OPINION – Back in the days when there were less than a handful of television networks, a loaf of bread was 22 cents and people actually talked to each other on the telephone, our Ozzie and Harriet existence hung by a thread.
We ate TV dinners in the glint of, by today’s standards, tiny cathode ray tube televisions as we watched Walter Cronkite, the most trusted man in America, deliver the news in his halting, distinctive meter.
Except for the TV dinners, big-screen TVs and the rest, I feel as if I’m in the middle of some gigantic time warp as I watch the news of the day.
Especially when so much of it centers on Russia.
It’s a bad flashback to a time when it seemed that it was only a matter of time until somebody dropped the big one and somebody retaliated leaving nothing but an atomically charred planet.
We talk about longtime feuds between the nations of the Middle East.
Well, when it comes to enmity, the chasm between the United States and Russia runs just as deep, even if it occupies only a fraction of history’s timeline.
The former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was an avowed enemy and had been, even though an uneasy alliance was formed to stave off Germany during the war years, and Nikita Khrushchev was the anti-Christ.
It was so bad people built fallout shelters in their backyards to survive the sure-to-come nuclear holocaust. We had drills in my elementary school requiring that when the alarm went off, we sheltered in place, which simply meant we crawled beneath our desks. I vividly remember asking one of my teachers how a desktop could protect us from an atomic bomb and I wondered why the Soviets would want to kill some little kid living in Overland, Missouri anyway.
While it was difficult for me as a schoolboy to wrap my arms around the greater political nuances of the tenuous world situation, there was a stark, real-world impact.
Our next door neighbors had a son in the U.S. Navy.
One day I went over to play with his young brothers and found them crying in the shadows between our houses.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“Jimmy’s gonna die in the war,” one of the brothers said between his tears.
Jimmy, I later found out from my mom, was aboard a ship that was part of the naval blockade of Cuba, where Khrushchev was sending a cache of nuclear missiles in, perhaps, the most high-stakes poker game ever only to have his bluff called by President John Kennedy.
It was courageous brinkmanship.
I have a friend who grew up in the USSR during the Cold War. He said Russians had a much kinder perception of the United States and Americans than we had about them.
“We loved Americans, loved America,” he said. “We did not consider you our enemy. It was all the government.”
“I was raised to hate you and your country,” I told him. “You guys, we were told, were nothing but dirty, Godless commies whose only intent was to destroy the United States.”
I understand now and am embarrassed that we allowed our own propaganda machine to so overwhelmingly condemn a nation of people, long-suffering under despots.
So, there’s a mixed bag of emotions as I see Vladimir Putin cozy up to the incoming administration. I understand that he does not reflect the will of his people, that he is another, in a long line of strongmen, a bully, a thug, without morals or merit. So while I acknowledge the plight of the Russian people, I have no feel for Putin.
And, that’s why although there aren’t any nukes cocked and locked at this moment – at least none that we are aware of – I have a growing discomfort with what has been going down between the United States and Russia, especially as we are faced with the uncomfortable knowledge of their inexcusable interference with our electoral system.
Those Cold War shivers are running, again, up and down my spine.
Vladimir Putin is in the mold of what we have come to expect from Russian strongmen.
He came through the ranks of the KGB and joined Boris Yeltsin’s administration where his nascent star quickly found its orbit.
Putin may not take off his shoe, pound it on a desk at the United Nations or vow that “we will bury you,” like Khrushchev did during a speech at the Polish embassy in Moscow, but he is of the same ilk.
He’s Voldemort, Darth Vader, The Joker with a KGB spit shine.
And, we should have shivers as the luster fades and we learn more about the scandals – from the murder of Alexander Litvinenko to money laundering in Spain; his role in the oil black market to his connections to organized crime in Russia. Putin is old school.
So, like those of us who lived through the Cold War, I don’t like this newfound friendship with the West, his higher profile, his seeming acceptance.
He’s not a guy I feel comfortable with sitting on an ample nuclear arsenal.
He’s acknowledged as a pretty smart guy, a tough guy, a wily politician, sort of a Dick Cheney with KGB roots and training.
I’ve got a bad feeling about all of this.
I’d like to think I’m wrong in my uneasiness, but I doubt it.
I guess those years of diving under my desk during our nuke drills left a bad impression.
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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