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Why I sometimes long for the Cold War

Published on -8/15/2013, 9:58 AM

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I've been thinking about the sorry state of American culture, and that made me reminisce about the Cold War.

You remember the Cold War. It brought us espionage, alliances with cheesy dictators and a devotion to making bombs. And throughout it all, we lived in constant fear that the Soviets were going to blow us up.

Ah, the good old days!

The fear of nuclear holocaust had its upside. It drove us closer to our God and to our families. We paid our bills on time. We treated our fellow man with more respect. We did the things people are likely to do when they worry that, at any moment, they may be meeting their maker.

The economy wasn't bad, either. Thanks in part to the buildup of arms under President Reagan, everyone had a job, even my college buddy Faz. He graduated with the lowest mechanical engineering grade-point average in Penn State history, yet he got work designing shell casings for torpedoes at a Virginia plant.

Our love lives were better. During the Cold War, most women didn't want to be shipped to faraway places to lie on their bellies and get shot at by communists. They wanted men to do that. And when President Reagan called the Soviet Union the "Evil Empire," American men were getting dates in unprecedented numbers.

Sure, the Cold War had a few drawbacks. The Bay of Pigs was no picnic. And most people got tired of letters to the editor from nutty guys who wrote: "Why don't we build a large pair of glasses and set them across our great nation? Then we can say to the Russians: You wouldn't fight a country with glasses, would you?"

For the most part, though, the Cold War was about a constant fear that kept us in check. But things took a bad turn in 1985 when Gorbachev turned the Soviets into a bunch of softies. He talked about freedom. His government stopped telling the press what to write. By 1989, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, and that ruined everything.

Without a great enemy to unite us, America turned its focus inward. We began to squabble among ourselves.

Environmentalists formed powerful organizations to make us feel guilty for driving our cars and heating our houses. Animal activists made us feel awful for eating dinner. Other groups told us we were racist anti-multiculturalists.

Women turned on men. Now, we never know -- after we compliment a woman -- whether we'll be greeted with a smile or a lawsuit.

Today, we are more divided politically and culturally than at any time in my 51 years. We have 24/7 media fanning the flames of our discord to gin up ratings and ad revenue. Nobody is getting along.

We're so blinded by our inwardness, we overlook the fact that the Earth is still filled with evil forces, and we are still but one nuclear explosion away from utter chaos and worldwide unrest.

Free of such real worries, we've elevated matters of small importance into great affairs as we have downplayed matters of truly great importance -- debt, deficits, spending and inability to address all three -- that may soon be our undoing.

Were we a more thoughtful and reasonable people, we might make the intelligent decision to set aside petty matters and come together to focus on the real problems. That would take leadership, however, which we are badly lacking these days.

That's why, in these divided times, I long for the simplicity of the Cold War. How grand it was when worried children were taught to huddle under their desks and adults were kept honest by genuine worries.

Boy, we could use another Cold War about now.

Tom Purcell, author of "Misadventures of a 1970's Childhood" and "Comical Sense: A Lone Humorist Takes on a World Gone Nutty!" is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. purcell@caglecartoons.com

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