Really Cold War Robert Sheridan bobsheridan email@example.com
Having finished reading Sontag & Drew's "Blind Man's Bluff, The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage" (Public Affairs, N.Y., 1998), a few thoughts rolled through the cranial bilge.
Is the Cold War really over?
I know the Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989, and the Soviet Union was replaced by the Confederation of Independent States, and now we only have the Russians to continue to deal with.
But do they still send submarines out to check us out, and do we still send subs out to check them out checking us out and other stuff that used to be too secret to be mentioned?
What are they doing with their subs, and what are we doing with ours? The book doesn't get that far. It tells what we did and how they reacted and how we reacted to that.
One of the biggies was that we used to find their communications cables, plant a sub alongside, send out divers, and attach electronic pods to the cable so we could read their traffic. Very risky. Cost in the billions. Given up by the Walker spy ring at the cost to the Soviets of less than a million.
For a read into the Soviet mind.
Wasn't much in their minds when you came right down to it.
They were scareder than we were.
They'd catch one of our subs in their territory and chase us out, not with killer depth charges, but with exercise charges that told the submariners they'd been caught and better get the hell outta there, pronto, or else, and we scooted, angry at having been run off, vowing revenge for having been caught trespassing.
The Russians were too embarrassed at having been penetrated to make an issue out of a lot of the stuff we did. Heads were too liable to roll.
Many collisions are recounted. Dangerous game, running subs blind, using ears alone.
Former Sec'y State George Schultz commented that some of the info gained was useful, but you got a lot of very useful stuff just looking and talking to your adversary, stuff regarding his attitudes and intentions, which is what we were after clandestinely.
I once met one of the sub captains whose exploits in cable tapping in the Barents Sea on the Kola Peninsula (where the Soviet Fleet was HQ'd) were described in the book. Pres. Reagan described this man as a true John Wayne, and he should know, having known JW personally.
Any rate, it was a dinner, and Adm. Stockdale gave a talk. He's the former POW who later ran for VP with that guy from Texas with the crazy aunt in the basement. I'm at the table with the sub commander, a very squared away looking younger man who looked all business. He's interesting to me because of what he does. I'd never met a sub captain before, and I need to make some conversation. "Hunt For Red October" by Tom Clancy had recently come out and I'd read the reviews, one of which said that not all of the Navy brass were happy at having technological capabilities printed for all the world to see, especially the Russians, excuse me, the Soviets.
So I asked Capt. Buchanan about that and he allowed as how he was not terribly happy at having this stuff out. Didn't see why the adversary should be given an intelligence edge.
I saw his point but figured the adversary probably had things figured out pretty well anyways, just on general principles, but he was in the business and I wasn't.
Now I read in "Blind Man's Bluff," that Adm. Watkins, our top naval guy at the time "Red October" was published, in the Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, okayed its publication.
His theory: to encourage the Soviets to think of us as being not ten feet tall, but twenty. We could do anything, at will, and they couldn't do anything about it.
So I thought that was pretty interesting. The highly decorated and truly gutsy sub-captain had been undermined by his own boss.
Occasionally our sub guys would witness the death of adversary submariners. They didn't like it, Cold War or no Cold War. They were fellow submariners who shared the same risks for God and Country, same as them.
In one operation in the Pacific, we used the Glomar Explorer, a barge built under the aegis of that nutcake Howard Hughes, ostensibly to pick up manganese nodules from the seabed, but really to snatch from the bottom a Golf class Soviet sub. We got part, and recovered six bodies.
We gave them a burial at sea. Later our Sec'y State delivered the video to Yeltsin, showing both national anthems played and burial prayers from the Russian liturgy as well as what we use.
I found this touching, way beyond the gamesmanship that characterized a lot of Cold War activity.
The Cold War was a central portion of our lives. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say our lives operated within the Cold War context, until it ended.
As far as I'm aware, there hasn't been a fitting memorial to mark this war, and especially its ending. Too soon for perspective to set in, may be the reason. Plus we've been busy with Saddam Hussein, Milosevic, and various hot spots.
But it seems to me that someone ought to be thinking of a fitting way to recognize the sort of thinking that went on during that time, that governed so many lives, and cost so many lives, and so much national treasure that might have been otherwise used. And all of the lives that were spent, and touched, during that conflict.
Do I think it was necessary? I do.
Do I think it could have been avoided? Not with the Soviets carrying on the way they did.
Am I happy things came out the way they did? Of course.
Then what am I looking for?
"Saving Private Ryanski?"
Something that says "Here was the Cold War, how it came about, and how it ended."
My eighteen year old and I saw "Buena Vista Social Club" the other evening. Cuban musicians. Documentary by Wim Wenders. Excellent. Loads of beautifully played music by nonagenarian Cuban musicians. Footage of Havana, homes, people. Later, over burgers, fish 'n' chips, at Liverpool Lil's, a favorite place, Rick was asking about Cuba. The cars in Havana are all from the 'Fifties.
So I tell him the story of Cuba and the U.S., Fidel, the Bay of Pigs, the Missile Crisis when I was in law school, the works. One of my long explanations in which I give the history of the world and how we got this way. He's a patient boy and humors me until I bore him. But he hadn't heard the story. So I gave him the FawCawnahs version. High point to high point and the moral of the story is. So now he knows.
So if you were going to leave a Cold War marker, what would it be?
A museum in Washington like the Holocaust museum?
A visit-the-submarine display in some port cities?
Or is it too big a topic to get your head around?
At any rate, as the millenium rolls around to a close, if you count this year-end as the close, the Cold War seems to have imploded on itself, sputtering and fizzing out, the Wall being torn down, and Yeltsin standing on the tank outside the Kremlin.
Where I jog, at the former Presidio of San Francisco, along San Francisco Bay (the area is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area), is a lovely old building. They tell me it houses the Gorbachev World Institute (or Foundation) for Peace. There's no sign saying that. But he visited here after the Fall and spoke at Stanford. George Schultz helped to host him. I haven't seen any activity or product emanating from this foundation, if any there is. I give Gorby great credit for not intervening when the Wall was coming down. He got out of the way, which was exactly what was needed. A monument to him is okay with me.
So, as you see, the bilge has been roiling, lately. I can pump it out, or dump it here.
Thank you for allowing me to dump it here.
With best wishes for the Christmas season, and for a Happy New Year, and for the new Millenium, whenever it starts, I am,
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