Cold War’s end: No pa­rade, but maybe a mu­seum

The Saline Courier - - OPINION - ••• Steve Brawner is a syn­di­cated colum­nist in Arkansas and for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of The Saline Courier. Email him at brawn­er­[email protected] Fol­low him on Twit­ter @steve­brawner. STEVE BRAWNER

One of the United States’ great­est mil­i­tary suc­cesses came af­ter it barely fired a shot at its en­emy, and now the city of Blythevill­e has de­cided some­body ought to mark the oc­ca­sion.

That suc­cess came in the Cold War, the defin­ing con­flict of my gen­er­a­tion.

For more than 40 years, the United States and the Soviet Union stared across the oceans at each other, mis­siles at the ready. As a boy, I had night­mares about nu­clear war.

We’ll never know how close it came. One ex­am­ple: In 1983, a Soviet com­puter sys­tem mis­tak­enly de­tected a launch of five U.S. mis­siles. Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov’s skep­ti­cism (Why would the Amer­i­cans fire only five mis­siles?) may have saved the world from ac­ci­den­tal nu­clear war.

Arkansas had its own near-nu­clear ac­ci­dents. As re­ported by his­to­rian Tom Dil­lard in the Arkansas Democratga­zette, the state was home to 18 Ti­tan II mis­sile com­plexes.

One com­plex near Pang­burn burned in 1965 in an ac­ci­dent that killed 53 of the 55 con­tract main­te­nance work­ers in­side.

The mis­sile re­mained un­af­fected.

Then 15 years later, that same mis­sile al­most be­came part of a nu­clear ac­ci­dent at the Da­m­as­cus launch site when an air­man dropped a wrench socket 80 feet and punc­tured a fuel tank.

The mis­sile later ex­ploded, send­ing its war­head 100 feet from the en­try gate, but the safety fea­tures worked and no ra­dioac­tive ma­te­rial es­caped.

Apart from those in­ci­dents, the United States and its NATO al­lies, and the Soviet Union along with the War­saw Pact, cir­cled each other like wary gang mem­bers who didn’t re­ally want to fight.

Both sides as­cribed to the the­ory of mu­tu­ally as­sured de­struc­tion, or MAD, the idea that since each was pre­pared to de­stroy the other, nei­ther would dare fire the first shot.

The blood­shed in­stead oc­curred in proxy state wars: Korea and Viet­nam for us; Afghanista­n for them.

How did it end? In­stead of de­stroy­ing each other, one side sim­ply of­fered a bet­ter way of life for its cit­i­zens and cre­ated more dy­namic economies that could sup­port the arms race longer.

NATO’S free mar­ket democ­ra­cies

weren’t per­fect, but they were freer and more pros­per­ous than the War­saw Pact’s au­thor­i­tar­ian, cen­trally planned regimes, where the only ac­cept­able reli­gion was the state it­self.

While the West was pros­per­ous, the U.S.S.R. was stag­nant, and it was there that Joseph Stalin killed tens of mil­lions of his own peo­ple. Tellingly, the Ber­lin Wall was built not to re­pel in­vaders but to im­prison es­ca­pers.

The Cold War’s end be­gan not with a de­ci­sive bat­tle but with the open­ing of that wall in 1989. But there were no pa­rades here in the United States. We were in awe of what was hap­pen­ing, but we were not en­tirely sure what it meant. Then in 1991 af­ter the United States routed Iraq mil­i­tar­ily, the pa­rades re­turned. Maybe we pre­fer to win our wars that way, or maybe it’s just that we know when we’ve won.

Now the city of Blythevill­e wants to trans­form the closed Strate­gic Air Com­mand fa­cil­ity at what was Eaker Air Force Base into the first na­tional Cold War mu­seum.

It will not be easy. The city must raise mil­lions of dol­lars and con­vince donors that peo­ple will travel there. If you have Alice Wal­ton’s riches and are lo­cated near Wal­mart’s cor­po­rate head­quar­ters, you can build the Crys­tal Bridges Mu­seum in Ben­tonville, and peo­ple will come. In con­trast, Fort Smith is still try­ing to open the U.S. Mar­shals Mu­seum af­ter it was se­lected as the site in 2007.

I hope Blythevill­e suc­ceeds. Based on re­port­ing by the Arkansas Demo­crat-gazette, the city ap­pears to be tak­ing the right ap­proach. In­stead of try­ing to be the de­fin­i­tive Cold War mu­seum, it seeks to be the first. It would tell its story by fo­cus­ing on those who served with the Strate­gic Air Com­mand – the pi­lots and oth­ers trained to kill mil­lions as part of a strat­egy meant to avoid war it­self.

In the end, it’s worth re­mem­ber­ing both that the Mad­ness achieved its ob­jec­tive, and that it might not have. The Cold War ended fa­vor­ably with­out us hav­ing to kill each other. It’s too late to cel­e­brate that fact with a pa­rade, but we can still have mu­se­ums – the first, hope­fully, in Blythevill­e.

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