Physical manifestations of the Cold War remain all around us, no matter where you or I go today. In North America, the fledgling steps towards the internet of today lay in the early air defence information technology systems, spread like a web all over Canada and the United States. The interstate highway system we love and ride daily was a product of the Cold War-designed to bypass nuc’d cities and act as emergency airstrips for bombers and fighters. In the western part of Germany, most of the civil infrastructure was geared to support Third World War combat operations. The fax machines in use today are descended from the top secret Canadian MUFAX system of the late 1950s. How about touch-tone phones and microwave ovens? The list goes on….
Though many people are deeply interested in the First and Second World Wars in the Twentieth Century, for me the climactic struggle of that age was the Cold War, where life on earth itself lay in the balance, when a globally-catastrophic war could have occurred in minutes. That concept is extremely difficult to grasp today, but it was a reality that many of us growing up then had to deal with in one way or another. I’d like to do everything I can to get that across to you, especially if you didn’t experience it or had little idea of what was going on behind the scenes at the time. There were occasions when the world was, as they say, on the brink.
The central motif of the Cold War will remain the picture or film of a mushroom cloud generated by the detonation of a nuclear weapon during testing, plus the attachment of the word “Atomic” to everything in the 1950s. Indeed, popular culture of the day included hits like Slim Gaillard’s smooth “Atomic Cocktail”….
“Press a button, Turn a dial
You’re work is done for miles, and miles….”
(for more see UMKC’s “GI Jive”)
And despite the carefully plotted wry hilarity of the movie “The Atomic Café” (1982), the men making policy in smoke-filled rooms as well as your average Joe in the Street and their families were confronted with something that forced everybody to change the direction not only of their personal lives but how the world operated on nearly every level. That time was the basis for what we have today, in many ways.
The Cold War mindset is fading now and it is getting more and more difficult to recall the nuances of the times. As that generation passes, about a trillion dollars of decaying concrete and rusting reinforced steel scattered across the United States and Canada in remote locations will in time be the only monuments to this struggle.
Welcome to Atomic Express!