By now you’ve probably already heard that the US has managed to find and kill Osama Bin Laden (Google News: this was last Sunday (late) night and it marked one of the weirdest rash for news by, well, any news organization in the world. There’s an excellent write-up what happened at the NYT when the news broke that something special was going to be announced (link). The last couple of days, as details emerged about the raid, it appears as everybody and their dog was involved in the killing of America’s most wanted terrorist. As of today the score is: UK SBS officers were involved, a Belgian trained dog was part of the raid, the intelligence services in Maryland US were involved, Cheney and Bush were indirectly involved because of their terrorist interrogation plans, Pakistani security officials… and what else? I can assure you that I had no finger in this momentous task and I’m sure more news will come out of this to prove that very fact. Or something like that.
That being said, the reason for that nice Pershing rocket in this posting is that, somehow I ended up looking up Werner von Braun, who was that famous Nazi rocket scientist who helped develop America’s very successful Space and Weapons programs. When he surrendered to the Americans in 1945, he said:
We wanted to see the world spared another conflict such as Germany had just been through, and we felt that only by surrendering such a weapon to people who are guided by the Bible could such an assurance to the world be best secured.
Fifty-plus years later, one can only think what would have happened if Braun had not surrendered and was killed by the SS.
In a couple of days, the 2010 Winter Olympic games will start: this year, Vancouver, BC, Canada will host the games. If you’re into this, the full schedule is of course readily available online. Which reminds me that a couple of months ago, the Olympic torch did pass by Saint John, NB. On November 25th, I witnessed the Olympic procession on Prince William’s: this was quite a non-event. On the other hand, it was fairly early morning then.
The first Olympic Games I remember is the 1980’s one, hosted by the city of Moscow. This was at the height of the Cold War and for some reason, that year, was also the first time countries were calling for a boycott of the games, mainly to protest the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet army. Countries that boycotted the games organized their own games, which became known as the ‘Liberty Bell games’. The Dutch did send a delegation to Moscow and while I don’t think they won any gold medals, I do remember the silver medal of the marathon athlete Nijboer. Vaguely though.
I haven’t decided if I’ll be following some of the games: Most likely not. The only interesting sport would be speed skating, I guess. There was a time that only Dutch and Norwegian speed skaters took the major prizes. Hopefully that has changed.
One of Brooker’s ‘Screen wipe’ episodes reminded (a whole playlist on YouTube) of the many nuclear war shows (fiction and documentaries) that were shown in the Eighties in West European countries. Some of the shows I’ve mentioned here before. Most memorable was ‘The Day After’ and that only because it was shown in school to either scare us or scare our enemies. Remarkably, I don’t remember ever getting training in school about how to proceed during and after nuclear explosions but the most stinging reminder of the constant threat were the monthly (weekly?) noon test sirens.
Some events that seem to tip the balance to an all out war were the election of Ronald Reagan (relations between the west and the USSR started to cool down, the start of the rhetoric), the massive demonstrations against cruise missiles in West Europe and the arms race, with most notably, the ‘Star Wars program’.
I also remember the apparent sudden deaths of all these Russian leaders and the moment that Gorbachev was elected as the supreme USSR leader (Reykjavik summit). From then on, the Cold War slowly faded away to the background.
Thinking back, or rather, being reminded of those Eighties, brings up so many memories of events that heightened the threat level, that I wonder if we would have been prepared for an all-out war. Unlikely, I guess: and maybe as a young kid, it was probably a good idea not to think and worry about this.
A couple of days ago I ran into a blog post called ‘Soviet Global Invasion Routes’, which has a collection of 80s maps showing the expected Soviet attack routes over the various continents (hyperlinks: West Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East). These were apparently maps made by American analysts and the number of comments at Reddit seem to either suggest that nobody knew about this or everybody knew this is ‘old hat’.
It is ‘old hat': like other people who served in Western European conscription armies we were thoroughly drilled and taught about the ‘German plains tank battle’ in case of a showdown between the Red Army and NATO. We were totally aware of the armour odds (I think it was 5 to 1 or so) but our main goal was simply to delay the Red Army by targeting their supply lines.
At the end, I believe that NATO’s typical military structure (smaller semi-independent and decentralized units) would make the difference on the battlefield: that is, if no tactical nuclear missiles were going to be deployed.
A week ago, there was a discussion on Metafilter about the 25th anniversary of the release of the (TV movie) ‘The Day After’. In the comments section, you can find several links to full versions of several movies related to the cold war and nuclear aftermath(s) (The Day After, Special Bulletin, The War Game, Countdown to Looking Glass and Threads. The quality is so-so: Watchable but not worth putting it on your portable HD device.
I think, it’s safe to say that most people who grew up in the Eighties are familiar with ‘The Day After': looking back, however, I find ‘Threads’ a more solid representation (and depressing) of a nuclear war aftermath. No doubt that there were Dutch documentaries like these too, but, of course, none that I can remember. Years after, when doing military service I laughed off the plausibility of our success rate or even the battalion’s survival during and after a nuclear attack. That skepticism was generally shared among my fellow soldiers, and most likely, fellow Europeans.
Maybe this is the main difference between the US produced ‘The Day After’ and the UK produced ‘Threads': American movies always seemed to focus on the explosion and not on the life after that (“The Nuclear Winter”). Hollywood has a knack in compressing thousands of years of suffering into 2 minute voice-overs.
While I’m at anniversaries: today also marks the 20th anniversary of the Lockerbie disaster (Wikipedia).
Various news organizations report that the British Queen has launched a YouTube channel (@ YouTube). The Palace promises clips from garden parties, footage from overseas travels, prime ministers and even a day in the life of the Prince of Wales.
Completely related: The BBC has a set of pictures of Russia’s bombers. As you probably recall, a while ago, Putin ordered the return of long range patrols, an event that reminded of those precious Eighties days. Flipping through the pictures, I was slightly amused by the following quote, which reveals the state of these older ‘Bear’ bombers:
There were no toilets or other comforts – and controls were so heavy only a very fit person could operate them.
For some kind of reason, I keep thinking of the 1984 Olympic Games1.
There is a chance that an asteroid is going to strike Mars in January 2008. The asteroid (2007 WD5) was discovered early November (this year) and according to statisticians at the JPL, the odds that it’s going to hit Mars are 1 to 75.
Say what you want about public broadcasters: The CBC does some excellent stuff on the Internet. For example, Katrina Onstad’s top picks of 2007 movies is well-presented and generally, well-done.
I was going to write an anecdotal posting about that ‘Red Dawn’ movie (earlier) after I saw it mentioned (or referenced to) in a ‘Scrubs’ rerun (‘Wolverines!’). Yeah, uh, no, I don’t think I’d like to think of that movie.
The reason for my hesitation is that, since the movie is so anchored in the Cold War political climate, it feels out-of-time when watching it today. After all, we all know what happened to the former Soviet Union: they were not even this close to invading the US. So much for the ‘Red Threat’.
The other day, I was watching the ‘Sick Humour’ documentary (Google Video), which is about our gift to tell sick jokes about current tragedies. Yes, 9/11 comes up too and that specific section (jokes about 9/11) reminds me of a discussion that took place after I linked to an image of a guy on a tower and a plane (you know which photo that is). Our (human) ability to make fun of mishap and terrible tragedies is a way to get us past the incomprehensible.
That brings me back to that image of Russians posing in front of McDonalds: If the Russians had invaded the Western world, do you think there would have been a Russian obesity problem? For some kind of reason, that thought makes me laugh.
I read that Russia is restarting its long range patrols, a Soviet-era practice that was suspended in the early 90s.
Somewhat earlier, Russian and Chinese armies joined in the Russian mountains for a multi-country military exercise. It looks like they had a grand time.
And then just a week ago, Russian bombers flew to the US pacific island of Guam to ‘exchange smiles’ with US pilots.
What’s next? Red Dawn?