Growing up with the Cold War

Published 6:49 pm Tuesday, March 1, 2016

    As children, we didn’t understand all the politics of the Cold War, but we knew enough to be scared.

    An entire generation grew up with a threats and counter threats between the United States and the Soviet Union. The high school basement was designated as a bomb shelter (probably more accurately a tomb) and as we grew older we were treated to newspaper headlines and television network news reports about the latest flare up between the super powers.

    Historians debate the actual dates of the Cold War, but generally agree that it ended in December 1991 when the Soviet Union was officially dissolved.

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    The beginning of the Cold War might well be dated from March 5, 1946. That’s when Winston Churchill, speaking at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo. He declared that “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.”

    My peers were infants when that speech was given, but from our earliest days of understanding anything about the world, we knew what the Iron Curtain was. Churchill had created an image that would define the great divide between NATO countries and what President Ronald Reagan would later describe as the “Evil Empire.”

    And by 1962, we were definitely old enough to be frightened out of our socks by the confrontation that became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

    Another spike in the Cold War was the imprisonment of Francis Gary Powers in 1960. Powers was flying a U-2 spy plane over Russian air space when the Soviets launched a surface to air missile and struck the plane. Powers bailed out and was captured and imprisoned. He was exchanged for a Soviet spy being held by the U.S. in 1962.

    Powers’ son, Gary Jr., will be in Smithfield Saturday to participate in a one-day observance of the Churchill speech anniversary sponsored by the Isle of Wight Museum. Powers will sign copies of “Operation Overflight,” his father’s recollections of the U-2 incident.

    The museum program will be much more than a book signing, however. It will include lectures covering various aspects of the Cold War including the Berlin Wall, fallout shelters and military defense.

This is not a light topic, but its an important one, and the museum should be commended for attempting this observance.