The Cold War: Small Steps Toward a Better World


Jonathan David Morris of Radical Cowboys has a great article about what it was like for a child of the 80s growing up with a larger than life president like Ronald Reagan, without actually knowing fully what his job meant. Like JDM, Reagan?s death brought back a lot of other memories in context ? the Challenger accident, Saturday morning cartoons, New Coke - and I remember that time of my life with much fondness. To celebrate that time of innocence, I would like to highlight some of the lesser known, but just as important events that shaped reality of the Cold War as seen through the lens of my youth.

Even though Reagan was spreading his ?Morning in America? message, the early portion of the decade was marked by the constant threat of worldwide nuclear war. Little did the world know that a nerdy high-schooler named David Lightman would play the most important game of nuclear chicken since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Not content with merely using his computer hacking skills to break into his school?s computer to change his grades, and with the beautiful Jennifer Mack urging him on, he tapped into NORAD?s main computer "Joshua" and ended up playing the game ?Global Thermonuclear War?. Suddenly, the nation was at DEFCON 1, and the FBI was accusing Lightman of Russian espionage. The fate of the world hung in the balance. Yet, through all this, Lightman managed to use his techno-genius to teach the computer the ultimate strategy for nuclear war. After running numerous algorithims, the computer eventually concluded that the game was a ?strange game--the only winning move is not to play??a powerful message of peace that came at a time when the world needed it most. For an eight year old like myself, this episode had a profound impact on how I viewed the strategy of nuclear conflict. After all, if a supercomputer had said it, it must be true.

Relations between the US and the USSR slowly improved after Mikhail Gorbachev rose to power. As the words "glasnost" and "perestroika" spread around the globe, the sword of Damocles of mutually-assured nuclear annihilation slowly lifted from the heads of most Americans. Gorbachev gradually transformed from the leader of the Evil Empire into simply the bald guy with the map of Alaska on his forehead. It was in the spirit of this new found optimism that the students of Head of the Class ventured to the USSR for an academic challenge meet against the best and brightest students the Soviets could pull together. As the anxiety was building during the preparation for the departure of the transcontinental flight, a major international incident was avoided when the scheming jokester Dennis was caught trying to smuggle blue-jeans in his luggage. The entire classroom was a miniature United Nations of quirky personalities and stereotypes, constantly bickering over minutiae. Dennis was a clown, Maria was cool, Arvid was nerdy, Eric was tough, Sarah was perky, Janice was precocious? But in the end, they found enough common ground to settle their differences and win the faceoff with the Soviet students. Along the way, they found out that the Soviet students were really no different from themselves, and left with a broader view of the world. The lesson learned was win-win: the enemy was human and we were smarter. The spirit of tolerance and understanding was reaching out across oceans to touch both sides of the divide.

As great as Reagan's "Tear Down This Wall" speech was, for me the moment that truly signified the end of the Cold War was when "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes joined forces with "Nikita Koloff":nikita[1], after years of bitter rivalry that had spread from deep chasms along ideological fault lines. The world knew at last that once sworn enemies can indeed put aside their differences for mutually beneficial cooperation. The veil of hostility had lifted.

As I made my way from kindergarten to high school during Reagan's presidency, the world I saw was a chaotic place that I was struggling to understand. Most of the time, its complexity overwhelmed my ability to comprehend the significance of the various milestones reached between the superpowers. Youth is filled with such awkward naivete. The events described above may have not been as important as the summit in Reykjavik or the INF treaty in the larger scheme of things, but to me, they were the only events that truly mattered.

fn1. I never did figure out exactly why Koloff's former partner Krusher Krushchev had a Southern accent.

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Don't forget about the

Don't forget about the break-up of The Bolsheviks in the WWF after the fall of communism. That filthy Boris Zhukov supported the old hardliners, but Nikolai Volkoff revealed he was Ukranian and wanted his country to breath free.

- Josh