Why I Miss The Cold War (And Why It Matters Now)

Silhouette of woman in frozen tunnel

The Cold War was an anxious time to live through. The philosophy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) was hardly re-assuring (then or now). Yet there is something about it I miss, something that we really could do with today.

’60s & ’70s

On my route to school in the ’60s, the air raid sirens were often tested. That eerie, haunting sound, used during nuclear civil defence exercises, made the threat of nuclear war feel very real, imminent and menacing.

On Sunday mornings the TV broadcast ‘Weekend World’ seemed to go through every possible nuclear war scenario and permutation. The words “theatre”, “tactical” and “strategic” were bandied about, like it was all some sort of board game. The game never ended well – it was either stalemate or global destruction. But I was happy with stalemate – it meant life would carry on as normal.

Today

So why do I miss the Cold War today? I miss the fear. 

It was fear of the nuclear weapons testing that started the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. It was fear that prevented a third world war during the Cuban missile crisis. And it was fear that drove the reduction of the global stockpile from 65,000 to the 15,000 weapons we have today.

But today most people don’t give nukes a second thought. They seem to be a forgotten piece of Cold War history, along with communism, the USSR and the Berlin Wall. Even the UK Government, in their National Security Strategy, doesn’t much rate the risk from nukes.

Risks higher

But we should be concerned, very concerned, in fact, absolutely terrified. For the risks today are much greater than the risks during the Cold War. Because not only do we have the US and Russia to worry about, with thousands of weapons still on hair trigger alert, there are now other countries and groups that have access to nuclear weapons and materials.

India and Pakistan both have nukes. North Korea has nukes. Israel has nukes. The UK, France and China have nukes. And perhaps the most chilling of all, Al-Qaeda has openly declared its madness to acquire and use nukes to kill 10 million people.

The Doomsday Clock is frighteningly close to midnight.

Action

We need that Cold War fear today. We need it to motivate us, to do something, to actually care about this issue. Because if we don’t care, our Members of Parliament won’t care. And if our MPs don’t care, nothing will be done. That’s simply not acceptable when our very existence is at stake.

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