Passages of the Cold War

Candidly, what goes around in my mind is more akin to large, slowly rotating ventilation fans, one behind the other and each timed slightly differently. Filmed in black and white with deep shadows, the ventilation fan scene is used to build tension in movies, the viewer sees only the shadow, the challenge and hears only the simple swoosh, swoosh as the blades relentlessly and ominously turn. The good guys or bad guys try to jump through the fans’ portal to the other side; some make it, some don’t. It’s the same footage used for different stories where a dramatic transition is required.

Delivered to the U.S. military for use in 1953, the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bomber in all its incarnations has been a workhorse of Cold War infrastructure that survived the fan blades of transition from one well-defined enemy to the shadow world of many enemies defined in vague terms like terrorism. Sitting in my office in the Quonset hut on Hickam, I was quietly tackling the piles of paper in the early 1990s. I was quite unprepared for the normally calm Kimo’s bursting through my office door yelling that a BUFF was on the runway. I had no idea what a BUFF was, other than a neutral shade of brown.

The sheer size of the airplane that met my eyes that day was impressive. It was a B-52 and I quickly learned that BUFF stood for Big Ugly Fat Fellow (or F#*&^r). I definitely wanted to see that old dog.

While I had consumed books extolling tales of daring-do by phenomenal pilots as they flew the B-52 on long-range missions over Russia, retrofitted B-52’s taking care of business in Viet Nam, patrolling our borders like long-range snipers, and, now, the war on terrorism with precision guided missiles and mind numbing payloads of bombs.

Puff the Magic Dragon was the next airplane I met at Hickam and it did not make it through the fan blade obstacle. It stayed on the cutting room floor of the Cold War (1947-1991).  By the time I first saw Puff it was already a museum piece and it looked just like a DC-3 to me. I knew about DC-3’s and had flown many bone jarring hours in them as our family was being transported from Antofagasta to Chuquicamata, Chile and back in the 1950s. I also knew that type of airplanes to be sub-hunters and instrument carriers but I did not know Puff.  Douglas Aircraft Company out of Long Beach, CA developed and manufactured the AC-47 Spooky that was introduced to me as Puff. The AC-47 was the military version of the DC-3 with which I was familiar. Outfitted with guns in every available aperture, Puff could lay down a so many rounds of bullets so quickly and so closely spaced that nothing alive on the ground could survive. In the process it generated great puffs of dust. The Douglas AC-47 Spooky could hover about an area for hours lazily turning circles in the sky and was indeed a vision of the fire breathing dragon of old as the red beams from tracers swept the ground. And, like the dragons of old, Puff faded away after the Cold War (1947-1991) ended.

Tactics designed to transport ideas from there to here undergo a similar trial by fan blade. Some make it. Some do not. The Declaration of Independence was red flag waved at the British bull and marked the start of Revolutionary War in the late 1700s.  Actually, the Declaration of Independence was nothing more than a mirror reflecting the British fundamental principles of government that had been developed in the 1200s. It took about 500 years for Britain to drown those principles in a sea of ambition as the country rushed to empire. The few American colonists that had the courage to stand and fight were fighting for a return to the fundamental concepts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness under the auspices of natural law. The British rulers saw red, and the frightened friends and colleagues wanted no part of the battles that would be coming but, still, the revolutionaries stood their ground. Once the smoke of the battles cleared and the revolutionaries got together to form their new country, they found many former doubters standing in line to participate. The documents that inked the deal for the new United States of America did not come easily or quickly. The writing of the Constitution to preserve the principles that had been paid for in blood was punctuated with months and, in some cases, years of arguments, animated discussions and more than one ‘stomping-out-of-the-room’ scene. The Revolutionary War marked the birth of the U.S. and the beginning of the end of the Britain’s drive to empire as the British looked within to find what they had lost. These ideas made it through the fan blades.

In the 1950s the U.S. was consummating communism as an arch enemy. There were no raging arguments or deep philosophical discussions when the question of “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist party?” rang through the halls of congress. It was the time of Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy’s inquisition. Did McCarthy capitalize on a national fear of communism or did he inspire and solidify that fear by shouting from the roof tops that communist spies were everywhere.

Remember, at that time, Alger Hiss, a highly placed State Department official, had just been convicted of espionage and memories of the nuclear blasts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were fresh. In an effort to prove his hypothesis, McCarthy pushed a thousand or more people from all walks of life through his meat grinder with the question “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist party?”  His victims included Hollywood producers and stars, military and civilian government employees and people like you and me. In the process, McCarthy ignored and stomped on the safeguards promised by the Constitution.

Whoa, wait a minute. McCarthy was one person in the Senate, a governing body of ninety-six in 1950. The ninety-six seats were pretty evenly divided between democrats and republicans, with the democrats holding one more seat than the republicans. Where were they and We the People when this witch hunt was taking place? Why did no one stop McCarthy? Finally nearly four years later, McCarthy fell from grace. Eisenhower refused to rebuke McCarthy but we the People finally had enough of his antics. By then, lives were needlessly ruined. The requisite fever of a fear epidemic was running wild and people looked at their neighbors with a suspicious eye. Fortunately, the people finally spoke and that was that. But by then communism and communists were now firmly ingrained as the arch enemy and the Cold War (1947-1991) proceeded.  I wish this were a piece of film on a cutting room floor but it is not. The idea of labeling people, finding enemies within and shouting from the roof tops was seriously injured as it tried to jump through the fan blade portal. It did not die but it added some scar tissue.

Today the boogie man behind every door and in every shadow is terrorism. While communism and communists are associated with a socio-political-economic structure, terrorism is not. Our federal government, through two different administrations, has fought to keep the definition loose. It can mean people associated with a particular philosophy using terror as a tactic or it can, by government definition, mean white males over fifty-five who have served in the military. It can mean ‘them’ or, if necessary, us. I listened alongside everyone else, with horror at the events that played themselves out at the Boston Marathon and in Sandy Hook. With equal horror, I listened to the various pundits as they tried to find someone to blame. Salon’s headline[1] “Let’s Hope the Boston Marathon Bomber is a White American” is as repugnant to me as the pursuit of communism by McCarthy was. Listening to the media and the politicians fan the flames of we and them is appalling and omnipresent. Be it race-based, or rich versus poor, or young versus old, the same fire of hate and blame is erupting on many fronts. In the drive for civility, we’ve lost the dialog that can save us. The dialog might not be comfortable or quiet but it is essential to our way of life. If McCarthyism was a witch hunt on the right; today’s witch hunt is led by those who profess to be kinder, gentler souls on the left. No one has pointed out that they are different sides of the same coin. It is not the government who will resolve this issue. When government feels threatened it writes more regulations, reduces freedom, and buys bigger and better guns. It is we, the people of the United State, who will solve this problem, if it is to be solved. We need to control our government not the other way around. This time, we need to make very certain the idea of divide and conquer within gets cut to shreds while going through the fans’ portal from the Cold War (1947-1991) to today’s world.

 



[1] Let’s Hope the Boston Marathon Bomber is a White American http://www.salon.com/2013/04/16/lets_hope_the_boston_marathon_bomber_is_a_white_american/

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