Book review: The Cold War by Norman Friedman

The Cold War: From the Iron Curtain to the Collapse of Communism. Published by: Carlton Books.

Nothing about the Cold War is simple. When, for example, did it start? Most people would say after the Second World War but a case could be made for saying it started as soon as Russia turned towards Bolshevism (that is, Communism) in 1917. Certainly the West was hostile to the new state from the outset, numerous powers attempting to crush it with a series of military interventions during the post-revolutionary Russian Civil War. But as the USSR was on the Allied side during the war with Hitler, most people view the Cold War as starting in the late 1940s, particularly after the USSR obtained nuclear weapons in 1949. This book does the same.

When did it end then? With the news of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989? (it was in fact demolished later). With the collapse of the USSR in 1991? Were there, in fact, two Cold Wars, the first ending with the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the second starting with the sharp decline in East-West relations following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979?

Indeed, with China, North Korea, Vietnam and Laos still Communist, could a case even be made for saying the Cold War is still on? Certainly, plenty of spying and intrigue still goes on and the world is hardly free of international tension particularly since the succession of President Trump in 2017. US defence spending is now far higher than it ever was during the official Cold War. This is essentially madness.

This thorough nicely illustrated and accessible account wisely restricts itself the key period, however, chronicling events from the botched aftermath of the Second World War, through to the Berlin Airlift, Marshall Plan, Korean War, nuclear confrontation, the space race, Detente and ultimately a largely peaceful resolution, mostly attributable to Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. It is well worth reading.

Red Dawn (1984): The stupidest film ever made?

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Could Red Dawn actually be the stupidest film ever made?

It seems possible. This is, after all, a movie made in 1984 which depicts the United States succumbing to a land invasion by the Soviet Union. That’s right. You read it correctly. A Russian land invasion of the USA. At the height of age of nuclear super power confrontation. The opening scenes see a high school teacher being distracted from his teaching by the sudden arrival of an army of Russian parachutists, suddenly descending on the ground outside. When he goes to investigate, he is promptly machine gunned to death.

A high school massacre ensues. Not the traditional sort of US high school massacre with Americans shooting each other which we have become so used to. The director John Milius would presumably defend every American’s right to do that, after all. No, this is a nasty Soviet-inspired massacre.

The heroes, played by an assortment of Eighties stars and future stars (Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, Swayze’s future Dirty Dancing co-star Jennifer Grey and Back to the Future’s Lea Thompson) then go to ground and wage a form of guerrilla warfare against their Soviet occupiers for the rest of the film.

So begins Red Dawn, a film so alarmist it might as well have been called ‘Reds Under The Bed’ and featured a sequence in which Soviets emerged from that very bad to kidnap sleeping American children.

It is a film in which the Russians speak as if they have stepped out of an edition of the British Battle Action Force comic from the same period. “Arraggh! Help me comrades!” says one, who has been shot by an arrow in his back. “I am dying!”

It is quite a violent film and actually has a reasonable cast – the late Patrick Swayze was never a great actor but Harry Dean Stanton is in it (and who would have guessed then that he would outlive Swayze?). Charlie Sheen was still two years away from his role in Platoon and a good decade away from Hot Shots. It is hard to imagine his father Martin was a big fan of this one though.

And nor should he have been. The film is surprisingly boring to watch despite its unintentionally hilarious premise.

Some of you might be scornful at this point. “It’s all very dismissing the Soviet threat in 2013,” you might argue. “We all know in reality Gorbachev and Glasnost were just around the corner to save the day. The Berlin Wall would actually fall just five years after the film was released. But it didn’t seem like that in 1984! The Cold War was very cold indeed. There seemed like there was no end in sight. It wasn’t quite like the book ‘1984’ but it wasn’t far off. The threat of World War III was very real indeed.”

Agreed! You’ve made a fair point. Well donw. Yet it was very much a NUCLEAR threat which the world faced during the Cold War. Red Dawn never adequately explains why the nuclear deterrent isn’t used. The parachuting from disguised commercial planes plot device is unconvincing. It’s easy to see why no scenes featuring the president or any top level military decision making feature at all. If they did, they would expose the plot as a load of hooey.

Indeed, Red Dawn’s world view on virtually every issue totally stinks.

We are told NATO has dissolved, basically because Europe is reluctant to help the US because it feels “twice in one century is enough”. This seems a bit rich bearing in mind the Thatcher Government’s fanatical devotion to the US at the time and the continuance of NATO to this day. All the evidence suggests that unlike the US itself who has only ever entered World Wars belatedly and when it has come under attack itself, Europe would step in were the US to be invaded. Not that this disclaimer is really needed as the premise is so utterly absurd anyway.

The women lose their rag in the film at one point over Charlie Sheen’s expectation that they cook. This seems to be John “Conan the Barbarian” Milius’s half-hearted attempt to show how unlike the rapey Russians, the west tolerates its women, however uppity they may be. Hurrah for the West! We even put up with our grumpy women when they demand crazy things like the right to be treated equally.

Worst of all, is the film’s immature attitude to guns. The closing titles which feature Wild West type images of all the young characters armed, look like an advert for the National Rifle Association.

There is, bizarrely, a remake of this in existence made as recently as 2010. I’ve not yet seen it but can’t imagine it’s any more far-fetched than this one.

Absurd, reactionary, boring and ridiculous, Red Dawn left me wishing the Soviet Union would re-emerge so I could defect to it.

If this is the America that ultimately won the Cold War, I’m almost sorry the Eastern Bloc didn’t triumph.