I watched a documentary the other day called My Perestroika about the last generation of Soviet kids to grow into young adults before the collapse of the communist Soviet Union in 1991. For some reason, I have always been a little obsessively fascinated with the Soviet Union. This somewhat applies to Russia et al after the fall, but really, The Soviet Union is where it’s at. I’ve never really been able to understand why that is.
And then I watched this documentary and it hit me: the Cold War.
In the documentary, they talked about what it was like for Russian children during the Cold War. They showed footage of Russian schoolchildren doing emergency drills with gas masks. The people in the film are older than me, but they are my contemporaries just the same. Even though we didn’t have gas masks when I was in school in America, it struck me that their experience wasn’t all that different from my own. They experienced the same threat we did. Somehow, that had never occurred to me before.
I was born and raised in an era where the Soviets and all things communist were the enemy. Russia had nuclear capability on par with America’s and they could strike at any time! I remember doing drills in school in the event of a nuclear attack. Our drills mostly entailed Duck and Cover. The video was hilarious. As if a flimsy school desk would save anyone from a nuclear missile. I suppose it made us feel better that there was something we should be doing in the event of an attack and that was the whole point. Honestly, the Russian children and their gas masks, weren’t any better off.
And the media… Oh, the media. Not unlike today with its “War on Terror!!!1!”, they ramped up the fear factor. The Russians are coming! These are just a few examples of the American propaganda I found, but they are all from long before I was born. The Soviet Union was much better at it.
America didn’t have an official propaganda ministry like the Russians, but we had Hollywood. There are tons of movies from the 1980s, when I was a kid, that are all about the great Russian communist evil including Rocky IV, a.k.a Rocky goes to Russia to kick some commie ass. Who can ever forget Dolph Lundgren saying “I must break you”? Talk about your underdogs story.
WarGames was another quintessential American Cold War propaganda movie where a kid confuses a computer named WOPR (because computers had their own names then) and nearly sets off World War III, Global Thermonuclear Annihilation Edition.
But, the ultimate Cold War movie has to be Red Dawn. Not only is this movie entirely ridiculous and improbable, but it also features a Patrick Swayze snot bubble. That’s real acting, folks. You just can’t fake a snot bubble.
Anyway, the premise of the movie is that The Soviet Union (along with Cuba and Nicaragua) invade the US, specifically Colorado, and some plucky highschoolers try to prevent it.
They recently remade Red Dawn for some unknown reason. I can’t imagine why since it is specifically a movie of the Cold War era. It doesn’t translate. You had to be there.
I remember when the made-for-TV movie, The Day After came out in 1983. From the IMDB link: “A graphic, disturbing film about the effects of a devastating nuclear holocaust on small-town residents of eastern Kansas.” Not only did we watch the movie in school, but we were all handed scripts and we had to reenact it in class. I shit you not. Granted I was in Catholic school at the time, so maybe public school kids didn’t have to do that, but still…
All of this was designed to feed our terror. The Soviet Union was the enemy and they wanted to take our freedom away. I don’t think anyone who didn’t live through it, who didn’t have the fear of a nuclear war as a constant, niggling threat, can understand what the Cold War was really like. It was full of fear, perpetuated by the media and Hollywood, and even our own teachers when we had emergency drills.
Perestroika is the Russian word for restructuring. It was the fall of communism in The Soviet Union, which effectively ended the Cold War and the Soviet Union itself. After that, Ukraine, Lithuania, Estonia and others became independent. The Soviet Union became Russia. I remember when Gorbachev announce the glasnost (openness) policy. I remember the sigh of relief I felt when it was finally over. We should always remember so that it never happens again.
Ура, Россия. Ты не мой враг. Cheers, Russia. You are not my enemy.