications of the Eastern Front are what made it possible for the USSR to face off against the United States for the next 50 years.

Carlin is also able to take a great deal of the context from this podcast (Russian fear of invasion from the West, erosion of the Warsaw Pact and rise of NATO, and dual militarization) and bring them up in his Common Sense podcast. Poking the Bear and In Search of Context, are two must-listens for anyone who wants to be truly knowledgeable about what is going on in Eastern Europe.

Cold War

CNN isn’t usually a place that I go for news. But with Cold War, they created a mini-series that gives an informative and interesting overview of the Cold War from 1945 to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Originally aired in 1998, the 24 part mini-series was re-released earlier this year. The series has a great amount of interviews with people who lived through the era, both from the East and the West. Plus, it’s narrated by Sir Kenneth Branagh. How can you go wrong?

While there have been some questions about whether or not the series was biased in one form or another, I think it is important to make two points. First, if you are looking to CNN to get all of your information on one topic, you need to look at other news sources. Remember when they did a month straight of 24 hour reporting on Flight 370? CNN is not exactly known for their hard hitting, focus-from-all-sides reporting. And second, it’s a documentary with great footage and interviews. Documentaries can often be one sided or biased in some way (although, I really don’t personally think that this one was all that biased), and to be a truly informed viewer, you need to look at other sources of information to get the full story.

Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth

 

 

1961 gets far less interest than the Cuban Missile Crisis in the annals of US history, but it is just as–if not more–important. 1961 was the year that the Berlin Wall went up, encasing West Berlin inside of the Iron Curtain in a literal sense. From 1961 until 1989 the Berlin Wall stood, keeping East Germans from entering into West Germany and West Berlin at any cost (though, while prohibited with the consequence of death, many East Germans still made attemptssome successful–to enter into the West).

With 1961, author Frederick Kempe creates a book which paints a complete and thorough picture of the political and social reasonings for the creation of the Wall. Along with the background of why the Wall was built, the books paints the dark attitudes and fears that painted this period of time. It is incredible how close the world came to annihilation because of some miscommunications and increasingly threatening rhetoric from both sides. If you don’t know enough about the politics and people of the Cold War and want to learn more, 1961 is a book worth reading.


 

I’m a fan of history, mythology and absorber of all things news. I’m a writer of books and blogs, and an enjoyer of all things pop culture. There is more about me that I can’t currently think of. I will answer any questions via email (bearded bards at gmail.com) or in the comments below. If your question is: “Can I get your book for free?” My answer is yes, just send me an email. If you would rather pay for the book on Amazon, the link is below.

I don’t only muse about the total annihilation of humanity through nuclear war; I also think about the total annihilation of humanity by asteroid! As seen in my current Amazon.com offering: Tim and the Breakup of Impending Doom.

 

 

How Will You Be Remembered?

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I was watching a documentary on Carthage the other night. Do you know about Carthage? It was the Mediterranean empire that existed just before Rome came into power. It was the home of Hannibal. It was where he launched his attack on Italy in an attempt to debilitate Rome.

Most people, though, with the exception of having heard about a few items in a history book, do not know much about Carthage. Most people know about Hannibal, but few probably know that he came from what is modern day Tunis. Few people know what happened to Carthage, fewer know that it was razed by the Roman navy. Little remains of the once great capital city. Like Troy before it, Carthage was merely a glimmer in the memory of history. The Romans, not ones to let a dead empire stay dead, made stories of how the Carthaginians burned their children in sacrifice. The Romans attempted — and for thousands of years succeeded at — blemishing the name of Carthage. Rome made the world remember Carthage not as the great and prosperous empire they were, but instead as a savage and brutal people.

This, we know, is not the case. We know now that the stories told by Rome were rumors meant to discredit their enemy. We know now that the Carthaginians were prosperous, intelligent, and powerful.

However, because of how totally the Romans destroyed and absorbed Carthage, we did not know these things until archaeologists started to reconstruct their empire. The example of Carthage reminds me of many other examples throughout history. The library of Alexandria, Troy, nearly the whole of Amazonian and American Indian cultures. All of these are examples of the loss of not only life but culture as well.

We live in a time now where it is almost unthinkable that anything would disappear. We have books, magazines, DVDs, thumb drives, the internet! How could we ever lose anything in today’s day and age at the scale of the Library of Alexandria?

But think back 50 years. Think back to book burnings by the Nazis. Think to this day and age, where entire countries block out pieces of information. Today marks the anniversary of Tiananmen Square — but you would not find a mention of it anywhere in China (and, now, you probably won’t be able to find this blog post in China, as well). Think of Islamic radicals who burn and destroy works that aren’t inline with what they believe to be within their very limited views of Islamic law. Think of groups of worried parents that ban books from school libraries, or radical Christians burn copies of books that they do not agree with.

There are those of us who believe that the idea of destroying works, of obliterating cultures, is all a part of the past. That in today’s world we would not allow any information to disappear. That what we have today will last forever.

However, what we have today is just as fleeting as what the Carthaginians had, just as fleeting as the cultures that the Amazonians and American Indians had, just as fleeting as the Library at Alexandria. Yes, it would be much more difficult to destroy. It would take much longer, but there is the possibility that it can all fade away into the annals of time.

So why create, why take anything in? Why make anything, if you risk it being destroyed by time. Why take in the works of your time, if they will only matter to you and your immediate surroundings?

Because that is what is important. We read and write and view, in order to escape from the here and now, or in order to understand it better. We do not do so thinking that our works will last into future generations. We do not read a book thinking that our offspring generations down the road will understand it as we do. We do not write a book or make a movie thinking of what people a thousand, or even a hundred, years from now will think of it.

Reading, listening, viewing, writing, painting, creation in general — these are all selfish acts. I don’t think the people of Carthage, before their empire was destroyed and assimilated by the Romans, created and took in culture in hopes that it would last through the generations. I think that they took it in for their own immediate enjoyment.

Those of us in the future may want the works of Carthage, the Library of Alexandria, the writings of Troy, all to still exist. But, in truth, do we care if what we make today exists for those who live a thousand years in the future?

I’m not sure that we do.

But we should. We should care that what we do today lives on into the future. We need to strive for future civilizations to know who we were. We need to work to not be forgotten like Carthage, or the library, or the American Indians. We must work in order to be remembered. Even the bad, the discrimination, the book burning, needs to be remembered. We need to pass on our successes and our failings.

Just think of where we could be today if we had all of the accumulated knowledge of ages before us. Think of where we could be if we did not vindictively destroy, or if we did not selfishly learn and create for only the here and now.

If we start to care more about making sure to pass on our culture, instead of just working in order to enjoy it ourselves, think of what we could pass on. And how much it could aid the future.